The South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company Limited.


As mentioned in the previous section, the British Electric Traction Company Limited (BET) had obtained a controlling interest in the South Staffordshire Tramways Company on 29th July, 1897. BET took over the electrified section of the tramway and employed Alfred Dickinson as manager in overall charge.

The future of the South Staffs' steam trams looked bleak because it was apparent that the Board of Trade would not extend the company's licence to operate the trams indefinitely, especially as Handsworth Council was greatly opposed to them. At the employees' dinner in March 1898, one of the directors, Samuel Richardson Blundstone gave a speech in which he said that the company had been slowly but surely drifting on to rocks. The company had assets of £50,000 and liabilities of £73,000. It was proposed that the company should form part of a vast overhead electric system similar to those in America. He was clearly stating that the days of steam traction were numbered.

At the company's annual meeting in May, the Chairman, William Somers Schuster was asked if anything had been done about handing over to BET? He responded by stating that it had already been done, and that had it not been done, the company would have been wound-up.

An E.C.C. advert from 1893.

The local authorities urgently wanted an improved form of traction on the lines, and so the company arranged a conference between representatives of the local authorities from Darlaston, Dudley, Handsworth, Tipton, Wednesbury, and West Bromwich, and the company's Chairman William Somers Schuster, and Stephen Sellon, BET's Chief Engineer. It was presided over by Sir Francis Marrindin of the Board of Trade.

During the meeting, which took place on 3rd May, 1898 at West Bromwich Town Hall, a discussion was held about the different traction systems, leasing of lines, etc. Mr. Schuster announced that the company was promoting a Bill, paid for by BET, to introduce an improved form of traction on all of their lines. Copies were to be supplied to everyone present. The meeting was adjourned for one month.

In the meantime, the Highway Sub-Committee appointed by West Bromwich Council carried out a survey of all systems currently in use, and concluded that the overhead wire system of electrical traction was the best option.

Having considered the findings of the sub-committee, the council felt that the way forward was to purchase the tramways within the borough, upon expiration of the current lease, and run an overhead wire system of electrical traction powered by a corporation generating station.

While this was happening, BET put together a proposal for the committee, part of which stated that their agreement with South Staffordshire Tramways included an option of taking a lease on the whole network with a view to electrifying the remaining steam sections. It also stated that BET was about to introduce a Bill in the next session of Parliament in the name of the South Staffordshire Tramways Company to confirm the lease and give power to the lessees to convert all or part of the network to electric traction.

The conference met again as planned, but adjourned the meeting until 20th July so that members could consider the BET proposals and the conclusions of the West Bromwich sub-committee. At the next meeting the members resolved that all local authorities within the area covered by the South Staffs network should take steps towards the purchase of the lines in their district and oppose BET's Bill. Afterwards Dudley, Walsall, Wednesbury, and West Bromwich councils confirmed their intention to purchase the tramways within their areas. Only Coseley, Darlaston, Handsworth, and Tipton were undecided.

Around November 1898 Alfred Dickinson resigned as manager of BET's tramways, and was replaced by Mr. James A. Lycett, BET's Birmingham District Superintendent.

One of the electric tramcars.

On 8th June, 1899, BET's Bill came before a House of Lords' sub-committee, but was unsuccessful because the committee members felt that it did not satisfy the wishes of the local authorities. After amendments, it was passed in a shortened form on 9th August as the South Staffordshire Tramways Act, 1899. The Bill gave the South Staffordshire Tramways Company powers to lease its tramways to BET. Afterwards meetings were held between the various councils affected to decide how best to protect their interests against the BET Bill.

West Bromwich Council decided to purchase, and operate its lines independently, and Walsall decided to apply for a Bill in the next session of Parliament to do the same, and also extend the network by over 11 miles.

After negotiations with South Staffordshire Tramways, BET formed the South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company Limited, registered on 31st July, 1899. The new company took over the operation of the electrified lines on the South Staffordshire Tramway network from BET, and for the time being South Staffordshire Tramways continued to run the steam lines as before. The new company's Chairman was Emile Garcke, the Directors were John S. Raworth and James Lycett from BET and William Somers Schuster, and Samuel Richardson Blundstone from South Staffs Tramways Company. Secretary H. S. Hodgson. The South Staffordshire Tramways Company then applied for a Bill to enable it to sell portions of the tramways to respective local authorities.

On 23rd June, 1900 the South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company Limited acquired a lease for the whole of the South Staffordshire Tramways system. Annual rent was to be paid, after an initial payment of £4,500 at £3,000 plus 1¼ pence per mile run after the first 864,000 car miles. The annual rent for Pleck generating station and the 16 existing cars was five percent of their capital value. When the lease took effect, James Lycett became Managing Director, Mr. J. J. Robins became Managing Engineer, and Mr. H. Hatchett became Traffic Manager.

The front of an electric tramcar.

The South Staffordshire Tramways Company's Bill was passed as the South Staffordshire Tramways Act, 1900 which enabled the company to sell parts of the network to local authorities.

The next section deals with the response of the local authorities to the potential sale or lease.


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