Horse buses are recorded in Chester as early as 1870, when a service connecting Chester General Station to the Town Hall commenced.
In 1878, the Chester Tramways Act authorised the construction of a tramway connecting the General Station via City Road, Foregate Street, Eastgate Street, Grosvenor Street, Grosvenor Bridge, Hough Green and Chester Street to Saltney, where it terminated close to the border with Wales, a distance of some 2.38 miles.
The tramway was single-track with passing places and was built to the standard gauge of 4ft 8½ins.
Operated by the Chester Tramways Company, it officially opened on the 10th June 1879 with an initial rolling stock of 8, Eades patent reversible, open-top, double-deck, two-horse cars in crimson lake and cream livery, probably built by Milnes.
At the same time, the Company was also operating a number of horse buses between the Market Square and Hoole Church, and between the Bache and Christleton.
The tramcars were soon replaced by 8 conventional double-deck one-horse cars, built locally, and supplemented, around 1885, by two Starbuck cars. The Company also built one tramcar themselves.
Interestingly, tramcar No.9 (possibly one of the Starbuck-built cars) was converted to run on compressed air by the local engineering firm of Hughes & Lancaster around 1886 and ran in this way for a number of years, although by the early 1890’s it had been cut down to a single-decker.
The original Tramways Act of 1878 included a provision for the Tramway to be acquired by the Corporation after 21 years.
The Chester Corporation Act of 1901 empowered the Corporation to do so and on the 1st January 1902 the tramway was purchased for £18,000, with an additional £1,866 for the rolling stock, excluding the Company’s horse buses.
The horse tram depot in Station Road was rebuilt by the Corporation to accommodate the new electric tramcars.
Chester Corporation immediately set to work reconstructing the system to 3ft 6ins gauge and the horse trams finally ceased running on the night of the 27th December 1902. In the following few months, public services were provided by a number of private entrepreneurs using horse buses.
The new overhead electric system opened on the 6th April 1903 with rolling stock built by Milnes and liveried in apple green and ivory. Numbered 1-12, the double-deck open-top, 4-wheel tramcars were unusual in being only 24ft long.
The mainly double-track, electric line followed the old horse tram route, although it was extended slightly at Saltney.
An extension off the existing system at City Road, to the Fountain Inn on Boughton Road, where it divided into two single-track lines to Tarvin Road and Christleton Road was opened on November 22nd 1906.
Although a line joining these two termini was authorised it was never built and no further extensions to the system were ever made.
A deputation from Chester had visited Barrow to view a demi-car fitted with regenerative control and the Electrical Engineer was suitably impressed, although the Tramway Manager was opposed to such a small vehicle.
The Council decided to order one demi-car and in August 1906 the car (No. 13) was delivered. It seated 20, but the small capacity rendered it unsuitable for normal service and although it was later offered for sale, the demi-car survived in spasmodic use until the end of the system.
Proposals were also made in October 1906 for the provision of motorbus services and consideration was given to operating a 15-minute frequency from the Market Square to the Bache, and from Market Square to the Canal Bridge on Cheyney Road.
The scheme had gone as far as obtaining tenders for the supply of three vehicles from Dennis Brothers before it was dropped in April 1907, and it was to be another 23 years before motorbuses were finally introduced to the streets of Chester.
In 1907 another five additional tramcars (Nos. 14-18) were delivered. Built by the United Electric Car Company, they were similar in seating and layout to the 12 original cars and completed the tram fleet.
The tramway then settled down to a comfortable existence for the next decade or so, until 1921, when the Council debated its future.
The tramway had deteriorated because of wartime shortages and consideration was given to the costs of replacing the infrastructure and rolling stock or to replace it with an alternative system.
After taking advice it was resolved that the tramways be maintained for a further 7 to 8 years, in order to obtain the full life of the track.
The operation of motorbuses had been proposed a number of times since the tramways had been built and the original Act of 1901 had included powers to operate them within 3½ miles of the city centre.
With the tramway now coming to the end of its life, the Tramways Committee showed a renewed interest in the motorbus and to some extent the trolleybus.
In March 1925 they inspected a Shelvoke and Drewry Freighter and prepared a report on the provision of a municipal omnibus and ‘trackless trams’ system.
A recommendation that three Guy buses should be operated experimentally for a period of 6 months on routes between Hoole Road and Eaton Road was put forward by the Tramways Committee but turned down by the Council.
