Shipley Tramways

For a moderately sized town, Shipley's tramway story is an extremely complex one, with much of the detail, particularly dates, having eluded posterity. Attempts to build and operate independent horse/steam tramways within the Shipley Local Board area (Shipley Urban District Council from 1894) proved to be something of a poisoned chalice, no less than four individuals/companies being financially ruined in the process. A measure of stability would finally be achieved in 1893 following the Local Board's take-over of the main line to Bradford, though that didn't put an end to the financial carnage, conversion to electric traction claiming yet another victim.

The town's first tramway, which was horse drawn and built to a gauge of 4 feet, opened for business on the 3rd August 1882. The line ran from the Fox and Hounds in Shipley westwards to the Rosse Hotel in Saltaire, a distance of just 0.8 miles, far too short to be commercially viable. The owner and operator, Joseph Speight, appears to have been in financial difficulty before the line was even running, going so far as to suggest — at the opening — that Shipley Local Board take over the venture. By February of the following year, Speight was being pursued by his creditors, mostly in relation to ventures elsewhere, the tramway services summarily stopping on the 2nd May 1883.

After a hiatus of 9 months, services recommenced on the 9th February 1884, the tramway having been transferred from the unfortunate Joseph Speight to a new company — the Shipley and District Tramway Company — owned by a Liverpool-based entrepreneur by the name of Maurice Jones. The S&DTCo managed no better than its predecessor, services finally expiring around June 1885, having apparently only operated sporadically for some considerable time prior to this. Jones was however more successful in trying to expand the system, which was desperately needed if it were to be viable, obtaining powers in 1885 to build a tramway southwards from Saltaire to the Bradford boundary at Frizinghall. By this time however, he was clearly in financial difficulties, agreeing in July 1885 to transfer his interests in both lines to a new entity, Bradford District Steam Tramways Ltd. At some point, it is unclear exactly when, the BDST appears to have restarted horsecar services on the Saltaire-Shipley line, but then spent most of its time trying to acquire powers for additional lines rather than getting on with construction of the line to Bradford. All the while it was incurring significant losses on the services it did operate (i.e., Saltaire-Shipley), finally giving up around September 1887, the company entering liquidation.

After yet another hiatus, another brave (or foolhardy) band of entrepreneurs — Bradford and District Tramways Company Ltd — stepped into the fray. This new company purchased the assets of the old company in March 1888, and soon started work on the partly constructed Bradford line, which opened on the 26th August 1888, adding another 1.4 miles to the tramway; although the new line met the Bradford Corporation system at Frizinghall, the tracks remained unconnected. At some point, possibly in the summer of 1888, services were also restarted on the Shipley line. Although the company acquired powers for extensions in 1890, and even started some work on a new line to Bingley, all was not well, unhappy debenture holders forcing the appointment of a receiver in February 1891. Services continued to run under the receiver, but were finally stopped on the 9th October 1891, he too having presumably had enough of the continual losses, and having failed to find a buyer, electing to liquidate the company.

The area remained without a tramway until March 1893 when Shipley Local Board were persuaded to purchase the Bradford line, leasing its operation to the Bradford Tramways and Omnibus Company Ltd, a company which successfully operated the majority of Bradford Corporation's tramway system. Services recommenced on the Bradford line on the 31st March 1893 using steam traction, the tracks at Frizinghall being physically connected to the Bradford system. The Saltaire line was not purchased, the tracks being left in situ until their removal in 1896.

As was the case with many smaller towns, an intense rivalry existed between Shipley and its larger neighbour, Bradford. Rather than allow Bradford Corporation to build tramways within the Shipley municipal boundary, the UDC instead chose to build its own electric tramway system (including conversion of the steam-operated Saltaire-Frizinghall line), powers for this being granted in 1901. Although the Bradford line was worked by an independent company — the BT&OCo — this situation changed fundamentally on the 1st February 1902 when the company surrendered all its leases to Bradford Corporation, its staff passing into the employ of the corporation. Shipley had little choice other than to transfer their lease to Bradford Corporation as well, though predictably, the two councils could not agree terms, having to resort to arbitration. Reconstruction for overhead electric operation was soon put in hand, steam services ceasing on the 13th April 1902. The first electric services commencing running from Bradford through to the Branch Hotel (on Bradford Rd) on the 5th May 1902, with the full route through to Saltaire opening one week later on the 12th May.

