Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: March 16, 2022
Webpage updated: March 16, 2022




On August 9th 1870 the Royal Assent was given to the United Kingdom's Tramways Act 1870 and the following day the Royal Assent was given to the Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Tramways Act 1870: it was the first Act of Parliament to be granted under the primary legislation.  The original Bill was promoted by Mr William Morris, a solicitor with Messrs Ashurst, Morris and Company, of London.  It transpires he was something of a railway enthusiast.  The new tramway, which was to be built to the standard gauge of 4 feet 8 inches, would make communication easier between the Three Towns of Plymouth, East Stonehouse and Devonport.

The original plan was for the tramway to commence in Bedford Street, Plymouth, run through George Street and Union Street, Plymouth, Union Street, East Stonehouse, Edgcumbe Street and terminate at the Stonehouse Bridge.  After objections were raised, it was altered to begin at the Clock Tower (Derry's Clock) and terminate in Cumberland Road, Devonport, at the bottom of Ker Street.  The depot for the initial eight tramcars was in Union Place, on the East Stonehouse side of Manor Street, the boundary between that town and Plymouth.

Normally pulled by two horses, the Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Tramway Company's tramcars were painted emerald green and cream.  Additional horses were attached at Stonehouse Bridge to haul the cars up the 1 in 11 Devonport Hill.  All the horses were supplied by the men who ran the horse bus services, Messrs George Moreton, Temple and Isaac Watts.  Messrs Jenkin, Trathan and Triscott, civil engineers, of The Parade, Liskeard, Cornwall, were responsible for the project.

Trial runs were made on the morning of Monday February 12th 1872.  A tramcar left the Plymouth end at 7am and returned at 8,45am.  Unfortunately the vehicle came to grief several times, both on the outward and on the return journeys, 'thus meeting with the fate apparently reserved for all new ventures,' as the local press put it.  Although most of the delay was caused by derailments, fifteen minutes were lost because of a horse and cart 'having fallen across the metals.'  Mr Temple's horses were used to pull the tramcar and 'the driver was pronounced as perfect.'  Sadly the driver was not named.

Then on Saturday February 17th 1872, Plymouth's Borough Surveyor and a whole host of the great and the good of the Three Towns made an inspection of the line before giving their consent to it being opened to the public.  A single tramcar drawn by two of Mr Temple's horses made two return trips between Plymouth and Devonport, taking around fifteen minutes for the single journey.   

By the following Thursday the drivers and horses were used to the curves and point work and 'passed over (the line) in excellent style.'  The powerful brakes (or 'breaks', as they were called in those days) were found to be excellent in both stopping the cars quickly and also in easing the pressure on the horses when travelling down the steep Stonehouse Hill (officially Devonport Hill).  Comments were also passed about the wide gangway between the two rows of seats allowing boarding and alighting passengers to cause little inconvenience to other travellers.

Free rides were given to the public on Sunday March 17th 1872 and the regular service started on Monday March 18th 1872, when, shortly after 9am a tramcar left started from Plymouth.  It was followed after short intervals by three others each pulled by two horses supplied by the horse bus proprietors.  The tramcars could accommodate 20 people inside and 20 people outside, or 'on top'.  In the press report, published in the Western Daily Mercury on Tuesday March 19th 1872, it refers to the top deck seating as 'roomy and easy as a garden lounge, not at al like the knife-board to which outside passengers have long been accustomed', a statement that contradicts the historic claim that the first PS&D tramcars had knifeboard seating, i.e. back to back, on the top deck.  The report also states that: 'At that times the cars were so overcrowded that on the Stonehouse-hill several had to get out and walk'.

Naturally a luncheon was held to celebrate the event, this one being at the Royal Hotel, Plymouth, some one hundred local gentlemen being invited.  Mr Isaac Latimer (1813-1898), Mayor of Plymouth, was in the chair, with Mr J May, Mayor of Devonport on his right, and Mr John Morris, the chief promoter of the tramway, on his left.  Also present were Mr J B Glenn, general secretary of the Company; Mr J K Mann, local manager; and Mr W Adams, local solicitor to the Company.  Speakers complained that the line was too short at both ends while Mr Watts, one of the horse bus owners supplying the horses, said that they would ensure transport at both ends for the elderly, infirm or mothers with children until the line was extended.  Mr Morris promised to undertake the extensions.

