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Hartlepool Transport Ltd.

Hartlepool Transport Ltd. and its predecessors, 1884-1994.
Compiled by John Watson.

For many years in the 19th century the only form of regular public transport in the Hartlepools was provided by the North Eastern Railway Company between the two towns, but this could not cater for intermediate traffic, and with the development of Central Estate and other housing areas there was increasing scope for a road-based transport system.  Such a system came into being on 2 August 1884 when the Hartlepools Steam Tramways Co. Ltd. opened a line of 3ft 6in gauge from Church Street, West Hartlepool, to Northgate, Hartlepool.  The rolling stock, built by Falcon of Loughborough, consisted of 52-seat double-deck top-covered trailer cars, each on two bogies, drawn by small box-like steam locomotives.  A small depot was erected at the junction of Cleveland Road and Hart Road, Hartlepool. For the return journey the locomotive would first be transferred to the other end of the car by means of a passing loop in the track.  Altogether six locomotives and five trailer cars appear to have been operated at various times.  The livery of the fleet is not known.

The steam tramway last operated on 21 February 1891, the company by then being in the hands of a receiver, Joseph Ebbsmith.  This gentleman was instrumental in the setting up of a company in Wolverhampton, eventually to become the Electric Construction Company, for the manufacture of electrical machinery.  This company took over the derelict Hartlepools line, re-laid it, and added overhead electric wiring supported by poles.  The service re-opened on 19th May 1896. Electric car No.1, was one of five 44-seat four-wheelers built by Milnes of Birkenhead for the new operating company, the General Electric Tramways Co. Ltd. (GET).  The livery is thought to have been green and white.  Like all later double-deckers on the Hartlepools tramways the cars were open-topped to give sufficient clearance for the overhead trolleys under two railway bridges on the route.  The opening took place at noon on a Tuesday, and evidently coincided with school dinner hour.   Two more cars of the same design, Nos. 8 and 9, were obtained in 1897.  The new system included a depot and electric power station at Greenland, on the West Hartlepool side of the inter-town boundary.

By the end of 1897 the electric tramcar fleet had doubled in size. The latest car, No. 10, could seat 62 people, and was a longer version of the previous cars, with the body carried on two four-wheel bogies.  The end of the car is fitted with a buffer and chains, for the attachment of a trailer.  The other cars were similarly equipped, and two trailer cars, numbered 6 and 7, had been purchased earlier in 1897 for use at peak times, but no photographs of them have come to light. 

In 1895 another company, the British Electric Traction Co. Ltd. (BET), had ambitions on a national scale, largely to be realised, and obtained powers to construct two new lines in West Hartlepool, to the Park and to Foggy Furze.  These opened on 10 March 1899, and were operated by a new BET subsidiary, the inaccurately named Hartlepool Electric Tramways Co. Ltd. (HET). The cars were painted in the current standard BET livery of orange-yellow and white. Soon after its start of service the HET took over the operation of the GET system and its cars, and repainted them into the BET livery.

In 1901 the HET acquired four more four-wheeled cars, this time built by the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works (ERTCW) of Preston and seating 45.  Two Brush 65-seat bogie cars with reversed staircases were bought by the HET in 1901, numbered 20 and 21.  On 28 March 1902 the HET opened a fourth electric line, to Seaton Carew, with much of the track laid on the sea banks alongside the road.  Four ERTCW 70-seat bogie cars with reversed staircases were purchased for the service, although as it turned out they would be used mainly on the Hartlepool line. The enclosed platforms of these four cars were a welcome innovation, especially from the point of view of the drivers.

A remarkable development in 1904 was the construction by the HET’s own workshop staff of a unique pair of cars.  Each incorporated the Milnes bodies of two of cars 1-4 of 1896, joined together and mounted on new bogies.  With an overall length of 38ft and 84 seats these cars are thought to have been the largest to have operated on a British 3ft 6in gauge tramway.  The two cars were numbered 8 and 9; the original cars having these numbers were renumbered 6 and 7 in about 1902, after the trailers carrying these numbers had been disposed of.  Like other tramway operators, the HET needed a tower wagon to permit work on the overhead wiring and a horse was stabled at the Greenland depot to draw the tower wagon and for other purposes.

