Authorised by the Coventry and District Tramways Act of 1880, the first tramway constructed in the city was owned and operated by the Coventry and District Tramways Company and opened in 1884.
The single-track line was constructed to a gauge of 3ft 6ins because of the narrow city streets and was operated by a fleet of steam locomotives hauling trailer cars.
The tramway was poorly patronised and the service became spasmodic, which further affected patronage, and, in 1893, the service was suspended.
On the 5th December 1895, the line was re-opened between the LNWR’s Station and Foleshill Road, as a double-track, electric line, now under the ownership of Coventry Electric Tramways Ltd., formed to take over the business of the Coventry & District Tramway Company.
A week later the remaining section of the line was opened to Bedworth.
Under the Coventry Electric Tramways Act of 1903, the Corporation was given the power to purchase the undertaking in 1910, or at intervals of seven years thereafter.
In the event, the undertaking was purchased on the 1st January 1912 and Coventry Corporation became the owner of over 13 miles of single- and double-track tramway, 41 tramcars and two depots.
One additional tramcar was under construction by the Company and it was finally completed by Coventry Corporation in January 1913.
In 1912, ten new trams (Nos. 43-52) were ordered from Brush of Loughborough, built on Peckham Pendulum trucks, and an extension to the depot at Priestley’s Bridge was authorised to accommodate the growing fleet.
The Coventry Corporation Act of 1913 gave the Corporation the necessary powers to operate motorbuses and on 30th March 1914 the first motorbus service from Stoke Heath, via the Council House in Earl Street, to the Central Fire Station in Hales Street was inaugurated.
Six new open-top 34-seat double-deck Maudslay buses (Nos. 1-6) were used, but sadly, at the onset of World War I, the chassis were impressed by the War Department, bringing the enterprise to a premature end. The bodies were later sold to Sheffield Corporation.
After the end of the War, further orders for new buses were placed, along with orders for new tramcars. In 1919 a new motorbus service commenced between Stoke Heath and the Council House, with an extension to Hearsall Common.
A month later a second service was inaugurated, between the city centre and Engleton Road, Radford, which was subsequently extended to Coventry station in March 1921. Seven, single-deck AEC YC-type chassis (Nos. 1-7), with Hora 28-seat bodies were purchased to operate the new services.
Five new tramcars (Nos. 54-58) were delivered in 1921; built by Brush on Peckham Pendulum trucks they seated 50 passengers.
The tramway system was completed in May 1926 when a short single-track section, linking the Station route with the Earlsdon route via Stoneleigh Terrace and Queens Road, was opened.
By this time motorbus routes were also operating between London Road and Holbrook Lane Post Office, via Cox Street, Swanswell Street, Eagle Street, Foleshill Road and Lockhurst Lane Service 3), and London Road and the Craven Arms at Binley, via Whitefriars Street, Gosford Green and Binley Road (Service 5).
The original route between Stoke Heath and Hearsall Common was service No. 1, with the Radford route being service No. 2. The No. 4 route number was believed to have been used for short workings of Service 1 between Stoke Heath and the Council House.
In 1927 a new motorbus service (No. 6) between Keresley Road and Walsgrave was introduced using three newly arrived Maudslay ML4A vehicles (20-22) with Hickman two-door 26-seat bodywork, the first buses in the fleet to have pneumatic tyres. The service was extended later in the year to Keresley village.
By the time a new bus station in Pool Meadow was opened in October 1931, there were nine major bus routes into the city and the Corporation was making plans to abandon the tramway system in favour of motorbuses.
The first tram route to be abandoned was the Broadgate to Allesley Road line in March 1932, which was replaced by a new bus service (No. 11) between Pool Meadow and Glendower Avenue – a new bus service (No. 10) between Pool Meadow and Brownshill Green had commenced in the same month.
On the 8th March 1936 the Ford Street to Gosford Green section was abandoned, followed by the Broadgate to Earlsdon route on the 11th April 1937.
In July of the same year the route between Broadgate and Coventry Station was abandoned and other services were curtailed to terminate in Broadgate.
Additions to the bus fleet in 1937 and 1938 were predominantly Daimler COA6 chassis with Brush H55R bodywork and were used to replace withdrawn tram services.
During the period 1934 to 1938 the Bell Punch ticket system was gradually replaced by the T.I.M. system, which remained in use until 1962, when it too was replaced by the Setright system.
The advent of World War 2, in 1939, saw Coventry sustain heavy damage in German bombing raids, resulting in the suspension of all tram services in December 1940, with much of the track unusable.
In February 1941 it was decided to abandon the three remaining routes; to Stoke, Bedworth and Bell Green, bringing a sudden end to the tramway system after almost 45 years.
The fifty remaining trams were all sold for scrap and motorbuses (some of which had to be hired from other undertakings) took over the operation of the services.
