The first tramway in Douglas opened on the 7th August 1876, under the authority of the Douglas Bay Tramway Act of the same year.
The tramway in its original form ran from the Iron Pier (which was demolished in 1894), north to Burnt Mill Hill, before being extended south along Douglas Bay promenade to Victoria Pier, a distance of just over 1¾ miles.
It was promoted by retired civil engineer, Thomas Lightfoot, who sold his interest to the Isle of Man Tramway in 1882, who in turn sold the tramway to the Isle of Man Tramways and Electric Power Company Limited in 1894.
Douglas Corporation acquired the horse tramway on 2nd January 1902, when the company went into liquidation.
At the same time the Corporation acquired the Upper Douglas Tramway from the same company, but closed the line down on 19th August 1929 rather than invest in heavy expenditure to replace the worn out cable tramway.
The old cable tramway depot in York Road later became the municipal bus depot. New cars continued to be purchased for the horse tramway from 1902 to 1935, by which time it had become a summer only service.
The first motorbuses were purchased in 1914. No. 1 (MN589) was a normal control Tilling-Stevens, whilst No. 2 (MN590) was a Straker-Squire. Both had 25-seat bodywork.
It was not until 1920 that further vehicles were purchased, all of which were manufactured by Tilling-Stevens, ostensibly to take over winter operations of the cable tramway (which they did from 1921, and permanently on withdrawal of the service in 1929) and the horse tramway (from 1927).
Although the exact routes on which these and subsequent vehicles were operating is uncertain, the following services are known to have operated before 1932; Victoria Pier to Derby Castle (commenced 1926); Victoria Pier to York Road, via Bucks Road; a circular service (in both directions) from Victoria Pier via Peel Road, St. Ninians, Governor’s Bridge, Holiday Camp, Broadway and the Promenades returning to Victoria Pier, and from Victoria Pier to Peel Road via North Quay and the Railway Station.
In 1933, Douglas Corporation purchased their first AEC Regents (Nos. 41-42), which were to be the precursors of an affinity for AEC double-deckers that lasted until the demise of the Corporation some 43 years later.
Two years later, in 1935, the Corporation purchased two Vulcan low-loaders with 40-seat toastrack bodies, probably as an experiment to see if they were suitable for replacement of the horse trams.
In the event no further orders were placed, although the low-loaders served for 22 years, being withdrawn in 1957.
By the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, a total of 21 local services were operated, although some were short workings of existing routes, and destination numbers began to appear for the first time.
During the war years the fleet was strengthened by the delivery of two Bedford OWB’s (Nos. 15-16), and three Daimler CWA6’s (Nos. 51-53) with wooden slatted seats (which they retained until withdrawal in 1970).
After the cessation of hostilities, Douglas Corporation returned to its favoured AEC Regent and 6 were delivered in 1947 with another 12 following in the next two years.
The network of services operated by the Corporation was comprehensive, particularly in summer when extra services were operated, but was restricted to within the borough.
In 1949 an Act was passed allowing the Corporation to operate buses up to two miles outside the borough boundary, previously forbidden, and licences were acquired to operate the new routes.
At the time Douglas Corporation buses operating wholly within the borough boundary did not need a road fund licence, but those that operated on the new routes outside the boundary did.
As an economy measure only sufficient vehicles required to operate these services were taxed and they carried the letters ‘EA’ (for Extended Area) next to the fleet number.
This practice ceased in 1964 when the need for road fund licences for Douglas Corporation vehicles was removed altogether by the Road Traffic (Public Service Vehicles) Act.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s the seasonal variability of the route network placed enormous demands on the Corporation’s vehicles in summer, but only modest demands from the resident population in the winter months.
Although this meant that vehicle life was extended somewhat, the necessity to maintain a large fleet, which was used only fully during the summer season, caused the Corporation to run up substantial losses and, from the mid-fifties, periodic attempts to dispose of the undertaking were made.
As a result new vehicles were purchased only rarely and in smaller numbers. In 1950 three Leyland Comets with Park Royal B30F bodywork (Nos. 20-22) were added to the fleet and the following year two AEC Regal IV’s, used by AEC for demonstration purposes were acquired.
No further vehicles were purchased for six years, until, in 1957, four AEC Regent V’s (Nos. 72-75) and five Mulliner-bodied Guy Otters (Nos. 8-12) arrived, followed the next year by two AEC Reliances (Nos. 32-33). It was to be another six years before further new vehicles were purchased.
In order to economise further, a move to one-man operation was proposed, and in 1970, eight Leyland Tiger Cubs (Nos. 34-41) were purchased from Lancashire United Transport in order to accelerate the changeover.
By 1975 the number of services operated had been reduced to just 17, and on 1st October 1976, the buses of Douglas Corporation were absorbed into the newly formed Isle of Man National Transport Limited, along with those of the Isle of Man Road Services company and municipal bus transport in Douglas came to an end after almost 75 years.
The horse trams were retained by the Corporation as a tourist attraction and continued to ply their trade along the promenade during the summer season.
In preparing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); Municipal Buses in Colour 1959-1974 (Reg Wilson, Ian Allan 1997); Isle of Man Buses 1907-1988 (Philip C. Miles: DPR, 1989); PSV Circle Fleet History PC6A (1979); Buses (various editions).