In 1897, Alderman John Norman, Mayor of Stalybridge, first proposed a joint tramways and electricity scheme, but it was not until two years later, in 1899, that progress on the idea was made.
Hyde and Dukinfield had already applied to build a tramway between the two towns, when, in September 1899, they were invited to join with Ashton-under-Lyne, Stalybridge and Mossley in a joint undertaking.
Although Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation was willing to be involved in a joint tramway scheme they were not willing to participate in a joint electricity scheme and consequently withdrew from the discussions.
By October 1899 the four towns had reached a formal agreement and the Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Tramways and Electricity Board was formed.
The Act authorising the tramways received the Royal Assent on 9th August 1900, but it was not until the 23rd October 1902 that construction began. Just under a year later, the connection between Stalybridge Town Hall and Ashton-under-Lyne’s system at the Snipe Inn at Audenshaw was made.
The first electric car to run over the line was hired from Ashton Corporation (the Joint Board’s trams not yet having been delivered) for a trial run on 7th October 1903.
After a Board of Trade inspection on 13th October, approval was given for the service to commence and two days later on the 15th October 1903, Ashton-under-Lyne trams started working the route.
The initial order for 40 tramcars (Nos. 1-40) was placed with the British Westinghouse Company of nearby Trafford Park. Twenty were to be open-top double-deck cars and the remaining twenty were to be single-deck.
The bodies were manufactured by the British Electric Car Company, also of Trafford Park, whilst the trucks came from McGuire of Bury. It was early in 1904 before sufficient trams had been delivered to enable the Joint Board to commence its own workings.
The first route scheduled for a Board of Trade inspection was the Stalybridge to Hyde route via Dukinfield, which took place on the 21st May 1904.
Following the inspector’s approval a regular service was started later that day, car No. 13 being the first Joint Board tramcar to operate in service.
In June 1904 the Joint Board informed Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation that they now had sufficient cars to commence joint operation on the Stalybridge to Ashton route.
At the same time the Board insisted on a new working agreement, which led to a dispute with Ashton Corporation and subsequently each undertaking’s trams terminated at the local authority boundary at Mellor Road.
It was to be July 1905 before through working commenced again. Strangely it was not until the 23rd October 1905 that the tramways were officially opened when a party of civic dignitaries from each of the four authorities toured the system.
By this time services were operating from Stalybridge to Ashton; to Heyheads via Millbrook; to Haddens via Mossley; to Hyde and on to Mossley and Roaches; and to Mottram, with additional through services and short workings between these points.
An additional 15 tramcars (Nos. 41-55) were ordered and delivered this year, again from the British Westinghouse Company. This time the trucks were by Mountain & Gibson of Bury and the bodies by Hurst Nelson & Company of Motherwell.
The tramway was not an immediate success, with the Board incurring heavy losses in the first few years, which had to be met by a precept on the rates. By 1908 annual losses were over £10,000, which necessitated stringent economies.
Reductions in car mileage were achieved by discontinuing some services, including the Hyde to Roaches, and the Hyde to Acres Lane (Stalybridge) sections.
The service from Stalybridge Town Hall to Ashton was discontinued, the Ashton to Mottram service, which almost duplicated it, being extended to serve the Town Hall when necessary.
A spate of major accidents befell the tramway in its early years, mainly due to the rather steep gradients the trams had to negotiate, including the 1 in 11 gradient at Ditchcroft, the scene of a serious accident in June 1911 with one fatality.
Subsequently the Board of Trade prohibited the use of double-deck trams on this section and the Joint Board had to transfer some of its single-deck cars to this service, which caused problems on the routes through Hyde and Dukinfield which both passed under low railway bridges.
As a temporary measure the top-decks of cars 56-58 were removed and they ran as single-deck cars until January the following year when approval was given to the reinstatement of double-deck cars on the route. Sadly that was not the end of the Board’s troubles.
In October 1911 six people were killed when a tramcar ran out of control on the 1 in 18 gradient at Stamford Road, Mossley.
It was suggested that malpractices with the tramcars’ braking system were to blame and subsequently all cars working routes with substantial gradients on them were fitted with the patent Spencer slipper brake in an attempt to prevent further accidents.
In March 1912 a new service was inaugurated between Hyde and Thompson Cross, Stalybridge and a few months later, in June, through trams began running between Stalybridge and Manchester, although this service was operated solely by Ashton Corporation.
During the Great War years, 1914-1918, it was found necessary to make certain economies. For the first time women were employed as drivers and guards, although there was still a chronic shortage of labour.
This meant that services had to be curtailed and where possible materials had to be recycled, including old overhead and tracks from disused sections. Towards the start of 1918 further economies were made, including more service cuts and a general fares increase, which also saw the end of workmen’s fares.
In 1920 the SHMD Joint Board took over the portion of the Oldham, Ashton & Hyde Tramway Company’s track that fell within its operating area in Hyde. Ten former OA&H Company cars were included in the deal, although only eight were retained for service.
By 1923 the tramway was at last in profit, although the net surplus of £119 hardly made up for the losses over the previous years. This was the year that the Board first obtained powers to operate motorbuses.
Although they were restricted to duplicating tram routes within the Board’s operating area, powers to operate into specified districts outside this area were unrestricted.
The first bus service was inaugurated on the 29th May 1925, between Hyde and Woolley via Mottram, using a number of Thornycroft buses, which eventually resulted in trams being withdrawn on part of the route.
