A Brief History of the Bus, Trolleybus and Tram Industry in Leeds
Having made its mark in the construction of railway engines and road traction engines, it was perhaps logical that Leeds should progress to the construction of buses, trolleybuses and trams. The bus, trolleybus and tram manufacturing industry has always been more spread out geographically than that relating to railways, the result being that only a handful of firms would exist in any one area, but it is perhaps telling that of the handful of British bus manufacturers that remain, one is still based in the Leeds area.
|External Website Links|
|Companies Manufacturing Buses in Leeds|
|Charles H Roe|
|Wilks and Meade|
|Mann's Patent Steam Cart & Wagon Co|
|Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co|
Charles H Roe
The most successful, well known and long lived of the Leeds bus manufacturers was undoubtedly Charles H Roe Limited.
Charles Henry Roe was born in York in May 1887, the son of Charles Roe who worked at the North Eastern Railway’s carriage works and later became a foreman at the plant. Charles Henry Roe served his apprenticeship in the carriage works’ drawing office before starting his first job in the trade as a draughtsman at Charles Roberts and Company’s works in Wakefield, a firm which became known for the manufacture of railway wagons. Starting there in 1912 he moved to Leeds a year later to take up a position with the R.E.T. Company (see the RET section below). Exempted from war conscription by his profession, Charles H. Roe set up his own business as an engineer and coachbuilder in 1917. Various accounts suggest that he set up “next door to” or “nearby” the premises of his former employer, the R.E.T. Company, but it is more likely that he simply rented a corner of their yard.
Early products of the firm included flatbed trailers for traction engines, lorry bodies (an increasing market after the end of World War 1 as ex- military chassis became available) and Char-a-Banc bodies. Business was sufficient to warrant increasing the size of the works, and at least one source states that Roe “took over” the R.E.T Company; we know this to be false however, as the latter concern had been taken over by Short Brothers. It is more likely that Roe simply increased the area it rented from R.E.T. until it accounted for the majority of the site.
By 1919 further expansion at Balm Road was impossible, the area being hemmed in by housing, the Balm Beck and the Middleton and Midland railway lines. Charles H. Roe and his wife lived in Cross Gates near to a WW1 shell-filling factory which promptly came up for sale. To fund its purchase, Charles H. Roe Ltd. was registered on 26th May 1920, the shareholders including Charles Roe Senior and various family friends.
Following the move to the “Cross Gates Carriage Works”, which took place in April 1921, Roe built its first double- deck bus bodies, for Birmingham Corporation Transport, as well as continuing to build lorry and Char a Banc bodies, and they also constructed bodywork on limousines. Notably the company also bodied some trolleybuses for Charles Roe's former employer Railless Limited. Some of these vehicles were tested on the Leeds City Tramways trolleybus routes before delivery.
The share value of the company proved insufficient in the harsh trading conditions of the 1920s, and despite efforts to keep going during 1921, the company was voluntarily wound up during November 1922. A major factor in this was a late payment for the Birmingham double-deckers.
Various payments were made to the receivers of the original company who were then able to pay off the debts and report a small surplus. In early- 1923 Charles H. Roe purchased the assets of the company in a personal capacity and formed Charles H. Roe (1923) Limited, this time with an increased share capacity.
The workload of the new company consisted largely of motorbus bodies with a few trolleybuses (some sub contracted from other firms such as Karrier Motors, these badged as Karrier products) More details about Roe's Trolleybuses can be found in the trolleybus section further down the page. Roe also produced a handful of Lorries and char a bancs. Other excursions included a pair of railbuses on Ford chassis for the Derwent Valley Light Railway, supplied in 1924. These normally operated as a back-to-back pair with the front vehicle under power and the rear vehicle being hauled with the gearbox in neutral, although they could work singly between York and Skipwith, at which points turntables were installed to turn the vehicles, there being a cab at one end only. Despite impressive fuel economy the railbuses could not save the passenger service on the DVLR, this ceasing in 1926. The vehicles were sold for further service on the County Donegal Railways, Ireland. The company also made a brief excursion was made into the world of tramcar construction in 1953 when two vehicles were built for Leeds City Transport. Further details of these vehicles are included in the tram section further down the page.
Above Right - Replica Model T Ford railbus on the preserved section of Derwent Valley Light Railway in 2013 (Photo Kris Ward)
Above - Early motorbus bodywork owed much to tramway practice, as shown by Roe- bodied KH 6239. The bus had a Bristol “A” chassis and was supplied to Kingston upon Hull Corporation in 1928, becoming number 42 in its fleet. It had 56 seats. (Photographer unknown, M. Latus collection courtesy of the late Mike Pearson)
In 1928, Roe registered a patent for a machined continuous teak waist rail which was designed to interlock with the vertical pillars of a bus body and with steel reinforcing strips which when assembled binded it to the outer body panels. This was an early example of system-built bus bodywork in an age when most bodies were individually craft built.
A second excursion into the world of railway vehicles occurred in 1933 when Roe built a body on a Leeds-built Hudswell Clarke chassis for the Army, for use on the Spurn Head Railway, East Yorkshire. Following the end of traffic on this line in early 1951, the Railcar was removed to Bicester Army depot, where the body was removed and the chassis used as a “runner” wagon. In this capacity the chassis survived until at least the early 1970s.
The original company was finally wound up in 1934, following which the board of shareholders agreed to remove the (1923) from the new company’s name. During the 1930s Roe concentrated more on its bus building activities gaining a reputation for solidly built and stylish bodies. An indulgence came in 1935 with the construction of a streamlined body on an AEC chassis for exhibit at the Commercial Motor Show and ultimately destined for Leeds Corporation, an ardent supporter of the local manufacturer.
Above - By November 1930 bus bodywork was looking a bit more, well, bus like. This is shown by Leeds City Transport 107 (UA 5856), a Leyland TD1 with Roe 54 seat body. The photo appears to have been taken on Otley Road, Headingley. (Photographer unknown, M. Latus collection courtesy of the late Mike Pearson)
Following the outbreak of World War 2 production of new buses was suspended by the Government in order to preserve materials for the war effort; those vehicles in build had their construction stopped. The Charles H. Roe factory initially concentrated on production of vehicle bodies for the war effort such as mobile kitchens and canteens. By 1942 however, operators were crying out for replacement vehicles due to increased traffic as a result of munitions, aircraft and other war-related factories in their areas; bombing losses or simply the expiry of pre-war bodies which were usually designed for a seven-year operating life. The Government thus decided to un-freeze the vehicles whose production had been halted, and these were then sent to wherever the need was greatest, irrespective of who had originally ordered them.
In 1943 this was followed by the production of “Utility” buses to fulfil the requirement for replacement buses. The chassis of these were fairly conventional if rudimentary, but the bodies were designed to use available materials such as “green” (un- treated) timber and were also shaped so that they could be constructed by unskilled workers, so that skilled panel- beaters etc. could concentrate on war production. Roe were selected as a “Utility” bodybuilder, eventually constructing 240 single and over 400 double- deckers. Following the end of the war, and when supplies of materials became available, demand for new buses rocketed. Various companies had expressed an interest in acquiring or merging with Roe over a number of years. In 1939 both English Electric and Metro- Cammell Weymann had approached with a view either to amalgamation or takeover, whilst in 1945 amalgamation talks were opened with Mumford of Lydney, Gloucestershire. All were inconclusive and so it fell in 1947 to Park Royal of London to purchase a controlling stake in Charles H. Roe Limited, following which three Roe directors were replaced with Park Royal counterparts and Charles H. Roe joined the Park Royal board.
In 1949 Park Royal, and thus Roe, were taken over by Associated Commercial Vehicles (ACV), owners of bus chassis manufacturers AEC (Associated Equipment Company) and Maudslay, and of chassis and body constructor Crossley. Park Royal and Roe continued as independent concerns, but some rationalisation did occur. Production of composite (wood and metal) bodies was concentrated at Roe, whilst all-steel bodies were either constructed at Park Royal or by Roe on frames supplied by Park Royal.
Above - Jumping to 1952, Roe was owned by ACV and was cementing its reputation for building solid, stylish bodywork. This is demonstrated by preserved ex- West Riding Leyland Tiger PS2 733 (EHL 344), known as “Ethel” and seen at the Leeds Elland Road bus rally in 2009. (Photo Martin Latus)
In June 1952, Charles H. Roe resigned as managing director of the Leeds site and instead became company chairman. Throughout the 1950’s Roe continued to supply robust and stylish products, notably the “Pullman” body for Leeds City Transport, which featured four large main side windows rather than the normal five small ones, and the “Coronation” trolleybus bodies for Kingston-upon-Hull Corporation, which had front entrances and centre exits long before such features became the norm. Roe also bodied some vehicles for East Yorkshire Motor Services featuring the “Beverley Bar” domed roof unique to this operator and specially shaped to pass through Beverley’s North Bar (a medieval gate).
Above - Roe were prepared to build buses to customer requirements as shown here by East Yorkshire 652 (WAT 652), a 1957 AEC Regent V with composite teak/alloy bodywork seating 66. The most notable feature is the domed roof, designed to allow the bus to pass under the medieval North Bar in the town of Beverley. This was a feature of East Yorkshire buses for many years. In those days of manufacturing pride it was usual to photograph each completed vehicle prior to it leaving the works and this is one such “official” photograph. Copies of the pictures could be purchased by the customer. (Roe official photograph, M.Latus collection)
1959 saw something of a bombshell for the bus industry in the form of Leyland’s “Atlantean” double- deck chassis. This vehicle put the engine at the back and the door at the front, next to the driver-the exact opposite of the usual arrangement until this time. Concern was caused among bodybuilders due to the initial production being bodied only by either Metro- Cammell (Birmingham) or the associated firm of Weymann (Surrey), thus freezing firm’s such as Roe out of the market for this revolutionary bus. One of the answers came from Guy Motors of Wolverhampton, who created the “Wulfrunian” chassis in association with Yorkshire operator West Riding. The Wulfrunian had a front engine which was angled over to create space for a front door and featured such radical ideas (for the early 1960s) as independent front suspension and disc brakes. Roe were approached for the bodywork, presumably due to West Riding wishing to support a local manufacturer. Suffice it to say the bus was not a huge success, but Roe bodied 131 of the 137 built. By 1961 the Atlantean had been made available to other body builders and Roe began constructing bodies on it.
Above - By 1967, Roe were bodying the rear- engined Leyland Atlantean. This is one of a batch supplied to Kingston- upon- Hull City Transport as its number 221 (JRH 421E), note the unusual single- piece windscreen. KHCT were also in the habit of taking “official” photos of its buses and this appears to be one such, possibly to show the bus in its new livery, introduced in 1973. Where did all that pride go? (Photographer unknown, M. Latus collection, courtesy of G. Emmett)
In the 1950s the British bus operating industry fell into three categories. Firstly there were the big groups; Tilling (who had been nationalised in 1949) and British Electric Traction (BET). Then came the Municipal (council- owned) operations in most towns and cities. Finally came the independents (i.e. independent of big groups or councils). Many independents were quite small but there were exceptions, such as West Riding, who operated over 400 buses from six depots. Tilling also owned chassis manufacturer Bristol Commercial Vehicles and body manufacturer Eastern Coach Works (ECW, of which more later), and these concerns tended to supply most of Tilling’s requirements, indeed supply of Bristol/ECW products to non- Tilling operators was forbidden between the early 1950s and 1965. This left suppliers such as Roe to look after BET, Municipal and Independent orders, Roe being particularly prominent in the latter two categories. The winds of change were blowing however. In 1962, ACV merged with Leyland Motors to form the Leyland Motor Corporation (LMC). In 1965 LMC sold a 30% share in Park Royal and Roe to the Transport Holding Company (THC- the government body which owned the Tilling group) in exchange for a 25% share in Bristol and ECW, this allowing the latter two builders products to return to the “open” market. In the meantime, Charles H. Roe had resigned as Chairman on 30th September 1962 and retired. He died on 30th November 1965 aged 78.
In 1967 BET sold out to the state- owned Transport Holding Company and West Riding followed suit. 1968 saw the Leyland Motor Corporation merge with the British Motor Corporation to form the British Leyland Motor Corporation. Also in this year an act was passed which enabled the formation of the National Bus Company (NBC), formed from the Tilling and BET groups and thus state- owned, in 1969. In addition, the Municipal operators around Manchester, Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham were formed into Passenger Transport Executives (PTE’s), to be joined in 1974 by Glasgow, West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire.