On 31 August 1912, after lengthy negotiations with the HET, ownership and operation of the local tramways were transferred to West Hartlepool Corporation, except in two respects.  First, because of inconsistencies in the local legislation, the Park and Foggy Furze lines and seven cars had already been purchased by the corporation on 25 September 1911 although the company had continued to operate them.  The total fleet comprised 21 cars, the number transferred in 1912 therefore being 14.  Second, the track and overhead in Hartlepool remained in the ownership of the GET, now leased to West Hartlepool Corporation in succession to the HET.  The corporation’s first new cars, numbered 1-5, were purchased in 1914, 58-seat four-wheelers built by United Electric. The corporation’s livery was a brownish dark red and white, possibly inherited from the HET: the BET standard had become such a combination on several systems, replacing the orange-yellow of a decade earlier.

West Hartlepool Corporation purchased six more cars in 1920 to replace some of the original cars on the system, which had been worked hard during the war.  The new cars were Brush 70-seaters on bogies and numbered 27-32. The Corporation also purchased five AEC 32-seat single-deck motor buses with solid tyres, the intention being to run a service from Seaton Carew tram terminus to the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge at Port Clarence, a distance of six miles along the recently opened Tees Road.  The service was to be jointly operated with Middlesbrough Corporation, which was unable to start operation until 4 April 1921, so West Hartlepool meanwhile ran a short-lived circular service within the town, starting on 17 July 1920.  Middlesbrough Corporation withdrew from the Tees Road route in 1927, by which time West Hartlepool’s buses were operating to and from Church Street, for through passengers only. 

In 1923 the corporation bought two 66-seat tramcar bodies from English Electric and mounted them on the bogies of the 1904 rebuilds 8 and 9, whose numbers they took up. As it was to turn out these new bodies would remain in service for only four years.

In common with many other small tramway systems, West Hartlepool Corporation decided in the 1920s to convert its tram routes to trolleybus operation. The trolleybus was a hybrid vehicle, with rubber-tyred wheels and two trolley arms in continuous contact with a pair of overhead wires.  The cost of future track repairs and renewals was thus avoided, while at the same time the existing electricity generating equipment could be retained for further service.  The Foggy Furze route was the first to receive trolleybuses, on 28 February 1924, with an extension of about half a mile to a point near the Traveller’s Rest Hotel. 

(It should be noted that the corporation numbered its trams, motor buses, and trolleybuses in three separate series, each starting at 1.)

In 1925 the motor bus fleet was expanded by the addition of four Bristol 2-ton vehicles with Bristol 24-seat bodies.  There are no known photographs of these buses, but No. 10 (EF 2810) was converted to a tower wagon in 1929. The Park tram route was the next to be converted to trolleybus operation: the service started on 3 February 1926.  Two more Railless/Short Brothers single-deckers entered service, differing from the previous four in having doors at the centre instead of at the front.  A third vehicle obtained for the Park trolleybus conversion was a Railless/Short Brothers 48-seat open-top double-deck body, No. 7 (EF 3027), however, this vehicle proved to be unsatisfactory, already being of obsolete design when new, and last ran in 1928. Two Bristol 4-ton vehicles with Bristol 30-seat bodies were added to the motor bus fleet in 1926, with pneumatic tyres becoming standard by this time for all but the largest vehicles.

The Hartlepool tram route was converted to trolleybus operation on 23 February 1927, but only after protracted disagreement between the two corporations.  Hartlepool had purchased the track and overhead wiring in its area from the GET on 2 August 1925, and obtained powers to operate motor buses.  West Hartlepool naturally proposed to use trolleybuses, and Hartlepool was eventually obliged to agree to this type of vehicle.  Hartlepool paid for the new overhead equipment in its area, and the trolleybuses were a special batch in the joint ownership of the two corporations and bearing the two insignia.  For the purposes of management and operation the new fleet was treated as a part of the West Hartlepool undertaking.  The use of pneumatic tyres was a novelty on vehicles of this size.  The new service operated a one-way loop in Hartlepool, with a terminus near St Hilda’s Church about 300 yards beyond the former tram terminus in Northgate.

