The disruption seemed endless a few years ago when the layout of
roads was being altered for the Metro or “Bendy Bus”, especially along The
Kingsway. It could hardly compare with the
1870s, however, when roads were being widened and rails laid to introduce
horse-drawn trams. Later there was more
disruption, though on a much smaller scale, when those tram rails were removed
in 1937. Swansea
Street tramways had originated in the
United States, prompting
1870 Tramways Act which encouraged the provision of urban public
transport. The Swansea Improvements and
Tramway Company was established in 1873, and empowered by an Act of Parliament
a year later. The Company widened
streets, demolished Island House at the top of Britain Wind Street, constructed Alexandra Road and Prince of Wales Road,
and widened . Hafod
From April 1878 horse-drawn trams ran north from the High Street to Morriston, and a few months later west to
St Helens, later adding a route to Cwmbwrla. Each tramcar was pulled by a pair of horses, with
three pairs being needed each day. The
horse teams would be changed around midday, and again in the early
evening. The tram depot was in lower St Helens Road, on
the site of the present Crown Court, with stables, blacksmiths and a body
shop. Initially ten tramcars were
shipped in from North America, though tramcars
were later assembled at the St Helen’s Road depot. The busiest route was from Swansea High
Street to the terminus at The Duke in Neath Road, Morriston.
The “Improvements” element in the Company’s name allowed scope for building a place of entertainment, which opened in the newly-built
of Wales Road in 1888. Originally called the Swansea Pavilion it is now
the Palace Theatre, in a sad state of dereliction.
But horse-drawn trams encountered problems with steep gradients, especially on the Cwmbwrla route, and passengers sometimes needed to alight and walk before a steep hill. In spite of objections it was hoped that steam locomotion would be the solution. Three Hughes Locomotive engines for use by the Mumbles Railway were brought into service, and housed in a new depot built at Cwmbwrla. There were even plans to use steam locomotion on the Morriston line, but after two years this method of transport was abandoned, for the steam engines were too unreliable. Additional horses were purchased to assist on the gradients.
The gradient problem was overcome when the Company was taken over by British Electric Traction, for in 1900
Swansea became the first
to use electric traction. The four
initial routes were from High Street to Morriston, High Street to Cwmbwrla,
along Wales Alexandra Road
to the Docks, and along Gower
Street (now part of the Kingsway) to St Helen’s. That route had no low bridges so it could use
an open-top double-decker, but other routes were limited to single-decker
With electrification there was a dramatic increase in passenger numbers, from 2.5 million for the last year of horse-drawn trams, to 4.5 million when they were electrified in 1900. Regular stopping places along the routes for boarding or leaving trams were now introduced, instead of the informal stopping arrangements with horse-drawn trams.
After the First World War motor buses were used to feed the tram routes from outlying districts, which indicated the future direction for urban public transport. The Company’s directors formed the South Wales Transport Company, which in 1927 took over the parent company: this led inevitably to trams being replaced by motor buses. The final tram ran in June 1937 as the motor buses took over, foreshadowing a similar fate for the Mumbles Railway in January 1960, but that is another story.