Hartlepools Steam Tramways

Hartlepool's 3ft 6in-gauge steam tramway, which was owned by the Hartlepools Steam Tramway Company Limited, opened for business on the 2nd August 1884.

Although the company had plans (and powers) to build an extensive tramway network connecting the towns of Hartlepool and West Hartlepool, only one line out of an approved total of 5.14 miles was ever constructed. This was 2.51 miles long, and essentially prescribed an anticlockwise arc around Hartlepools' docks, from the junction of Middlegate and Northgate in Hartlepool to the eastern end of Church St in West Hartlepool.

Unfortunately, the tramway company was financially hamstrung before it had even got off the ground, the promoters, who were all London-based, deploying the usual bag of tricks to lure in local investors, including lavish meals for the local luminaries, and a guaranteed dividend of 6% before a tram had even run. The latter was paid by the contractor — the Public Works and Contract Company — a concern which had several directors in common with the HSTCo's promoters, and which effectively ran the tramway until such time as the HSTCo could pay them a pre-agreed sum for their services. The PW&CCo were no doubt over-paid for the work they did, to the benefit of that company's shareholders, but even so, it ultimately had to accept HSTCo shares in part payment, as the tramway company was woefully under-capitalised, only around 50% of the authorised capital ever being subscribed, and even less paid up.

This left the PW&CCo to take whatever profits it could until the HSTCo paid up (it was very vague about how much profit was actually being made), there being nothing left in the way of capital to realise the originally envisaged scheme. If these handicaps were not enough in themselves, the tramway also found itself delivering a service to an area that was in the midst of a severe and protracted trade depression, and with a railway company also competing for passengers between the two towns.

The HSTCo finally took-over ownership of its tramway on the 26th March 1887, and with it a significant debt (in the form of debentures), which the PW&CCo had taken out to plug the shortfall between the construction costs and the available capital. With income barely covering expenditure, it was unsurprisingly downhill all the way now, with the company formally abandoning its powers for the lines that it had no prospect of building, no doubt primarily to get its deposits back.

Although a significant number of passengers were carried, the financial situation inevitably meant that maintenance suffered, as a consequence of which accidents increased, piling problem upon problem, and there was still the matter of the debenture interest. Things came to a head on the 12th April 1889, when the debenture holders (the Debenture Corporation) successfully applied for the appointment of a receiver, the HSTCo presumably having been unable to service the debt.

The tramway was unsuccessfully put up for sale — on the 7th July 1890 — afterwards struggling on under the receiver, its general unreliability and lack of anything approaching punctuality becoming a running joke amongst the combined populaces of the Hartlepools. The tramway service finally expired on the 21st February 1891, and though several efforts were made to revive steam services, they all failed.

By November 1891, the HSTCo had been liquidated, a path the PW&CCo would eventually follow, but not until 1894. The assets were now in the hands of the Debenture Corporation, which had a preferential call on them, from where they eventually (in 1894) passed to Stephen Sellon, who was acting on behalf of the Electric Construction Company Limited. In the same year, Sellon also reached agreement — with Hartlepool and West Hartlepool Corporations — to revive the tramway and convert it to electric traction. Whilst powers were obtained to this end, Sellon had also, and independently of the ECCo, promoted a series of tramway extensions within West Hartlepool, together with a Francis Ashby. This was ultimately to complicate electrification (see Hartlepool Electric Tramways), as Sellon subsequently left the ECCo, taking the latter powers with him.

Photographs depicting staff of the HSTCo appear not to have survived, and documentary evidence is sparse indeed, so it is currently impossible to say whether or not they were issued withuniforms, though given the trials and tribulations of the company, one would have thought not.

Further reading
For more information on the company, see: 'A History of the British Steam Tram, Volume 3 by David Gladwin; Adam Gordon (2007), as well as 'The Tramways of the Hartlepools' by J D Watson, in the Tramway Review, No 144 (p256-274); Light Rail Transit Association (1990).