Despite the abandonment of the tramway system, the network of services changed little before the end of the War. The early postwar period saw the City Council embark on a colossal programme of reconstruction following the extensive damage inflicted in the war years.
The Transport Department had similar problems. Although much of the fleet had escaped serious damage it was still in need of refurbishment and replacement.
At the end of the War there were 262 motorbuses in stock, but many were unusable because of lack of spares, or were waiting essential repairs.
Prewar Brush bodies were rebuilt at the Corporation’s own works at Keresley using parts supplied by the Metropolitan-Cammell Carriage & Wagon Company (MCCW). New buses ordered for 1946 had not yet been delivered because of the pressure on bodybuilders by the postwar demand.
1946 saw a number of alterations and increases in the city’s bus services to cope with the increased demands of postwar travel.
Service No. 1 was extended about ½ mile to the junction of Allesley Old Road and Grayswood Avenue; service No. 3 was extended to Stoke Aldermoor Community Centre at peak periods; service No. 10 now ran into Pool Meadow; service No. 21 was extended from Bell Green to Alderman’s Green, and other services were given improved frequencies.
Finally in April 1948 the first of the new postwar buses arrived in the shape of 30 (Nos. 1-30) Daimler CVA6’s with MCCW H31/29R bodywork, followed in 1949 and 1950 by more Daimler’s; CVA6’s (Nos. 31-95) with MCCW bodywork and CVD6’s (Nos. 101-116) with Brush B34F bodywork.
The Daimler’s replaced older vehicles, which were cannibalised for spares to help keep the prewar fleet going.
In January 1952 most Sunday morning services had cuts made in the frequency of operation, generally to every 30 minutes, because of the fall in the numbers of Sunday workers since the end of the war.
The reconstruction of pre-and wartime vehicles was still going ahead in the Corporation’s works at Keresley and by outside contractors, Nudd Brothers & Lockyer, but the number now waiting for a rebuild was growing.
Accordingly, the Corporation invited tenders and other coachbuilders, including East Lancashire Coachbuilders and S.H. Bond of Wythenshawe, rebuilt some of the remaining vehicles. By June of the following year the rebuilding programme had been virtually completed.
In 1955 the first 8ft wide double-deckers were placed into service. Nos. 166-190 were Daimler CVG6’s with Metro-Cammell ‘Orion’ style H33/27R-seat bodywork.
They created such a good impression with their Gardner 5LW engines and improved fuel consumption that Coventry Corporation decided to standardise on these models as replacements for prewar and wartime buses. By 1963 there were over 170 of these vehicles in service.
Three Daimler Freeline coaches were purchased in 1959 to cater for the increase in demand for private hire work.
They had Willowbrook C41F bodywork and were powered by Gardner 6LW underfloor engines, the first such vehicles in the fleet.
Coventry’s powers included the provision for private hire work outside the city and was one reason why the single-deck fleet was always much larger than that necessary to operate the Corporation’s sole single-deck route (service 19).
Towards the middle of the 1960’s the nationwide problems of sharply rising costs and decreasing patronage, linked with the growth of private car ownership began to affect Coventry Transport Department.
The situation was exacerbated by acute staff shortages making the maintenance of basic services difficult. In 1961 a general fare increase was proposed, which it was hoped would bring in extra revenue from the smaller numbers of passengers carried, which had dwindled from over 100 million in 1955 to under 95 million by 1961.
In 1962 trials were undertaken with two rear-engined double-deckers, a Daimler Fleetline (in May) and a Leyland Atlantean (in August), which resulted in orders for 22 Leyland Atlanteans and 22 Daimler Fleetlines being placed in 1963, with subsequent orders preferring the locally built Fleetline.
In an effort to solve the staff shortage situations the introduction of one-man double-deckers was developed.
The first successful experiment was tried with the provision of a one-man operated single-deck vehicle on the City Railbus Service, which was introduced on 28th November 1966, subsequently extended to the Pool Meadow to Henley Green limited stop service.
From 3rd July 1967 double-deck vehicles were introduced on the Pool Meadow to Henley Green route for a trial period.
The success of the trial prompted Coventry Corporation to introduce further conversions on the 4th August 1968 under the title ‘MonoBus’ and by March 1972 over one-third of existing services had been converted to one-man operation.
Further orders for Daimler CRG6LX Fleetlines were placed to enable the programme of conversions to go ahead.
However, on the 1st April 1974 the bus fleet, comprising of some 305 vehicles, came under the control of the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive bringing to an end over 60 years of Coventry Corporation Transport Department.
In preparing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); Coventry Transport 1884-1940 (AS Denton and FP Groves, BTHG 1985); Coventry Transport 1912-1974 (Commemorative Brochure by Coventry Transport Committee 1974); Municipal Buses in Colour 1959-1974 (Reg Wilson, Ian Allan 1997); PSV Circle Fleet History PD12B (1981); Buses (various editions).