The current display in the entrance of the Local and Family History department, Leeds Central Library, showcases the history of trams in Leeds. It features a large number of photos from our collection, plus articles from our archive of local newspapers, copies of route layout maps, and a selection of books on the topic.
Leeds Corporation Tramways formerly served the city of Leeds. The transport network first opened on 29 October 1891 and its original trams were horse-drawn but, by 1901, electrification had been completed.
There were several lines running between the city centre and Cross Gates, Chapel Allerton, Moortown, Roundhay, Middleton, Beeston, Armley, Hunslet, and Kirkstall. The network, of which certain sections were on reserved track, was far more extensive than the Leeds Supertram system proposed in the 1990s.
The earliest trams were single-decker vehicles, but later purchases were double-deckers, operated by Leeds Tramways Company. The last of these ran in 1901. Steam trams were also used until full electrification. Throughout most of the Twentieth Century, the tramway used a mixture of bus-style and balloon trams, both in double-decker formation. The system of collection by trams from the overhead wiring was unusual in that it used pantographs rather than poles, obviating the need to turn the pole round at each terminus.
Even when other cities were abandoning their tramways in the 1940s, Leeds continued to modernise its system. Two prototype modern single-deck trams (somewhat similar to those used in continental European cities) were built in the early 1950s. In particular a single-deck tram painted purple for the Queen’s Coronation, was in operation on ‘route 3’ in 1953 – perhaps because this followed a segregated track along Roundhay Road to the popular attraction of Roundhay Park. This ‘Coronation’ tram still operates in the Beamish open air museum in County Durham.
In the early 1950s, Leeds purchased 90 ‘Feltham’ second-hand trams, dating from 1931, from London Transport. By this period, Leeds tramcars were normally painted in red. After the closure of the Leeds system on 7 November 1959, Sheffield became the last city in England operating trams (closing in 1960) with Glasgow the last in the UK (closing in 1962). The Blackpool tramway then became the UK’s only commercial tramway, until the opening of the Manchester Metrolink in 1992.
Queen’s Hall, situated off Swinegate, was Leeds’s central tram shed. This was used as a concert hall after the tram system’s closure and came to be a renowned music venue. It was demolished in 1989 and site is now a car park, with some redevelopment taking place. There still remains an old electricity substation used for the tramway on Abbey Road in Hawksworth. Several Leeds electric trams are now preserved at the National Tramway Museum at Crich, and the last remaining (Leeds horse tram no. 107) is now being restored by the Leeds Transport Historical Society.
For more photos of the tramways, visit our Leodis website (www.leodis.org) or call in to see us in the Local and Family History department on the second floor of Leeds Central Library.