Coventry Corporation Transport Society

Corporation Transport through the Years

The Coventry and District Tramways Company was established to run a tram service between Coventry Station and Bedworth as a result of parliamentary powers obtained between 1880 and 1883 [1]. They operated open-top, double-decker tramcars hauled by steam locomotives on a 3ft 6in gauge track. The narrow gauge was designed to cope with the narrow streets in the centre of the City, but prevented the use of larger, totally enclosed tramcars. A tram depot was built at Foleshill. The service was unreliable and the locomotives with their "noisy failures and choking smoke" [2] encountered great difficulty ascending the relatively steep hill of Bishops Street [3]. Three of the locomotives emanated from the Falcon Engine and Car Works, established in Loughborough in 1882, which was the predecessor of the Brush Electrical Engineering Company. This marked the beginning of a long relationship: Brush was later to become a major supplier of electric trams to the Electric Tramway Companies and Coventry Corporation.

By 1893, operating difficulties and low passenger numbers led to the suspension of the steam trams. Two years later, Coventry Electric Tramways Limited began a service of electric trams between Coventry and the Tram depot in Foleshill, quickly extending it to Bedworth. Mr T R Whitehead was appointed General Manager, a post that he continued to hold after the transition to Coventry Corporation Transport. In 1897, the Coventry Electric Tramways Company was incorporated and empowered to purchase the existing undertaking and extend the network. Two years later, an extension to Bell Green was opened via Stoney Stanton Road. In conjunction with the opening of the new route to Bell Green, a new tram depot was opened at Preistley's Bridge on Stoney Stanton Road. In addition, a new looped route was opened to Bulls Head Lane in Stoke via Ford Street, Lower Ford Street and Far Gosford Street to Gosford Green, where it joined the other leg of the loop which ran via Hales Street, White Street, Primrose Hill Street, Victoria Street, King William Street, Berry Street and Paynes Lane. The route to Stoke from Gosford Green ran along Binley Road. The loop allowed the circular running of football specials from the City to Gosford Green.

In 1905, extensions were opened to Earlsdon and Allesley Old Road via Smithford Street, Fleet Street and Spon Street. The Allesley Old Road Service continued via Spon End and Allesley Old Road, terminating at the the junction with Mount Street, whereas the Earlsdon Service proceeded via the Butts, Albany Road, Earlsdon Street and Radcliffe Road to terminate at the junction of Rochester Road with Beechwood Avenue. The tramway continued to be operated by the Coventry Electric Tramways Company until it was purchased by the newly formed Coventry Corporation Transport in 1912 for the sum of £202,132.00, when there were 13 miles of track [4].

Although the undertaking was officially Coventry Corporation Transport Department, photographs indicate that all trams and buses carried the signage "COVENTRY CORPORATION TRAMWAYS" up until the early 1930s.  By the beginning of the "Fearnley" era this appears to have been replaced by "CITY OF COVENTRY" and after about 1937, the words "COVENTRY TRANSPORT" appeared on the side panels of all buses and trams.  This persisted up until the transfer of the undertaking to WMPTE in 1974.  It is unlikely that any of these names were actually registered as official trading names of Coventry Corporation Transport Department.

In 1914, the first two bus services commenced, but they were withdrawn in September when the chassis were requisitioned by the War Office. During the war, the first women employees worked as conductresses. When the war ended, new buses and trams were ordered and in 1919 the bus services began once again. The buses were housed at Priestley's Bridge until the opening of the new Harnall Lane Garage in 1921.

By 1926, there were ten tram routes and five bus services, although four of the tram services ran on all or part of the Bedworth route, four on the Allesley Old Road to Bell Green route and two on the Earlsdon to Stoke route. So, in effect there were three cross-city tram routes with seven short service routes running on them. In the same year, a new tram loop from Greyfriars Green along Queens Road to Albany Road was opened, to join the existing Earlsdon Route. Thereafter, Earlsdon trams were diverted away from Smithford Street via the new loop. The last tram route extension was opened in 1930, extending from Bull's Head Lane along Binley Road to Uxbridge Avenue, in response to the opening of the new GEC telephone works. However, in 1932, trams were withdrawn from Smithford Street, forcing the closure of the Allesley Old Road route.

By 1933, there were thirteen bus services but the number of tram services had been reduced to eight. In that year, T R Whitehead retired as General Manager and was replaced by Ronald Fearnley. The new General Manager oversaw further expansion of the bus services and the acquisition of three routes linking the city with surrounding villages. New buses, design improvements and modified livery marked the beginning of the long Fearnley era. By 1938, there were 18 regular bus services running (service 15 was a summer tourist service). On the other hand, the tram services had been severely curtailed and were confined to the Bell Green and Bedworth tram routes. The remaining trams received a new lease of life in 1939, only for the whole tram system to be abandoned after the crippling air raid of November 1940.

The war brought many challenges for Coventry Corporation Transport, with buses shipped in from other parts of the country to replace those destroyed or damaged in the raids and to help provide additional bus services to replace the lost tram services. The Priestly's Bridge Depot became a subsidiary site of Harnall Lane Garage. The air raids led to the policy of overnight bus storage at the football ground and the greyhound stadium. Austerity buses were delivered during the war, with wooden seats and grey livery. Another feature of the war was a small number of buses converted to run on producer gas. The gas was towed in a tank towed behind the bus.

After the war, the arrival of new buses was heralded by the introduction of a new numbering series, restarting with Number 1. The first batches of the new buses were all Daimler and were the cream of the fleet during the post-war heyday of Coventry Corporation Transport. There were two anomalies, numbers 99 and 100, which were well known to the people of Coventry because of their different appearance, with 100 in reversed livery. Some Maudslays were purchased and, later, a smattering of other makes appeared, but the core fleet were Daimler right through until 1973. During the 1950s, Service 18 was split and two further services were introduced making twenty three regular services, plus seven "A" services. In 1954, Sandy Lane Garage opened with covered accommodation for 150 buses and the Foleshill Depot was closed. The 1950s also saw the introduction of a new style of engine cowl with an enclosed radiator, which marked a departure from traditional bus design. However, the biggest design change came about in the 1960s, with the introduction of front-loading double-deckers, a feature which led eventually to one-man operation, known in Coventry as Monobus.

In 1962, Ronald Fearnley retired as General Manager. His successor, Neil McDonald moved on in1969 and was replaced by D L Hyde, who remained in that post until the demise of Coventry Corporation Transport in 1974. By the late 1960s, passenger numbers were beginning to dwindle and traffic conditions became much less favourable. There were also many changes to City Centre roads as a result of the redevelopment. The overall result was many alterations to routes and timetables, with some services combined and others split to maximise efficiency.

In 1970, the livery was changed to a brighter red and the principle of two-door buses abandoned. By 1972, 37% of the bus mileage had been converted to one-man operation [5]. However, in 1974, the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive came into being and took over all Coventry bus operations. Coventry Corporation Transport ceased to exist on April 1st 1974.


[1] A S Denton and F P Groves, Coventry Transport 1884-1940, BTHG (1985)

[2] Coventry Evening Telegraph (31 October 1947)

[3] Commemorative Brochure, Coventry Transport 1912 - 1974, City of Coventry Transport Committee (1974)

[4] Commemorative Booklet, 1912 - 1962, Coventry Corporation Transport Golden Jubilee, City of Coventry Transport Committee (1962)

[5] A S Denton and F P Groves, Coventry Transport 1940-1974, BTHG (1987)