A Brief History of the Tram Building Industry in Leeds
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.
|Companies Manufacturing Trams in Leeds|
|Greenwood & Batley|
|Kitson & Co|
|Leeds Tramways Co|
|Leeds City Tramways|
|Charles H Roe|
|Rebuilt In Leeds|
|Internal Website Links|
|External Website Links|
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.
Above - Video of Kitson tram T28, works number 2402 in action at Ferrymead, New Zealand
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.
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).
Click here for a list of Kitson built trams from our database
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.
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.
Click here for a list of Thomas Green built steam trams
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.
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.
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.
The final six "Hamilton" cars, although built and painted in 1926, were initially stored within the works for reasons unknown. They began to enter service in October 1927 with the final example, number 410, taking to the rails in August 1928.
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.
Preserved Horsfield tram 180, one of the majority of the class that were built at Brush in Loughborough rathar than in house at Leeds. Seen at Crich Tramway Museum. (Photo Andrew Johnson)
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
Roe bodied Leeds tram 602 at Crich in 2012 (Photo Kris Ward)
Charles Roe were predominantly a Bus Manufacturer and their history can be found in the bus makers article.
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.
Rebuilt in Leeds
Leeds Horse Tram 107 in operation at the Middleton Railway (Photo Kris Ward)
Worthy of mention in our pages is a former Leeds horse tram that although originally built in Birkenhead it was extensively rebuilt in Leeds by a group of transport enthusiasts. Horse tram number 107 was built in 1898 by George F. Milnes of Birkenhead. A double decker seating 34, 18 outside and 16 inside, the car was withdrawn in 1901 and converted to a static mess van for the highways department, the work being done at Kirkstall Road works. In the 1920’s this role ceased and the tram passed into the ownership of a council employee who used it as a summerhouse in the garden of his home in Nixon Avenue, East End Park.
Early in 1977 the car was “rediscovered” by a member of the Leeds Transport Historical Society and, after some negotiation, the family who by then owned the house kindly offered to donate the car to the society for preservation. The tram was moved to undercover storage in April 1977, the small size of horse trams being underlined by its movement in the back of a Transit pick up!
The car remained untouched until 2005 when it was partially dismantled to assess the extent of the work needed to restore it; it was then fully dismantled in 2006.
The rebuild of the tram did utilise as much as posssible of the original woodwork and much of the basic structure of the body was salvaged, though much of the pannelling had to be replaced. Replacement wood was sourced to match original pieces and the top deck also needed to be recreated as the original had been removed in the 1901 rebuild. It is interesting to note that components for the new chassis were made by Pickersgill Kaye in the former Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co works.
The tram re-entered service at the Middleton Railway gala in 2013 before moving to its new home at the National Tramway Museum, Crich. Having outgrown the garage in which it had been restored the tram was moved to the Middleton Railway for final assembly and finishing touches. One of the lines Smith cranes being used to position the restored body on to its new chassis.
The full story of the tram’s restoration can be found on its own website: www.leedshorsecar107.squarespace.com
Internal Website Links
Click here for a list of LCT built trams
Click here for a list of steam trams built by Kitson & Co
External Website Links
Leeds Transport Historical Society
Crich Tramway Village
Soper, J Dipl. Arch, Dipl. T. P.; Leeds Transport Volumes 1- 5. Leeds Transport Historical Society 1985, 1996, 2003, 2007 and 2011 respectively.
Klapper, Charles; The Golden Age of Tramways. Routledge and Kegan Paul 1961.
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.
Mack, Robert F.; Leeds City Tramways- A Pictorial Souvenir. Turntable Publications 1972.
Twidale, Graham H. E.; Leeds in the Age of the Tram, 1950- 59. Silver Link Publishing 1991 and 2003.
Wilson, Frank E.; The British Tram. Percival Marshall 1961.
This article was produced by Martin Latus
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