Wallasey Horse Tramways
The need for purely local transport in Wallasey had first arisen during the 150 years that Wallasey was host to one of the country's earliest racecourses which ran for five miles from Wallasey Village across the windswept dunes to Leasowe Castle and back. Between approximately 1635 and 1770 carriages and wagonettes conveyed punters from the ferry at Seacombe to the course by way of a track which hugged the north shore of Wallasey Pool crossing its many tributaries by tiny wooden bridges. In 1732 the principal event was transferred to Newmarket where 'The Wallasey Stakes' survived for some years. Excursions continued to be provided to Leasowe Castle, being publicly advertised by the owners of the Seacombe ferry and hotel in 1840. In February 1847 they obtained four hackney carriage licence's from the Town Commissioners to carry ferry passengers to any part of the district at 3d for the first 1000 yards and 6d for any distance beyond.
On 1 August 1861 the Wallasey Local Board assumed control of the three Wallasey ferry stations, Seacombe, Egremont and New Brighton and on 10 October the Board's Works and Health Committee received notification that James Hall, employed by them to carry goods and luggage to and from Seacombe, had started a bus service between Seacombe and New Brighton, with double decker's at a fare of 3d inside and 2d outside. Owing to the paucity of roadways, the buses probably went via Victoria Road (now Borough Road), Liscard Road, Liscard Village, Rake Lane and Rowson Street. On 31 October 1861 the same committee rejected a proposal to extend the Birkenhead Street Railway from Birkenhead to New Brighton via the Dock Estate and Seacombe Ferry.
By the terms of the Wallasey Improvement Act 1867, the Local Board obtained general powers "to lay down, maintain and renew" tramways "provided always any such rails, plates shall be laid along the middle of the street so that the upper surface of the rail, plate or tram shall be even with the upper surface of the road". This proviso had been inserted to guard against the step rails which had caused so much trouble at Birkenhead. Winter receipts on the two northern ferries, Egremont and New Brighton, were poor and the Board's Surveyor was asked to submit estimates for a tramway running from Seacombe to Trafalgar Road so that Egremont could be suspended between October and March each year. Quoting a figure of £4,446 the Board now sought legal advice as to whether they could close both northern ferries either permanently or temporarily and replace them by tramways to and from Seacombe. They were informed that they would require Parliamentary approval and that they themselves were not permitted to operate trams. By 1868 several bus operators were serving Seacombe most of them running to New Brighton. However, Adam Fox of Church Road, Seacombe wrote to the Board complaining that his bus had been prohibited by the Wallasey Pool Bridge Company from plying between the ferry and Docks Station. Fox may well have been one of the operators who stepped into the breach when the Hoylake railway was curtailed in 1870.
Sufficient numbers were using the Seacombe boats to encourage a syndicate of business men headed by Algernon Warner, Joseph E. Dowson and Charles P. Gibbons to promote the Wallasey Tramways Bill in 1870, the object of which was to form a Wallasey Tramways Company, with powers to build just over five miles of route. There were to be two main lines linking Seacombe and New Brighton - one would run from the Marine Hotel along Victoria Road, Liscard Road, Liscard Village, Rake Lane and Magazine Lane where it would meet the other route which would travel from the ferry via Brighton Street, King Street and a private reserved track (Seabank Road at this time was not built throughout). They would descend into New Brighton by "an intended street to be called Grosvenor Street". A third route would link the others by way of Manor Road. A maximum fare of 6d was proposed. A powerful lobby of local landowners stifled the project.
Using the less costly procedure permitted by the newly passed general Tramways Act 1870 a second attempt was made in 1871. After the local enquiry, the Wallasey Tramways Order 1871 authorised the construction of certain lines by the Wallasey Tramway Company Ltd, registered on 8 May 1871 with a nominal capital of £30,000 in £10 shares. The shareholders were Messrs, Glen, Lucas, Smith , Harvey, Larson and Gratham. The controversial private track was replaced by a line up Trafalgar Road, Stringhey Road and Manor Road where it joined the other main route again as in the 1870 proposal running via Liscard Road and Rake Lane. This time a line the length of Penkett Road connected the two routes. Nine passing loops were included and at Seacombe the cars could approach the Marine Hotel either via Church Road or Victoria Road. Victoria Road, Seacombe was later renamed Borough Road to avoid confusion with Victoria Road with Victoria Road, New Brighton and will referred to as Borough Road thereafter. The company also sought powers to operate omnibuses and railways advising prospective investors of the potential for "considerable freight and animal traffic". The requisite capital failed to materialise and the company was dissolved on 23 February 1874. The only creditor was William Morris, who received the entire assets of £911.
In 1876, the Local Board embarked upon the complete rebuilding of Seacombe ferry. The existing facilities were all swept away in a major land reclamation project, the boats being transferred to a temporary stage in a former shipbuilding yard off East Street. It was from this stage that the ferry boat 'p.s Glen' set sail one foggy morning in November 1878 and collided with the 's.s Bowfell'. Although never in danger of sinking, panic ensued and several passengers were drowned.
