Gloucester’s first public transport was provided by the Gloucester City Tramways Company (a subsidiary of Imperial Tramways), who operated a 4ft gauge, horse tramway in the town from 1879, using 16 single-deck cars in crimson lake and cream livery, an assortment of closed saloons and roofed toastracks built by Bristol and Hughes.
The tramway was 6½ miles long and consisted of five routes radiating out from the city centre; to Kingsholm via Northgate Street, Worcester Street and Kingsholm Road; to the Fleece Inn at Wotton, via Northgate Street and London Road; to the depot in India Road, via Eastgate Street and Lower Barton Road; to Theresa Place on Bristol Road, Southgate Street; and to St. Nicholas’ Church on Westgate Street.
There was a short branch line from Eastgate Street to the Great Western Railway and Midland Railway Stations in the city.
The tramway was not a financial success and in July 1881 was taken over by a new company – the City of Gloucester Tramways Co. Ltd.
The tramway was pruned by closing the Westgate to St. Nicholas’ Church section and the branch line serving the two stations. Six new Starbuck cars were purchased and two of the older ones withdrawn.
The tramway’s fortune seemed to improve and a short extension to Tuffley Avenue on Bristol Road was opened in 1897.
An order to extend and electrify the tramway was approved by Gloucester Corporation, who purchased the Company on the 30th September 1902 – the commencement of municipal transport in Gloucester. It was subsequently re-gauged to 3ft 6ins and electrified, the last horse tram running on the 17th March 1904.
The reconstructed system was officially opened on 7th May 1904, a mixture of single- and double-track sections, although the former Bristol Road horse route was operational by the 29th April.
The fleet consisted of 20 Brush 4-wheel open-top double-deckers in a crimson lake and cream livery, no doubt derived from that used by the City of Gloucester Company.
A further 10 identical Brush cars arrived later in the year to make up the fleet, which remained unchanged until closure.
The entire fleet was painted grey as an economy measure during World War I, but was never returned to the crimson lake livery after hostilities ended, and remained all-over grey until the demise of the system.
Under municipal control the newly electrified system was extended to a total of 9¾ miles, including a 2-mile extension from the Fleece Inn across the boundary to Hucclecote.
This line was actually owned by the County Council, although Gloucester Corporation worked the line as part of its system.
It was extended in 1917 to serve a new aerodrome at Brockworth, but after the end of the War the traffic declined and this section became the first part of the tramway to be closed on 1st October 1924.
By the late 1920’s the Corporation viewed the motorbus as the natural successor to the inflexible trams and the first conversions of tram routes to bus operation took place in September 1929, accompanied by an expansion in the network.
On 8th September the Cross to Cemetery Road tram route was converted to bus operation. It was numbered as service 2 and the opportunity was taken to extend it to Saintbridge.
The Cross to Kingsholm route was next to succumb on 12th September when it was replaced by bus route 4, which was also extended in both directions to Longlevens and The Oval.
On the same day an entirely new service commenced, numbered 5, it linked Kings Square with Longlevens via Cheltenham Road.
The final tram replacement of this initial tranche took place a week later on 19th September when the Tuffley service became bus route 1. New bus route 3 was also introduced on the 19th and provided a facility to Tredworth and Bibury Road.
To operate these new services a fleet of thirteen new motorbuses entered service. All had local bodywork constructed by the Gloucester Railway Carriage and Wagon Co and were built to a normal control layout.
The fleet consisted of nine (Nos. 1-9: FH6170-78), Vulcan Duchess’s with twenty-six seat, front-entrance bodywork and four Thornycroft BC’s with thirty-two seat, front-entrance bodies, and were finished in the former tramway livery of crimson lake and cream.
In January 1930, route 2 was extended from the Cross to Westgate but this extension, like the tram route before it did not prove successful and so, in August, it was withdrawn.
Meanwhile in June, route 5 had been diverted via Oxford Street and Denmark Road, thus leaving London Road to the trams.
January also saw the arrival of three more Vulcan Duchess’s, which were numbered 14 to 16 (FH6462-64) again with local GRCW B26F bodywork, with another three similar vehicles (Nos. 17-19: FH6964-66) arriving in October.
This enabled new route 6 to commence on 6th November. This route was a variation of route 5 (Kings Square to Sisson Road) but it diverted from Cheltenham Road via Elmbridge Road to its junction with Sisson Road.
The following year, route 7 commenced. This was a variation of route 4 – Longford to The Oval, and operated via Seymour Road and Linden Road instead of King Edwards Avenue.
In 1932, route 3 was extended along Finlay Road from Bibury Road to Selwyn Road, and in December, eleven more GRCW-bodied, 26-seat, Thornycroft BC’s (Nos 20-30: FH7948-58) were delivered in readiness for the final tramway abandonment in 1933.
1933 started with the final abandonment of the tramway system, when, on 12th January, the trams on the Bristol Road to Barnwood and Hucclecote routes ceased running.
The replacement bus routes followed the same route as the trams but were extended along Tuffley Avenue to turn at Wilton Road. The new routes introduced were;
On the 20th July a further new service was introduced, numbered 10, this linked the Centre with Coney Hill, via Barton Street and Painswick Road.
To operate this route a further 6 (Nos. 31-36: FH8289-94), Thornycroft BC’s were delivered to the Corporation. The chassis were similar to the earlier vehicles but were modified to have forward control. They were fitted with 29-seat GRCW bodies with open rear platforms.
Early in 1934 a new circular route was introduced and operated as route 11 anti-clockwise and as route 12 clockwise, via Southgate Street, Stroud Road, Parkend Road, Barton Street, Eastgate Street and The Cross.
Later in the year route 10 was extended to Westgate, whilst another innovation was the introduction of special services, nominally numbered 13, to serve the Greyhound Track in Cheltenham Road.
Two more, GRCW B26RP-bodied, Thornycroft BC’s (Nos. 37-38: FH8765-66), arrived in April – the last of the type to be built by the manufacturer. In October the four oldest Thornycrofts were sent to Roe, in Leeds, for modification to a rear entrance layout.
In April 1935, Thornycrofts Nos. 10 and 11 received oil engines, that in No.10 being a Gardner 4LW engine, whilst a 4-cylinder Dorman engine was fitted to No.11. Around this time Nos. 31-36 were fitted with an extra three seats, giving a total seating capacity of thirty-two.
An order was placed for six more Thornycrofts with Gardner 5LW engines for delivery the following year, however, on 12th June 1936, Gloucester Corporation leased their services to Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company Ltd., and as a result the order was cancelled.
All vehicles in the Corporation fleet were officially transferred to the Bristol company from this date, although the actual transfer had already taken place in April.
The former Gloucester Corporation vehicles did, however, continue to carry the Gloucester coat of arms, a fitting reminder of the days of Gloucester Corporation Transport.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner: PSL 1996), A History of Gloucester City Bus Services (R. Waters; website; ongoing research which also draws on material from other publications), PSV Circle Fleet History PH6 (1985).