Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: July 28, 2019
Webpage updated: July 31, 2019




After the joining up of the southern and northern sections of Plymouth's tramway network in August 1896, Plymouth Corporation set about laying a a line from the junction of Old Town Street and Ebrington Street through Ebrington Street, Ham Street, Beaumont Road, Tothill Road, and eastwards along Embankment Road as far as Elliott Road.  The estimated cost of this work was 8,500.

Commencement (see note A below)

Opened to public traffic on Thursday December 10th 1896. 

Original Route (see note B below)

Theatre Royal, Lockyer Street, Princess Square, Westwell Street, Basket Street, Old Town Street, Ebrington Street, Ham Street, Beaumont Road, Tothill Road, and eastwards along Embankment Road as far as Elliott Road.

Although the service on that first morning had started at 10am, the following day the first car left the Theatre Royal at 6.45am.  This was followed by cars at 7.20, 8, 8.40, 9, 9.20 and 9.35am.  From 10am until 10pm there was then a 15-minute service.  The last cars left the Theatre at 10.30 and 10.45pm.

The first car left Prince Rock at 7am with others at 7.40, 8.20, 9, 9.15, and 9.55am.  From 10.22am until 10.22pm there was a 15-minute service, with the last cars from Prince Rock at 10.45 and 11pm.  The fare for the whole journey was one penny.

On the Friday morning the Western Daily Mercury recorded that: 'The weather yesterday was bad, with heavy squalls of rain making roof-seats impossible during the greater part of the day, but, in spite of this drawback, the traffic turned out fairly well.'

Subsequent development (see note C below)

There was a major change in the livery of the tramcars during 1897.  On April 23rd the Council resolved to repaint the tramcars according to the route they were allocated to.  Cars going to Prince Rock were to be painted red.  This would be carried out when the cars needed renovating but it is not clear if this decision was actually carried out.

An interesting diversion was a Council decision dated September 19th 1898: 'That a notice be exhibited on the tramcars requesting passengers to destroy their tickets upon leaving the car'.


A service of electrically-driven tramcars was started on Friday September 22nd 1899.

After performing the ceremony of officially opening the new Electricity Power Station on the banks of the Cattewater, the Mayor of Plymouth proceeded to the newly built tramway depot, where the chairman of the Tramways Committee, Mr Bray, invited his Worship to start the first electric tramcar on its way into Plymouth, replacing the horse-tram service.

Suitably bedecked with flowers and red, white and blue draperies, the first car was driven by Mr J H Rider, the Corporation's electrical engineer.  The second car was in the charge of Mr Charles R Everson, the tramways manager, while the third was driven by Mr Rider's assistant, Mr O'Kell.  There were five tramcars in all.  The cars went right through to the Theatre and were then returned as far as the Guildhall, where the official party withdrew for the official luncheon.   Ordinary fare-paying passengers were then allowed to make the journey out to Prince Rock.

Mr Everson had the distinction of creating what the press called 'the incident of the morning', when, upon taking the curve approaching Friary Bridge at too high a speed, 'everyone in his charge had a good shaking up'.

From 1pm until well after 11pm all the Corporation's electric cars were in use and packed to capacity and still many people who wanted a ride were unable to do so.  Each car could carry 42 passengers, which was six more than the old horse cars.  The average speed apparently was 8mph, including time for stoppages.

Talking on the occasion of the withdrawal of Plymouth's last tram in 1945, Mr William Alfred Smith, who was one of the drivers of the first electric trams in Plymouth, recalled that one gentleman asked him: 'Are you the man that drives than thing that goes with naught?'  Horses you could see but not electricity.  He also recalled that the journey went without problems until they reached Basket Street, where it was found that 'the corner was too narrow for the trolley head to sit into the wire'. 

Interestingly, this is the first occasion on which there is a reference to the drivers and conductors being supplied with uniforms, each bearing the number of the tramcar to which he was attached.  In those days staff were allocated a vehicle and went wherever that vehicle was wanted, a practice which largely lasted in Plymouth until the 1960s.

An announcement in the local press on Saturday September 23rd drew attention to the fact that: 'It is important that the stopping places should be borne in mind, because the cars will not be pulled up for passengers in the intervening distances, neither will people be able to alight or mount whilst they are in motion'.

The authorised stopping places on the Prince Rock route were:

OUTWARD Theatre Royal; Derry's Clock (before entering curve); Central Hotel (after passing curve); Post Office; Saint Andrew's Cross; Ebrington Street (after passing curve); opposite North Street; Saint Jude's Church; Cattedown Road (before entering curve); Prince Rock terminus.

INWARD Prince Rock terminus; Cattedown Road (before entering curve); Saint Jude's Church; North Street; Ebrington Street (before entering curve); Saint Andrew's Cross; Post Office; Central Hotel (before entering curve); Derry's Clock (after passing curve); Theatre Royal terminus.

Unification with Devonport, 1916

On and as from Monday October 23rd 1916 the service from Theatre Royal to Prince Rock became Route 5, Theatre Royal to Prince Rock via Ebrington Street, 1 mile 46 chains in length.

Note A:  Wherever possible an exact date of commencement of a service is shown.  However, in a lot of cases no precise date has been recorded so reference will be made to official returns to the Council or other documentary evidence to narrow the date down as much as possible.

Note B:  This gives the roads and streets the service passed through.  A road or street name in brackets indicates that it has not been confirmed beyond doubt that the road or street was used by buses on this route but it is a "best guess" based on the author's knowledge of the practice at the time.  If it is subsequently confirmed by either documentary or photographic evidence that the road or street was traversed by this service then the brackets will be deleted.

Note C:  Where deviations to the original route are shown they will be from and to a road or street named in the "Original Route" section so that the alteration in route can be easily followed.