Trolleybuses took over from the trams on the Seaton Carew route on 26 March 1927, completing the conversion programme.  In the centre of West Hartlepool the route now followed a loop via Lynn Street, Church Street and Whitby Street, instead of the northern part of Mainsforth Terrace.  Twelve Garrett vehicles with Roe 32-seat bodies, of similar appearance to the special fleet for the Hartlepool route, were placed in service.  The large number enabled the more primitive vehicles obtained in 1924 and 1926 to be restricted to duplication duties. 

More motor bus services were started in the late 1920s, notably from Rift House to Thornhill Gardens via the centre of West Hartlepool.  At this time these services were largely one-man operated.  In 1927 seven Bristol B vehicles with Roe 29-seat two-door bodies entered service, taking the numbers 1, 4-6, and 11-13 (EF 3461/4-6/71-3).  The main panels of these vehicles were of aluminium, unpainted and buffed to produce an attractive striped effect. Four similar buses, but with front entrances only and 31 seats, were obtained in 1928, numbered 14-17 (EF 3714-7), but no photographs of them have been discovered. The striped effect was also applied to the corporation’s first double-deck motor buses, two Daimlers with Hoyal 48-seat bodies placed in service in 1931.  By this time one-man operation of full-size single-deckers was no longer permitted, so it became more economical to operate double-deckers. 

A new livery of Royal Dominion red and cream was introduced in 1934 for the entire fleet, the striped livery having been found troublesome when panels became damaged.  The red was lighter than the previous shade, although often rather inaccurately described as maroon.  Roe-bodied Daimlers 7 and 10 (EF 5387 and 5390) were the first to be delivered in the new colours. During the war, the headlights were hooded and the mudguards edged in white paint to permit operation in black-out conditions, and bus roofs were now painted grey instead of cream to reduce visibility from above. Two Bristol J types with Bristol 36-seat single-deck bodies were purchased in 1935. 

From 1936 onwards all West Hartlepool Corporation Transport motor buses except two were fitted with Diesel engines.  The first two, Nos. 2 and 3 (EF 5892-3), were of the same appearance as the 1934 vehicles numbered 7 and 10, but no photographs are known.  The first 1937 vehicle, No. 1 (EF 6321), was one of four Daimlers with a new style of centre-entrance Roe body having 48 seats.  This design of vehicle saved time at bus stops, and so was especially suited to busy town services.

In 1938 a start was made to renew the trolleybus fleet.  First of all, six Daimler double-deckers with Roe 54-seat bodies entered service, mainly on the Park and Foggy Furze routes. Four more centre-entrance Daimler/Roe double-deck motor buses entered service in 1938.  Also entering service in 1938 were two Daimler/Roe 35-seat single-deckers intended for use on the West Hartlepool-Port Clarence service, although increasing loadings meant that double-deckers became the usual choice of vehicle.  The Park circular service started in 1948.  Towards the end of 1938, eight more Daimler/Roe double-deck trolleybuses replaced the Straker-Clough vehicles on the Hartlepool route.  Like them, the new vehicles were owned jointly by the two corporations.  Seven centre-entrance Daimler/Roe double-deck motor buses entering service in 1939 differed from previous similar vehicles in having the more usual half-cab fronts; the full fronts of the 1937-38 buses had proved to obstruct access to the engines for maintenance purposes. 

In 1939 three Leyland trolleybuses with luxurious Roe 32-seat centre-entrance single-deck bodies joined the fleet to replace the 1927 vehicles on the Seaton Carew route.  However, in a surprise move the corporation had converted the Foggy Furze route to motor bus operation on 15 October 1938, in anticipation of an extension to Seaton Carew via Seaton Lane (which never materialised).  Because of this and the change in traffic patterns in the Second World War, the Seaton Carew trolleybus route came to be operated by double-deckers.  One of the Leylands frequently appeared on the Park service, but otherwise they were used mainly on duplicate and workmen’s journeys. 