Subsequently they were only operated at peak periods and on Saturdays, when there were insufficient buses to cover the service.
The motorbuses quickly established themselves and proved to be financially more viable on lightly trafficked routes than the tramcars and as a result more buses were ordered for delivery in 1926.
Initial competition between the Board and the North Western Road Car Company was resolved by agreement and joint services were established between Hyde and Glossop, Stalybridge and Glossop, and Mossley and Saddleworth (Uppermill).
These made the tramway sections between Stalybridge and Mottram, and the local section in Mossley redundant.
In 1927 an express bus service was introduced between Hyde and Albert Square, Manchester along with additional routes serving Dukinfield, Audenshaw, Gee Cross and a further express service between Stalybridge Station and the Central Station in Manchester.
Nine new Thornycroft single-deck buses were delivered this year, along with another eighteen in 1928. On the 12th January 1928 trams were withdrawn from the Hyde to Ashton route and replaced by motorbuses.
Just over seven months later, in August, trams on the routes from Ashton to Acres Lane and to Dukinfield were replaced by motorbuses and the decline of the tramway system had begun.
In 1931 a decision to finally abandon the tramway services was taken, many of the tramway routes already having being superseded by motorbuses, although it was to be sometime in the future before final abandonment was possible.
By 1935 there were only twenty tramcars operating and the Board was seriously contemplating replacing the remaining trams with trolleybuses.
Indeed the Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley & Dukinfield Transport and Electricity Board Act of 1936 actually authorised the operation of trolleybuses along tramway routes.
Despite this, the Board never operated trolleybuses, although some sources indicate that an order for Sunbeam trolleybuses was made but subsequently cancelled because of the impending Second World War.
The first double-decker bus had made its appearance in 1932, when a Thornycroft petrol-engined demonstrator was on loan.
This was replaced by a Beadle-bodied Thornycroft Daring with Gardner 6LW diesel engine towards the end of the year. The diesel engined bus created such a good impression that it was subsequently purchased and led to an order for five more for delivery the following year.
In 1933 the Board acquired Goodfellow Services of Hyde jointly with Manchester Corporation and the North Western Road Car Company.
Two Thornycroft vehicles from the Goodfellow fleet passed to the Board who had them immediately re-bodied by Northern Counties to their standard 32-seat rear-entrance design. Seven more ex-Goodfellow vehicles received similar treatment when they were added to the fleet in 1935.
Although Thornycroft vehicles had become the standard by this time, in 1936 it was announced that production of full-sized passenger chassis would cease and the Board was forced to look elsewhere for future bus orders.
After trials, the Gardner-engined Daimler was selected as the future standard and was ordered exclusively until the mid-fifties.
The route between Stalybridge and Manchester via Ashton-under-Lyne was converted to trolleybus operation on the 1st March 1938 and, although the Board never owned any trolleybuses, it owned, and was responsible for the maintenance of, the overhead wires in its area.
As a result, the route was operated exclusively by Ashton and Manchester Corporation trolleybuses.
By now only two tram routes remained, Hyde to Edgeley (Stockport) and between Hyde and Manchester and the remaining tramcars were garaged at the small Lewis Street depot in Hyde.
The onset of World War Two delayed the final abandonment and, although the tramway had deteriorated and been patched up, the track lasted until May 1945, when the Board finally sought approval to withdraw all its tramcars ‘in the interests of public safety’.
The final Board tramcar ran in service on the 12th May 1945. Trams continued to be run into Hyde by other local authorities until 1947, when Stockport and Manchester finally withdrew their trams from the Board’s operating area.
The Board’s first post-war buses, delivered in 1947, were on 15 Daimler chassis with Northern Counties H30/26R bodywork. Five of the buses were fitted with the Daimler diesel engine (CVD6), whilst the remainder had the Gardner 6LW unit (CVG6).
The first post-war single-deckers arrived in 1950 and were five Daimler CVD6 with Northern Counties 35-seat rear-entrance bodywork.
From this time onward there was little change in the Board’s services and routes, except for minor changes in frequency and a substantial period of consolidation followed. Indeed, by 1962, the annual operating surplus was over £35,000, a far cry from the losses of the tramway era.
One notable addition to the fleet in 1955 was the only Atkinson double-decker ever built. Numbered 70 (UMA370) it was a result of close collaboration between the Board and the Atkinson Company, as was the Northern Counties body constructed for it. In the event, however, no further vehicles were built and it remains unique.
Another innovation in 1962 was the introduction of electric heating on the open parking ground adjacent to the main depot.
Rather than rebuild the ageing tram depot, which accommodated around half of the fleet, a plot of land had been purchased at the side of the main depot, concreted over and fitted with an electricity supply.
Buses were parked in rows of five, each one next to an electricity supply pillar, which was plugged into the bus via a socket behind the driver’s cab.
The electricity worked a small fan heater, which supplied warm air to both saloons, and a water heater in the radiator bottom tank. This gave freedom from starting problems as the vehicles rarely became cold.
On the 1st November 1969 the Stalybridge, Hyde, Dukinfield & Mossley Transport and Electricity Board, along with ten other municipal authorities, was merged into the South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire (SELNEC) Passenger Transport Executive and, despite fierce opposition, this unique authority passed into history after 63 years of joint municipal operations.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
British Bus Tram & Trolleybus Systems No.12 – SHMD Joint Board (Hyde & Ogden; Transport Publishing Company, 1990); PSV Circle Fleet History PC5B (1974).