In March 1928 the Tramways Committee once again proposed the abandonment of the tramways in favour of motorbuses or trolleybuses and also suggested that the undertaking be handed over to a private company.
Crosville Motor Services, who were based in Chester, had already made an approach in 1927, but this had been turned down. After a lengthy and heated debate on the 28th March 1928, the Council finally decided to abandon the tramway in favour of a municipal motorbus system.
The Chester Corporation Act of 1929 authorised the abandonment of the tramways and also re-affirmed the authority to operate buses within 3½ miles of the city centre.
On the 12th February 1930, the first of 16 AEC motorbuses commenced operating. Nos. 1-10 were AEC Regal 30-seat single-deckers, whilst Nos. 11-16 were 50-seat AEC Regent double-deckers. 3 days later, on Saturday 15th February 1930, the last tram (No. 10) completed its journey from Saltney to the General Station and the tramcar era was over.
The following day the tramway services were taken over completely by the motorbuses and many of the former tramway routes were extended.
On 6th June 1930 a new service from the General Station to Sealand Road commenced and in the same month, four more AEC Regent’s (Nos. 17-20) were delivered.
Another new service between the General Station and Parkgate Road began on 17th October 1930 and on 19th December a service between Red House and Eccleston Avenue, Handbridge via Dee Banks and the City Centre was inaugurated.
An agreement with Crosville Motor Services, who were already operating a number of local services, came into force on 1st July 1932. This had the effect of rationalising the services provided by both operators.
The majority of local services were to be operated by the Corporation, whilst Crosville would concentrate on the longer routes. Part of the city between Hoole Road and Liverpool Road, however, remained Crosville territory.
As a result the Corporation services from the General Station to Sealand Road and to Parkgate Road were handed over to Crosville, whilst the Corporation acquired the routes from the Town Hall to the Greyhound Inn at Great Saughall; and from the Town Hall to Eccleston Village.
A new route from the General Station to Cliveden Road via Handbridge had been inaugurated on 20th June.
Two unusual buses joined the fleet in 1934. Nos. 23-24 (FM8649-50), were Bedford WLB’s with Duple B20F bodywork and were notable as the last petrol-engined buses purchased by the Corporation.
After trials involving Leyland, Foden, Crossley and AEC, a single Leyland TD3 (No.25; FM8936) was ordered for delivery in November 1934.
Another three similar buses (Nos. 26-28; AFM517-19) were delivered in May 1936 and on 15th June new services from the General Station to Rake and Pikel and from the General Station to Green Lane were introduced.
With the onset of World War II in 1939 economies had to be made and on 1st February 1942 a number of service changes were to have a permanent effect on the route network.
Saltney services subsequently operated via Handbridge; Cliveden services operated via Grosvenor Road and were curtailed to terminate in St. Werburgh Street instead of the General Station, and Vicars Cross services now turned at the Ring Road.
On the 1st February 1943 the last service buses were scheduled to depart around 9.30, although they were progressively re-instated over the next few years.
The war years saw the inevitable utility buses joining the fleet and a number of Daimler and Guy chassis were allocated, the association with continuing after the war had ended, with Daimler buses being preferred until 1948 and Guy buses re-entering the fleet in 1953.
At a meeting of the Council in March 1946 the change of livery by Crosville Motor Services from maroon and cream to Tilling green, which would result in the operators’ having similar liveries, was discussed and it was resolved that, in future, Corporation vehicles would be liveried in maroon and cream.
This might have been the result of the appearance at the meeting of a Foden demonstrator, which coincidentally was also in a maroon and cream livery.
Post-war service developments included the re-routing of the Town Hall to Rake & Pikel service via Sandy Lane, which allowed for the operation of double-deckers at all times.
In 1947, the last of four AEC Regal single-deckers was delivered and this enabled the last petrol-engined Regal dating from 1930 to be withdrawn from service.
The first Foden double-decker arrived in 1948. No. 72 (JFM745) was a PVD6G chassis with Massey H30/26R bodywork and had been exhibited at the 1948 Commercial Motor Show. A further nine similar vehicles were subsequently purchased.
In December 1948 the General Station to Christleton route was extended to Littleton.
On the 17th November 1949 a new service from the Town Hall to Blacon commenced. Over the next few years there was considerable building work in the Blacon area and services were continually developed to meet the increasing needs of the new residents.