Above - The largest single customer for Roe products was Leeds City Transport and its successor the West Yorkshire PTE. One of 361 Leyland Atlantean’s supplied to the latter from 1975 onwards, 6211 (JUM 211V) is seen here in Eastgate, Leeds in November 1998. By this time the PTE had been replaced by Yorkshire Rider which in turn had become Leeds City Link and then First Leeds. The two buses behind are also Roe products, sister bus 6244 (KWY 244V) and 6433 (KPJ 291W), the latter having been supplied new to London Country Bus Services (part of the National Bus Company) and later acquired by Yorkshire Rider. (Photo Martin Latus)
During the 1970s most of Leyland’s single deck chassis were phased out in favour of the integral (i.e. all one structure, no separate chassis and body) Leyland National which was constructed in a purpose- built factory in Workington. To fund its construction, the National Bus Company were sold a 50% share in Bus Manufacturers Holdings Ltd (BMH), to whom ownership of Bristol, ECW, Park Royal, Roe and the Leyland National factory was transferred, Leyland retaining the other 50%. Roe maintained a market share supplying the West Yorkshire PTE, South Yorkshire PTE, Independents and Municipals, and as previously mentioned its bodies were based on Park Royal designed frames. This latter fact gained some importance from 1978 as a result of tinkering by Roe’s parent British Leyland who now sought to replace its double- deck range by introducing the integral Leyland Titan. This was to be assembled at Park Royal’s London works, so to create space Park Royal’s traditional body on chassis production was transferred to Leeds. These vehicles were mainly Leyland Atlanteans destined for NBC fleets as an alternative to the “first choice” Bristol/ECW VRT model. Most of the production had been badged as Park Royal- Roe products and it is impossible to tell without reference to the builder’s plate within a particular bus which buses were built where, some being constructed in London, some in Leeds and some in Leeds on frames built in London.
Above - The Roe bodies supplied to National Bus Company (NBC) subsidiaries were all of this style which had been first produced by Roe’s former parent, Park Royal. Leeds City Link 6428 (KPJ 257W) was another ex- London Country bus acquired by Yorkshire Rider, seen in York Street, Leeds in October 1997. (Photo B. J. Latus)
The Titan was beset with problems caused by industrial disputes at Park Royal, many operators severely reduced or cancelled their orders due to long delays in delivery, and most of those who did take delivery found the bus to be a horrendously complicated machine. Park Royal closed in 1981 with the Titan being offered to ECW at Lowestoft who declined to take it on. Production eventually moved to Workington, although by now only London Transport was interested. To protect its market share, Leyland incorporated the running units of the Titan into a conventional chassis known as the Olympian. This became the new NBC standard, bodied by ECW for the usual “low height” (13’8 tall) variant or by Roe for the “high bridge” (14’6 tall) version. Roe also supplied Olympians to West Yorkshire PTE.
Other products built at Cross Gates as the 1980s dawned included six articulated buses built on Leyland- DAB chassis using modified Leyland National body sections and a number of Executive coaches semi- integrally built onto a Leyland “Royal Tiger” chassis and known as the Roe Doyen. In 1982 Leyland had purchased the NBC’s 50% share of Bus Manufacturers Holdings so that it now owned 100% of that concern. Bus orders were falling rapidly, partly as a result of uncertainty over the impending deregulation of the bus industry and the privatisation of the NBC, and partly due to the ending of the grant, instigated in 1968 whereby the government paid up to 50% of the cost of a new bus provided it was suitable for one- man (later one- person) operation. Leyland had also been rocked by the demise of its Austin car manufacturing subsidiary, and faced with the need to economise announced that it would be closing the Roe works in 1984.
The announcement in May of that year sparked a campaign by Leeds City Council to save the works and the 440 jobs within it, but despite various meetings, press coverage and hopes that funding would come from the West Yorkshire Enterprise Fund, the factory closed on 14th September 1984. Around 1/5 of Roe’s production since 1928 had gone to Leeds City Transport and its successor, West Yorkshire PTE (1,307 and 646 buses respectively), so it was perhaps fitting that the last complete vehicle to leave was West Yorkshire PTE Leyland Olympian number 5144 (B505 RWY) on 31st August 1984. A further six buses were present in the works at the time of closure, also West Yorkshire PTE Olympians, 5501- 5506 (B141-5/506 RWY), these were sent to ECW at Lowestoft for final finishing consisting of fitment of seats and exterior painting, all departing Cross Gates within the first two weeks of September 1984. Thus the curtain fell on the Leeds bus manufacturing industry. Or so it seemed….
Above - The last complete bus to leave the Roe works was this vehicle, West Yorkshire PTE Leyland Olympian 5144 (B505 RWY), seen in later life with Leeds City Link departing Bradford Interchange in November 1997. (Photo - Martin Latus)
Efforts continued to revive the former Roe works, and these came to fruition in February 1985 when it was reopened by the Optare company. This concern had been formed by a group of former Senior Managers at Roe, led by Russell Richardson, who had pooled their redundancy money and also received some assistance from the West Yorkshire Enterprise Fund.
This was a bad time to start a bus manufacturer, uncertainty caused by impending deregulation and privatisation of the bus industry, combined with the ending of the bus grant (see above) meant that new bus orders had nose- dived. The only large orders around were for “minibuses”; smaller vehicles with around 16 to 20 seats which were operated at a high frequency and were becoming in vogue at this time. Most of these vehicles were converted from parcel vans by simply punching windows in the side and fitting seats. Generally speaking the traditional bodybuilders failed to get a hold in this market.
The PTE’s were in the main too conservative to take these converted vans and so had demanded a small bus which was engineered like a big bus. Roe had designed a body for such a vehicle but had been closed before it built any. The design was dusted off and the first Optare built body was one of these on a Dennis “Domino” chassis, one of fourteen for South Yorkshire PTE. The bus, SYPTE number 45 (B45 FET), left the factory in July 1985.
Above - The first bodies built by Optare were Midibuses for South Yorkshire PTE. Similar bodies were later supplied to West Yorkshire PTE on Leyland “Cub” chassis, depicted by preserved 1807 (C807 KBT) at the Elland Road rally in 2009. The bodies were actually designed by Roe but never built by them. As can be seen they used many parts from the contemporary double- deck bodies. (Photo Martin Latus)
Below - Optare then continued production of the Roe double deck body, with minor detail differences. The first to be completed was this bus, West Yorkshire PTE 5507 (C507 KBT), in Eastgate, Leeds in November 1998. (Photo Martin Latus)
Following the Domino’s, a batch of Olympian double- deckers was constructed for the West Yorkshire PTE to the former Roe design. The first of these to leave the factory was 5507 (C507 KBT) with body number 17, 5508 to 5511 followed suit with bodies 18 to 21. A month later, bodies 15 and 16 left the works, the delay being due to these two being convertible open- top buses. They were supplied with removable upper deck and roof; these could be lifted off using a crane and replaced with an open top arrangement of rails and Perspex screens. Body 15 on bus number 5146 (C146 KBT) was delivered to Halifax with its roof in place, 5147 (C147 KBT) went new to Leeds with its open-top and was promptly used for Christmas light tours.
After the Olympians the company tried its hand at converting parcels vans to minibuses, producing one Renault Master for Leeds City Council and fifteen Freight Rover Sherpa’s for West Yorkshire PTE. Fifteen more of the bodies as fitted to the South Yorkshire Domino’s were produced next, this time on Leyland “Cub” chassis for West Yorkshire PTE. A few minibus conversions and a gaggle of Olympian bodies were produced, but the company needed a new product range to increase its market share.
Minibuses were becoming a victim of their own success, stimulating passenger numbers to the point where they weren’t big enough to carry the loads. This success had been achieved in spite of, rather than because of the design of the vehicles. In June 1986, Optare launched a coach-built minibus (as opposed to a van conversion), on a modified Volkswagen LT55 chassis. This, the company’s first new design, featured a stylish raked-back front windscreen, 25 seats and room for 5 standing passengers. It was christened the CityPacer, and found reasonable success. A similar, but larger design was launched in August 1987, the StarRider, which featured up to 33 seats on a Mercedes- Benz 811D chassis.
Above- The first Optare designed product was the CityPacer minibus body on a Volkswagen LT55 chassis. Preserved former Yorkshire Rider 1700 (D901 MWR) shows the stylish lines at Dewsbury Bus Museum in November 2011.(Photo Martin Latus)
Below - One of the last StarRiders in service is seen here in the form of Lincolnshire Road Car 369 (F369 BUA) in Grimsby in 2003. The bus was supplied new to London and, due to the difficulty in obtaining blocks of registration numbers in the Capital, was registered by Optare in Leeds prior to delivery. (Photo Martin Latus)
The trauma of deregulation was beginning to be left behind and the industry began to want full- sized single deckers again. This led to the introduction of the Optare Delta, the first of which appeared in September 1988. The bus was built on a DAF SB220 chassis and the body featured the bolted aluminium “alusuisse” construction system, for which a licence had to be obtained.
In 1989 Optare purchased the designs of Metro Cammell Weymann (MCW), a Birmingham based manufacturer which had gone bankrupt. Initially it produced only one of these, the “Metrorider” mini/midi bus, reworking this in the early 1990s and keeping it in production until 1998. 1990 saw Optare become part of a group called United Bus, which also included chassis manufacturer DAF. Two new products appeared in this period, the Vecta in April 1991 and the Spectra in February 1992. The Optare Vecta was a smallish single- decker with seats for around 40 people and was constructed on a MAN 11.190 chassis. It was developed primarily with the North East Bus Group in mind (owners of United/Tees and District/TMS), who had a need to replace a large number of older 43- seat buses. A large proportion of the Vecta’s produced did indeed go to this group. The Spectra was based on an acquired MCW design, the Metrobus, but was heavily reworked. A double- decker, it featured DAF running units and a stylish body.
In 1993 United Bus collapsed and Optare was bought back by its management. Although DAF also survived, uncertainty prompted Optare to seek alternative chassis providers. Thus versions of the Delta body were built on Dennis “Lance” and Mercedes “0405” chassis first appearing in May 1994 and June 1995 respectively and christened the Sigma (Lance) and Prisma (0405). The bus industry was changing again, this time with the introduction of low-floor buses, which allowed a wheelchair user to board the vehicle directly from the kerb. Initial designs were reworked ordinary chassis, generally with a low- floor front section tacked to the original design rear section. This meant that passengers at the rear of the bus towered over those at the front, many steps had to be negotiated to get to the rear seats and once there most passengers found that they could not see out as their eye line was above the top of the windows.
Ever innovative, Optare began work on a purpose-designed low floor bus, the Excel, which appeared in October 1995. An integral vehicle (no separate body and chassis), the exterior was stylish whilst the interior was far less awkward than existing low floor designs. Powered by a Cummins B series engine driving through Allison transmission, both proven makes, the Excel should have been a market leader. Unfortunately, reliability problems meant that it never fulfilled its true potential, even after a “mark 2” version with Mercedes engine was launched several years later. Nevertheless sales were steady.
Above - The Optare Excel was the first purpose- designed low- floor bus. An integral model (all one structure, rather than separate body and chassis), its looks were striking as shown by East Yorkshire 295 (S295 RAG) in Willerby (near Hull) in October 1998. Sadly the reliability did not match the looks!
1996 saw Optare buy Rotherham based Autobus, who had specialised in the luxury minicoach market, and their “Nouvelle” design joined Optare’s range following a slight redesign. 1997 saw a relationship start with Spanish manufacturer Ferqui, whereby Optare imported and sold their luxury coaches in the UK. Two “firsts” also appeared in 1997 as Optare cemented its reputation as a leader of the pack. The Optare Solo was the first low- floor midibus (a bit bigger than a minibus but not as big as a single- decker) to enter production. After winning various awards for innovation, the Solo settled down to become a market leader and is still in production 15 years later. Optare also managed to produce the first low-floor double-decker, a reworked version of the Spectra. This was begun during 1997, but did not appear until January 1998.
Above - The first low-floor midibus was also an Optare product, the now-ubiquitous Solo. A fairly standard example is K-Line, Huddersfield 354 (MW52 PZE) seen exiting the bus station in its home town in August 2009 (Photo Martin Latus).