The Corporations’s only motor tower wagon at any time not converted from a bus was a Leyland Lynx, EF 7352, purchased in 1940.  In the early years of the Second War, bus operators had little choice of vehicle, and generally had to accept whatever was available.  In 1942 the corporation received two Roe centre-entrance bodies originally intended for Sunderland Corporation and mounted on AEC Regent chassis.  Another non-standard chassis purchased in 1942 was a Leyland Titan, No.36 (EF 7380), although the Roe centre-entrance body was to the usual specification. 

As the war continued, arrangements were made for Guy Motors to supply a standard chassis throughout the United Kingdom and West Hartlepool purchased five in the 1942-44 period.  The double-deck bodies, to a so-called “utility” specification which included 56 slatted wooden seats, were produced by a variety of builders -   No.37 (EF 7407), Massey body; No.38 (EF 7422), No.41 (EF 7453), Massey Weymann’s; No.42 (EF 7442), Pickering; No.43 (EF 7443), Pickering. All five were painted in wartime grey-green livery. 

The standard wartime single-deck vehicle was the petrol-engined Bedford OWB, and West Hartlepool took two of them in 1942, with SMT 32-seat bodies, but kept them for only five years. 

Early postwar vehicles included many of the wartime “utility” features, for example, No. 44 (EF 7483), a Daimler with Brush 56-seat body, was purchased in 1945. The trolleybuses on the Seaton Carew route were replaced on 19 November 1949, largely because the sea-front atmosphere had corroded the equipment along the route.  The motor buses ran through from Easington Road, absorbing another service. 

In 1946 West Hartlepool Corporation Transport purchased three Daimlers with 56-seat Massey bodies.  Although peace-time standards had returned as far as curved panelling was concerned, internally these bodies were to a fairly basic specification. In the mid-1950s these three vehicles, plus No. 44, were used mainly on the Church Square-Catcote Road service because of their combination of high capacity and 7ft 6in width – the route ran along the unsuitable Ardrossan Road until the construction of Rossmere Way was completed. For its 1947 deliveries West Hartlepool was able to return to its preferred centre-entrance design of Roe body, now with 50 seats.  Nine were purchased on Daimler chassis. 

Eight more Daimlers with 50-seat centre-entrance Roe bodies were purchased in 1948.  These differed from previous vehicles in being built to the new permitted width of 8ft, an increase of 6in. 

By 1958 the bodies delivered in 1948 required extensive repairs, and the opportunity was taken to rebuild them to rear-entrance layout.  This permitted a most welcome increase in seating capacity from 50 to 59, largely because the central staircase, which fanned out fore and aft, was fairly wasteful of space. By this time bus roofs were being painted red instead of grey and the fleet had been fitted with boxes displaying service numbers.

Passenger numbers were increasing, and all future deliveries of double-deckers were to have rear entrances, permitting higher seating capacities.  Nine Daimler/Roe 56-seaters were ordered, and the first, No. 56 (EF 8558), was exhibited at the Commercial Motor Transport Exhibition in London in November 1948.  Non-standard features comprised gold lining, red mudguards and a chromium-plated radiator shell, although by 1964 only the last-mentioned survived. The remaining eight vehicles arrived in 1949. 

For the corporation’s 1950 deliveries a switch was made to the Leyland Titan chassis, with 56-seat body by the chassis manufacturer.  Fifteen were ordered.

West Hartlepool Corporation Transport took no further new buses until 1953, with a reversion to the Daimler/Roe combination.  Fifteen vehicles similar to the 1949 deliveries were received, the main purpose of which was to replace the remaining trolleybuses, which were now 15 years old.  West Hartlepool took the view that Hartlepool had been taking half the profits from the inter-town service without assuming any responsibility, and obtained authority to operate the service entirely on its own behalf, on a temporary basis.  This started on 3 April 1953; the Park service had already been converted on 7 March. 

In 1953 an intense dispute was in progress between the two corporations, which to a great extent repeated the situation preceding the introduction of trolleybuses in 1927.  Hartlepool was able to activate the motor bus powers it had obtained at that time, and was granted a licence to operate half the service on its own account.  Hartlepool then had to buy vehicles, and make arrangements to operate them.  The help of United Automobile Services was obtained to acquire four second-hand Bristol 56-seat double-deckers, disposed of by London Transport, and paint them in a livery of mid-blue and cream.  However, agreement to operate them on Hartlepool’s behalf fell through when the United crews discovered that they would not be paid at municipal rates.  Arrangements were hurriedly made for the operation and maintenance to be carried out by West Hartlepool coach operator Bee-Line Roadways, and accordingly the blue buses took over half the service on the inter-town route on 1 August 1953.  Three of the buses had bodies by Duple, while the fourth had a Park Royal body.

