Reading Horse Tramways

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The first local public transport in Reading was set up by several enterprising inn keepers in the town. One of these was the owner of the "Peacock" on Broad Street who ran several horse-bus routes, including one to Caversham ("Prince of Wales"), one to Cemetery Junction and one to the "Queens Head" in Christchurch Road, Whitley. Another person ran a horse bus route ran to the village of Sonning.

The Reading Tramways Company was formed in 1878 to try and provide better transport, initially along the main east-west route. They were authorised to construct and operate a horse tramway from Oxford Road's Brock Barracks to Broad Street and on to Cemetery Junction. Lines were being laid by 18th January 1879. Services started on Saturday 5th April 1879 from the Barracks to Broad Street, and on the entire line from 31st May 1879. A fleet of six single decked tramcars were initially used with 31 horses on a 20-minute frequency. Most of the horses were stabled in premises on the south side of Oxford Road near to Reading West Railway Station just west of Argyle Street and the others ar the "Marquis of Granby" near the Cemetary. On 7th October 1879 a seventh tramcars was added to the fleet. From time to time further tramcars were added upto a total of 13 vehicles, the frequency of the service being increased to every 10 minutes to meet customer demand. Cars No.8 onwards may have been double deckers from their delivery, of different designs, but the whole fleet was replaced in the 1890s with standard double deck cars. Such was the success of the route that a second route was considered from Caversham to Whitley, but the plan failed when certain influential Caversham residents objected.

Competition from horse buses started to increase in the 1890s, the horsebus operators becoming jealous of the success of the tramways, the tramways company also started to run it's own horse buses. The competition for passengers became so harsh that it led to a certain amount of reckless driving and overloading. Many cases of overloading and reckless driving were brought to the Magestrates court. The result of this was that the Borough Council started to take notice, and requested a report from the borough Surveyor on the way the tramways were being operated. Following the report, which gave sweeping condemnation, the council asked the Tramways Company to give their views. Their reply was a request to promote a bill to make some extensions and alterations to the tramway system, including a new line to Caversham, and for the powers to run the whole network electrically. The council refused this offer, the proposed order may affect their own powers to purchase the tramway, an idea which they were starting to consider seriously. After much discussion, the Corporation finally decided to apply for a Provisional Order of their own to authorise them to extend and electrify the tramway. The order was granted on 16th August 1899.

The decision to purchase the company was made at the council meeting on 21st September 1899, and a formal notice was served upon the company on the 1st December 1899. The Tramways Company objected to this, and in April 1900 applied for an injunction to stop the purchase. The case was dismissed by the high court, the tramway company gave notice of an appeal, but when a similar case was dismissed by the House of Lords on 13th December 1900 the company withdrew their appeal. Follwoing this a dispute arose as to the value of the system, culminating in arbitration. The purchase deal was completed on 31st October 1901, and the Reading Corporation Tramways came into being.

The corporation found that the system was in a rather poor condition, the cars and tracks were in a poor state of repair and the horses were described as having a "preponderance of rib". Of the 85 horses, 15 were found unfit for further work so the newly formed tramways committee ordered the delivery of 20 new animals. In the 18 month period that the corporation ran the system, 50 new horses had to be purchased. The corporation also allowed the horses a greater amount of corn each day and increased driver wages. The company then set about electrifying the system, constructing the extensions and branch lines first. The horse trams were running all over the extensions by 13th December 1902. The next step was the reconstruction and electrification of the original tramway, during which horse car services were maintained as far as possible, working being carried out in sections and shuttle services operating on either side of the work. By the beginning of July 1903 the electric system was complete, and the opening was arranged for the 22nd of that month, horse operation was intially planned to continue until the 19th so that drivers could get used to the new electric cars, but later it was found possible to continue the horse operations until the 21st July.

Following the closure the horse car depot in Oxford Road, the cars and horses were sold by public auction. The depot became a school for defective children, and was demolished many years ago, the site now being occupied by some shops.

After these came: Electric Tramways

Related sites to visit:

British Tramway Buttons & Badges - Reading
Tramway Information Website