Optare were bought out by Hungarian-owned North American Bus Industries (NABI) in 2000, for £21.5 million. A year later the Alero low-floor minibus appeared. Aimed at community and welfare transport operators, a few did appear on normal bus services, but proved quite unreliable and were mostly soon replaced. In 2004, the Excel single-decker was replaced by the Tempo, which used the same basic structure but with new styling.
NABI ran into trouble in August 2005, and Optare was once again purchased by its management, this time for £11.8 million. Shortly after this another new model appeared in the form of the Versa, a large midibus/small single-decker featuring a curved front with a streamlined “hump” at the front of the roof. Next, a restyled version of the Solo appeared, the Solo SR which grafted a Versa-style front onto the Solo body.
In March 2008, Optare was sold again, this time to Jamesstan investments, led by Roy Stanley, who was company chairman at Darwen Group, the owner of Blackburn based East Lancashire Coachbulders and Leyland Product Developments, one of the last surviving parts of the once- mighty Leyland empire, and re- christened Darwen LPD. Jamesstan purchased Optare for £10.5 million and immediately resold the Cross Gates factory to Manston Lane Investments for £2.8 million, renting it back for up to three years at a rate of £280,000 per annum.
In July 2008, a reverse takeover of Jamesstan was undertaken by the smaller Darwen Group, the new group becoming known as Optare PLC. Production of the former East Lancashire “Esteem” single-decker was moved to the former Autobus factory at Rotherham, but the model ceased production in 2009 and the Rotherham plant closed. Plans were afoot to build a new large factory in Blackburn and a smaller one in Leeds, but these failed to come to fruition.
In summer 2010 Indian-owned Ashok Leyland purchased a 26% stake in Optare and the need to move to a new factory, due to the imminent expiry of the lease agreement with Manston Lane Investments, was addressed. In October 2011 production moved from Cross Gates to a new factory at Sherburn- in- Elmet, North Yorkshire; production of buses at the former East Lancashire plant at Blackburn ceased at this time, the Lancashire premises being given over to the bus repair and refurbishment division of the business.
Due to delays in introducing new models, specifically a long- promised double- deck design, and also due to upheaval resulting from the move to Sherburn, the value of Optare shares fell steadily throughout 2011. This prompted rival Alexander Dennis to request information during December 2011 with a view to mounting a takeover bid. Alexander Dennis discovered that Ashok Leyland were unwilling to sell their stake in Optare, regardless of the price offered, and as such withdrew their interest by January 2012. Incidentally it was revealed that this was the second time that Alexander Dennis had investigated taking over Optare, the first being just prior to the 2008 Darwen takeover.
In order to refinance the business, it was agreed that Ashok Leyland would increase its shareholding in Optare to 75.1%, this being agreed by the shareholders in early- January 2012. Thus the Leeds Company is now basically owned by Ashok Leyland; this should hopefully bring stability and end the rollercoaster ride of takeovers and management buy- outs that have characterised its history. As well as the new Sherburn bus assembly plant and the Blackburn refurbishment/repair workshops, Optare has premises for its Unitec after- sales service division in Essex, Yorkshire and Scotland. Not bad for a company whose origins lie in a corner of a yard in Balm Road!
Above - Optare continue to introduce striking, stylish products. One of the latest is the Versa, a small single- decker. Stagecoach North West 25226 (PX08 FMV) shows the type off well as it performs a circuit of Preston Bus Station in February 2010.
As a footnote, the former Cross Gates works of Charles H. Roe and Optare were demolished in 2012; it is to be redeveloped for housing.
(photos Martin Latus)
Wilks and Meade
David B. Wilks and Harry Meade set up as “Coach and Motor body builders” at Hilltop Works, Buslingthorpe Lane, Leeds sometime prior to 1942. On the 22nd June of that year Wilks and Meade (sometimes shown erroneously as Wilkes and Meade) became a limited company. There is no evidence that they built any bus or coach bodies at or prior to this time, and it was to be a takeover several years later that saw the firm enter this market.
At some time in the mid- forties, most likely in 1946, Wilks and Meade were purchased by the legendary Leeds- based coach operator Wallace Arnold, for reasons explained below.
Following the end of World War 2, demand for new buses escalated rapidly as operators rushed to replace aging and worn out vehicles, supply of new buses being effectively rationed by the government during the war itself. Demand for leisure travel also increased markedly. As a result the existing bus body manufacturers struggled to cope, leading to long delivery times for new buses, and also leading operators to rebuild and refurbish older vehicles to address the shortfall. The purchase of Wilks and Meade allowed Wallace Arnold to carry out this refurbishment work in house, and would also allow them to build some of their own bus bodies and therefore avoid the long waiting times.
The main Wallace Arnold depot at this time was in Chadwick Street, off Hunslet Road, Leeds, and it was to a site further along this street that the Wilks and Meade business was moved, presumably in 1947. The original premises at Hilltop Works were sold and at the time of writing several motor vehicle body repair and MOT firms are listed as occupants of the building.
Above Right - The somewhat sad site that is Hilltop Works, Buslingthorpe Lane, today. Within this building was the original works of Wilks and Meade and, as the sign states, it is still home to vehicle related businesses today. November 13th 2012.
Below Left - This building is believed to have been the second home of Wilks and Meade, following the Wallace Arnold takeover. It is on Chadwick Street, off Hunslet Road, Leeds, and is located opposite the former depot building. Both are used today by Evans Halshaw, who purchased Wallace Arnold Sales and Service (WASS), the group's Vauxhall car dealership; in this case the building is used for servicing and repairs. November 13th 2012.(Photos - Martin Latus)
The bulk of Wilks and Meade’s production was to be coaches for Wallace Arnold itself, generally 33- seaters on Leyland “Tiger PS1” or Daimler “CVD6” chassis, and although production lists have so far eluded the author, sources indicate that around forty were built between 1947 and 1950. In addition, a number of vehicles were built for other companies, again almost all 33- seat single- deck coaches. The first two were delivered in March 1948, and were Daimler CVD6’s for Thomas Burrows and Son of Wombwell, near Barnsley. They were followed by three vehicles for Premier Travel of Cambridge; comprising two Daimlers and one Leyland PS1, and ten Leyland PS1’s for Sheffield Corporation. These latter were the only service buses (as opposed to coaches) produced.
1949 saw three more Leyland’s produced for Premier Travel, whilst in 1950 three Daimler CVD6’s were delivered to the same company. The Daimler’s, however, were luxurious double- deck coaches; the only double- decker’s produced.
Wilks and Meade bodies quickly developed problems due to the use of unseasoned “green” timber for the framework, as a result of post- war materials shortages. This timber soon rotted and required expensive repair work, usually tantamount to a complete rebuild. This was not a problem for Wallace Arnold, who were in the habit of rebuilding or rebodying their vehicles at frequent intervals, usually around every three years, in order to keep them looking fresh and modern. It did cause trouble for Premier Travel who, having bought nine Wilks and Meade bodies endured some financially very lean years due to the cost of repairs, especially to the flagship double- decker’s. The Sheffield Corporation buses were soon rebodied also, probably much to the annoyance of the manager.
Notably some of Wallace Arnold’s 1949 and 1950 coaches were sent to another Leeds bodybuilder, Roe, for rebodying as double- deck service buses for the subsidiary Farsley Omnibus fleet, whilst at least one coach body, when removed from its chassis to allow the latter to be rebodied, was attached to an older chassis and put back into service.
It appears that 1950 was the last year that any new bodies were produced by Wilks and Meade, after this date the concern concentrated on repairing and rebuilding Wallace Arnold’s coaches. Notable in this period was a large number of “full- front” conversions on coaches with various makes of bodywork, including Duple and Burlingham.
Basically, most pre- war and early post- war coaches had a “half- cab”, i.e. the cab occupied the offside half of the front end, the nearside being the location of the engine and its bonnet. The arrival in the early 1950’s of coaches with engines under the floor allowed full- width bodywork to be fitted at the front, and this made the half- cabs look old fashioned. At an image conscious company like Wallace Arnold this would never do, so Wilks and Meade were set to building full- width front ends on half- cab bodies, with an arrangement of access flaps to allow servicing and repair of the engine. For most of these the firm copied a frontal design from Yeates of Loughborough, and as such these conversions are often wrongly credited to them.
The Wilks and Meade name appears to have died out during the 1950’s, the facility becoming known simply as the workshops of Wallace Arnold. In the mid- 1960’s Wallace Arnold vacated its Chadwick Street depot for a temporary home in nearby Donisthorpe Street (a former Leeds City Transport bus repair works which was rented from them), and ultimately for a purpose built depot, works and coach station in Gelderd Road. Following this the Wilks and Meade workshop was transferred to another group company, WASS (Wallace Arnold Sales & Service), a Vauxhall car main dealer. WASS remained a familiar name in Leeds until fairly recently, when it was sold to Evans Halshaw, who still use the building as a car showroom and repair facility.
The above is an expanded and corrected version of the original feature on Wilks and Meade on this site and is the result of further research undertaken. Research is still on-going and any further information discovered will be added when available.
Mann's Patent Steam Cart & Wagon Co
Mann of Pepper Road, Hunslet, produced steam lorries and a few of these formed the basis of steam buses. Their first was for export to India in 1905. In 1906 a steam bus was constructed for the home market for Westfield Coal Merchants of Doncaster and was used to transport miners to a pit several miles out of Doncaster. G.W.Leggott & Sons of Clayton, Manchester also had a 5-ton steam wagon converted to a charabanc around the time of the first world war.
The last known steam bus was supplied to Africa in 1922, based on the 5 ton steam wagon it also had a 4 wheel trailer with additional seating.
Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co
Next door to Mann on Pepper Road, Hunslet, Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co advertised a bus version of their steam lorries in their catalogues. One example was built in 1917 for Provincial Tramways in Grimsby. It saw just two years use as a bus before being converted to a tramway service wagon.
Leeds City Tramways built several trolleybus bodies at its Kirkstall Road works to mount on David Brown chassis, but the latter were delayed. As a result, a body which had been started in 1915 became a spare time project which was finally completed late in 1917. By this time, its intended chassis had still not arrived and as a result it was sold on 31st January 1918 to the Provincial Tramways Company, Grimsby. On arrival it was mounted on a "steam wagon chassis" and used as a bus. It is not confirmed, but the timing suggests that the chassis in question was the Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co chassis.
|Companies Manufacturing Trolleybuses in Leeds|
|Charles H Roe|
|Railless Electric Traction Company|
|Clough, Smith & Company Limited|
|Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co|
Charles H. Roe
Charles Roe built a number of trolleybuses. This firm were predominantly a Bus Manufacturer and their history can be found in the bus section further up this page.
As mentioned therein the firm built a number of trolleybuses, beginning in the earliest days with work contracted from Charles’ former employer the Railless Limited. Roe went on to produce a large number of trolleybuses although they still made up a small proportion of the company’s output.
The vast majority were almost identical to the motor bus bodies produced; the main differences being the inclusion of a full- width cab (there being no large engine to accommodate) and the addition of the trolley booms to collect the power and a structure on the roof to accommodate them. All manufacturers’ early double- deck bus bodies- both motor and trolley- generally had a protruding cab, the leading edge of the body being set back from the front of the vehicle as a consequence. On trolleybuses the trolley booms were mounted at the front of the roof of the main body and thus were supported by the body’s front end structure. From the end of the nineteen twenties the cab was usually incorporated within the body structure, so for the trolley booms to be in an equivalent position to earlier vehicles they were mounted further back along the body, typically above the second or third side window. Thus the side pillars of the body in this area required reinforcing; this led to another distinguishing feature in the form of one or two thicker window pillars on the upper- deck sides of the vehicle.
A small number of trolleybuses produced by Roe deserve further examination. The first was on one of only two Bristol trolleybus chassis produced. The vehicle in question had its chassis exhibited at the 1929 Motor Show before being sent to Roe for bodying. However in a unique development it seems that Roe only built the body’s framework, the panelling being added by John C. Beadle of Dartford, Kent. Why the bus was sent to Beadle’s for finishing is not known; the resulting bus was registered DT 2620 and entered trial service in Doncaster in 1930, being given fleet number 31. It was purchased by Doncaster in 1932 and withdrawn in 1945.
