Plans to introduce a tramway to the Teeside towns of North Ormesby, South Bank and Grangetown was first proposed in 1898 by the Imperial Tramways Company, who already operated the Middlesbrough, Stockton & Thornaby system, but an application for a Light Railway Order was refused.
In 1902 a syndicate of local businessmen laid plans to establish a private tramway system to serve the growing towns.
Imperial Tramways undertook to provide the overhead equipment and cars and to commence services by 1907, but by 1912, despite the syndicate extending the time limit, Imperial had not even started construction of the tramway.
In 1912 the Bolckow Vaughan Iron Company promoted a private Act of Parliament, which authorised a trolleybus service.
The syndicate duly formed a statutory company named the North Ormesby, South Bank, Normanby and Grangetown Railless Traction Company.
A depot was constructed at Cargo Fleet and completed in 1915 and by February 1916 most of the overhead was in place, although it was not until after the First World War that Clough, Smith & Co. (on behalf of the RET Company) were able to complete the system.
The main route ran from Smeaton Street in North Ormesby, via Cargo Fleet and South Bank to Market Square in Grangetown, with a branch from High Street in South Bank to Normanby.
The contract for the supply of 10 trolleybuses was given to the RET Construction Co. of Leeds, who, because of wartime difficulties, went into receivership with four of the ten completed.
In 1918 the patents and goodwill of RET Construction were sold to Railless Ltd, a new company, who completed the order, and delivered them in August 1918.
By this time Middlesbrough Corporation had purchased the Middlesbrough, Stockton & Thornaby tramway from Imperial and approached the syndicate about the possibility of acquiring their company, which had still not started to trade.
In December 1918, the company was sold, with Middlesbrough Corporation holding a one-third share and Eston Urban District Council two-thirds.
A joint board was formed and the company became the Tees-side Railless Traction Board, services commencing on the 8th November 1919.
Until 1944 all vehicles were single-deck, since the Board of Trade refused to sanction double-deck trolleybuses until then. The traction current was drawn from the Bolckow Vaughan steelworks until 1955.
The first trolleybuses (Nos. 1-10) were delivered in 1919 in a dark green livery, which remained the predominant colour throughout the lifetime of the Board.
The vehicles were supplied by Railless (although it is possible that the Cleveland Car Company constructed some of the chassis as subcontractors), which carried B26R bodywork, ostensibly by Railless, but probably subcontracted again to Charles Roe of Leeds.
In 1920 a further six (Nos. 11-16) Brush trolleybuses were purchased from Clough, Smith & Co.
They had been built in 1914 for the National Electric Construction Company’s subsidiary the Rhondda Tramways Company, but were in service for only three months before being withdrawn due to the state of the roads. They had been stored since then.
In 1924, the route to Normanby was extended to serve Eston, although the trolleybus wires were not extended.
Instead, a unique vehicle, a Tilling-Stevens petrol-electric chassis, commissioned and patented by the General Manager of the Board (Mr. J. B. Parker) was used.
It was capable of operating either as a trolleybus or as a motorbus and ran between North Ormesby and Normanby using the overhead wires, and from there to Eston as a petrol-electric bus.
The first motorbus (No. 23), a Daimler CM, was purchased in 1926, with others following in the next few years. They were used, initially, to duplicate the main trolleybus service when required and as feeder and contract vehicles.
The first double-deck vehicles arrived in 1941, when two Leyland Titan TD7’s (Nos. 26-27), with Roe H31/25R bodywork arrived, although it was not until 1944 that the first double-deck trolleybuses (Nos. 10-13, and 15-18) joined the fleet.
After the Second World War, the expansion of the ICI works at Wilton necessitated an increase in the fleet, and no less than 12 Leyland PD2’s were purchased.
The last new trolleybuses arrived in 1950, although subsequently a rebuilding programme for the wartime trolleybuses was started. This process became protracted, since the craftsmen only worked on the refurbishing when time allowed.
As a result some of the vehicles were partially completed by the local Middlesbrough firm of Edmond & Co. Ultimately, the vehicles were re-bodied by Roe in the 1960’s.
The route network remained very much the same until 1951, when the Grangetown route was extended to Kingsley Road. It was further extended to Fabian Road in 1964.
In 1966 a proposal for a service from Eston to Normanby, linking with the existing South Bank to Normanby service as a circular route was put forward.
United Automobile Services, who already ran services to Eston and Normanby objected, but eventually, on 31st March 1968, the trolleybus system was extended and the route opened. This was to be the last trolleybus extension on public roads in Great Britain.
The following day, 1st April 1968, the Board was merged with the fleets of Middlesbrough and Stockton to form Teeside Municipal Transport, and the history of the Tees-side Railless Traction Board was brought to a close after almost 50 years.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); Municipal Buses in Colour 1959-1974 (Reg Wilson, Ian Allan 1997); Buses (Nos. 179, Feb 1970, No. 195, June 1971); British Trolleybuses 1911-1972 (Geoff Lumb, Ian Allan 1995); PSV Circle Fleet History PA12 (1982).