It was against this background of despondency that the new terminal was opened to the public on 5 January 1880. It was an ideal gateway and gave birth to several thoroughfares including the extension of Seabank Road in the same year. Travel patterns changed. Hundreds still walked to one of the three ferry stations but the improving road system and the eventual housing boom demanded improved transport.
Anticipating theses trends, a delegation consisting of Messrs. William and Daniel Busby and Charles H. Beloe had approached the Local Board on behalf of Messrs. Wright, Hackley and Beckett on 10 October 1876 with a view to building a tramway from Seacombe to Upper Brighton. Upper Brighton was a fashionable residential district but also a thoroughfare (later incorporated into Rowson Street) running between Field Road and Mount Pleasant Road. The Board rejected their first proposals, the Busby's returning on 10 July 1877 this time on behalf of the Wirral Tramway Company. A special sub-committee was appointed to advise on the practicality of laying tramways in the districts proposed. In mid October the Busby's presented detailed plans for a single track tramway with passing loops running from Seacombe to the Assembly Rooms, New Brighton via Church Road, Borough Road, Liscard Road, Rake Lane, Earlston Road, Sandrock Road, Mount Pleasant Road, Mount Road and Albion Street, at its junction with Montpellier Terrace. The sub-committee recommended acceptance providing the promoters also included a line from Seacombe to Liscard via Brighton Street and Church Street which would cover for Egremont ferry in the event of it being closed as proposed in 1867.
Having agreed, the Busby's, anxious to tap the wealthy middle-class residents living in Upper Brighton, announced plans to build a two-way steeply-graded loop from the Assembly Rooms along Albion Street, Atherton Street, St. James' Road, Rowson Street, Upper Brighton and Rake Lane to Earlston Road where it would rejoin the original route.
On 24 November 1877, Beloe presented his detailed Parliamentary plans for lines estimated to cost £20,999. They were fiercely opposed, so a Select Committee of the House Of Lords sat to hear evidence from both sides. In his submission, Beloe stated - "The object of the tramway is to bring residents of New Brighton, Liscard and Egremont, which are all in the district of Wallasey, to the Seacombe Ferry, which is the shortest ferry across the Mersey to Liverpool and generally to facilitate intercourse in the district". The residents of Upper Brighton clearly wanted intercourse with no one, as they vigoursly opposed the building of the tramway claiming it would destroy the exclusively of the neighbourhood. Their Lordships were unimpressed but recognising the strength of feeling allowed the promoters a maximum of four years to complete the loop instead of the two years for the remainder of the system.
The Wallasey Tramways Act 1878 received the Royal Assent on 16 August and authorised the Local Board to lay the following tramways to the gauge of 4ft 8½in, the outer rails to be never less then than 9ft 6in from the kerb:
a) From Seacombe (Church Road) along Victoria Road (Borough Road) and Liscard Road to Falkland Road (Tramways 1, 1A, 2, 2A, 2B);
b) From Seacombe (Church Road) along Brighton Street and Church Street to Liscard Road (Tramways 3,3A, £b) plus a line along Falkland Road (Tramway No. 4);
c) From Falkland Road along Liscard Road to Liscard Village (Tramways 5, 5A, 5B, 5C);
d) From Liscard Village along Rake Lane to Earlston Road, with an alternative single line in Manor Road and Queen Street, Liscard (Tramways 6, 7, 8, 8A, 8B);
e) From Earlston Road along Rake Lane and Upper Brighton to Dalmorton House (Tramways 9, 10, 10A);
f) a loop in Upper Brighton via Atherton Street, Mount Road, Mount Pleasant Road, Sandrock Road and Earlston Road to rejoin Tramway 8 in Rake Lane (Tramways 11 - 14).
Passing places, of which there were to be eighteen, were designated by the letters suffixes (1A, 2A, 2B, etc.); the seven not listed above were on the Upper Brighton loop. The course of all these proposed lines is shown on the map.
The tramway was to be operated by the Wallasey Tramways Company, with its head quarters at 6 Lord Street, Liverpool, the centre of the Busbys' tramway empire. The directors were Daniel Busby, William Busby, John Carson (a Liverpool omnibus proprietor), Harry Sheraton (timber merchant) and Thomas Russell Lee J.P who was elected chairman. The company Secretary was accountant William Knox, whose name appeared on the sides of the cars. The capital of £30,000 was divided into 3,000 £10 shares. The Act authorised the company to borrow a maximum of £7,500 restricted to £1,250 for every £5,000 of subscribed capital, providing that they did not borrow £5,000 before 30 May 1879.
The Local Board had the right to purchase the company and all its assets after 15 years providing they gave six months' notice in writing, Should the dividend exceed 7½%, the Board was entitled to demand 50% of the surplus profits (minimum £100) for highway improvements, priority to be given to the train route. If the company became insolvent or ceased operation for more then three months, the Board was authorised to take over all assets without compensation. The Company was prevented from seeking powers for further lines until five years had elapsed, they had to seek permission to abandon all or part of the system, and they had to pay two thirds of any road widening undertaken. Once the tramway had been constructed, the Company had to pay the Board an annual rental of £100.