A new single-deck service was introduced on 13th October 1952 between the Town Hall and the Blacon Avenue junction of Ludlow Road, which operated under the low bridge on Blacon Hall Road.
In 1953 there was a complete re-numbering of the route network as follows:
|1,2,20||1||General Station – Blacon & Saughall|
|–||2||Town Hall-Ludlow Road, Blacon|
|23A||3||General Station – Christleton|
via St. Anne St., Town Hall and Stocks Lane
|23||4||Curzon Park (Earlsway) – Christleton and Littleton|
|6||5||Christleton (Trooper Inn) – Saltney (Ring Road)|
|25,26||6||Vicars Cross – Saltney (Ring Road)|
|7||7||Town Hall – Cliveden via Hough Green|
|8||8||Town Hall – Cliveden via Lache Lane|
|14||9||General Station – Eccleston Avenue via Handbridge|
|9,10||10||General Station – Eccleston and Cadet School, Eaton Hall|
|11||11||General Station – Grove Avenue via Hoole Lane|
|12||12||General Station – Grove Avenue via Tarvin Road|
|3,4,||13||Town Hall – Rake & Pikel|
On 3rd June 1955 a new Blacon service from the Town Hall to Egerton Road via Saughall Road commenced, and, on 12th December, the Ludlow Road service was replaced by a new service from the Town Hall via Blacon Hall Road to the junction of Highfield Road and Oakfield Road.
This was further revised on 17th December 1956 to serve Furne Road via Blacon Point Road.
During 1957, the undertaking’s name was changed from Chester Corporation Transport to Chester City Transport.
The number of services to the Blacon area steadily increased and by the late 1960’s many of the services were suffixed according to their destination.
Routes 1A and 1B commenced in June 1965 with the completion of the Blacon Point Road/Western Avenue network; service 2C from the Town Hall to Auckland Road commenced on 22nd July 1968, with the other Blacon services taking suffixes.
1D was the Saughall Hey service; 1E was the Egerton Road service via Saughall Road and 2E the Egerton Road service via Parkgate Road; the Lichfield Road circulars became 1F and 2F, with 1G used for journeys to Lichfield Road operating via Saughall Road in both directions.
Suffixes subsequently became a feature of the route numbering system and were used to distinguish route variations rather than use a separate route number.
Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, Chester had purchased the Guy Arab and by 1969 the entire double-deck fleet was of this manufacture.
However, Guy Motors were now part of the ailing British Leyland operation and in 1969 the last Guy chassis rolled out of the works. No. 47 (DFM347H) was delivered to Chester Corporation in October of that year and still survives today in preservation.
The rise in the use of the private car in peak periods and at holiday times had affected the movement of buses in Chester’s narrow streets and the situation had been progressively worsening.
In March 1972 a new traffic scheme that established bus only areas saw a dramatic improvement and resulted in an increase in bus patronage. The much improved bus flow also helped to establish one-man operation.
With the demise of the Guy Arab, Chester turned back to Daimler and in 1970 purchased three, (Nos. 48-50; JFM648-50J) CRG6LX ‘Fleetlines’ with Northern Counties H43/31F bodywork.
Throughout the 1970’s there were services changes and revisions as, in common with most other operators, Chester City Transport struggled with falling passenger numbers.
In the summers of 1974 and 1975 a ‘City Shopper’ service was tried with little success, but was notable for the use of an experimental Battery Electric Bus loaned by the Department of Trade and Industry.
To offset the loss of revenue the private hire work (in the main using double-deckers) was expanded considerably.
New front-entrance vehicles, suitable for one-man operation, continued to be purchased and in 1981 the Dennis Dominator made an appearance, the first Dennis buses to enter the fleet, almost 75 years after Dennis had submitted the original tender for motorbuses way back in 1906!
On the 26th October 1986, Chester City Transport became an ‘arm’s length’ limited company under the provisions of the 1985 Transport Act, and commenced trading as Chester City Transport Limited, effectively ending over 80 years of municipal involvement in local transport, although the City Council continued to be the major shareholder.
This history covers the period of municipal operations of Chester City Transport which effectively ceased on 26th October 1986 with the enactment of the 1985 Transport Act (de-regulation).
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); 75 Years of Chester Transport (CCT, 1977); Fleet History PC16 (PSV Circle, 1985).