Although proposals for a tramway to connect the two towns of West Hartlepool and Hartlepool were put forward during the early 1880’s it was not until November 1883 that construction commenced.
Authorised by the Hartlepool Tramways Order of 1883, it was built to a gauge of 3ft 6ins, and operated by the Hartlepools Steam Tramways Company Ltd.
The first section constructed was a single-track line from Northgate, in Hartlepool, and travelled via Millbank Crescent, Cleveland Road (where, at the junction with Hart Road, it passed the depot) and Clarence Road, terminating in Church Street, West Hartlepool.
It opened on 2nd August 1884 and the initial services were worked by two steam locomotives (Nos. 1-2), hauling top-covered double-deck trailers (probably also numbered 1-2), all of which were built by Falcon.
More Falcon-built locos (Nos. 3-6) and trailers (probably Nos. 3-6) arrived in the following years, although three of the locos (Nos. 1-3) had been withdrawn by the end of 1885.
The tramway was not a financial success, possibly because the remaining authorised sections were never constructed, and it closed in 1891.
Four years later, on the 28th February 1895, the General Electric Tramways Company was registered to rebuild the disused steam tramway as an electric traction system under the Hartlepool Electric Tramways Order of the same year.
On the 19th May 1896 the line was re-opened, worked by five (Nos. 1-5) Milnes open-top double-deck cars, and a new depot constructed on Cleveland Road at Greenland.
Later that year, on the 15th October, the Hartlepool Electric Tramways Company Limited was registered in order to construct the remaining sections of the authorised routes and in 1897 work began.
In January 1899 the Hartlepool Electric Tramways Company gained control of the whole system when its parent company (the British Electric Traction Company) purchased the General Electric Tramways Company.
By the 10th March 1899 the first of the newly constructed sections, from Clarence Road to Foggy Furze along Stockton Street, and a branch from Stockton Street to Ward Jackson Park via Grange Road were ready for opening.
Five Brush-built open-top double-deck cars (Nos. 11-15) inaugurated the service.
On 28th March 1902 a 2¼-mile extension from Church Street to Seaton Carew, via Seaton Road and travelling as a reserved track along the seafront, was opened.
This necessitated the purchase of four additional cars (Nos. 16-19) built by the Electric Railway and Tramway Carriage Works, followed shortly afterwards by two (Nos. 20-21) Brush bogie open-top double-deckers.
The Company continued to operate the system until 31st August 1912 when, after three years of negotiations, West Hartlepool Corporation purchased the parts of the tramway that lay within its boundaries, although the section within Hartlepool remained in Company ownership until 1925 (when it was bought by Hartlepool Corporation) and had to be leased.
In 1914 five new UEC-built open-top double-deck cars (Nos. 1-5) joined the fleet, followed in 1920 by six Brush-built open-top double-deckers (Nos. 27-32).
In 1923, two cars (Nos 8-9) were rebuilt with new English Electric open-top double-deck bodies, although by this time the decision had already been taken to abandon the tramway in favour of trolleybuses.
After early experiments with motorbuses on a local route in July 1920, West Hartlepool inaugurated its first regular motorbus service on 4th April 1921, jointly with Middlesbrough Corporation, between Seaton Carew and Port Clarence, via the Tees Transporter Bridge.
Five AEC YD types were used (Nos. 1-5), which were subsequently converted to front entrance layout when the route became one-man operated in 1925. Middlesbrough relinquished their share of this route in 1927.
On the 4th October 1923, the Foggy Furze trams ceased running, to be temporarily replaced by motorbuses until the trolleybuses began running the following year.
The Ward Jackson Park line closed in November 1925, followed by the Hartlepool line on 22nd February 1927. One month later, on 25th March 1927, the Seaton Carew line closed bringing the tramway era to an end in the Hartlepools.
Although the trolleybus network mirrored the former tramway routes, complications arose when the through route to Hartlepool was converted, as Hartlepool themselves wished to use motorbuses, and had obtained powers to operate them in 1925.
Protracted negotiations resulted in Hartlepool purchasing the tramway within their boundary and obtaining powers to operate trolleybuses (which they did under the Hartlepool Corporation Trolley Vehicles Act of 1926).
Subsequently West Hartlepool operated and maintained the service on behalf of both authorities, although both parties nominally jointly owned the trolleybuses used. Hartlepool Corporation agreed to pay half the running costs in return for half the revenue.
The first trolleybuses were four (Nos. 1-4) Railless 4-wheel vehicles with Short Brothers 36-seat bodywork, followed by two similar vehicles (Nos. 5-6) and a double-deck version (No. 7) in 1926.
The first jointly owned vehicles were twelve Straker-Clough single-deckers (Nos. 8-19) in 1927, replaced by more jointly owned Daimler vehicles (Nos. 32-39) in 1938. These vehicles bore the armorial devices of both boroughs on their side panels.
After the cessation of World War II, West Hartlepool decided to replace the trolleybuses with motorbuses, much to the annoyance of Hartlepool Corporation.
In 1949 the first trolleybus route, to Seaton Carew was abandoned and replaced by West Hartlepool motorbuses, with the other following afterwards.
By April 1953, only the joint service between the two boroughs remained and on the 3rd April the trolleybuses on this route were replaced by motorbuses.
At this juncture Hartlepool Corporation decided to exercise its powers obtained in 1925 and purchased four buses to operate jointly on the route, which it continued to do so until 1967.
In 1950, a batch of 15 (Nos. 65-79) Leyland PD2’s with Leyland H30/26R bodywork were delivered enabling the trolleybus conversion to proceed.
By now the bus network had been largely established and remained fairly static, other than changes in frequency and minor route variations, until the middle of the 1960’s, when West Hartlepool, in common with most other operators, began to suffer from a decline in passenger numbers and, as a result, the Corporation decided to introduce one-man operation.
The first services to commence one-man operation were the Church Street to Park, via Grange Road service (No. 2), and the Church Street to West Park, via Elwick Road service (No. 3) on the 5th March 1964.
Five Leyland Leopard L1’s (Nos. 19-23), with Strachan bodywork were used to inaugurate the services. Over the next few years more services were converted to one-man operation and more single-deckers purchased, with the intention of completely replacing the double-deck fleet.
On the 1st April 1967 the two boroughs of West Hartlepool and Hartlepool were merged to form a single new authority, the County Borough of Hartlepool and the fleets of both undertakings were merged, bringing to an end the separate municipal operation of West Hartlepool Corporation Transport after just under 55 years.
This history covers the period of municipal operations of West Hartlepool Corporation from 1912 to 1967 when the merger with Hartlepool Corporation took place and in preparing this history reference has been made to the following sources:
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner; PSL, 1996); PSV Circle; Fleet History PA15 (1984); Municipal Buses in Colour (Reg Wilson; Ian Allan, 1997), Buses (various editions), Hartlepool Transport (Buses Extra 1, G. Coxon). Some of these publications also draw on material from earlier works which are acknowledged in the relevant publication.