For most people of an age to have living memories of the Manchester Corporation Tramways, it was probably of a system suffering from insufficient investment and modernisation (a decision having been taken in the 1930’s to abandon the system and replace with buses), minimal maintenance, and the ravages of wartime operation.

In fact, being one of the largest systems in the country, in terms of the size of the tramway fleet, route mileage and passengers carried it was the subject of great civic pride. The system contributed significant sums to the rates and it was policy to repaint all trams every three years.

This is not always apparent from contemporary black and white photographs of the day. There must have been times when the sun shone on newly painted trams!! A visit to the Tramway Museum in Heaton Park to view and ride on the magnificently restored Single Deck ‘California’ and the Double Deck Horse Drawn tramcars gives an indication of the splendour and Gothic elegance of the Corporation vehicles.

The Tramways Act of 1870 enabled local authorities to construct and lease tramways for use by companies to operate passenger services. The Act included provision for the local authority to purchase the lease, tramcars, horses and associated works after a period of 21 years.

The Manchester Carriage & Tramway Company commenced operation of the first Manchester route on the 17th May 1877, the system progressively being extended to over 143 miles to Eccles in the west, Crumpsall in the north, Stalybridge in the east and Stockport in the south. 515 tramcars were required to operate the services, which needed 5,520 horses as they only worked for two to three hours at a time. Hence up to six pairs of horse were required per tram each day.

As a result of the Manchester Corporation Act of 1897, which included the right to use electric traction, the City Council adopted a recommendation for the Corporation to take over the tramways when the Carriage Company leases expired. The first electric tramcar commenced operation on the 6th June 1901 and the Corporation progressively took over from horse drawn cars of the Carriage Company over the next three years.

The Tramway Corporation continued to expand, reaching its peak in 1928 with a route mileage of 292 miles, approximately a thousand tramcars and carrying over 350 million passengers.

As buses became reliable, faster and more comfortable, the associated benefits of flexibility, that services could be continued in the event of break down and the belief that trams were responsible for traffic congestion within the city centre, meant that routes began to be converted to this mode of transport.

Whilst the second world war delayed the conversion to buses the final tram ran on 10th January 1949.