The South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company Limited.
The Company Matures

In 1901 the South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company Limited purchased its first four tramcars from the Electric Railway & Tramway Carriage Works Limited, at Preston, a subsidiary of Dick, Kerr & Company. They were double deck cars which would have been painted in the company's Munich lake and cream livery.

In 1901 Emile Garcke was still Chairman. The directors were: John S. Raworth, William Somers Schuster, and Samuel Richardson Blundstone. James Lycett was Managing Director, and W. F. Cox, Company Secretary. Mr. H. Hartley was Power House Superintendent. A new appointment was Mr. George Conaty who succeeded Mr. J. J. Robins as General Manager. Towards the end of 1901 John S. Raworth resigned and was replaced by Sir Ernest Spencer, M.P.

The employees were as follows: 10 - clerks, 18 - foremen and inspectors, 98 - drivers, conductors, and brakesmen, 26 - fitters, carpenters, enginemen, and firemen, 15 - car washers and labourers, 18 - permanent way workers, 2 - horse keepers, 4 - blacksmiths, and 40 - others.

During 1901 the company's licence to operate steam trams was twice extended. It had been a reasonable year, the total revenue amounted to £41,443 which after deductions left a profit of £5,807. A total of 6,861,683 passengers were carried, and tenders were invited for twelve double deck tramcars to operate on the West Bromwich lines when they had been electrified.

A South Staffs' tram makes it's way along Park Street, Walsall in about 1900. From an old postcard.

As in the previous year, the licence to operate the steam trams was twice extended, this time up until April 1903. Five more tramcars of the 'Baltimore' type were ordered from the Electric Railway & Tramway Carriage Works Limited, and Mr. George Conaty left to become Manager of  the City of Birmingham Tramways Company. He was replaced by Mr. H. Hartley, previously Power House Superintendent, a role now taken over by Mr. F. J. Smith. Mr. H. S. Hodgson became Traffic Manager.

In August 1902 eighteen double deck tramcars were ordered from the Brush Electrical Engineering Company at Loughborough to run on the electrified West Bromwich lines, which would soon be in operation. The company's fleet, as listed in the Board of Trade return on 30th June, 1903 consisted of 33 electric tramcars and 26 steam locomotives. Shortly afterwards a special single deck tram arrived from Brush. It had been ordered by BET for ceremonial occasions.

Walsall Corporation Tramways' tramcar number 41 turns into Bescot Road, from Wednesbury Road in 1930, on its way to Darlaston.
Late in 1902 the company decided to promote a Bill for the building of a new tramway from Great Bridge to Ocker Hill, at the suggestion of Tipton Urban District Council, and to require Wednesbury Council, if it decided to take up its option of compulsorily purchasing the company's lines in the Borough, to lease them to the company, or to grant the company running powers over them, and also over lines in Handsworth and Walsall.
As agreement couldn't be reached between Tipton Council and the company, over the building of the new line, it was dropped from the Bill, which became law in 1903 as the South Staffordshire Tramways Act, 1903.
Darlaston depot became a sizeable undertaking as can be seen from the following list of buildings produced for insurance purposes in October 1903:

Car Sheds, Electrical Fitting Shop, Engine Sheds, Erecting Shop, Machine Shop, Blacksmiths', Copper Smiths', and Boilermakers' Shop, Repair Shop and Paint Shop, Sand Drying Chamber with water tank and Offices, General Stores, Storekeeper's Office and Stables, Harness Room, Armature Shop, Drawing Office and Wood Pattern Store, Offices and Store (former Manager's House), Coke Stores, and Coke Foreman's Office and Weigh House. There were also several brick and corrugated steel buildings which housed the Coke Shop, Permanent Way Shop, Smith's Shop, and Permanent Way Tool Stores.

At the time, the company owned 47 electric tramcars, 18 steam locomotives, 17 cars for the steam locomotives, 5 wagons, 4 coal trucks, and 1 horse.

In 1903 the trams carried 9,577,023 passengers, with traffic receipts of £48,923.

On 23rd April, 1903 services operated by Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways began to run over the Moxley to Darlaston line.

An extension to the licence to operate steam trams until April 1904 was granted by the Board of Trade. At the beginning of 1904 the only parts of the company's network still operated by steam were the Wednesbury to Darlaston route, and the Wednesbury to Dudley line via Tipton, which was seriously affected by mining subsidence. Because of this problem it was considered to be unsuitable for electrification because of safety fears.

Walsall Corporation's tram number 5 in High Street, Walsall Wood. From an old postcard.

Wednesbury and Tipton Councils contacted the Board of Trade to say that the local inhabitants would prefer to be without the steam trams, even though this would mean the loss of the two services. By this time the company was running the steam services at a loss, they were only maintained for the convenience of the public. Although the steam licence had been extended again until 23rd October, the services were terminated on 15th June, 1904, and both lines remained idle for some time. The company's last steam locomotive to remain in use was based at the Handsworth depot, and used for shunting cars. It continued in use until 30th September, 1904.

Wednesbury Council finally agreed to purchase and pay for all the lines in the Borough, and electrify and refurbish them. In the agreement made on 22nd June, 1905 the council paid £17,420 for the tramways, excluding the Darlaston to James Bridge line, and the Darlaston to Moxley line. The lessee company purchased Darlaston depot for £11,500. Work then began on the Wednesbury to Darlaston line which reopened on 26th September, 1905.

In August 1905 an agreement was finally made between Tipton Urban District Council and the company, over the Wednesbury to Dudley via Tipton line. Work soon began to refurbish and electrify the line, including dealing with the subsidence. An agreement was reached with Dudley Council over the cost of the Tipton Road section, and the line reopened on 14th October, 1907.

