Although Heywood only possessed its own transport for a short time, it did have the distinction of being the very last municipality to open, and the last municipality to operate, a steam tramway in Britain.
The first tramway in Heywood was operated by the Manchester, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramways Company using narrow gauge (3ft 6ins) steam locos and trailers, and ran between Bury and Rochdale via Heywood until 7th March 1904.
When the steam trams on the Bury to Heap Bridge section were withdrawn and the line converted for electric traction by Bury Corporation, who had exercised its option to purchase the tramway workings within its boundary. It duly opened on 19th April 1904.
Two months later, on the 10th June 1904, Rochdale Corporation withdrew the steam tram service without notice and replaced it with a service of electric cars that terminated at Sudden, near the Rochdale/Heywood boundary, leaving Heywood high and dry.
The Corporation had already purchased the steam tramway tracks within its boundary under the Tramways Act of 1870 and, although a sub-committee had been established to look into the possibility of bridging the gap with omnibuses, the Council eventually decided to re-instate the steam trams and operate their own service.
Thirteen steam locos and ten trailers were purchased from Rochdale Corporation (all ex- Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramways Company rolling stock and by now in a decrepit state) and moved to a newly built depot in York Street.
On the 20th December 1904 the main line across Heywood was re-opened to the steam trams. On the 22nd December the service on the Hopwood branch was re-instated.
The locos and trailers retained their former brown and cream livery and fleet numbers, although from 24th March 1905, the legend ‘Heywood Corporation Tramways’ began to appear on the sides of locos.
The initiative was not a great success and began to flounder when Rochdale initially refused permission for the trams to use the stretch of line between the Heywood boundary and Sudden, where their electric trams currently terminated, leaving a gap of around 1 mile for weary passengers to trudge.
Although Rochdale later relented, the conditions they sought to impose were unacceptable to Heywood and the steam trams continued to terminate at the Heywood boundary.
In April 1905, the Sudden terminus was extended to the Heywood boundary and, in September of that year, Bury Corporation finally completed the electric line through the town.
On the 20th September 1905, the last steam tram (reported as No. 81) brought steam services to a close, and Heywood’s brief courtship with tram operations was over, bringing with it one final distinction – that of being the shortest lived tramway system in the country (just 284 days).
Note: It has been reported (although not yet verified), that the electric line through the town was actually paid for and constructed by Heywood Council, who further agreed to purchase (by instalments) seven tramcars, five from Bury Corporation and two from Rochdale Corporation, which would, however, remain in the livery of, and to all intents and purposes appear to be owned by, the two Corporations.
In return Heywood would receive the revenue from, and pay working expenses of, all journeys within the Borough and sell its own tickets.
The tramcars so purchased would not be marked in any way as to ownership, which makes it difficult to identify the cars involved, but Heywood may well have continued to own tramcars after 1905 and have been a tramcar owner up until the demise of the tramway system in the Borough.
The exact details of the 13 steam locos and 10 trailers purchased is unknown but a few have been established by photographic evidence.
There were 13 locos in total – all ex-Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramway Company Ltd. in 1904.
Withdrawn 1905 (All).
There were 10 trailer cars in total – all ex-Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramways Company Ltd. in 1904.
Withdrawn 1905 (All).
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); Manchester, Bury, Rochdale & Oldham Steam Tramway (WGS Hyde, TPC 1980); PSV Circle Fleet History PC24 (1986).