Starting on Monday June 24th 1872 a service of tramcars and connecting horse busses was announced.  It was hoped that 'by working together these vehicles furnish a cheap, expeditious, and convenient means of local intercommunication'.  However, the additional horse bus routes to South Devon Place and the Barbican 'will not be started at present'.  Furthermore, the service from Plymouth to Devonport now started at 6am and ran until after 11pm.  As the column writer in the Western Morning News put it: 'Patronise it pretty liberally now.  For unless it is found to be comparatively - perhaps not absolutely - remunerative, it will be withdrawn in the course of a few weeks, and then when rainy and cold nights and mornings set in ..... lingering but vain regrets will be heard for the discontinued tramcars'.

In July 1872 the Company became the first one acquired by the Provincial Tramways Company Limited, which subsequently ran the tramways in Cardiff, Dundee, Portsmouth, Southampton and Tynemouth.  The Company paid 97,500 for the tramways in Cardiff and Plymouth.  The new owners claimed that although the Plymouth system had not been opened long enough to be fully developed, the gross returns so far were sufficient to show a net profit of between 8 and 10% on the proportion of the capital allocated to it.

By virtue of The Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Tramways Act 1874, the Company got authority to extend the line via a one-way system up Chapel Street to Fore Street and return via Saint Aubyn Street back to Cumberland Road again.  The work was done by Mr Charles D Savill, of London.  Mr W A Pudney was the superintendent of works, assisted by a Mr Brook.  The new track was to be used for the first time on Thursday October 28th 1875.

On August 6th 1900 the Royal Assent was given to the Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Tramways Act 1900, which authorised the Company to electrify their tramway.  During 1900/1901 the Company sold the section of track from the borough boundary at Manor Street to Bank of England Place to Plymouth Corporation and the section from the borough boundary at Stonehouse Bridge to the terminus in Fore Street to Devonport Corporation.  Thus the only section that remained in their ownership was the stretch within East Stonehouse.  The terminal spur in Fore Street was removed at this time.  As part of the electrification scheme, the line in Plymouth was doubled but the line through through East Stonehouse remained single with passing loops.  The two parts owned by the two Corporations were then leased back for 21 years.  The whole system was converted to the gauge of 3 feet 6 inches to match the Devonport and Plymouth systems.  A depot for the electric tramcars was provided in Market Street, East Stonehouse.  It was accessed by a traverser and the main building had six tracks capable of holding a total of twelve tramcars.

Major Pringle, the Board of Trade's Inspector, carried out his inspection on Friday October 18th 1901, accompanied by Mr John Glenn, the engineer, Mr G H Moreton, the manager, and Mr C L Duke, the contractor for the permanent way.  Various officers from Plymouth and Devonport Borough Councils and East Stonehouse Urban District Council were also present.

Major Pringle and the representatives of Plymouth Council joined the tram at Bank of England Place and rumbled off to the Borough boundary at Manor Street (New Palace Theatre of Varieties), where they were joined by the gentlemen from East Stonehouse and Devonport Councils.  A stop was made at Edgcumbe Street, where before the gauge was narrowed the District Council's water main had run down the centre of the track but was now buried underneath one of the lines.  The District Council's engineer felt that in the event of damage to the main, from whatever cause, the Company should help to defray the cost of repairs.  This they agreed to and the journey was resumed.

Speed restrictions were imposed by the Inspector.  The maximum speed in Devonport was to be 8mph, reducing to 4mph on all corners and 6mph in Saint Aubyn Street and Chapel Street and on Stonehouse Bridge.  In Edgcumbe Street and that part of Union Street within East Stonehouse, the speed was to be 6mph but 8mph was to be allowed in Union Street, Plymouth.

One other problem was highlighted during the inspection.  It had been found that when passing underneath the railway arch in Union Street, Plymouth, it had been possible for someone standing on the upper deck to touch the electric wires so these had been moved to the side out of reach.

The new electrified service commenced on Monday November 18th 1901.

On and as from November 9th 1914 the boroughs of Plymouth, Devonport and the urban district of East Stonehouse were amalgamated and controlled by one council.  The Company continued to operate their system completely independent of Plymouth Corporation until their leases expired on July 1st 1922, when new through-running services were started.