The South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company Limited.

A Rocky Road

Walsall Corporation

Walsall Corporation was first to acquire some of the South Staffordshire lines. In July 1899 the Corporation applied to the Board of Trade to obtain permission to compulsorily purchase the tramways within the Borough. The Corporation also gave South Staffs Tramways, six months' notice of its intention to terminate the agreement made in February 1892 which allowed the company to electrify the lines within the Borough. This would require the company to remove all the electrical equipment including poles and overhead wires.

On 23rd November, 1899 an agreement was signed between Walsall Corporation and South Staffs Tramways Company Limited (with the agreement of BET and the Lessee company) for the sale of the tramways within the Borough to the Corporation. Except for Birchills depot, Pleck generating station, and the tramcars. The Corporation paid £18,500 for the tramways, and immediately withdrew the six months' notice to terminate the 1892 agreement. The threat of the termination had been enough to ensure that the company would agree to the Corporation's terms.

Walsall Corporation obtained the necessary powers to purchase or lease, and operate the existing tramways in the Borough, and extend them by about eleven miles, under the terms of the Walsall Corporation Act, 1900.

From an old postcard.

On 1st January, 1901 the Act came into effect, and the company continued to run the trams as before, but now under a three year's lease to the Corporation. Building work quickly began on an extension to the Bloxwich route, and the Corporation asked for extra tramcars on the various routes to provide a more frequent service. The capacity of the Corporation's electricity generating station was increased, along with the building of a tramway transformer station in Hospital Street. Around May 1892 the operating voltage on the Bloxwich route was increased from 350 to 500 volts, and new tramcars were introduced on the route. They were based at the Birchills depot. The old 350 volt trams continued to operate on the other lines, still powered by the Pleck generating station. The new Bloxwich line opened on 13th December, 1902 after a successful Board of Trade inspection.

Walsall Corporation's Tramways Committee decided that from November 1901 all routes would start from The Bridge, and in October 1902 a Sunday service would start to operate on the route to Mellish Road, which seems to have only lasted for a few weeks. The following services operated by the end of 1902:

The Bridge to Bloxwich: 7½ minutes and 15 minutes service at different times of the day.
The Bridge to Wednesbury: 15 minutes service.
The Bridge to Darlaston:
15 minutes and 30 minutes service at different times of the day.
Around the beginning of 1903 all of the old 350 volt tramcars were converted to 500 volt operation, and on 16th May 1903 a new service began to operate from The Bridge to Bilston via Darlaston, and Moxley over Wolverhampton Corporation's line. The fare was pence, but the service only ran for a few months.

Walsall Corporation replaced the track to Mellish Road which was badly worn, doubled the track in Park Street, and added four tracks and a central island at The Bridge, as a new terminus. Many other sections of the tramway had been improved by the time the three year lease with the South Staffs company expired. Walsall Corporation then completely took over the routes in the Borough, commencing operation on 1st January, 1904, after an official opening ceremony on 31st December.

The reconstructed lines and central island on The Bridge, Walsall. From an old postcard.

West Bromwich Corporation

West Bromwich Corporation decided to take up the option to compulsorily purchase and operate all the lines within the Borough, and to get permission to purchase and operate several lines outside the Borough. In order to get the necessary powers to proceed, the Corporation had to get a Bill through Parliament. When it came under consideration by a House of Commons select committee, objections were raised from the South Staffordshire Tramways Company who greatly objected to the purchase of their lines outside the Borough. The Bill was then modified to include only the purchase of the lines within the Borough, and passed as the West Bromwich Corporation Act, 1900.

Negotiations then took place between the Corporation and BET which resulted in an agreement on 31st December, 1900. This enabled the Corporation to purchase all of the lines within the Borough including those of the Birmingham and Midland companies, reconstruct and electrically equip them, then grant leases to the prospective companies for a period of twenty one years. The Corporation paid £32,000 for the South Staffs lines, which were just over five miles in length. The purchase took effect on 31st December, 1901.

The Corporation then made an agreement with BET for the company to reconstruct the whole of the Corporation's lines at a cost not exceeding £100,000. Work got underway rather slowly and caused severe disruptions to the steam trams, which resulted in many complaints. Centre poles and double tracks were used on the main part of the route through the town centre as far as the Handsworth boundary. When this section had been completed, in about August 1902, the Corporation approached Handsworth Urban District Council to ask if the new tramway could be joined to existing tramway in Handsworth to allow through steam working. Handsworth UDC would not allow any of the existing track to be disturbed, so in the end, the Corporation had to re-lay part of the new track to join the old track at the boundary, which further added to the delays. The new tramway had been constructed by George Law of Kidderminster.

On Monday 8th December, 1902 the new line was energised from the Corporation's power station at Black Lake, which provided 500 volts DC. On the same day a trial run was made from the Handsworth border to Carter's Green and back with one of the new, recently purchased tramcars. A successful Board of Trade inspection was carried out on 9th December by Mr. A. P. Trotter, and Colonel Yorke.