In 1905, as listed in the company's annual report, 7,782,261 passengers were carried, traffic receipts amounted to £39,209, and the company made a loss of £920.

A tram makes its way through Dartmouth Square, West Bromwich in about 1910. From an old postcard.

In June 1906 the Walsall Corporation Transport Committee entered into negotiations with the company to try and improve the service on the Walsall to Darlaston, and Walsall to Wednesbury routes by reconstructing the the tramway from The Bridge to Oxford Street, Pleck with double track. The Corporation also wanted to add loops at Pleck junction to both the Wednesbury and Darlaston lines, and renew the electrical equipment. In return the company had to agree to reconstruct the lines from Pleck junction to Wednesbury and Darlaston, and pay a fixed annual sum of £500, and an annual rent of £378.

An agreement was made and work commenced in November 1906, but was held-up by severe winter weather. Running eventually commenced on 19th March, 1907.

1906 had been a slightly better year. The number of passengers increased to 8,530,666, and traffic receipts amounted to £43,257. There were now 174 staff as follows:

7 clerks, 10 inspectors, 87 drivers and conductors, 2 boys, and 8 parcel boys.
1 clerk, 3 foremen, 2 storekeepers, 20 blacksmiths and fitters, 2 carpenters, 1 linesman, 6 car washers, 3 painters, 9 permanent way men, and 9 labourers.
Power Station:
4 enginemen and firemen.

There were now 18.19 miles of track, and improved returns for 1907. The passenger number was up to 9,320,602, and the traffic receipts totalled £47,047. Unfortunately the company did not do so well in 1908. The number of passengers fell to 8,859,415 and traffic receipts fell to £45,931. The annual profit was just £39. Speaking at the company's annual meeting, Mr. William Somers Schuster, now Company Chairman, said that the overdraft was now £2,383 as against £64 in 1907. He said that the anticipation that the electrification and the linking-up of various sections would provide a considerable increase in traffic, had not materialised. He complained about the 'harassing tactics' of local authorities which added to the running expenses and everything else. Mr. Cecil Braithwaite said that he attributed the present position of the company to 'bullying' by the local authorities, which had caused the destruction of tramway companies all over the Kingdom.

A tram makes its way along West Bromwich High Street around the turn of the 20th century. From an old postcard.
Unfortunately the squabbles continued. In July 1909 West Bromwich Corporation complained that the company had not complied with the agreement made in December 1905 in which it promised to take, and pay for a minimum of 900,000 units of electricity per year. The controversy was not settled until March 1911 when the company agreed to pay for 600,000 extra units at prices from one to two pence per unit. This gave the Corporation an extra income of several thousand pounds.

In the middle of 1909 Handsworth Urban District Council complained about the company's failure to adequately maintain, clean, and light the vehicles. The council also wanted to approve any new vehicles before they were purchased. Things came to a head on 11th September, 1909 when a tramcar ran away on the Holyhead Road. Luckily without injury or damage. When inspected, it was found that one of the four brake blocks was missing, and the other three did not work correctly.

The council also complained about a lack of punctuality, arriving at intervals of 7½ minutes instead of 5 minutes, and a lack of maintenance at Handsworth depot, which was badly in need of a coat of paint. The council demanded that its tramway expert, Mr. G. Conaty should have access to the trams and examine them at will. The dispute would go on for a long time.

1909 was another bad year, which ended with a loss of £1,493 in spite of the passenger numbers rising to 9,118,337.

On 1st January, 1910 a new system of fares and stages was introduced on all the local tramways called the "Fair Fare System". It took a while for it to be accepted by many members of the public, and initially led to complaints and protest meetings. It eventually became accepted after a number of slight modifications were made.

Some of the complaints made by local authorities to the company were petty in the extreme. In 1910 Walsall Corporation insisted that the company must run three covered cars on the Walsall routes to equal the number of covered cars purchased by the Corporation, in order to comply with an agreement made in 1906. At the time the company only had one such tram, but the others were soon purchased. The company also acquired a number of covered cars from Dudley and Stourbridge tramways, after an accident which resulted in the Board of Trade banning their use on nearly all the company's routes.

In 1911 Handsworth became part of Birmingham, and the tramways were taken over by Birmingham Corporation. On 9th October, 1912 a new through service was introduced between Darlaston Bull Stake and Colmore Row in Birmingham. It became known as the 'Black Country Through Service'. On 26th May, 1923 the service was extended to Bilston, over Wolverhampton Corporation's tracks.

A Wolverhampton Corporation 1928 timetable.

In 1916 reduced services were operated in the evenings after the Zeppelin raids, as a result of the destruction of tramcar 16 on 31st January, 1916 in Bradford Place, Walsall. A bomb damaged the tramcar, and a passenger, Walsall's Mayoress, Mrs. Mary Julia Slater was severely injured and died in hospital on 20th February.

In 1920 to 1921 the route from Pinfold to Bloxwich was improved, and in 1922 Walsall Corporation took over responsibility for the lines from Pleck to Wood Green and Darlaston.

The South Staffordshire lines continued to operate in West Bromwich, Wednesbury and Dudley until 1st April, 1924, when the West Bromwich lease expired, and Birmingham was approached to operate the routes between Birmingham, Dudley and Wednesbury, on behalf of West Bromwich Corporation. The Wednesbury to Dudley route was taken over by the Dudley, Stourbridge and District Electric Traction Company, and the remaining routes were taken over by Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways. The South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company Limited finally ceased to operate on 22nd December, 1931.

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