Birkdale and Southport Tramways

The Birkdale and Southport Tramways Company, which was formed in 1879, aimed to construct a standard-gauge, steam-operated tramway in the towns in its title. The main line, which ran eastwards from London Square along Scarisbrooke New Rd to Kew Gardens, was opened on the 12th May 1883, but was horse-drawn from the outset, and was to remain that way for the entire life of the company. A line also ran southwestwards from Scarisbrooke New Rd, along Sefton St, to the depot on the Southport-Birkdale boundary. This was subsequently extended southwards along Liverpool Rd to Brighton Rd in Birkdale (services commencing on the 5th November 1884), and ultimately onwards to the Crown Hotel (in 1894). This extension took the final route mileage to around 3 miles.

Despite the tracks of the B&STCo virtually meeting those of the Southport's first horse tramway (operated by the Southport Tramways Company) at London Square on Lord St, the tracks of the two concerns were never connected.

The company seems to have been a rather impecunious affair, with many of the first tramcars being purchased secondhand from other tramways in the northwest of England; things did however settle down, and the company went on to lead a rather uneventful though profitable existence for the best part of two decades. Its fortunes were however to change in 1899 when the British Electric Traction Company Ltd gained control of the company. The BETCo, which was at this time aggressively purchasing horse and steam-operated tramways across the British Isles, with the intention of converting them to electric traction, had also managed to acquire a controlling interest in the neighbouring Southport Tramways Company, in the hope of creating a single electric tramway system in the town. Although the corporation were initially favourably inclined to this, they subsequently decided to build and operate their own municipal system, so Southport was to continue to be graced by two tramway systems for another 20 years.

The corporation purchased the B&STCo's track within Southport on the 1st of January 1900, leasing it back to the company until the end of 1901. Birkdale Urban District Council followed suit in 1901, and the last B&STCo horse car ran on the 14th December 1901, Southport Corporation taking over horse services on the line until conversion to electric traction was complete.

Photographs of Birkdale and Southport horse trams are rare, but two shots have survived which indicate that the company — like many Victorian horse tramway operators — simply instructed its staff to wear smart but informal attire, namely: jacket, shirt and tie, along with the fashionable headgear of the day, either the bowler hat, or later on the flat cap. It is possible that licence badges were worn in later years, though this is far from clear.

Further reading
For a history of Southport's tramways, see: 'Southport in the Age of the Tram' by John Dean and Cedric Greenwood; Sliver Link Publishing (2008).


Horse tram drivers and conductors
Birkdale and Southport Tramways horse tram No 4
The crew of Horsecar No 4 pose for the camera — photo undated, but probably taken in the early 1890s before the line was extended to the Crown Hotel (in 1894). Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society.

Birkdale and Southport Tramways horse tram No 4
An enlargement of the above photograph showing the crew. Both men are in smart but informal attire, with the tall bowler hats that were in vogue during the earlier years of the 1890s.

Birkdale and Sountport Tramways Tram No 2 and crew
Horsecar No 2 of the Birkdale and Southport Tramways Company with a service to the Crown Hotel in Birkdale — photo undated, but certainly no earlier than 1894 when the line was extended to this destination. The conductor is unfortunately in shadow, but he does appear to be wearing a round badge on his jacket, possibly a municipal licence. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society.

Birkdale and Southport Tramways horse tram driver
A blow up of the above photo showing the driver, who is clearly wearing informal attire. The figure nearest the camera is a policeman.