The Company guaranteed to provide a regular service "at the same time as the ferry boats" between 8am and 7.30pm on weekdays and from 10am to 8.30pm on Sundays. Provision was also made for operating early morning and late evening cars for artisans at fares not to exceed ½d per mile. This statutory obligation was ignored, the Company stating "Wallasey had no work people".
The Board whilst generally welcoming the tramway had been determined throughout to protect their own interests. Their solicitors had explained to the Select Committee why they were insisting upon precise fare details being incorporated into the Parliamentary Bill. They argued that if the Company charged less than 3d it would jeopardise the future of the New Brighton ferry. They wanted the combined train/Seacombe ferry rate to be 4d, a penny more then the New Brighton boat. Parliament fixed only the maximum fare the Company could charge :-
1. From Seacombe to Upper Brighton or vice versa a sum not exceeding 3d
2. From Seacombe to Liscard or vice versa a sum not exceeding 2d
3. From Liscard to Upper Brighton or vice versa a sum not exceeding 1d
4. Beyond the above distances, for every mile or part of a mile a sum not exceeding 1d
5. From any distance less than 2 miles, any sum not exceeding 2d
6. Between 9pm and 5am double the above rates
7. Children in arms under 3 years of age - free
The Act authorised 5.48 miles of track of which 0.61 miles would be double; however, only 3.26 miles was actually built, giving a total route length of 2.70 miles. The powers for the alternative line to Liscard via Borough Road lapsed after two years and those for Upper Brighton loop after four, although various attempts were made to revive the idea. However, in 1883, the Company declared their outright opposition, dismissing the area as undeveloped.
The route had been planned to link Seacombe ferry to the growing communities of Liscard and Upper Brighton but it also passed through several sections of open country with impressive Georgian villas, ancient cottages, fields, brickworks and quarries. The line started in Church Road, Seacombe (at its junction with Fell Street) then proceeded via Brighton Street (a major shopping thoroughfare), Falkland Road (outbound), Church Street (inbound), Liscard Road past Liscard Hall and Central Park into Liscard Village with its flour mills, slaughter house and Welsh speaking community, then Queen Street/Manor Road (outbound), Rake Lane (an extremely narrow road skirting a quarry) and Upper Brighton, terminating at its junction with Field Road. Eight passing loops were built, of which two fell into disuse; the main loops were one in Brighton Street, three in Liscard Road, one in Rake Lane and one at the junction of Mount Pleasant Road and Upper Brighton.
Beloe's estimates were based upon his own method of track construction which he had employed at Southport and Birkenhead. However, the board advised that they wished the Company to use the Benjamin Barker system used in Leeds and Manchester and against Beloe's advice, the Company acquiesced. On 29 October 1878 the Board gave permission for the Company's contractor, Mr Hawkes to stack setts along the length of the proposed route. Hawkes intended to employ direct labour thus providing work for local men. On 13 November the Company approved the appointment of Mr E. Cornish to act as the Board's supervising engineer at a fee of £5-5-0d per week to be paid by the Company. He was later accused of spending insufficient time on site but the Board declared themselves satisfied with his bi-monthly reports.
Excavations began on 16 December 1878. Barker was the first engineer to employ cast-iron longitudinal sleepers to afford a continuous bearing for the rails and adjacent paving. He used grooved rail, the lower surface being indented longitudinally and formed with a central flange or web by which it was fastened to the sleeper by a cotter-pin or hardwood edge. The Company adopted the lightweight version of Barker's system, the rails weighing 34lbs and sleepers 90lbs per yard; they were 10in wide and lay 5in below the level of the rail. The Board insisted that they should rest upon a one-inch layer of rough mortar to provide adequate packing. The evacuations were to a depth of 8in and a width of 8ft except in passing loops, where the width was 17ft. The road surface was reinstated to the statutory 18in either side of the outer rail with 4in by 6in granite setts. The Company was responsible for the subsequent upkeep of the track and paying within the 18in limit. The rest of the road was often left unmade, encouraging other traffic to use the tram track and subjecting it to extra wear and tear. Work proceeded well, over a mile of paving and track being in position by 11 March 1879.
Two places presented the engineers with difficulties, particularly both ends of Falkland Road where the Company was forced to acquire land to allow curves of sufficient radius. When completed they were said to be "easier that those in Birkenhead". Secondly, there was the sharp-angled curve from Manor Road into Queen Street, which the Company sought permission to abandon on 22 April 1879. William Busby and John Carson personally attended the Board's Works and Health Commission explaining that due to acute clearance problems they wished to replace the outbound avoiding line by a passing loop in Liscard Village. Following an on site inspection, the Committee whilst refusing the deviation from the approved Parliamentary plan, agreed to delay construction until the remainder of the line was completed.
The passing loop in Liscard Road immediately north of Church Street was deemed unnecessary as the decision had been made not to proceed with the line via Borough Road. Permission to omit this loop was granted on 25 March 1879. In late April, a short extension to the Marine Hotel, Seacombe and a spur from Upper Brighton to the depot site on Field Road was approved by the Board.
End of Part 1