Wallasey Tramways Company / Wallasey United Tramway and Omnibus Company Ltd

Wallasey's standard-gauge horse tramway, whose tracks were owned by Wallasey Local Board (the local authority), was operated by the Wallasey Tramways Company, services commencing on the 28th June 1879.

The tramway was 3.33 miles long, running westwards from Seacombe Ferry along Church St, before heading northwards to Egremont, northwestwards to Liscard, then northeastwards to the terminus in Upper Brighton. Residents of the latter were unfortunately implacably opposed to the tramway, and in particular the sort of people it would potentially convey to their neighbourhood, and this, along with the steep descent down into New Brighton, meant that the tramway never managed to reach that town's ferry or the beaches on the coast.

As a result, passenger loadings were disappointing, and it would appear that the company only managed to pay a dividend (initially) by skimping on track maintenance — for which it was responsible — a move that was to have serious repercussions. Although the tramway had been built in close collaboration with Wallasey Local Board (the track owners), the latter had insisted on the use of the Barker Rail — a design that was to prove troublesome for many early tramways — and the company had not only acquiesced (against the advice of their engineer), but had then compounded the error by using the lightweight version of the rail. It wasn't long therefore, before the track started to deteriorate, and with it, not only the company's tramcars, but also their relationship with the Local Board. Each blamed the other, but when it transpired that the tracks had also been poorly laid (i.e., not to the agreed specification), the company ended up having to rectify matters.

Although several attempts were made in the 1880s to tap into the lucrative summer season day-tripper market by either extending the tramway from Upper Brighton, or building a new line nearer the shoreline along the newly built Seabank Rd, permission was not forthcoming. The unmet demand eventually led to the introduction of omnibuses along Seabank Rd (by the Magazines, New Brighton and District Omnibus and Carriage Company), the tramway company initially competing (using its own omnibuses), but then having to withdraw them due to a legal challenge. A separate company — the Seacombe and New Brighton Omnibus Company — was however soon set up (in August 1885), with several directors in common with the WTCo, so competition soon resumed. The omnibus company and the WTCo were subsequently merged (on the 8th May 1891) to form the Wallasey United Tramway and Omnibus Company Ltd.

The tramway and omnibus services were both impacted by the opening of the railway to New Brighton in 1888 (by the Seacombe, Hoylake and Deeside Railway); this was connected to the Mersey Railway, which ran under the river, allowing passengers to travel directly to and from Liverpool without using the ferries, tramway or omnibuses. There was however a silver lining, as this and other railway openings led to significant growth in the area during the 1890s, the tramway company responding by improving maintenance of the tracks and buying new tramcars. The upturn in the WUT&OCo's fortunes was however to prove relatively short lived, as in 1896 the local authority — since 1894 Wallasey Urban District Council — decided to acquire the tramway and to build a modern, municipally operated electric tramway system.

Although the company was keen to operate the new services (under a lease arrangement), it soon became abundantly clear that the council had no intention whatsoever of letting a company, let alone the WUT&OCo, run its planned electric tramway. Rather than sell out to the council however, the WUT&OCo chose to fight on, as it believed the council had forfeited its opportunity to buy the company, and was thus not legally entitled to force through a compulsory purchase. After a long, drawn-out and acrimonious battle, which ended up in the House of Lords, the decision went against the company, Wallasey UDC taking over its tramway assets on the 1st April 1901.

The council immediately invested in new horses and second-hand vehicles, operating the tramway very successfully pending construction of the new electric system. The last Wallasey Council Tramways horse tram service ran on the 19th March 1902.

No photos have survived that depict either tramcars or staff of the Wallasey Tramways Company (1879 to 1891), so details of the uniforms worn, if any, remain unknown. Several photos do however exist from the days of its successor — the Wallasey United Tramway and Omnibus Company — and given that it was created by a merger between the tramway company and an omnibus company, it seems highly probably that the WUT&OCo's policy with respect to uniforms was merely a continuation of the WTCo's.

In common with the majority of horse tramways in the UK, drivers simply wore heavy-duty informal attire — trousers, jackets, knee blankets and the normal headgear of the day, the near ubiquitous bowler hat. Conductors may have worn informal jackets and trousers (this is unclear), but were very probably issued with long company overcoats and kepi-style caps (at least in the latter years of operation). Although it is difficult to say with any degree of certainty, these caps appear not to have carried any kind of badge.

Photographs of inspectors have not survived, and it may well be that the company never employed them.

Further reading
For a history of Wallasey's tramways, see: 'The Tramways of Birkenhead and Wallasey' by T B Maund and M Jenkins; LRTA (1987).


Horse tram drivers and conductors
Wallasey United Tramway and Omnibus Company
Wallasey United Tramway, Omnibus Company Car No 10 — location and date unknown. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Wallasey United Tramway and Omnibus Company
A blow-up of the above photo clearly showing the conductor's kepi-style cap — apparently worn without insignia of any kind — and the company-issued overcoat.

Wallasey United Tramway and Omnibus Company
WUT&Co Horsecar No 13 at the Upper Brighton terminus — photo undated, but probably taken in 1901. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.