Hoylake and Birkenhead Rail and Tramway Company

This short, 2.29-mile, standard-gauge horse tramway was an extension of a railway line that had failed to reach its intended destination. The railway was owned by the Hoylake Railway Company, which opened its eastern terminus at Birkenhead Dock Station on the 2nd June 1866. The station was some way short of the Mersey estuary, and the ferries to which the company hoped to connect, as well as being in the north of Birkenhead, circa two miles distant from the centre of the town. Although horse omnibus services filled the void, they were a far from adequate substitute for a proper rail connection. One of the reasons for the failure of the railway company to reach the ferries was a lack a capital, and even when the line opened, the company continued to struggle financially, failing to pay its considerable debts, and entering receivership on the 13th June 1869.

On the 19th November 1870 a new company was formed — the Hoylake and Birkenhead Tramway Company — to take over the railway, and to build a series of tramways in the area. For various reasons, these plans failed to come to fruition, and on the 6th August 1872, the tramway company was dissolved by an Act of Parliament (the Hoylake and Birkenhead Railway and Tramways Act, 1872). The act incorporated a new company —the Hoylake and Birkenhead Rail and Tramway Company — and authorised it to acquire the railway company, and to build circa 3 miles ot tramway in Birkenhead, principally between the Dock Station and Woodside Ferry.

Construction of the tramway commenced on the 22nd April 1873, the opening taking place five months later on the 6th September 1873. From the Dock Station, the line ran southeastwards — via Wallasey Bridge Road, Beaufort Road, Corporation Road, Cleveland Street, Bridge Street, Sandford Street, Canning Street and Hamilton Street — to Woodside Ferry. Surprisingly, a significant proportion of the line was built along a different route to that authorised by the Act of Parliament, though apparently with the blessing of the local authority, Birkenhead Improvement Commissioners. The last section, from Woodside Ferry Approach into Woodside Ferry, was owned by the Commissioners, the company sharing access with their neighbouring tramway, the Birkenhead Street Railway, and paying a rental for the privelege.

The services were initially worked by four horsecars, which were eventually joined by four more, taking the fleet to a total of eight.

On the 8th May 1876, operation of the tramway was leased to a local contractor, a Mr Towson, though whether he just provided the horses and drivers, or the conductors too, is unclear.

The tramway was well patronised, and the company, possibly wishing to concentrate on its railway extensions, decided to sell the undertaking. The purchaser was the Birkenhead Tramway Company, the successor to the Birkenhead Street Railway Company, which obtained powers to take over the tramway on the 24th July 1879 under the Birkenhead Tramways Act (1879). The BTCo took possession just under three months later on the 12th October 1879, a move that would ultimately prove to be its undoing.

Unfortunately, photographs of the tramway in operation have not survived, nor is there any documentary evidence that would confirm whether or not uniforms were worn.

Further reading
For a history of Birkenhead's tramways, see: 'The Tramways of Birkenhead and Wallasey' by T B Maund and M Jenkins; LRTA (1987).