Still in Doncaster and mention must be made of a rebodying exercise which proves the similarity of motor and trolley bus bodies. Nine vehicles had been received in 1943 to 1945 with utility bodywork (see main Roe section for explanation) by Park Royal or Brush. Between 1954 and 1958 they were sent to Roe to have replacement bodies constructed and Roe also bodied ten new chassis for the undertaking starting in 1955.
Doncaster ran its last trolleybus in December 1963 and thus found itself with nineteen very youthful trolleybus bodies. The solution elsewhere would have been to try to sell the buses concerned for further service or else to scrap them regardless. Doncaster chose to send them back to Roe for mounting on new motor bus chassis, the work involving fitting a half- cab to the bodies. The resulting vehicles could be identified by the thicker side pillars where the trolley booms had been, as detailed above. The buses remained in service well into the 1970’s, at which point they had passed with Doncaster Transport to the South Yorkshire PTE.
Finally mention must be made of the sixteen “Coronation” class trolleybuses supplied to Kingston- upon- Hull from 1953 to 1955. These vehicles, built on Sunbeam chassis, were little short of revolutionary, being designed for one- man operation. They featured an entrance door adjacent to the drivers cab and an exit ahead of the rear wheels, twin staircases designed to improve passenger flow (the front one being for passengers going upstairs and the rear for those coming down), and a periscope for the driver to monitor the upper deck. The door arrangement and periscope were at least a decade ahead of their time, whilst twin staircases appeared sporadically in experimental vehicles over the years, the first large- scale use of them in the UK being the New Routemaster currently appearing in London.
The Coronations never operated in one man mode as such operation of double deckers was not legalised until several years after their 1964 withdrawal, this coinciding with the end of trolleybus use in Hull. In an act of extreme waste all sixteen were scrapped in 1965, at which point the oldest was just twelve.
Above - Kingston upon Hull Corporation Roe bodied Sunbeam MF2B “Coronation” trolleybus 114 (RKH 114) dating from 1955 turns from Prospect Street into Chapel Street in Hull City Centre whilst operating the final trolleybus route, the 63 to Beverley Road. As it does so it passes a Weymann bodied AEC Regent motorbus, number 334 (KRH 344). The latter was new in 1950 and highlights how futuristic the design of 114 and its sisters must have seemed just three years later, when the first of these trolleybuses entered service. Although the photograph is undated, these streets were only used by trolleybuses on the 63 between June and October 1964, the route having been diverted due to the introduction of a one way system, so the picture must have been taken in this four- month period. On 31st October the route was converted to motor bus operation and the last of Hull’s trolleybuses were withdrawn. 114 met her end in a Barnsley scrapyard in 1965, aged just ten years, a fate shared by her fifteen sisters. What a waste! M. Latus collection, original photographer unknown.
Other modern features incorporated on these vehicles were an interlock which stopped the bus from moving with the doors open and “Earll trolley retrievers”. These latter were two rotating drums on the rear of the bus (one for each trolley boom), around which was a rope which was attached at the other end to the relevant boom. Under normal operation the drums rotated to and fro, letting out and bringing in the rope to allow the booms to move as required. If the boom came off the wire however, the drum locked and prevented it from flying up too high and causing damage to the overhead. By pulling up and then down on the rope the lock could be overcome and the rope used to put the boom back on the wire.
(Note- The usual method of retrieving a trolley boom was for the conductor to use a bamboo pole (which was carried somewhere on the vehicle) to hook the boom and pull it down before putting it back on the wire. As the Coronations were designed to run without a conductor the retrievers were fitted to make the driver’s life easier, though the prototype carried a bamboo pole as a back- up, this being inserted in a void in the chassis created for the purpose.)
Railless Electric Traction Company/R.E.T. Company
The Railless Electric Traction Company was established in London in 1909 with the intention of introducing the “trackless tram” (later better known as the trolleybus) to the UK, following the successful introduction of the type on the continent and abortive attempts by various councils to introduce this form of transport for their own use.
At some point prior to 1911, an office and works was established at Balm Road, Leeds, presumably to encourage business in the north of England. The Railless Company bought the UK licence for the Max Scheimann system of current collection, which used two wires (negative and positive) from which the vehicle collected power by means of two booms (poles) attached to its roof.
Above - Unfortunately this bus is not a Leeds product being a Volvo B9Tl with Wright “Eclipse Gemini” body, assembled in Irvine, Scotland and Ballymena, Northern Ireland. Its relevance to our story is that it is passing the site of Balm Road Mills, Leeds home of the Railless Electric Traction Company and the first factory of Charles H. Roe. Part of the mill buildings survives behind the bus. (Photo - Martin Latus)
Most of the early UK trolleybus systems were ordered from Railless, who designed the overhead equipment and vehicles. The actual construction of vehicles was sub- contracted in three parts; chassis, bodywork and electrical equipment, these were then delivered separately to Leeds where they were assembled into complete vehicles before being delivered to the customer, usually being towed to their destination. Thus a vehicle listed as a Railless product was in fact the work of several other firms, for example the first trolleybuses delivered to Bradford Corporation (which were also the first to be delivered in the UK) were built by Alldays and Onions of Birmingham (Chassis), Hurst Nelson of Motherwell (bodies) and Dick, Kerr of Preston (electrical equipment).
The outbreak of World War 1 adversely affected the development of the trolleybus as much of the equipment used in the early vehicles was of German design and/or manufacture and thus fell foul of trading with the enemy laws. As a result of this and other problems, and despite undertaking some war work, Railless Electric Traction went into receivership in 1916. The other problems included the apparent disinterest of the company in what would now be called “after sales service”, as evidenced by the approach of Bradford Corporation in 1913. They were seeking replacement of their first trolleybuses, supplied in 1911, following reliability issues. The Corporation wanted a quote for new vehicles which would take into account a part- exchange figure for the two old buses and also a discount equivalent to the amount that the Corporation had spent on repairs over the two year period. Railless declined the Corporation’s request and so the business went elsewhere.
The company was eventually purchased from the receivers by Short Brothers of Rochester, Kent and relaunched as either Railless Ltd. or R.E.T. Company Ltd, depending on which source you read. The Leeds office was retained and employed one Mr Charles Roe, who left in 1917 to set up his own business (see the Charles H. Roe section above). Shortly after this, the Railless works was apparently requisitioned by the Royal Flying Corp, presumably for the production of aircraft parts; if this is correct it was returned soon after the end of the war.
As well as trolleybus and related infrastructure design work, the company also designed and possibly built van and lorry bodies. The Railless trolleybuses used a tram-style hand operated controller, which the driver was expected to use whilst also steering the vehicle. Some also had a brake handle (as found on a tram), whilst others featured a more conventional foot pedal brake. After WW1, other manufacturers became active in the trolleybus market using foot pedals for acceleration and braking and thus making the Railless vehicles seem antiquated and cumbersome. The resulting reduction in market share would eventually cause Short Brothers to pull out of Trolleybus manufacturing.
Despite evidence that the Leeds site was active by 1911, it was 1921 before it appeared it the Trade Directories, former employee Charles H. Roe having first appeared in the publication the year before. By this stage the company was listed as the Railless Electric Traction Construction Co. Ltd, and it appeared as such in the directories for 1922, 1923-4 and 1924-5. It appears that the Leeds site closed in 1924, as it is not listed in the 1925 directory. Railless itself was wound up in 1926, as Short Brothers decided to concentrate on more lucrative areas of its business. Incidentally Short Brothers are still active in the Aircraft market and will be well known to any RAF personnel who have trained in a “Tucano” aircraft.
Clough, Smith & Company Limited
Clough, Smith were a firm of electrical engineers which was founded in London in 1910 by Messrs Norman Clough and Sidney G. Smith with the intention of promoting, designing and installing trolleybus systems. The company designed and installed all the Cedes-Stoll systems in the UK, such as in Keighley. The Cedes-Stoll system utilised a trolley which ran above the overhead wires and was permanently attached to them, the trolleybuses connecting to the trolley by means of flexible cables. When two trolleybuses travelling in opposite directions met they had to exchange trolleys by removing the flexible cables from one trolley and attaching to the other. Slow, cumbersome and unreliable, it soon fell out of favour.
Shortly after the First World War the company purchased six Brush trolleybuses which had been mothballed since 1915 and immediately resold them to the Teesside Railless Traction Board. Based on these vehicles, the Teesside manager designed a “new” trolleybus which Clough- Smith agreed to arrange manufacture of. The chassis were obtained from Straker-Squire, London; the electrical equipment from British Thomson Houston (BTH), Rugby and the bodywork from both Roe (Leeds) and Brush (Loughborough). The vehicles were marketed under the name “Straker- Clough” and provided as part of a package which included design and installation of the overhead wiring and equipment. 63 vehicles were supplied between 1921 and 1926, however in 1925 Straker- Squire went into liquidation forcing Clough- Smith to find a new partner, at least when chassis supplies were exhausted.
The new partner was Karrier Motors of Huddersfield, who supplied a modified version of one of their existing chassis. Between 1926 and 1932, 44 Karrier- Clough trolleybuses were supplied to 5 operators; following which Clough, Smith appears to have exited the trolleybus market. Apparently, the above company had premises in Leeds where some manufacturing of electrical equipment was carried out and where component parts of vehicles were assembled, similar to the system used by Railless. Unfortunately, research in the Trade Directories of the time has failed to find any mention of the firm, including when the premises opened/closed or where they were located. For completeness however, the history of this concern is included here and further research into its Leeds links is continuing.
Lockwood and Clarkson
Lockwood and Clarkson, Motor Engineers, appear in the Trade Directory for 1921 at an address in Barclay Street, Leeds, which is now a truncated stub near the Sheepscar Interchange. Little is known of the firm’s origins, but they were briefly active in the bus body construction industry during the First World War as sub- contractors to the Railless Company. Possibly the usual suppliers to this concern were busy with war work. Two trolleybus bodies were supplied to Railless during 1915 for fitting to vehicles destined for Ramsbottom Urban District Council, becoming their fleet numbers 5 and 6. Between 1915 and 1917, a further four bodies were supplied as replacements for earlier Milnes Voss bodywork on Ramsbottom numbers 1 to 4, which had been new in 1913. As far as is known no other bus bodies were constructed by this firm. Lockwood and Clarkson were still in business in 1931, but as with their origins, the subsequent history of the firm is unknown.
Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co
Robert Blackburn built his first aircraft in 1908, as fully covered on the aircraft builders page. In 1913 he moved to the Olympia Works in Roundhay Road, Leeds (formerly the Olympia Skating Rink) and the following year renamed his business as the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co., suggesting that there were plans to diversify the product range. Any such diversification was delayed by the demands of the First World war, however.
Initially the aircraft produced at Roundhay Road were test flown from nearby Roundhay Park, but as production stepped up this became unsuitable so, in 1915 a site was acquired at Brough, East Yorkshire, with facilities for testing both land and sea planes. In 1916 the Brough site was requisitioned by the Government, being returned to Blackburn's following the end of hostilities.
After the war Brough was briefly used by a subsidiary of Blackburn's, the North Sea Aerial Navigation Company, to operate a passenger and freight service to Holland, as well as resuming its testing duties.It was already becoming clear that it would make sense to move aircraft production to Brough (although it would be a number of years before this happened- the process was begun "by 1925" and completed in 1932) so the plans for diversification were dusted off, the intention seemingly being to keep the Leeds factory fully occupied by increasing the output of other products as aircraft production wound down.
The first manifestation was the production of a small number of luxury motor car bodies, beginning in 1919. It is stated that Robert Blackburn had financial links to Jowett Cars Ltd of Bradford; the latter was reformed as a limited company in 1919 so it is likely that this involvement was as a shareholder. Jowett had moved to a new factory (at Springfield Works, Idle) following the end of the First World War, but it was not ready to start production until 1920, the implication being that some production was carried out at Roundhay instead. It is not known if the resulting cars were branded Jowett's or Blackburn's.
In 1922 the Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Company produced its one- and- only trolleybus body. The chassis was constructed by an unspecified builder for Trackless Cars Ltd, Hepworth Chambers, Leeds, who were a supplier of trolleybus equipment. They could also supply vehicles using a similar system to Railless, whereby the various components (chassis/body/motors) were sourced from outside companies. Unlike Railless, Trackless Cars do not appear to have had their own facility to assemble the vehicles, the bus in question being assembled at Blackburn's factory. Whilst the chassis manufacturer was not recorded (possibly deliberately), it is known that the motors and controller came from Dick, Kerr.