With Bradford Corporation already operating the Local Board's Bradford line, it made good sense for the BCT to take-over the operation of Shipley's new lines too. However, the corporation refused take on the new lines (or certain portions of them) which resulted in Shipley agreeing to lease them to the promoters of the Mid-Yorkshire Tramways Company, a concern which had grand plans for an extensive tramway network linking — amongst other places — Ilkley, Otley, Shipley, Bingley and Keighley. The MYTCo undertook to build and operate Shipley's lines, whilst acquiring powers of its own in July 1903 to build lines beyond the municipal boundary. Construction of Shipley's new lines commenced in March 1903, the work being done by the company's contractor, the well-known firm of J G White & Co Ltd. The majority of the 4 ft-gauge system was opened on the 23rd July 1903, with tramcars borrowed from Bradford City Tramways — no doubt accompanied by a degree of municipal embarrassment — the remainder following on the 14th November. By now however, the MYTCo was in severe financial difficulties, the interests of the promoters having to be handed over to J G White & Co Ltd in November 1903, presumably in lieu of payment for services rendered. Moreover, takings on the new tramway were well below expectations, it being abundantly clear to all that a tramway system run independently of the Bradford system was simply not viable.

Following negotiations between Shipley UDC, Bradford Corporation and the MYTCo, the latter agreed to surrender its lease to the council (for £32,751), which then transferred it to Bradford Corporation. The latter purchased the MYTCo's tramcars and spares, commencing operation on the 30th April 1904. As well as the existing connection to Bradford City Tramways at Frizinghall, the BCT quickly constructed an extension from its terminus in Thackley to the former MYTCo terminus in the same town; services commenced operating over this new section on the 1st July 1904.

The tramways of Shipley were successfully operated by Bradford City Tramways as an integral part of the larger Bradford system. The system was gradually abandoned in the 1930's as part of the BCT's programme to replace its trams with trolleybuses and motorbuses, the first Shipley conversion taking place on the 30th March 1930, with the last tram of all running on the 6th May 1939.

At its maximum, under the ownership of Shipley UDC, the tramway totalled 4.83 miles. The system was broadly triangular in form: the top side running eastwards from Nab Wood, through Saltaire and Shipley to Thackley; the left side running southeastwards from Saltaire to the Bradford boundary at Frizinghall in the south; and the right side running southwestwards from Baildon Bridge through Shipley and along Otley Rd to join the Frizinghall line at the Branch Hotel. Although the western terminus of the Shipley system at Nab Wood was extended out to Bingley and Crossflatts in 1914, the tracks were not owned by Shipley UDC.

Photographs of Shipley's horse tramways have unfortunately not survived, so it is impossible to state whether or not uniforms were issued by any of the four different operators over the tramways' 10 years of intermittent operation. These operators were: Joseph Speight (1882-1883); Maurice Jones (1884-1885); Bradford District Steam Tramways Company (1885-1887); and Bradford and District Tramways Company (1888-1891).

During the tenure of the Bradford Tramways and Omnibus Company Ltd (1893-1902), horse tram drivers would have worn informal attire, with conductors wearing uniforms and kepi-style caps (see link). Following the take-over of operations by Bradford City Tramways, tramcar crews would have worn regulation BCT uniforms (see link).

Further reading
For a detailed history of the tramways around Shipley, see 'Shipley Tramways' by John Pollard, in the Tramway Review, Nos 155 (p84-94) and 156 (p124-136); Light Railway Transport Association (1993).