Northampton Street Tramways
Postcard commemorating the end of horse-drawn services in 1904
|Locale||Northampton, England, United Kingdom|
|Open||4 June 1881|
|Close||21 October 1901|
|Track gauge||3 ft 6 in (1,067 mm)|
On 9 January 1880, the Northampton Street Tramways Company was founded at a meeting in London. It quickly gained parliamentary approval for a network of 7 lines to be built in Northampton.
Jabez Spencer Balfour was the chairman of the company. The Vice-Chairman was W.J. Pierce (Mayor of Northampton 1880-81). The directors were J. Pelton, D.B. Miller, and H.S. Freeman. The company signed a contract on 14 March 1881 and construction began.
Major General Hutchinson of the Board of Trade inspected the works at 09.00 hrs on 4 June 1881. Following some remedial works, there was an inaugural run for local dignitaries, and the tramway opened to the public on the same day at 18.00 hrs.
Stables had been erected on land behind 72 Abindgon Street in the town centre. The entrance to the depot was through a narrow passageway, but the land at the back provided space for 31 horses, 8 cars, a smithy, granary and fodder store. There was also a paddock and small grazing area for sick animals, but this was later built on with extensions to the depot.
The first route ran from All Saints church in the town centre, along Abington Street and Kettering Road to the White Elephant (then the Kingsley Park Hotel). It ran west down Gold Street to St James' End.
There was also a route along St Georges Terrace, Kingsthorpe Hollow to Kingsthorpe. This part of the system was extended around 1883.
In 1884 the St James' route was extended along Weedon Road. In 1893 an extension was built along Wellingborough Road towards Weston Favell. This opened on 18 May 1893.
By 1885 there was dissent amongst the shareholders. At the meeting in August a deficit of £139 was declared, but a motion that this be not accepted was carried. There were allegations of mismanagement and falsification of the accounts. The resignation of the directors was not accepted, and an Extraordinary Meeting was arranged. This failed to resolve the issue and a further meeting was arranged where several of the board of directors were replaced. Six months later they reported that there was now a credit balance of £154. The company took drastic measures to achieve this, having replaced many of the poor quality horses, they dismissed all of the conductors and employed 14- to 16-year-old boys who worked for 7 shillings per week. This caused great ill feeling (as there was already considerable unemployment). Sunday services were withdrawn. Further economies were put into effect - some of the 1881 cars were modified to remove the upper deck, stairs, and lower deck windows, to reduce the weight so that they could be operated by one horse rather than two. This resulted in an immediate improvement in the company fortunes. Cost of operating the horses fell from £2,088 in 1885 to £1,476 in 1887.
Six cars were ordered initially from the Birmingham Railway Carriage and Wagon Company at Smethwick. Only four were delivered in time for the opening, but the remainder followed shortly afterwards. There were seats for 18 people inside, and 18 outside.
By 1901 they were operating 21 tramcars, 3 buses and owned 100 horses.
Gas engine experiment
The company were keen to adopt mechanical power. A gas powered locomotive, designed and built in December 1882 at Mobbs' Vulcan Ironworks, Guildhall Road, Northampton was tested on the company tracks. On 3 March 1883 it successfully pulled a car containing a dozen people along the track by West Bridge. Nothing more is known of the subsequent history of this locomotive.
The system was bought by the Northampton Corporation Tramways on 21 October 1901 for the sum of £38,700.
- The Golden Age of Tramways. Published by Taylor and Francis.
- Northamptonshire Horse Tramways, A. W. Brotchie, Tramway Review, Vol. 11. No. 81, Spring 1975