The "Tramway and Railway World" described the body produced by Blackburn's as a "strikingly novel design" which seems to be a euphemism for extremely ugly. On a more positive note it also stated that the body was "in every way admirable" indicating that build quality and finish were to a high standard. The body produced was double- deck, 13 feet 10 inches in height and with a centrally- placed entrance door. The seating capacity in its later life was 35 upstairs and 28 downstairs, its initial capacity is the source of some confusion as it is quoted in a review as 34 upstairs and 30 down, with an accompanying diagram showing 29 seats downstairs(!) Unusually for the time, the front and rear roof domes were curved as was the leading edge of the first side window on each deck and the trailing edge of the last side window on each. Most trolleybus bodies of this era were very square looking, being based heavily on tram car practice, so these styling touches made the Blackburn product stand out. Unfortunately the cab area followed normal practice at this time; it protruded from the lower front of the body rather than being built fully into it, and this combined with a heavy- looking splasher over the rear wheel and a heavy, protruding line of what appear to be ventilators along the lower deck windows conspired to ruin the lines of the vehicle.
Registered NW 5550, the bus entered service as a demonstrator, touring various systems to try to drum up orders. In the event only Bournemouth and the London Underground Group (the latter at Twickenham) were tempted to try it. In December 1923 the vehicle was sold to Leeds City Tramways, entering service in January 1924 alongside three other double- deckers (with bodies by Leeds City Tramways themselves) on the Farnley route. It was given fleet number 513. All four were soon withdrawn, in 513's case in January 1926. The exact reason for this is unconfirmed, but appears to have been down to the archaic steering system employed on the vehicles; this being similar to the arrangement on a traction engine. It was stated that it took 36 revolutions of the steering wheel to perform the u- turn at Farnley terminus and there were difficulties negotiating several bends en route and steering around corners in the City centre. Although single- deckers at the time employed the same steering system, their lighter weight appears to have mitigated some of the difficulties.
513 was stored for a year, being sold in January 1927 to a buyer in Horsforth. As was common practice in the 1920's the chassis and body were sold as separate lots (because the metal chassis could usually be re-bodied, whilst the wooden- built bodies after a few years service were often fit only for use as farmers stores, hen houses etc.). In this case both chassis and body passed to the same buyer, suggesting that they were not physically separated before sale. In 1932 a photograph appeared in the "Yorkshire Evening Post" of 16th May, showing the former car 513 in use as a caravan on Otley Chevin. The subsequent history of the vehicle is unknown, whilst that of its manufacturer is covered on the aircraft page; see link above.
|Companies Manufacturing Trams in Leeds|
|Greenwood & Batley|
|Kitson & Co|
|Leeds Tramways Co|
|Leeds City Tramways|
|Charles H Roe|
Passenger- carrying tramways first appeared in America during the 1830’s. Having spread to parts of mainland Europe, they arrived in Britain in 1859 with an experimental service along Liverpool’s docks, followed by the first “permanent” installation, in Birkenhead, in 1860.
These early lines, and others that followed, were worked by horses. Steam operation had been trialled on a line in London in 1873 and a number of other trials took place in the late 1870’s, though it was August 1879 before such operation was made legal. Steam trams were subsequently introduced to several towns and cities, but a number of problems were found; they were often unreliable, their weight caused damage to track and problems were encountered on hillier routes with trams sliding back down the gradient when the rails were greasy. As part of the act which legalised mechanical operation of tramways, onerous restrictions were laid down governing the amount of smoke and steam that could be emitted. To meet these requirements, most steam tram locomotives were fitted with condensers, which cooled the exhaust steam and fed it back into the water tank; the extra weight of this equipment serving to exacerbate some of the problems described above. As a result of all these factors, the steam tram never achieved great popularity and before the problems could be overcome it was overshadowed by developments in electric traction; it was to be the electric tramcar which appeared in most towns and cities of any size in Great Britain.
Leeds was served by horse- drawn, steam and electric trams at various times. As far as can be ascertained, only five horse- drawn trams were built in Leeds. The steam era saw tram locomotives pulling trailer cars and, whilst several hundred of the locomotives were constructed in Leeds, it appears only two trailers were built in the city. A large number of electric cars were constructed by the Leeds City Tramways for their own use; only Greenwood and Batley were also involved in building electric tramcars.
Some of the works (such as Greenwood and Batley) are covered in detail in their own pages on this site, therefore only their involvement in tramcar construction is shown here; these are noted in the text.
For a full history of Manning Wardle, please see the Manning Wardle page
The standard format for the steam tram would become a separate locomotive and trailer, and it is Manning Wardle who are credited with building the first such locomotive, one of two for Brazil, in 1866. By 1870 they had built eight; in that year they constructed three articulated tram units for Buenos Aires featuring a coach attached either side of the locomotive.
Despite being pioneers of the breed, only thirteen more steam tram locomotives were supplied during the heyday of the 1880’s, the largest batch being of ten locomotives for the North Staffordshire Tramways. The final eleven tram locomotives to be built by the company had inside cylinders; the rest of their production had featured outside cylinders.
In 1880, Manning Wardle were involved in the construction of a compressed air tramway locomotive, as described on the company's history page; the following is an extract from the Leeds Transport Historical Society book “Leeds Transport volume 1, 1830- 1902” which also appears within the Greenwood and Batley history:
"The engine was to the design and patents of Colonel Frederick E. Beaumont, R.E. and M.P. for South Durham, who was well known for his work with compressed air drills and tunnelling machines. He was involved with the drilling of the Channel Tunnel in 1880 until the politicians put a stop to his work. An engineer named Mekarski had carried out trials with a compressed air tram in Paris in 1876 and about this time Beaumont turned his attention to the design of a similar vehicle. It appears that Green¬wood and Batley Ltd. of Armley Road, Leeds, did some preliminary construction work on the engine in the late 'seventies, but it was Manning, Wardle and Co. who brought the design to fruition in 1880.
What is not entirely clear is whether the Greenwood and Batley locomotive was moved over to Manning Wardle’s works for finishing or if the Manning Wardle product was an entirely new construction. Either way, the finished locomotive featured a working pressure of 1000 lbs psi and four cylinders arranged in a compound format, whereby the air pressure was successively expanded down through each cylinder. The expansion of the high pressure air caused a freezing effect and to counteract this the locomotive was fitted with a small boiler which kept the cylinders warm via a steam jacket which surrounded them. The locomotive underwent trials within the works and then in London; a second locomotive was then constructed and trialled on the Leeds Tramways Company system.
These trials began in September 1880 on the Hunslet - City Centre - Wortley route, the tram initially giving a good account of itself, however the LTC were hoping to use the type on the Chapeltown Road route which featured several gradients. Several experimental runs were made on this route, but on one of them the locomotive ran out of air and had to be towed back. This marked the end of the LTC’s interest in the project.
Compressed air trams made trial runs in various places throughout the UK, their advantage being that they were almost silent in operation. Despite this, the idea never caught on and thus the two Manning Wardle locomotives (and the part locomotive built by Greenwood and Batley) were the only ones ever produced in Leeds.
Greenwood and Batley
For a full history of Greenwood and Batley, please see the Greenwood & Batley page.
Greenwood and Batley’s first involvement in tram construction was with the ill-fated compressed air tram locomotive that they began in 1876. They failed to complete the locomotive and the subsequent events, along with the design of the locomotive, are discussed under the Manning Wardle heading below.
In 1894 Leeds Corporation took over the Leeds Tramways Company’s assets and routes and began to look at ways of modernising and improving the system, eventually taking the decision to electrify the lines. Greenwood and Batley tendered for various items that the Corporation required, eventually winning the contract to supply steam engines, dynamos and switch boards for the power station, conduits and conductors and, more pertinent to this account, twenty five electric tramcars. The tenders were won in 1896, with the trams appearing during 1897 and the early part of 1898.
Greenwood and Batley actually sub- contracted the components of the vehicles to other companies. Thus the bodies were built by George F. Milnes of Birkenhead, the trucks (i.e. underframe and wheels) by R.W. Blackwell and Company of London and the motors and controllers by British Thomson- Houston, only final assembly and wiring being carried out in Leeds.
Greenwood and Batley rented temporary premises in Kirkstall Road, Leeds for “(tram) car storage” at the time that these vehicles were being delivered to Leeds City Tramways, the latter’s new depot on the same road not being ready. Although no evidence has been seen to support this theory, it is possible that assembly took place in these temporary premises (which had tram tracks laid in them and connected to the LCT lines) rather than at the main works to save the finished cars being transported whole.
The cars had long lives by Leeds standards; in 1906 they were rebuilt with 180 degree staircases (to reduce encroachment into the top deck space) and extended canopies and platforms to enable ten extra seats to be fitted upstairs, from 1908 they were fitted with covered top decks whilst in 1913 platform vestibules were fitted. The last of these cars was withdrawn in 1932.
In 1898, Greenwood and Batley tendered for the next order from LCT, for fifty cars, but were unsuccessful, the vehicles being constructed instead by Dick, Kerr and Company of Glasgow.
No further tramcars were constructed by Greenwood and Batley; possibly they were hamstrung by the policy of sub- contracting the work; in order to pay the sub- contractors they would almost certainly have to quote a higher price than that which the customer would be given if they approached those companies directly.
Kitson & Co
For a full history of Kitson’s, please see the Kitson page.
Kitson & Company built their first steam tram in 1876 for use in Copenhagen. It was constructed to the design of W. R. Rowan, the chief engineer of the Copenhagen tramways system, whereupon the locomotive and car were semi- permanently attached in much the same manner as the steam railmotors which operated on the Lancashire and Yorkshire and other Railways during the twentieth century. Another complete tram of this design together with a spare motor unit were supplied to the Victorian Railways of Australia in 1883. Kitson were one of several companies to work on designs for steam tram locomotives during a lull in trade which occurred in 1877. The first fruit of this labour was a locomotive which appeared in October 1877 on a fortnight’s public trial on the Leeds Tramways Company’s system, having previously operated a number of test runs at times of light traffic. This was a vertical- boiler locomotive with the cylinders driving the four coupled wheels through Walschaerts valve gear, the condensing equipment (see introduction) consisting of a number of copper tubes on the cab roof which used the air flowing across the roof to cool the steam. As with most subsequent tram engines, the wheels and motion were concealed behind iron sheets to prevent injury to passers by.
Above Right - Ex Portstewart tram K2579 / T84 of 1883 (Photo Andrew Johnson)
Although contemporary press reports suggest that the initial trials were successful, the engine appeared in a modified form in December 1877, alterations having been undertaken to improve steadiness and to overcome vibrations.
Further development was undertaken whilst the company waited for mechanical operation of tramways to be legalised; a few more locomotives appeared with vertical boilers but the company then adopted horizontal, locomotive- style boilers for future construction.
Kitsons reached agreement with the Leeds Tramways Company to test tram locomotives over their lines on a pay- as – you- go basis and in July 1879 were given permission for a connection to the tramway on Hunslet Road for this purpose. This suggests insider knowledge that Parliament was about to legalise the use of steam trams, which it did the following month.
Around three hundred steam tram locomotives were eventually produced by Kitson’s, many of them being test run over the Leeds Tramways Company’s lines; seventeen of these were destined for the LTC’s own fleet.
This was not quite the end of tram building activity at Kitson's, for between 1925 and 1927 Leeds City Tramways rented part of the works in which to assemble some "Chamberlain" cars (see LCT entry below).
For a full history of Fowler’s, please see the John Fowler page.
Not a name that springs immediately to mind in the field of tram construction, Fowlers tried their hand from around 1876, when the first steam tram locomotive appeared. Their second was trialled on the Leeds Tramways Company’s system in October 1877, one week after a Kitson locomotive (see below) had entered experimental service. The intention was to emulate the launch run of the Kitson machine by operating from Hunslet to Kirkstall, but the Fowler locomotive suffered a burst joint en route and the run was terminated in the City Centre.
