St John's Tramway depot, Worcester

Worcester's Horse-Drawn Tramway (1884–1903)

Horse omnibuses operated in the City of Worcester from 1881 and were supplemented by horse-drawn tramcars operated by Tramways Trust Company Limited from Monday 18th February 1884. Initially the tramway network consisted of two routes on 3′ gauge tram lines linking Ombersley Road (Vine Inn), Worcester City Centre (The Cross), and St John's (Bransford Road, Portobello), or Worcester City Centre (The Cross) and Shrub Hill Railway Station. At the start of operations nine horse-drawn tramcars were used, all being built by Falcon Engine and Car Works Limited of Loughborough.

The St John's tramways depot site had been used from 1881 to house horse omnibuses and was modified to house the tramcars. The site was on the north-west side of the Bull Ring in the St John's area of Worcester. The main depot building was originally a long, thin, open-sided shed with an outdoor yard used for horse stables and additional storage of horse omnibuses. The main shed was set back from the road and connected to the road and tramway network by a driveway and single tram line that ran between the shop frontages. The single tram line dividing into a double tram line before entering the shed.

The Tramways Trust Company went into liquidation on Saturday 12th December 1885 and a new company, City of Worcester Tramways Company Limited, was formed and acquired the assets from the official liquidator and took control of the network during the following year. This company, in turn, went into voluntary liquidation during 1892. Another new company, Worcester Tramways Limited, was formed on Sunday 13th August 1893 which acquired the assets and took control of the network on Tuesday 3rd April 1894. In c. 1898/9, British Electric Traction (BET) gained a majority share in Worcester Tramways Limited, but later this too went into liquidation and was bought outright by BET.

British Electric Traction (BET) formed yet another new company, as a subsidiary, which took control on Friday 31st October 1902. Now with solid backing from BET, the newly formed Worcester Electric Traction Company Limited applied for the rights to upgrade and expand the network. Permission was granted and on Thursday 25th June 1903 the horse trams ran for the last time, and the network closed for the upgrading work to begin. Extra horse omnibuses were brought to Worcester on loan from Birmingham for the duration of the work to provide a continuing service, but the chaos and disruption that followed became commonly known as the “Worcester Electrics Tramway Siege 1903–1904”.

Worcester's Tramway Electrification and Expansion

The upgrading of the network involved digging up all of the existing 3′ gauge tram rails and replacing them with new 3′ 6″ gauge tram rails with overhead electrification. The existing network was single track with occasional passing loops, but where possible the new network was built as double track to allow cars to run in both directions and achieve the advertised 10-minute frequency on all routes. A new route between Worcester City Centre (St Nicholas Street) and Astwood Cemetery via Rainbow Hill was also built, sharing a tram line with the Shrub Hill route as far as Lowesmoor Terrace.

The St John's Tramway depot was modernised to become a larger fully enclosed brick-built building, being extened at the west side over the outside yard to provide additional “lanes” for tramcar storage and maintenance. The new network opened on Saturday 6th February 1904, operated with a fleet of 15 open-top double-deck electric tramcars built by Brush Electrical Engineering Company Limited. Each tramcar seated 50 and were fitted with motors made by Dick, Kerr and Company Limited.

With the continuing expansion of the network, new tramway routes were finished and opened by the end of the year. These being Worcester City Centre (High Street) to London Road (Foxwell Street) on Saturday 30th April 1904, and Worcester City Centre (High Street) to Bath Road (Berwick Arms) on Saturday 2nd July 1904. The St John's route was extended to Malvern Road (Brunswick Arms) in August 1906.

Early Motor Omnibuses in Worcester

Areas outside the city had been served by horse omnibuses from 1895, with routes to Kempsey, Ombersley, Powick, Callow End, and Fernhill Heath. The horse omnibuses were housed at the St John's Tramway depot and before electrification of the tram network had shared the same stabling facilities, and presumably the same horses. Between 1909 and 1912 the use of horse omnibuses was phased out in favour of motor omnibuses, and this allowed new routes to be operated to locations outside the range of the horses. During August Bank Holiday week in 1912 special services ran to Holt Fleet, Upton-upon-Severn, and Malvern Link. From Saturday 7th June 1913 regular buses were being run between Droitwich Spa, Worcester, and Great Malvern using a new Daimler charabanc, and this was extended to Rubery to connect with buses to Birmingham on Saturday 20th December 1913.

