The Sunderland Tramways Company operated horse trams in Sunderland from 28th April 1879, under the authority granted by the Sunderland Tramways Order of 1878.
The first route was a short section from the Royal Hotel in Monkwearmouth along Roker Avenue to Roker itself, which was supplemented on the 11th June 1879 by two additional routes.
The first route was a continuation of the original line, which travelled across the river via North Bridge Street, Bridge Street, Fawcett Street and Burdon Road to Christ Church, before turning east along Gray Road to Tatham Street, then turning north to rejoin Fawcett Street.
The second route was a short branch line northwards from Tatham Street, via Nicholson Street and Cousin Street, terminating in Adelaide Street in the docks area. The total length of the tramway was 3½ miles, principally of single-track line.
The initial rolling stock consisted of three single-deck cars, which were joined by two double-deck cars when the extensions to the system were opened.
Sunderland Corporation constructed further extensions to the tramway system in 1880 -1881, leasing them to the Company.
The lines served Southwick, via Southwick Road, from North Bridge Street, with two branch lines running along High Street East and New Durham Road to the south.
At the same time an experiment using three steam trams took place, although it was abandoned after just seven months.
By 1894 the fleet had grown to 33 tramcars and extensions to the system, which had remained unaltered since1881, were contemplated and permission was sought by the Company for the expansion, along with a request for a new lease.
Although Sunderland Council actually drew up a new agreement, it was never signed, and, eventually, Sunderland Corporation obtained authority (under the Sunderland Corporation Act 1899) to operate its own tramways and purchased the Company on 26th March 1900.
Immediately, Sunderland Corporation set about electrifying the lines, closing down the former horse-drawn tram routes as reconstruction progressed. The first route operated by electric traction opened in August 1900, from Roker to Christ Church, with other lines following.
By 1904, routes to Southwick, via Sunderland Road and Southwick Road; to Seaburn from Roker via Whitburn Road; and via Gladstone Road and Fulwell Lane, were all operating, along with a line to Grangetown, via Bridge Street and Ryehope Road; a new line to the docks; and a circular route via Hylton Road and Chester Road.
Subsequently there was little further expansion of the system and it remained substantially unaltered for the next twenty years.
The tramcar fleet consisted initially of Nos. 1-12, 56-seat, open-top, double-deck cars from the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works of Preston, and Nos. 13-18, 64-seat, double-deck, bogie open-top cars from the same manufacturer.
Later, in 1901, ERTCW supplied Nos. 19-26, 26-seat single-deck tramcars and Nos. 27-50, more 56-seat, open-top, double-deck cars.
On the 3rd January 1921, through running to Houghton-le-Spring, via Grangetown commenced, jointly with the Sunderland District Electric Tramways, who had operated the tramway since 1905.
The line ran south from Grangetown to Ryhope, then west through Tunstall, Silksworth, East and West Herrington to New Herrington, where it turned south again through Philadelphia (where the Company had their depot) and Newbottle to Houghton-le-Spring.
A new route to Barnes Park, via Durham Road was opened on 2nd December 1925 and further extended on 4th August 1929 to serve the new estate at Humbledon Hill.
By this time the Corporation had been authorised (under the Sunderland Corporation Act of 1927) to operate motorbuses and the first service, a tram replacement route serving the docks area, commenced on 6th February 1928.
Interestingly, the service was operated on the Corporation’s behalf by the Northern General Transport Company, as was the second service, introduced on 7th May 1928 between Sea Lane and Humbledon.
It was not until May 1929 that Sunderland Corporation took delivery of its first motorbuses, a batch of 12 Leyland Lion LT1’s (Nos. 1-12), with Leyland B32F bodywork, which replaced the Northern General buses on the docks route.
Throughout the 1930’s the motorbus network continued to expand, with the new estates built at Ford, Marley Potts, Plains Farm, Pallion, Fulwell and Seaburn being served by new bus routes.
Early purchases for the bus fleet consisted of Leyland single-deckers and Dennis and Daimler double-deckers. In 1937 the name of the undertaking was changed to Sunderland Corporation Transport.
Although motorbuses had been introduced, the tramway system continued to be extended.
On the 10th May 1937 the Fulwell Lane route was extended east to Seaburn, via Dykelands Road and on the 21st February 1948 the Durham Road line was extended along a central reservation to Grindon Lane, and then subsequently to Thorney Close Road the following year, to serve the new housing estates there.
However, the decision had already been taken to abandon the tramway system in favour of motorbuses and on 5th November 1950 the Villette Road-Suffolk Road loop line was closed and on 30th November the following year, the Southwick route closed.
The remaining routes survived until 1954 before they were gradually run down over the year, the system finally closing, amidst much ceremony, with the last tram (No. 86) running on 1st October 1954.
Sunderland’s first 8ft wide buses were delivered in 1951. Numbered 116-127 they were Daimler CVG6 chassis with Roe H31/25R bodywork.
Route numbers were introduced for bus services in 1953 and experiments with one-man operation were carried out that paved the way for its later introduction on other services.
Eight more Daimler’s (Nos. 140-147), this time with CVG5 chassis were delivered in 1953, again with Roe bodywork.
They sported a new green and cream livery, which replaced the hitherto red and cream livery applied to both buses and trams, although the original livery had been chocolate and cream until the 1930s.
In 1954 the antiquated Bell Punch ticket system was replaced by the Setright Speed system and 61 new buses were delivered to speed up the tramway abandonment programme.
Two specially manufactured vehicles were purchased in 1956 and 1957, from Atkinson Vehicles. Nos. 30 and 31 were specifically built to Sunderland Corporation’s requirements, of lightweight construction with Roe 41-seat forward entrance bodywork, and were the only such vehicles built by Atkinson.
In 1962 Sunderland Corporation took delivery of their first new double-decker for four years. No. 250, a Daimler Fleetline CRG6LX, was the first rear-engined vehicle in the fleet and carried a Roe H39/31F body. It was followed later in the year by a further five similar vehicles.
Three Atkinson single-deckers (Nos. 46-48) with Marshall B45D bodywork were delivered at the end of 1963 and early 1964.
The PL746HF chassis were notable in that they were the very last Atkinson passenger chassis placed in service in the United Kingdom and could be seen operating on a new route introduced on the 17th August 1964 (route No. 25) to Carley Hill, via Newcastle Road.
From the 5th September 1966 several of the established services were converted to one-man operation, necessitating the purchase of a number of new single-deck vehicles. Nos. 52-84 were Leyland PSUR1/1R’s with Strachan B47D bodywork, whilst 85-87 were Daimler SRC6 Roadliners with similar bodywork.
Subsequent purchases were all single-deck vehicles equipped for one-man operation as the Corporation committed itself to this type of operation. In 1969 a new one-man operated service commenced to Doxford Park, Sunderland’s newest estate, using the new Central Bus Station.
By the early 1970’s Sunderland Corporation was faced with rising operational costs and heavy financial losses.
Consequently the undertaking was passed to the Tyneside Passenger Transport Executive on 1st April 1973, some twelve months before the formation of the Tyne and Wear county, which would have included Sunderland Corporation in an extended passenger transport area from the 1st April 1974, under the auspices of the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive.
At 11.00 pm on the 31st March 1973, the last buses were ceremoniously ‘whistled off’ from Crowtree Road Bus Station by the Mayor, bringing to an end 73 years of municipal operations in Sunderland.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); The Buses of Sunderland Corporation Transport 1929-1973 (Kirtley, Author 1993); PSV Circle Fleet History PA17 (1987).