Wrexham District Tramway

The 3ft 0ins-gauge, horse-drawn Wrexham and District Tramway, which was owned and operated by the Wrexham District Tramways Company, commenced services on the 1st November 1876. Although the company obtained powers to construct a small system of tramways in and around Wrexham, the only line built ran southwestwards from Ruabon Rd (at its junction with Ruthin Rd), 2.78 miles to the New Inn at Johnstown.

Intially, services appear to have been slow and rather infrequent, no doubt limited by the fact that the company owned just two horsecars, which it had to operate over long stretches of single line with just the odd passing place. With one eye no doubt on the finances, in 1879 the company applied for permission to work the line with steam traction, this being much cheaper and quicker than horse traction. Although the company changed its name around this time — to Wrexham Tramways Limited — possibly in anticipation, permission was very firmly declined (by the Board of Trade), as the road along which the line ran was completely unsuitable for heavy steam engines.

The company, having had its plans blocked, then seems to have lost interest in the tramway, leasing its operation — from 1880 onwards — to a local coal merchant, Frederick Llewelyn Jones. Mr Jones subsequently bought the tramcars, built another himself, and then continued to operate it for the next two decades, so he must have found the arrangement a profitable one.

In 1898, the tramway company was approached by the Drake and Gorham Electric Power and Traction Company Ltd, with a view to conversion to electric working. An agreement seems to have been reached between the two, the latter subsequently acquiring powers to take-over the WTCo, convert it to electric traction, and significantly extend the system. On the 22nd December 1900 however, the D&GEP&TCo sold its interest in the WTCo to the British Electric Traction Company Limited, which had for some time been aggressively purchasing horse and steam-operated tramways across the British Isles, with the intention of converting them to electric traction.

As a precursor to reconstruction, and a change of gauge to (3ft 6ins), the horse tram service was withdrawn (the last horse tram ran on the 26th April 1901), being replaced by omnibuses whilst conversion proceeded.

Although photographs of the Wrexham District Tramway are rare, two good quality images have survived from each end of the system's life. These strongly suggest that the crews working the trams — either under the auspices of the company (1876-1879) or the lessee, Frederick Llewelyn Jones (1880-1901) — wore informal but smart attire: shirt, waistcoat, jacket and trousers, along with the fashionable headgear of the day, e.g., flat or soft-topped caps. No badges of any kind, including licences were carried.

Further reading
For a history of the Wrexham's horse tramways, see 'North Wales Tramways' by Keith Turner; David and Charles (1979).


Horse tram drivers and conductors
Wrexham  District Tramways Horse tram No 2 at the New Inn
Horse Tram No 2 outside the New Inn at Johnstown. The tram is in very good condition, suggesting that the shot may have been taken as early as the 1880s, though this is far from certain. The unusual screens were apparently to shelter/shield smokers, and were probably unique to this system (thanks to Alan Brotchie for this information). Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Wrexham District Tramway Horse Tram No 2 conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing the individual on the platform. Although it is unclear whether he is the driver — there are other figures in the gloom behind him — all of them appear to be wearing informal attire.

Wrexham Tramways Horse Tram No 1 Last Day
The crew of Horse Tram No 1 pose for the cameraman outside the New Inn on what is probably the last day of operation — 26th April 1901. Although the tram is emblazoned with 'Wrexham and District Tramway', the company had actually changed its name some 22 years previously, to the 'Wrexham Tramways Company'.

Wrexham Trmaways condcutor Arthur Owen
A blow-up of the above photo showing one of the conductors — Arthur Owen— who is wearing smart but informal attire.

Wrexham Distirct Tramway Driver J Mackie
Another blow-up of the above photo showing the driver — J Mackie — whose attire is less clear, though probably also informal. Mr Mackie subsequently became a motorman on the WDT's successor, the Wrexham District Electric Tramways (see link).