The opening ceremony, performed by the Mayor, took place on Friday 19th December, 1902, and the new service began immediately afterwards from the Woodman Inn on the Handsworth boundary to Carter's Green. By this time, eight of the eighteen tramcars ordered from the Brush Electrical Engineering Company, at Loughborough had arrived. They were sufficient in number to provide a five minutes service on the section of line then in use. This worked well until the first Saturday football match at The Hawthorns. Extra steam trams were on hand to cope with the large numbers of fans, but they were largely ignored, people preferred the new electric tramcars which rapidly became overcrowded. The extra steam trams became a necessity on match days, and continued to be used for some time.

The double track and centre poles in West Bromwich High Street. From an old postcard.

The new electrically operated service was reliable and popular, the only inconvenience being the necessity to change to a steam tram at the Handsworth border. Another snag was that the Hockley depot, where the trams were housed, was just over the Handsworth border and so the trams had to be towed between the electrified line and the depot by steam locomotive.

The electrification programme continued at a fast pace. By January 1903 the line from Carter's Green to Great Bridge had been completed. It opened for service on 24th January. The first section of the line from Carter's Green to Hawkes Lane, Hill Top opened on the 19th February, 1903, the remainder to Wednesbury via Holloway Bank opened on 10th April.

After the opening of the electrified West Bromwich to Dudley line in May 1903, special cars were run as far afield as Kinver, and on match days at The Hawthorns, from Cradley, Stourbridge, and Kingswinford. In November of that year, two new sections of electrified line opened along Spon Lane and Bromford Lane.

On 5th March, 1904, Handsworth Urban District Council finally agreed to purchase the tramways within the Borough and pay £5,250 for the track and depot. The sale excluded the steam engines and cars. In April a contract for the reconstruction and electrification of the Handsworth lines was placed with George Holloway of Wolverhampton. The work proceeded quickly and had been completed by early August, but electric trams could not run because of yet more disagreements between the company and West Bromwich and Handsworth councils.

Although the electric tramcars had been running in West Bromwich for some time, the lease had not been paid and over £8,000 was owed. This was settled on 8th September when the company paid the arrears. The other sticking point was electricity. The electric power for the Handsworth line would initially come from the West Bromwich power station, until Handsworth could provide its own. The amount the company would have to pay Handsworth for electricity when available, had not yet been decided, so electric tramcars could not run on the Handsworth line until the matter was resolved.

A tram at Carter's Green. From an old postcard.

Not to be beaten, the company powered up the Handsworth section early on the morning of 10th September and had a trial run on the line.

Handsworth Council was furious because the lease had not been completed.

The connections were removed, the line short circuited, and a steam roller was placed at right angles across the track to ensure that no trams could use the route.

The council also sent a letter to the tramway company informing them that there would be no further interference with Handsworth's lines, and that if an undertaking was not received from the company to that effect, by the following Wednesday, damages would be claimed, and a court injunction would be obtained.

On 19th September the two sides finally started talking, and the lease was soon completed. The tram service finally started to operate on 1st October.

Tipton Urban District Council

The council initially decided to promote a Bill in Parliament to enable it to compulsorily purchase and operate the tramways within the Borough. Talks then followed with BET, Birmingham & Midland, and South Staffs companies, after which the council decided to drop the Bill. In exchange the companies agreed to pay a lump sum plus £150 for thirty years, and electrically equip the tramways, and pay the council's costs for promoting the Bill.

On 25th April, 1902 Tipton Urban District Council wrote to the South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company suggesting that a tramway should be built from Great Bridge Market Place, along New Road, and Toll End Road to join the Wednesbury to Tipton line at Ocker Hill. This led to the tramway company promoting a Bill which included the proposed tramway. Unfortunately a disagreement arose between the company and the council, and so the proposal was removed from the Bill.

Darlaston Urban District Council

Darlaston Council decided not to exercise its right of compulsory purchase of the tramlines within the Borough.

Wednesbury Borough Council

Wednesbury Borough Council agreed to compulsorily purchase the tramways within the Borough and lease them to the company, under the terms of South Staffordshire Tramways Act, 1900. A provisional agreement was made with the company in 1901 for the sale of all the lines except Darlaston to Moxley, and Darlaston to James Bridge, because both lines ran along roads where the boundary between the towns was along the centre of the road. This meant that parts of the lines were in Wednesbury and parts in Darlaston.

Darlaston Urban District Council approved the plans to electrify the line from the Bull Stake, Darlaston to Moxley in January 1902, and work began soon afterwards. Wednesbury Council then complained that the work had been carried out without consent because the tramway ran on the Wednesbury side of the western end of Moxley Road, and Moxley High Street. The disagreement continued for a long time and held-up the negotiations about the granting of the lease. The council threatened legal action against the company, and threatened to oppose the forthcoming Bill that was being promoted by the company. It would require Wednesbury Council  to lease the lines to the company, should it decide to take up its option of compulsorily purchasing the company's lines in the Borough.

A tram proceeds through Wednesbury Market Place. From an old postcard.

Discussions began between the council and the company, each making offers and counter-offers. The differences appeared to have been settled when agreement was reached on 15th April, 1903 to lease all the tramways in the borough to the company, except for the disputed lines from Darlaston. By this time the Darlaston-Moxley line had been completed and inspected by the Board of Trade, but more disagreements followed over the purchase and leasing of Darlaston depot and the tramcars. The argument continued for a long time. Agreement was not reached until May 1906.


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