Both of the above locomotives were of 0-4-0 wheel arrangement and formed two thirds of an order for the Brighton District Tramways; they and the third member of the batch were recorded as still at the works in 1878 in “imperfect” condition. An 0-4-2 tram engine was tested on the LTC system in 1880, and it is believed that altogether ten tram engines were ordered from Fowler’s, however it is not known how many were actually constructed. A feature of the Fowler locomotives was that the working parts were contained in a box which protected them from road dirt and dust and could be removed in around ten minutes, the idea seemingly being that when repairs were needed a replacement box would be fitted to get the locomotive back out in service, the repairs to the removed box could then be carried out at leisure.
Fowler’s involvement in steam trams appears to have ended circa 1886, after which the company concentrated on its other products.
For a full history of Thomas Green, please see the Thomas Green page.
Above - 1888 Thomas Green advert featuring one of the firm's steam trams. (Image courtesy of Grace's Guide)
The first steam tram locomotive to be constructed by Thomas Green appeared in December 1882. It was built to the design of engineer William Wilkinson of Wigan; Green’s being one of several companies nationwide to have an agreement with Wilkinson to construct his engines. They were also built by Black, Hawthorn (Gateshead), Beyer Peacock (Manchester) and by Wilkinson himself at his small works in Wigan, the idea seemingly being that each builder supplied a particular area, this being Yorkshire in Green’s case. The Wilkinson design featured a vertical boiler and cylinders that drove a crankshaft which was connected to a system of cog wheel gears, these driving the axles. Unlike most other steam tram engines there was no condensing equipment, the emissions regulations being met by superheating the exhaust steam in a device within the firebox before passing it out of the chimney, the resulting exhaust being almost invisible.
Obviously flushed with ideas of expanding in this market, Green’s requested a connection to the Leeds Tramways Company’s line in North Street in February 1883; this would have passed along Back Byron Street on its way into the works. Permission was refused.
By 1884 the LTC had taken two Thomas Green tram locomotives on a lease arrangement, the LTC paying Green’s 6½d per mile. They were used on the Headingley route, but were withdrawn and returned their manufacturers by June 1884.
Thomas Green then began work on their own design of steam tram locomotive, the first appearing in August 1885 and featuring a conventional air condenser in place of the superheater arrangement on the Wilkinson engines. The design evolved over the years, from 1889 compound cylinders were used (where the steam is passed through a series of cylinders at progressively lower pressure), whilst from 1890 an agreement was reached with Chas. Burrell of Thetford to fit the latter’s design of condensing equipment. This featured two pipes, one inside the other. The steam passed between the two whilst air flowed through the inner pipe and around the outer, giving greater cooling and thus condensing effect.
Around two hundred steam tram locomotives were built by Green’s, thirteen of them for the Leeds Tramways Company, who purchased their last in 1897. This may well have been among the last tram locomotives that Thomas Green constructed, the firm then concentrating on its varied range of other products.
Leeds Tramways Company
Various proposals for tramways in Leeds were made during the 1860’s but it was the one from brothers Daniel and William Busby which made it to reality. Trading as the Leeds Tramways Company, they opened their first route (to Headingley) in September 1871, following which a network of lines was opened across the city. The vast majority of their cars were purchased from companies such as Starbuck of Birkenhead, the exception to this rule being five cars constructed by the LTC itself.
The company had noticed that ladies were unwilling to climb the stairs of its double-deck cars (which were all open- top at this time) due partly to the difficulty of doing so in the long crinoline skirts of the era, and also to the risk of following passengers seeing more than perhaps they should(!) It was also acknowledged that infirm gentlemen were incapable of climbing the stairs.
To give these groups of people the opportunity of travelling in the open air, the LTC constructed three lightweight open- top single- deckers, intended for summer use only, at its Headingley depot in spring 1879. The three used running gear from recently withdrawn vehicles; trams of this era did not have trucks in the latterly accepted sense, four trunnions bearing the springs and wheels being bolted directly to the underframe of the body. Exactly how much use was made of these cars is not recorded, but the first was withdrawn as early as 1881, the other two following in 1885.
It was to be 1887 before any more cars were built “in- house”. Immediately prior to this date, the depot in North Street, Leeds, was equipped with the necessary machinery to build tramcar bodies. The first produced there was a double decker seating forty, twenty each “inside” and “outside” (i.e. downstairs and upstairs); those upstairs being described as “garden” seating; in other words the seats were arranged either side of a central aisle, a very early example of the layout that would later become standard.
A second identical car was produced later in 1887; this marked the end of production by the LTC. All five cars that it had produced were horse- drawn.
Leeds Corporation exercised its right to take over the Tramway Company’s lines in 1894, the two 1887 double-deckers passing to the Corporation on 2nd February of that year along with the rest of the LTC’s assets.
Leeds City Tramways
At this point it is only fair to mention that Leeds City Tramways was far from unique in constructing its own tram cars. Most tram (and later motorbus and trolleybus) operators of any size, both municipally and privately owned, had a works facility where vehicles could be repaired or stripped down and overhauled. They were generally equipped with facilities to handle all components of a vehicle, from the bodywork down to the wheels and motors. Thus it was not a very big step to constructing a complete new vehicle; however it should be clarified that components such as motors, controllers and trucks were bought in from outside suppliers, with the exception of a small number of trucks built for the “Chamberlain” cars, of which see below.
Leeds’ works was established in Kirkstall Road and was first opened in 1897. Until September 1931 it was also an operational tram depot, though the proportion of the site given over to the works gradually increased throughout this period, culminating in a year- long rebuild from summer 1931 which saw the building given over entirely to the construction and repair of trams. Between 1905 and 1923 the small fleet of motor buses operated by Leeds City Tramways was also based at Kirkstall Road.
Prior to 1908 all new trams for Leeds were sourced from outside builders. In 1900 twelve double- deck trailers were converted into motor cars at Kirkstall Road, involving replacing the trucks and fitting motors and control gear, whilst in the years that followed top covers were constructed to enclose the upper decks of trams, these being previously open- top. The equipment necessary for this work and the experience gained was the catalyst to begin constructing complete car bodies; the first was built in 1908 and from then until 1925 all new tram cars for Leeds were constructed in- house at Kirkstall Road.
Leeds City Tramways referred, officially and otherwise, to the different types of car by means of various names; sometimes these related to the make or model of the trucks fitted or some other detail of the relevant cars, or sometimes the fleet number of the first member of a class or sub- class was used. Latter- day enthusiasts bestowed names on the various types of tram, these names were either based on the General Manager who designed the cars and/or oversaw their introduction to service; the relevant gentlemen (with years in the post in brackets) being John Baillie Hamilton (1902- 1925), William Chamberlain (1925- 1928) and Robert Lund Horsfield (1928- 1931); or they were based on a particular feature of the cars or on the route upon which they operated. It is much simpler to use the enthusiasts designations to refer to the different types of car rather than the plethora of names used by the department and therefore these are utilised below, however it should be stressed again that these class names were unofficial; if you had asked a Leeds City Tramways employee about a “Horsfield” car you would probably have been met with a blank stare!
The term “Beeston Air Brake” is not used; these trams were “Hamilton” cars which had been fitted with air brakes before World War 2 and became synonymous with the Beeston route after the war, therefore they are covered for our purposes in the “Hamilton” section.
Above - Leeds City Transport Car 345, built at Kirkstall Road in 1921 it was rebuilt with enclosed ends and platform doors in 1937 becoming known as a 'Convert' car. It is seen here in preservation at Crich Tramway Village. (Photo Kris Ward)
The Hamilton cars
These first Leeds- built cars were designed by General Manager J. B. Hamilton and his Rolling Stock Superintendent G. E. Watmough. One hundred and forty were built over a period of twenty years, the last appearing in August 1928, though there were several variations to the basic design.
The first two cars, numbers 115 and 116, entered service in June 1908. A further ten identical cars followed during 1909. All twelve were 29’6 long and had seats for 38 passengers upstairs and 24 down. They featured covered top decks, though with an open balcony at each end; ten of the upper deck seats were therefore in the open.
Beneath the staircase at each end was an ornamental wrought iron gate which filled the gap between the end dash panel and the side panelling. Even in 1908 this looked outdated, the usual practice being to extend the dash panel around the side, and thus the cars were soon modified as we will see below.
The 1908 cars had Dick, Kerr “improved car trucks”, Dick, Kerr motors and Westinghouse controllers. We can conclude that neither the trucks or the controllers were to the department’s satisfaction, as the 1909 cars (numbers 117- 126) retained the Dick, Kerr motors but featured Brill trucks and Dick, Kerr controllers. Throughout their lives cars from this and subsequent batches were subjected to numerous experiments involving the fitting of replacement trucks from various manufacturers, including one fitted with air brakes. As none of the trucks were manufactured in Leeds, these experiments are outside the remit of this account.
In 1910 car 118 was fitted with vestibules to the front platforms; i.e. they were enclosed, giving the driver protection from the elements. At the same time the dash panels were extended and the iron gates removed. The remaining eleven cars followed suit, the last being dealt with in September 1912.
Ten more “Hamilton” cars appeared over a period of one year beginning in June 1911. They had the vestibules and extended dash panels from new. The saloons were four inches shorter than on the first twelve cars but a more significant difference was the staircase, this being “reversed” whereupon the bottom of the stairs was adjacent to the saloon rather than adjacent to the dash panel as on their predecessors. The idea behind this was that if someone fell down the stairs they would land in the saloon rather than risk being thrown out onto the road.
These cars retained the Dick, Kerr controllers and the last seven also had motors from the same supplier. The first three used secondhand General Electric motors removed from service cars such as snow ploughs, some of which had recently been scrapped by the department. All ten cars ran on trucks from the United Electric Company, Preston. The trucks were soon replaced with Brill units, though the First World War delayed the process with six cars being treated in 1913- 1914 and the remaining four in 1919.
Seating capacity of the second batch was 36 upstairs and 22 down, this being perpetuated on the third “batch”, if they can be referred to as such; the seventy- seven cars involved taking a whopping ten years to be completed, starting in 1913. Although broadly similar to the preceding batch, these cars featured flatter ends which allowed a wider windscreen to be fitted.
The first four cars had Brush trucks, though these were soon replaced with Brill units. The next thirty- nine had Brill trucks from new, whilst the next twenty- five cars had Hurst Nelson trucks which were basically a copy of the Brill design.
The story behind these is interesting; in June 1913 the Tramways Committee expressed dissatisfaction with the rate at which tramcars were being produced by the Tramways Department. The Committee decided to invite tenders from outside manufacturers, accepting one from Hurst Nelson for twenty- five car bodies and trucks in September 1913.
The Committee had a point, the first of the 1913 cars appeared in July, one month after their meeting. A further four were constructed during August and only one in September (and that at the month end). Disaster struck however in April 1914, when the Hurst Nelson works in Motherwell suffered a fire which totally destroyed one building and its contents, those contents including the entire batch of tram cars for Leeds. In the aftermath the tender was modified to twenty- five trucks and ten bodies, but the war intervened and only the trucks were supplied. Kirkstall Road built ten new cars on the Hurst Nelson trucks, the rest being used as replacements on older cars. In 1919 a further twenty- five trucks were ordered from Hurst Nelson, with fifteen of these going under new “Hamilton” cars.
The final nine cars of this batch, 361- 369, had Peckham trucks and one of these also had Westinghouse motors when new, though exactly which one is unrecorded. Of the other seventy- six cars, seventy- five had Dick, Kerr motors and controllers whilst car 347 of 1921 had these components supplied by British Thomson- Houston.
In May 1923 an updated “Hamilton” car, number 370, appeared. It was mechanically similar to the final cars of the previous batch, with Dick, Kerr motors and controllers and a Peckham truck.
There were differences in the body, however. For a start it was sixteen inches longer than that of the previous cars, this permitting an increased seating capacity of 24 downstairs and no less than 46 up, a total of 70. The most obvious difference was that the open balconies were dispensed with, giving a totally enclosed upper deck. Also on the upper deck, full- depth sliding windows were incorporated at each side toward the car ends. Modern- day health and safety reps may wish to skip the next bit; as well as providing extra ventilation these windows were designed to allow maintenance staff to access the roof in an emergency, for example if the trolley was damaged whilst in service a fitter would climb out of the window onto the roof to effect repairs.
