Drypool and Marfleet Steam Tramways

The Drypool and Marfleet Tramway was the brainchild of four Hull businessmen, who saw the need to connect the newly built Alexandra Docks, which opened on the 20th July 1885, with the centre of Hull. Their collective vision was for a tramway that would carry thousands of workers from the town centre out to the docks that were located along the north bank of the Humber, and to the settlement of Marfleet to the east. Unfortunately, access to the centre of town — over the tracks of the Hull Street Tramways Company — never materialised, whilst the eastern terminus never progressed beyond Alexandra Dock, making it the shortest steam tramway in the British Isles, at a mere 1.34 miles.

The promoters consulted extensively with Hull Borough Council, ensuring that all its requirements would be met, and that there would be no municipal objections to its parliamentary bill. The Drypool and Marfleet Steam Tramways Company was duly formed on the 15th January 1886, with the bill for the tramway passing Royal Assent on the 25th September 1886. As envisaged, the tramway was to run from two termini on the east bank of the River Hull (the main one near North Bridge in Witham and the other opposite Drypool Bridge in Clarence Street), the lines joining at the junction of Clarence St and Hedon Rd, before heading eastwards along Hedon Rd, out past Alexandra Docks, and over the Holderness Drain to Marfleet, in total 2.6 miles. Unfortunately, share take-up fell short of expectations, possibly due to concerns over the tramway's earning potential beyond Alexandra Docks, which was not only sparsely populated, but would also require a significant financial contribution towards the widening of the bridge over Holderness Drain.

As a result, construction of the tramway did not start until the 2nd July 1888, which forced the company to twice seek an extension to the time allowed for construction, the original date having been the 25th September 1887. The line finally opened on the 22nd May 1889, services initially being provided by four Thomas Green and Sons steam engines and five G F Milnes-built trailers, with three more engines and trailers arriving by December. The line was, however, only opened as far as Lee Smith Street, just beyond the depot (in Hotham Street), which was at the western end of Alexandra Docks. The rest of the line was never completed, the company repeatedly applying for extensions to the time allowed for construction, but eventually throwing in the towel in 1892, when it formally abandoned the powers.

All was not well at the other end of the line too, the extremely flat terrain enabling wagonettes to ply between the centre of town and the docks with relatively ease. The vehicles ran straight through, whereas passengers for the steam tramway either had to walk to Witham or Drypool Bridge, or else take a Hull Street Tramways Company horse tram to Witham then change to a steam tram. As a consequence, the steam trams repeatedly operated at a loss, and though the company came extremely close to buying the HSTCo's Holderness Road line in 1890, in the end the deal did not go through.

The tramway had actually been built well, and relatively cheaply, so with careful management, combined with some modest loans, the company was able to survive through to 1894/5, when a general upturn in dock trade saw revenue finally exceed expenditure, though at the cost of reduced services and the withdrawal of the services along Clarence Street. Although welcome, the surpluses were small and were immediately swallowed up by interest payments on the loans, so the tramway never in fact made a profit, nor did it ever pay a dividend.

The long-suffering shareholders finally found salvation in the form of Hull Corporation, which had taken over the neighbouring Hull Street Tramways Company in 1896, and had ambitious plans for an electric tramway system. The first corporation electric service commenced on the 5th July 1899, and shortly afterwards, agreement was reached with the D&MSTCo to purchase the steam tramway. The company continued to run the steam trams until the formal handover took place on the 31st January 1900, whereupon the existing staff were transferred to the corporation, with everything essentially continuing as before. With electrification now on the horizon, the corporation naturally minimised expenditure on the engines, which by January 1901 had dwindled to just two operational vehicles; as these were insufficient to provide a public service, the trams were promptly withdrawn, the last service running on the 13th January 1901.

Photographs of employees of the Drypool and Marfleet Steam Tramway, either in company or in corporation days, are relatively rare, however, those that have survived clearly show that uniforms were not worn, neither were licence badges. Drivers wore the same clothing as their counterparts on other steam tramways, namely, railway footplate-like attire: cotton jackets and trousers, and heavy cotton caps. Conductors on the other hand wore smart but informal attire: jacket, trousers, shirt and tie, along with the fashionable headgear of the day, initially the tall bowler of the late 1880s, and towards the end of the system's life, the flat cap.

In December 1892, the company employed 12 drivers and 12 conductors, though their numbers were subsequently reduced to 8 and 9, respectively, as part of the company's cost saving efforts.

Further reading
For more information on this tramway, see: 'A History of Kingston Upon Hull's Tramways' by Malcolm Wells; Adam Gordon Publishing (2012).


Steam tram drivers and conductors
Drypool and Marfleet Steam Tram No 6
What looks to be a fairly new No 6 (a Thomas Green & Sons product of 1889) and its pristine G F Milnes-built, top-covered trailer, suggesting that the photo was taken soon after the former's delivery in December 1889.

Drypool and Marfleet Steam Tram No 6 engine driver
An enlargement of the above photograph showing the driver, in typical cotton jacket and cap, both devoid of badges.

Drypool and Marfleet Steam Tram No 6 engine conductor
Another blow-up of the above photograph, this time showing the conductor (left). He is wearing informal attire and a tall bowler hat, a style that was particularly prevalent in the late 1880s. No badges or licences are in evidence.

Crypool and Marfleet Steam Tramways
A Drypool and Marfleet Steam Tramways Company steam tram (purportedly No 7) and trailer — photo undated, but certainly taken no earlier than 1896 when advertising boards were introduced, and probably much later. The conductor, assuming he is the figure standing between the engine and the trailer, is wearing informal attire and a flat cap. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.