The parent company, British Electric Traction (BET), acquired the business and operations of Kidderminster, Stourport & Bewley Motor Omnibus Company Limited as a subsidiary in February 1914, and renamed this to Worcestershire Motor Transport Company Limited (WMT) on Wednesday 22nd July 1914. The motor omnibus operations of Worcester Electric Traction were seperated from the tramway operations and taken over by WMT on Saturday 15th August 1914, but was very short-lived…

First World War and Midland “Red” Motor Services arrive in Worcester

The First World War had started a few weeks earlier on Tuesday 28th July 1914, and Great Britain joined the conflict on Tuesday 4th August 1914 when they declared war on Germany. The War Office suddenly found itself dealing with the logistical nightmare of having to move hundreds of thousands of men and their equipment. It is well documented that the railway network played a huge role in this, but the train can only go so far, and the War Office soon started requisitioning large numbers of omnibuses from operators around the country.

Starting in September 1914, the Worcestershire Motor Transport Company Limited (WMT) had their entire fleet, except for a few spare bus bodies, commandeered by the War Office. With the company now unable to function, routes and operations in Worcester and Kidderminster were taken over by Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (BMMO—Midland “Red” Motor Services) from Wednesday 4th November 1914, with vehicles used in Worcester being housed at the St John's Tramway depot.

Routes listed below were taken over from the Worcester Motor Transport Company Limited on Wednesday 4th November 1914, and operated from St John's Tramway depot, and are therefore the first routes operated by BMMO in Worcester. The route numbers shown were allocated by BMMO in-line with their 1913 numbering system.

The fleet of vehicles operated by BMMO during this period was made up entirely of petrol-electric single or double-deck buses, plus a small number of charabancs, all built on Tilling-Stevens chassis. The War Office did not favour the petrol-electric design so no vehicle from the BMMO fleet was requisitioned, giving the company a notable advantage over their competitors throughout the Midlands.

One of the most important services acquired at this time, which was partly operated by vehicles housed at the St John's Tramway depot, was Service 25 linking Birmingham, Bromsgrove, Worcester, and Great Malvern. The route had previously been operated as a joint operation between BMMO and WMT, but now BMMO were the sole operator they were able to introduce a new timetable and later extend the route to Malvern Wells when a local Malvern operator lost their vehicles to the War Office. This route was later renumbered to Service 144, and is still being operated over 100-years later.

Due to wartime petrol shortages, a number of buses were converted or run on coal gas and featured large inflatable gas tanks mounted on top of the vehicle. Services were also cut-back with the Malvern to Birmingham route being temporarily curtailed at Worcester.

Midland “Red” Motor Services replace the Tramway Network

BMMO continued to use the St John's Tramway depot for their Worcester operations through the war period and during this time new routes were introduced, which included a local Malvern routes as Service 48 from Saturday 22nd April 1916. After the war, the company continued to expanded and in April 1921 they vacated the St John's Tramway depot and moved all of their Worcester operations to Worcester (East Street) depot.

The tramway network continued to run in the City of Worcester until Thursday 31st May 1928. From the following day, the entire tram network was replaced with a new bus network operated by Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company Limited (BMMO—Midland “Red” Motor Services) as part of the “Worcester Agreement”. The company brought a fleet of new SOS “QL” single-deck buses to the city to operate the new network and acquired Worcester (Padmore Street) depot to house them.

By 1930 the disused tramway network had been dug up and the rails sold for scrap. The St John's Tramway depot was demolished and redeveloped. Today, a Co-Op supermarket and car park stands on the site, with the main supermarket front doors being in the place where the depot driveway and tram lines ran to the main depot building, and much of the depot building being on the site of the supermarket car park.

Traces of the old Worcester tramway network could still be seen for many years later with, for example, the gantries used to support the overhead electrification on Malvern Road being converted to street lighting and still being in place until the 1990s. Tram stop shelters in Barbourne were still being used as bus stop shelters in the 1990s, and these were later moved to The Cross for use as Cycle Racks. To this date there is still a green BET with the company logo by the side of the road near Barbourne Park, and Malvern Road gets very wide at the junction of Hanbury Park Road as this was where tramcars could turn round.

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Midland “Red”