The Leicester Tramways Order of 1873 authorised the construction of the city’s first tramway, running from the Clock Tower, northward via Belgrave Gate, Belgrave Road and Loughborough Road to the Folly Inn at Belgrave (already served by a horse bus service, introduced by the Cardiff entrepreneur, Solomon Andrews, in 1863, along with a service to Stoneygate).
The first service commenced on the 24th December 1874, operated by the Leicester Tramways Company with three single-deck cars. In 1875 two more lines were opened, along Humberstone Gate and Humberstone Road to Ash Street in the east, and southeastward to Victoria Park Road via London Road.
An experiment with a steam tram on the Belgrave section in 1876 lasted five months, but although there were relatively few problems with its operation, its slow average speed (about 2½ mph) did not find favour with the Company and the trial was abandoned.
In 1878 the London Road line was extended to Knighton Drive, a distance of about 1 mile, and a section along Aylestone Road to the Grace Road cricket ground was opened.
Later that year another section was opened, travelling north from the Clock Tower along Churchgate to Woodgate.
At the same time the Company introduced horse buses on a route from Stoneygate to Oadby Village, to the annoyance of Solomon Andrews, who was already operating on the route.
As a result of this incursion he decided to introduce horse bus services along some of the Company’s tram routes, which drastically affected their profits and finally forced them to purchase his business (which they did in November 1887) to avoid further competition.
In 1897, the Leicester Corporation Act gave the Council the right to purchase the Leicester Tramways Company and all the track that lay within their boundaries. On the 1st July 1901, the Corporation paid the sum of £110,210 to acquire the rolling stock (consisting of 39 tramcars and 30 horse buses), and began to electrify the system.
In the meantime the horse trams and buses continued to operate.
The first electric services began on the 18th May 1904 along the refurbished Belgrave Road and London Road sections, with a link from London Road serving Humberstone Road, via Melbourne Road, and a new section via London Road to Clarendon Park.
The initial rolling stock was provided by the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works (ERTCW), and consisted of open-top double-deckers Nos. 1-99, delivered that year.
Further sections of track were opened on 17th July, when the line from the Clock Tower along High Street to Braunston Circle was opened.
At Braunston Circle the line divided in two, with one travelling along Hinckley Road to Western Park, whilst the other followed the Narborough Road.
A circular route off Hinckley Road, travelling via Fosse Road, Woodgate and Great Central Street back to High Street was opened on the same day.
On the 5th September 1904, the horse trams were replaced on the Aylestone Road route and on the 30th October 1904, the final horse trams ran; the remainder of the Humberstone Road route was opened to electric trams the following day.
At the end of the month another section running from the High Street to Groby Road was opened, with the final section along Melton Road (an extension of the Belgrave Road route) being opened on 8th June 1905.
Further tramcars were added to the fleet in 1905; Nos. 101-121 being top-covered, whilst Nos. 122-141 were open-top double-deckers. Between 1912 and 1927 all open-top cars were covered, with most being fully enclosed later.
In 1913 and 1914 twenty tramcars (Nos. 141-160) were delivered with larger platforms and steeper stairs, so that they could be operated on a Pay As You Enter basis. In this respect they were the first British trams to operate this system.
A link between Fosse Road and Branstonegate was opened on the 15th September 1915, with a route from Clarendon Park to Aylestone Road via Welford Road opening in September 1922.
Groby Road was linked with Belgrave Road, via Blackbird Road and Abbey Park Road in June 1924, and, in March 1927, the system was completed when a branch off Humberstone Road to Coleman Road was opened.
By the middle of the 1920’s the Tramways Committee had become aware of the limitations of the tramway system and had decided to experiment with motorbuses. On the 24th July 1924, the first motor bus service, to the city boundary at Norwood Road, commenced.
It was operated by six Tilling-Stevens TS6 single-deckers with Brush B32R bodywork, and was an immediate success, so much so that another eight similar vehicles were ordered. In 1925 a second route to Saffron Lane and Leicester’s first municipal housing estate commenced.
More buses were delivered in 1927, including 4 Guy B chassis with Brush B25F bodywork, suitable for one-man operation. They were put to work on a new route between Overton Road and Marfitt Street, the first inter-urban service in the city.