Within three years, Hartlepool Corporation had made sufficient profit from the inter-town service to permit its second-hand buses to be replaced by new ones.  Four AEC Regent V chassis with Roe 63-seat bodies entered service, with a minor livery change: the roof colour was blue instead of cream as on the original vehicles.  Hartlepool later built its own small bus station in Middlegate, brought into use in January 1964. The two Boroughs on April 1st, 1967. 

In 1958 West Hartlepool purchased its first new vehicles for five years, with a reversion to the Leyland Titan chassis, this time with 65-seat Roe bodies of the same outline as the bodies obtained by Hartlepool in 1956.  Seven were taken, followed by four more in 1960, three in 1961, four in 1962, and yet a further two in 1965.  Seaton Carew bus station, opened in 1938, is now a listed building.

By the 1960s, one-man operation of full-size vehicles was permitted, and West Hartlepool Corporation Transport was among the first operators to take advantage of this relaxation.  Five Leyland Leopard single-deckers with 45-seat two-door Strachans bodies entered service in March 1964, followed by three more later in the year and another five in 1965.  To enable the conversion to one-man operation to proceed more quickly, in 1964 the corporation bought two Leyland-bodied Leyland Royal Tiger single-deckers which had been new to East Midland Motor Services in 1952.  A bus park was created on a cleared area at the foot of Church Street. 

Five more Leyland Leopards were obtained by West Hartlepool Corporation Transport at the beginning of 1967.  This time the bodies were built by Eastern Coach Works (ECW), with 42 seats.  Since 1948 ECW had been permitted to supply bodies only to the nationalised bus companies, but the restriction had recently been lifted.  The amalgamation of the Hartlepools to form the County Borough of Hartlepool on 1st April 1967 instantly brought an end to the problems which had beset the inter-town route for more than four decades. The arrangement with Bee-Line Roadways had ceased on 31 March 1967.

As well as Eastern Coach Works, the chassis manufacturer Bristol was now free to sell to any operator, and this paved the way for the combined Hartlepool Corporation Transport to decide upon a new standard single-deck bus.  This was the 36ft long Bristol RE with semi-automatic gearbox and ECW body, 58 of which would be purchased in the 1967-75 period.  The 1969 intake of seven Bristol RE vehicles differed from the previous 13 in having taller windscreens, creating a more balanced appearance. 

From 1970 onwards the ECW body on the Bristol RE had a redesigned front incorporating curved glass.  Consequent dimensional adjustments led to a reduced seating capacity of 46.  The 1970 batch comprised seven vehicles. Seven similar buses followed in 1971, another seven in 1972, and five in 1973.  Then on 1st April 1974 the undertaking became known as Hartlepool Borough Transport as a result of local government changes.  Seven more of the vehicles with curved windscreens came in 1974-75, and the final five later in 1975.  The last vehicle of the 1974-75 batch, No. 91 (GEF 191N) had 42 coach-type seats and a five-speed gearbox, to make it suitable for private hire work.  It was painted in a “reversed” livery to make it stand out, but this distinction was soon partially lost when it was decided to adopt this scheme for the rest of the fleet, although with red rather than cream roofs.

In 1984, Hartlepool Borough Transport celebrated 100 years of public transport in Hartlepool by repainting three of its large fleet of Bristol RE vehicles into historic liveries.  A group of five buses posed on Coronation Drive, Seaton Carew: No. 58 (JEF 658G) in the brownish red and white scheme carried by West Hartlepool trolleybuses in the 1920s; No. 89 (GEF189N) in the version of the red and cream colours of West Hartlepool buses in the late 1930s; No. 85 (GEF 185N) in the blue and cream livery of the old Hartlepool Corporation (not previously applied to a single-decker). The other two vehicles were a Dennis No. 22 (YDC 22Y) and a Bristol RE No. 77 (OEF 77K).