Left - Car 399 preserved at Crich (Photo Kris Ward)
Car 370 was shown to the Tramways Committee, who promptly agreed to the construction of twenty- five similar cars. In the event, the order was added to until thirty- nine had been built, construction starting in 1924 and continuing until 1928. The next five cars (371- 375) retained the “reversed” staircase, but 376 onwards had a so- called “direct” staircase with the bottom step adjacent to the dash, this arrangement being similar to that on the original twelve cars, though with a modified stair head.
Deliveries up to car 394 had the same bumpers as the earlier cars, which were formed of a steel plate with oak backing, whilst 395 onwards had steel channel bumpers. Car 399 of 1926 had a body which was one inch longer than previous deliveries; subsequent cars may also have been longer, but again this is not recorded.
As for mechanicals, cars 371 to 393, 399, 401 and 402 had Peckham trucks, whilst 394- 398, 400 and 403- 410 had trucks by EMB. The majority of cars had Dick, Kerr motors and controllers, exceptions being 397 with GEC controller and Westinghouse motors and 404 and 407- 410 which had motors and controllers by Metropolitan Vickers. Again various alterations to trucks, motors and controllers were made throughout the cars’ lives. Before leaving the “Hamilton” cars, special mention should be made of car 400 of 1925. This car was delivered in a modified condition incorporating the requirements of Mr Hamilton’s successor, Mr William Chamberlain. It was essentially a prototype for the “Chamberlain” cars which were to follow, with an updated interior featuring trap doors above the staircases to reduce draughts (and also presumably to stop passengers attempting to exit down the staircase at the driver’s end, as the driver would be standing at the bottom of it), white enamel ceilings in place of varnished wood and sprung leather seats in the lower saloon in place of wooden slats. The wooden seats were retained upstairs, though the upper deck was improved by the removal of the bulkheads therein, giving a more open aspect.
Mechanically, the car was fitted with back- sanders which were designed to apply sand behind it in the event of it running back on a gradient and an electrical “run- back preventor”, which limited the speed to a few miles per hour should the car run back due to the driver becoming incapacitated.
The most obvious difference from outside the car was the incorporation of route number displays at the ends of the upper deck, it being Mr Chamberlain’s intention to introduce a route numbering system in Leeds. A slightly unusual appearance was caused by the destination blind being in the then- usual position between decks, giving a split display.
Despite the introduction of the “Chamberlain” cars in 1926, “Hamilton” cars continued to be built until August 1928, car 410 being the last to enter service.
Traffic mirrors and manually- operated windscreen wipers appeared on most of the cars during their lives, whilst in 1935 a start was made on enclosing the balconies on the earlier cars, number 369 being the first to be treated. The work of enclosing these was also known as “converting” and thus the cars so treated earned the sobriquet “converts”. Thirty- one were ultimately dealt with, the last in 1942, by which date many of the unconverted cars had been withdrawn and were in reserve, wartime regulations forbidding their scrapping. At the same time as the balconies were enclosed all except one car were given upholstered seats, as were the rebuilds dealt with below.
Three of the earliest “Hamilton” cars (116, 119 and 124, all by now given an “A” suffix to their numbers, i.e. 116A etc.) were treated to a much more thorough rebuild with new underframes, the removal of the recessed rocker panels which were substituted for flush sides (see the “Horsfield” section below for an explanation) and the removal of the destination equipment to the between- decks panels in lieu of the upper deck front. The balconies were enclosed with a slightly raked- back “semi- streamlined” effect. The cars were rebuilt in 1937, 1938 and 1939 respectively, and so extensive were the alterations that they were renumbered; again respectively to 321, 275 and 276.
Car 125 was loaned to Rotherham (who enclosed the balconies) during the Second World War and was ultimately sold to that undertaking. Of the other cars, the last of the unconverted examples ran in service in 1947, whilst 1951 saw the end of the “converts” and the last of the major rebuilds, the latter being 119A/275, which by this time had been renumbered again to 349. The last of the later enclosed cars in traffic were 396, withdrawn in 1953 and 408, which survived to April 1955, its removal from traffic bringing down the curtain on these faithful servants.
The Chamberlain cars
The name for this group of cars is somewhat misplaced, as the bulk of the design work was done by John Hamilton, the input of William Chamberlain being in details such as those found on car 400 described above. They were, however, introduced under the supervision of Mr Chamberlain; his appointment having been made after the death in service of Mr Hamilton early in 1925.
The cars were the result of “fact- finding” visits to various other systems and to the works of English Electric in Preston and of Brush in Loughborough. The tramways sub- committee concluded that the car bodies of the later Hamilton vehicles were equal to anything being produced elsewhere, though the trucks were a different matter. They considered using bogies but were dissuaded by engineers who were convinced that they would not be suitable for Leeds.
A particular problem at the time was the riding of cars on the reserved section of track (i.e. separate from the road) on the Roundhay Road route; subsidence combining with high speed running to produce an alarming oscillating motion referred to as “jazzing”. So bad was this that some considered the route dangerous and avoided using it if at all possible.
The solution adopted for the “Chamberlain” cars was the EMB “pivotal” truck. This retained the four wheeled arrangement of earlier cars, but instead of being rigid the wheels were allowed to pivot, the plan being to give a smoother ride by reducing the resistance between the rail and the wheels. Each pair of wheels was on a sub- truck which was cross- connected to the other, each sub- truck pivoted against a spring, the latter being designed to force the wheels back straight when any bends had been negotiated. When new (or newly refurbished) these trucks did indeed give a smoother ride, but they became noisy and rough riding very quickly.
The car bodies were broadly similar to the later “Hamilton” vehicles, the most obvious external differences being the incorporation of route number blinds with the end destination blinds moved up to be directly underneath them. Also, the sliding windows on the upper deck were of a different design; on the “Hamilton” cars they consisted of a square window the whole of which, including the frame, moved sideways. On the “Chamberlain” cars the window was larger and consisted of two pieces of glass, one fixed piece which was recessed and the sliding piece which slid past its fixed counterpart.
The leather lower- deck seats fitted to car 400 were perpetuated, as were the fitment of back- sanders and the trap- doors to the staircases.
One hundred and eighty- five “Chamberlain” cars were constructed between 1926 and 1928, but only thirty- five of these were produced by the Tramways Department. The other one hundred and fifty were contracted to the two builders that the sub- committee had visited (Brush and English Electric), each building seventy- five car bodies. All had EMB trucks and most were fitted with Metropolitan Vickers motors and controllers, the exceptions being cars 11- 48, 53 and 54 which received General Electric motors and English Electric controllers.
The bodies and trucks were delivered separately and assembled in Leeds. To free up space in Kirkstall Road works, the department rented space from Kitson’s at the latter’s Hunslet Road works in which to assemble some of the “Chamberlain” cars. The necessary arrangements were made in December 1925 and the final car to be assembled at Kitson’s (Brush- built car 72) left in July 1927. The cars left via the works’ connection to the tramway system, which had been retained despite it being many years since Kitson’s had produced any trams. Some of the rented space in Kitson’s works was also used as a temporary motorbus depot.
Even the cars constructed elsewhere had an impressive list of components used within them that were manufactured in Leeds, Vis:
|Tyres and Axles||Monk Bridge Iron & Steel Co., Whitehall Road|
|Plate & Ornamental glass||Thomas Bennett & Sons, Meadow Lane|
|Side Lifeguards||Douthwaite & Co., Vicar Lane|
|Springs||Jonas Woodhead, Kirkstall Road|
|Upholstery||William Abbott & Son, Kirkstall Road|
|Strap Hangers||J. Heselwood, Wellington Street|
|Glass Pulls||Charles E. Steel, York Place|
Proof indeed of the manufacturing prowess of Leeds!
William Chamberlain left Leeds for Belfast in 1928 and during his tenure in the Irish City produced fifty new cars to the basic design of the cars that he oversaw in Leeds. These also became known as “Chamberlain” cars.
Back in Leeds, two cars had their Pivotal trucks fully overhauled in the early- 1950’s which made them smooth- riding again for a while, but a more drastic solution was the fitting of rigid trucks. Around 1943, two cars were fitted with Peckham P35 trucks and a further car was treated in 1944; in the latter year Leeds purchased the patent for the P35 truck from Brush. Fifty truck frames were then ordered from the Monkbridge Iron and Steel Company, these being assembled and fitted with motors etc. from the replaced Pivotal trucks at Kirkstall Road. Around forty more were manufactured in- house, a total of ninety- four of the “Chamberlain” cars eventually being fitted with P35 trucks. It had been intended to treat all of the class, but this did not happen in the end. It has been suggested in some quarters that at least some of the remaining cars had their trucks welded up to make them rigid, but other sources dispute this. Although rigid, the P35 had a “pendulum” arrangement which allowed the axle to move sideways and thus give a smoother ride around curves.
Trucks notwithstanding, the Leeds “Chamberlain’s” were relatively unmodified compared to their “Hamilton” predecessors. Traffic mirrors and manually- operated windscreen wipers were fitted, whilst two cars had the cumbersome trap doors on the staircases replaced with folding doors on the platform; though this was successful no others were treated. All except two cars were fitted with upholstered cushions to the wooden seats on the upper deck during the 1930’s. The last of the cars ran in 1956.
The Horsfield Cars
Possibly the best- known of the Leeds tramcars, certainly outside the city, were the Horsfield cars. This is due to two factors; firstly the survival of most of the class to the last years of the system, whereupon they were photographed by many enthusiasts, both local and visiting; the Leeds tramways were survived only by those in Glasgow, Sheffield and still- open Blackpool and by the interurban Swansea and Mumbles and Grimsby and Immingham lines and thus enthusiasts travelled around observing the final years whilst they still could. Also, the introduction of a die- cast model during the 1990’s added to the Horsfield’s fame.
Of the one- hundred and four built, only four were produced in- house, the other hundred being contracted to Brush. The reasons for this are not expanded on, but it is probable that Kirkstall Road was fully occupied in repairs and routine overhauls; after all the tram fleet was larger than it had ever been before.
The new cars were noticeably more modern in appearance than their forbears; for one the recessed rocker panels at the base of the sides (which had been designed to protect the body from the protruding hub caps of horse- drawn carts etc., the reduction in such traffic making the feature outdated) were dispensed with, the cars having straight or “flush” sides. The steps onto the platform were made deeper to enable the removal of the step from the platform to the lower saloon, as featured on earlier cars. At the top of the staircases were vestibules with hinged doors which could be closed across at the driver’s end, whilst the staircases themselves turned through 90 degrees as against 180 on older designs. Upstairs the opening ventilators in the windows were discontinued, though the sliding windows at the ends of each side were retained; in place of the ventilators the entire window could be raised and lowered using a ratchet system. The upper deck floors, and the lower deck ones on forty- eight of the cars, were covered in cork. The remainder had wooden slatted lower deck floors. A modern touch was the fitment of driving mirrors; these were also being retrofitted to older cars at this time. The Horsfields also had windscreen wipers (manually operated) and air gauges which were on a frame in front of the driver and were illuminated by a hooded light, the hood preventing reflections on the windscreen.
The first four cars (151- 154) were constructed at Kirkstall Road and were used to test various trucks etc. with a view to formulating a standard specification for the production cars. Thus 151 had a Smith “Pendulum” truck, GEC motors and GEC controllers; 152 Peckham, BTH and BTH respectively; 153 EMB/GEC/GEC and 154 Peckham/BTH/BTH.
The Peckham truck was selected for the production cars, but in typical Leeds fashion the motors and controllers in the production batch were not all the same, numbers 155- 204 had BTH motors and controllers whilst 205- 254 were fitted with GEC motors and controllers.
The Leeds- built cars entered traffic between February and September 1930, the Brush cars following over ten months from March 1931. One- hundred cars in ten months was far quicker than Kirkstall Road could produce them and this is probably another reason for contracting out their construction. The Brush- built cars were delivered in two halves which were joined together at Kirkstall Road.
When still fairly new, fifty of the cars were fitted with folding screens which could be closed across the platform, though these proved unsatisfactory and were soon replaced with folding doors. All of the cars had been fitted with platform doors by the end of 1934. Late in 1945, cars 191 and 204 were fitted with “Pullman” ventilators in the upper deck; the existing windows were ratcheted partially down and fixed in place with the ventilators being installed atop them. The ventilators were passenger- operated sliding windows of the sort found on buses, and enabled the passengers themselves to control the ventilation, the ratchet system having been conductor- operated.