At the same time a double-deck route from Welford Place to Knighton Lane was inaugurated, mainly as an experiment, using Guy CX six-wheel vehicles.
It proved so successful that a further ten double-deck Guy CX chassis were ordered for 1928 and the original Tilling-Stevens single-deckers received new double-deck bodies. Another route to Coalpit Lane via Narborough Road was introduced this year.
With the introduction of the 1930 Road Traffic Act, the Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company applied for several routes into the town centre, but in the event the Corporation maintained control over most of the routes, although the company was allowed to operate into the centre but with a restrictive clause preventing them setting down or picking up passengers within the borough boundary.
This also effectively pinned the Corporation within its own boundaries for years to come.
More new routes were introduced in the following years and the bus fleet began to increase.
The first tram replacement route was opened in 1933, when the trams on the Melbourne Road route were replaced by motorbuses, although no further developments took place until 23rd October 1938, when the Coleman Road route, which was already being served by motorbuses, was replaced completely.
It was also decided to abandon the remainder of the tram routes over the next five years, but, as in many other cases, the onset of World War II, meant that plans were delayed and the trams kept running.
On the 15th January 1947 the Aylestone route was axed, follow on the 15th July by the Fosse Road, and slowly the tram network began to die.
On the 9th November 1949, the last tram (No. 58) ran on the Humberstone Road route bringing to an end the tramway era in Leicester.
With the demise of the tramway system and the construction of new housing estates, the need for new services increased.
In the postwar period routes to New Parks, Eyres Monsell, Goodwood, Stocking Farm, Mowmacre Hill, Nether Hall, Braunstone Frith and Beaumont Leys were opened, all serving new estates.
At the same time the bus fleet was increased, with new deliveries in the 1950’s being principally of Leyland manufacture, although several 1946 AEC Regal’s came second-hand from the Devon General Company in 1952, primarily for use on the City Circle service.
Some of the Corporation’s 1946 AEC Regents went to Devon General in the deal.
Throughout the next two decades, Leicester Corporation Transport was a consistent purchaser of the Leyland Titan, the first PD3 chassis (Nos.161-172) being delivered in 1958.
Thereafter the Titan formed the mainstay of the fleet, although examples of AEC’s Bridgemaster were purchased between 1959 and 1962, with the Renown chassis following in 1965 and 1966.
Until the early 1960’s the livery had been crimson with cream relief, but as the decade progressed the livery was reversed so that cream became the dominant colour and the crimson was relegated to relief, at first in three bands, but later in two.
The last PD3’s remained in service until Saturday 2nd October 1982 when the final crew-operated services were run. The following day the remaining PD3’s were used on tours of the city, their final duty.
In 1972 Leicester joined forces with Midland Red to operate two routes from the borough into the suburbs of South Wigston and Wigston Magna, the first major venture outside the borough boundary.
Another cross boundary service was introduced in 1976, extended to Oadby in 1980, along with a jointly operated works service from Braunstone Frith to Oadby, and this provided the extent of cross boundary services until August 1979, when the Corporation took over the long-established business of Gibson Brothers of Barlestone, who were trading as ‘Comfort Coaches’.
Two stage carriage services were included in the deal, one from Market Bosworth to Leicester, via Barlestone and Desford, with a second service between the same two terminal points, this time via Peckleton and Desford.
Gibson Brothers continued to be operated as a subsidiary until October 1982 when the company was absorbed by Leicester Corporation, although new vehicles still continued to appear in Gibson livery.
In 1983 the name of the undertaking was changed to Leicester CityBus, with a new livery of red, white and grey, although a return to the old livery was made, when, on 26th October 1986, the undertaking became an ‘arms-length’ company trading as Leicester CityBus Limited, effectively bringing to an end over 85 years of municipal operations in Leicester.
This history covers the period of municipal operations of Leicester Corporation, which effectively ended on 26th October 1986 with the enactment of the 1985 Transport Act (de-regulation) and 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 (Reg Wilson, Ian Allan 1997); Leicester City Transport by PM Battersby (Buses No. 54, Aug/Sept 1959); PSV Circle Fleet History PE11 (1988).