By 1977 the Bristol RE was no longer in production and Hartlepool Borough Transport was obliged to look elsewhere for its vehicle requirements.  The choice fell upon the Leyland National, developed primarily for the subsidiaries of the National Bus Company.  Hartlepool took seven of the two-door version, and the opportunity was taken to paint one, No. 4 (SHN 404R), all-over silver to commemorate the silver jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.  Most of the 1977 Leyland Nationals seated 46 but two had only 42 seats, to coach standards, to make them more suitable for private hire and express work, and these two had cream roofs. 

For its next vehicles in 1979, Hartlepool Borough Transport changed to makes of chassis and bodies not previously purchased, in the form of six Dennis Dominators with 43-seat East Lancs bodies of remarkably inelegant appearance.

For 1980 Hartlepool reverted to the Leyland National, this time version 2 which had a more conventional engine than the previous model.  Seven were purchased with 46-seat bodies, which unusually had cream roofs to start with.  A new depot in Lynn Street replaced the Greenland depot and the office at 67 Church Street: the workshops opened in 1979, the depot building in 1981, and the office block in 1984, fronting on to Church Street. The next new vehicles came in 1983, comprising six Dennis Falcon chassis with 46-seat bodies by Wadham Stringer. Six more Dennis Falcons arrived in 1985, this time with Northern Counties 47-seat bodies.  In 1986 Hartlepool Borough Transport decided to branch out into the operation of coaches, and two six-year old Leyland Leopards with 52-seat Plaxton bodies were bought from a Welsh operator. 

Another new development in 1986 was the purchase of a minibus, a Mercedes-Benz with Reeve Burgess 20-seat body. The vehicle had not entered service by the time of deregulation (described below), and was not required by the new company.  It was therefore sold without having entered service in Hartlepool.

Under the provisions of the Transport Act, 1985, bus operators were deregulated, and as part of the process municipal operators were required to become limited companies.  On 26 October 1986 the Hartlepool undertaking was therefore transferred to Hartlepool Transport Ltd, the shares of which were held by the council.  From this point onwards only second-hand vehicles were purchased, so as to keep the capital value of the company low and make it easier to sell if it became expedient to do so in the future.  The first such acquisition, in 1987, comprised two more Leyland Leopard/Plaxton coaches, seven years old, from Tayside Public Transport Co Ltd of Dundee.  No. 103 (FSL 61W) took up the number of the unwanted minibus.

In 1990 four Leyland Nationals were bought from Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Co Ltd, being two-door 44-seaters new in 1977.  In the early 1990s three of them, together with most of the other Leyland Nationals in the fleet, were rebuilt to single-door layout in order to increase their seating capacities. In March 1990 the depot had been transferred into the ownership of the council, and rented back to Hartlepool Transport Ltd.  A buyout of the company by management and workforce came into effect on 28 June 1993. 

A second-hand Volvo coach with Van Hool 53-seat body, new in 1987, was purchased in June 1994, becoming No. 106 (837 XHW).  This was the second Volvo coach to be acquired by the company; a previous second-hand vehicle with Plaxton 49-seat body and new in 1984, had been purchased in 1990 as No. 105 (HDZ 8683). 

*  *  *

Hartlepool Transport Ltd was acquired by the Stagecoach organisation on 12 December 1994.  The legal address became Church Road, Stockton-on-Tees, the offices of Cleveland Transit Ltd, which had come into Stagecoach ownership in the previous month.  This survey concludes with the transfer to Stagecoach since although Hartlepool Transport continued to function for the time being, for practical purposes the old régime came to an end in December 1994.  The continued existence of the Hartlepool company was because of its rental agreement with Hartlepool council.  However on 7 July 1996 a transfer of the fleet to premises in Brenda Road, formerly occupied by the Tees & District Transport Co Ltd, permitted the agreement to be terminated, and the company’s assets were transferred to Cleveland Transit Ltd on the 28th of the same month.  The Lynn Street premises remain in the council’s ownership currently (2013) and house the vehicles of various departments.

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