From 1948 onwards just over half the class were fitted with the ventilators, though on two windows per side only rather than all four on the first two cars. Other modifications applied to some of the cars were single destination/route indicators and electric bells, though the decision taken in 1953 to abandon the tramways put a stop to such modifications. The last of the cars was withdrawn in November 1959 on the closure of the Leeds tramways system.
The thirties, war and post- war
Tragically, Robert Horsfield became the second Leeds General Manager in six years to die in post, on 25th August 1931. His successor, appointed in April 1932 was William Vane- Morland. Previously Mr Vane- Morland had served at Walsall where he had overseen the replacement of that undertaking’s trams with trolleybuses and motorbuses. He was also a keen supporter of the diesel engine. Under his leadership very few new trams were delivered to Leeds, and this is frequently seen as an indication that he was anti- tram. In fairness, at the start of his tenure there was little requirement to order any more trams; the “Horsfield” cars had only just been delivered, and most of the “Chamberlain” and the last of the “Hamilton” designs not long before them. Later in Mr Vane- Morland’s period of leadership the war would intervene and after its end large numbers of quality secondhand cars appeared on the market as other towns and cities abandoned their tramways.
As we have seen, many older cars were modernised and upgraded after Mr Vane- Morland’s appointment, and this too negated the necessity to order new cars.
Despite the above, it was as early as July 1932 that Mr Vane- Morland was given authority to design an experimental bogie car for use on the higher- speed reserved track sections of the Leeds Tramways. The resulting car entered service a year later and proved so impressive that a batch of sixteen were ordered. Known to enthusiasts as “Middleton Bogies” due to their extensive use on the Middleton route, they were arguably the best- known cars within Leeds. Sadly though, they are outside the remit of this account as the prototype and the first eight production cars were built by Brush, and the final eight by English Electric. Like the earlier types of car covered above they were delivered in two halves which were joined together by LCT.
The basic body design of the “Middleton Bogies” was used for three four- wheeled cars produced in- house at Kirkstall Road. Seating for 62 (36 upstairs and 26 down) was provided on extremely comfortable pedestal- mounted seats which were revolved to turn them round when the terminus was reached, as opposed to the usual method of fitting “swing over” seat backs- both being provided so that passengers could face forwards on every journey. Low- voltage lighting was fitted along with half- drop windows and extractors for ventilation, whilst the driver was provided with an enclosed cabin and a tip- up seat. Folding doors were provided for the entrance and the staircases were straight. Apart from the seats, most of these features were carried over from the “Middleton Bogies”.
The first car, number 272, entered service in February 1935, with its two companions, 273 and 274 following in December of the same year. In true Leeds fashion the cars were not the same; 273 and 274 were six inches longer than 272, 272 had rain gutters and drain pipes whilst the other two did not, whilst the windscreen wipers (which were pneumatically operated) were bottom- mounted on 272 and top- mounted on the other cars. All three were built on Brush underframes with Maley and Taunton trucks. Motors differed in each car; 272 had BTH products, 273 GEC and 274 secondhand Metropolitan Vickers. Controllers also differed, Vis; 272 Dick, Kerr; 273 GEC; 274 BTH.
In North Leeds the cars acquired the nickname “Bluebirds” which, confusingly, was a name bestowed in South Leeds on the “Middleton Bogies.” The Leeds- built four- wheeled cars were more generally known as “Lance Corporals” due to the dash panel moulding and the top of the windscreens on both decks being brought down to a point in the centre of the vehicle. Intended to convey a streamlined appearance, this feature resembled the peak of a Lance Corporal’s cap, hence the name.
The seating was altered in 1949; downstairs double reversible- backed seats were fitted on one side and a longitudinal seat on the other, whilst upstairs 2+2 reversible seats were installed. This was necessary as the original seats gave too little clearance for new larger ticket machines which were being introduced, the conductors being unable to easily negotiate the aisle with the larger machines. The seating capacity reduced by two as a result of this, with only 34 seats upstairs.
Also in 1949 the headlamps, which previously protruded, were recessed into the front panel to reduce the risk of accident damage. As non- standard cars, these fine machines suffered early withdrawal in 1954 and 1955. All were scrapped.
At least one venerable publication refers to both the “Middleton Bogies” and the “Lance Corporals” as “Vane-Morland” cars, though this name never caught on for either type. The book in question pre- dates the upsurge of enthusiasm in the mid 1950’s and therefore also the generally accepted nicknames.
Only two other cars were built by the Department, which in 1934 had been renamed Leeds City Transport to acknowledge the increased role of motorbuses in its activities (trolleybuses had ceased to run in Leeds in 1928).
The first of these was constructed during the war and was the product of necessity; in July 1942 “Chamberlain” car 104 caught fire with no fewer than ninety passengers on board. Mercifully they and the crew escaped but the car could not be saved. It was not possible to obtain new tramcars during the war, and as such it was intended to carry on without replacing 104. Traffic was so heavy that this proved impossible and so Mr Vane- Morland and the staff of Kirkstall Road works used a lot of ingenuity. It proved possible to re- use the motors, gears, axles and wheels from car 104 and to acquire a secondhand truck from the Llandudno and Colwyn Bay Tramway. On this a body frame was constructed from some of the last of the Department’s stock of hardwood, the cant rails were added in secondhand pitch pine and the side panels made from Paperboard (a type of hardboard). The dash panels were of matchboarding made from scrap wood. Seating for 66 was provided, the 40 seats upstairs were wooden and were taken from a withdrawn balcony car, whilst the 26 lower deck seats were leather and were somehow fashioned from secondhand single seats. The separate drivers cab (with seat), platform doors and straight staircase of the “Lance Corporal’s” were also fitted to the new tram. The car took the number (104) of the one it replaced. Entering service in December 1943, it was a fine vehicle which belied its Heath- Robinson construction materials and was a credit to all who worked on it. Renumbered 275 in 1948, the tram was fitted with single destination indicator in 1950, whilst in 1955 rexine pads were added to the upper- deck seats, it having been the last Leeds car to run with wooden seats. 275 was withdrawn and scrapped in autumn 1957. It was generally known as the “Austerity” car, although some sources refer to it as a “wartime” or “utility” car. The latter is definitely incorrect, as it owed nothing to the bus- building programme of the same name.
The final car to be built by Leeds City Transport was 276, which emerged in September 1948. It was intended as a prototype for a fleet of new trams and became known as the “Post- War” car. How serious the intention was is open to debate, as the car had been built as a “spare time” project, beginning in late 1947. It was similar to car 275, albeit with rounded dash panels like those fitted to the “Middleton Bogies”, these being made of steel as opposed to matchboarding. The front corner windows on both decks were one- piece, being formed of curved Perspex, though the lower deck ones were replaced in 1953 with two- piece angled windows from flat glass. Also at that time a single piece destination indicator was fitted.
New features on car 276 were air- operated windscreen wipers and a buzzer in place of the bell on the upper deck; a bell was retained on the lower deck and thus the driver could tell whereabouts in the tram the conductor was located. The truck and wheels were secondhand items removed from a “Horsfield” car whilst the controllers were taken from an ex- Manchester tram. New GEC motors were fitted.
The few modifications to the car during its life are documented above. In September 1957, 276 suffered an electrical fire. The car was repaired, but despite this it never re- entered traffic, being despatched for scrap the following month.
276 brought down the curtain on tram building at Kirkstall Road, though the works did complete a major rebuild and remodelling of an ex- Sunderland car which had been acquired in 1944 as a test bed for Mr Vane- Morland’s ideas for modernising the tramway, part of which would have included a new fleet of single- deck cars. The work occurred in fits and starts, the tram not entering service until 1954, long after Mr Vane- Morland had left the Department. Otherwise Kirkstall Road settled into a routine of repairs and overhauls for the remainder of the tramway’s operation, following which it was converted to deal with motorbuses, finally becoming an operational bus depot. It was closed in 2008 and subsequently demolished, except for the boiler house which is currently home to a car tyre business. The remainder of the site is semi- derelict.
Mr Vane- Morland resigned his position in 1949, leaving on 1st September that year. He had reached the age of compulsory retirement (65) that April, but the Committee would not let him go and extended his contract for another year. Obviously the prospect did not appeal and he decided to leave before the extra year was up.
Amidst a sea of secondhand acquisitions two further new tram cars were constructed for Leeds in the early 1950’s; these were constructed by Charles H. Roe.
Charles H Roe
Charles Roe were predominantly a Bus Manufacturer and their history can be found in the bus section further up this page
A brief excursion was made into the world of tramcar construction in 1953 when two vehicles were built for Leeds City Transport. They were designed by the Leeds General Manager A. B. Findlay who had come to the City from Glasgow. They were basically a single- deck version of the Scottish City’s “Cunarder” double- deckers and were intended for evaluation in connection with a proposed modernisation of the Leeds tramways, which would have included an underground section through the City Centre. Both were built on Maley and Taunton trucks (bogies) and had Crompton Parkinson electric motors, built at their Guiseley factory. The first, Leeds number 601 featured conventional controllers whereas the second, 602, had VAMBAC (Variable Automatic Multinotch Braking and Acceleration Control) controllers. Both had Leeds’ standard bow type current collector. The comparative trials of these trams were cut short when a new leadership at the council announced that they intended to abandon Leeds’ tram system, following which the two vehicles eked out their short lives on the City- Hunslet route. They were withdrawn in 1957 and both were preserved, although 601 was subsequently destroyed by vandals in the 1960’s. 602 is happily preserved at the Crich Tramway Museum. Leeds City Transport usually built their own tram bodies, so the allocation of this order to Roe is somewhat mysterious, possibly the Transport department doubted their ability to produce a sufficiently stylish body. The Roe bodies featured many bus parts and were every bit as eye- catching as their contemporary bus bodies. Despite this, and because of the impending abandonment of British trams, they remained unique.
Above - Roe bodied Leeds tram 602 at Crich in 2012 (Photo Kris Ward)
External Website Links
Archive images on Leodis.net
Soper, J Dipl. Arch, Dipl. T. P.; Leeds Transport Volumes 1- 5. Leeds Transport Historical Society 1985, 1996, 2003, 2007 and 2011 respectively.
Postlethwaite, Harry; Super Prestige 16; Rossendale Transport. Venture publications 2007.
Allen, David. W; Super Prestige 6; West Riding 1. Venture publications 2004.
Brown, Stewart. J; Buses Yearbook 1992 and Buses Yearbook 1997. Ian Allan 1991 and 1996 respectively.
King, J. S; Bradford Corporation Trolleybuses. Venture publications 1994.
Klapper, Charles; The Golden Age of Tramways. Routledge and Kegan Paul 1961.
Reading, S. J; The Derwent Valley Light Railway, Locomotion papers number 37, editions 1 and 3. Oakwood Press 1967 and 1978 respectively.
Hartley, Kenneth. E & Frost, Howard. M; The Spurn Head Railway. Industrial Railway Society 1988.
Unknown; Industrial Locomotives 1982. Industrial Railway Society 1982.
Buses magazine, various.
Bus Fayre magazine, various.
Old Ordnance Survey Maps, The Godfrey Edition. Hunslet 1905.
PSV Circle fleet history PB22, Kingston Upon Hull City Transport. PSV Circle/Omnibus Society 1987.
Trade Directories held in Leeds City Libraries reference library, with thanks to the staff.
Pease, John. The History of Mann's Patent Steam Cart & Wagon Company, Landmark Collector's Library 2005.
Berry, Michael; Leeds Trams and Buses. Amberley Publishing 2013.
Buckley, Richard; Trams & Trolleybuses in Doncaster. Wharncliffe Books 2003.
Kennedy, Mark; Streets of Belfast. Ian Allan 2003.
Mack, Robert F.; Leeds City Tramways- A Pictorial Souvenir. Turntable Publications 1972.
Miller, Patrick; Provincial- The Gosport & Fareham Story. The Transport Publishing Company 1981.
Otter, Patrick; Yorkshire Airfields in the Second World War. Countryside books 1998.
Twidale, Graham H. E.; Leeds in the Age of the Tram, 1950- 59. Silver Link Publishing 1991 and 2003.
Wells, Malcolm; Kingston Upon Hull Trolleybuses. Trolleybooks 1996.
Wilson, Frank E.; The British Tram. Percival Marshall 1961.
This article was produced by Martin Latus