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History of the Douglas Horse Tram Service

History of the Douglas Horse Tram Service
© Stewart Christian

The Douglas horse tram service was the world’s oldest still-operating horse tram system in the northern hemisphere. By 2015, however, the service was no longer financially viable and In January 2016 was discontinued by the Council. 


Founded by Thomas Lightfoot at the peak of the Victorian tourist trade in 1876, by summer a single line track had been constructed from the Iron Pier (now the foot of Broadway) to Burnt Mill Hill, known today as Summerhill.


Highroads surveyor James Garrow inspected the line on Monday August 7th and it is believed the line began carrying passengers that day and that the first driver was Jack Davies from Onchan. By December 1876 the tramway had been extended along Harris and Loch promenades to the piers.


On January 6th 1882 Lightfoot sold his tramway to Isle of Man Tramways Ltd. under whose ownership the present double track from Derby Castle (the tram station by the Manx Electric Railway terminus) to Victoria Pier was opened. The line was sold in 1894 to what was later to become the Isle of Man Tramways and Electric Power Company Ltd.


As a result of the failure of Dumbell’s Bank in February 1900 the then Douglas Corporation bought both the horse and cable tramways from the liquidator for the sum of £50,000, and at the takeover on Thursday January 2nd 1902 the horse section consisted of 33 tramcars and a stud of more than 60 horses. 


Almost from its inception there were plans to electrify the line, and it was only in 1908 that the idea was dropped. The tramway has survived the Great War and the introduction of buses on the promenades in 1926, which led to the cessation on November 2nd 1927 of winter horse tram services.


The entire stud was sold following the outbreak of war in 1939, and the fleet of tramcars stored at Derby Castle for six years. Service resumed in late May 1946, made possible by the purchase of 42 Irish horses.


Since then, the service operated largely uninterrupted except for a reduction in numbers of trams in 1976 owing to a lull in visitor numbers.




history of the horse tram service.jpg3© Stewart Christian



Frequently Asked Questions

How long is the track?

The track is 1.6 miles long.


How long did tram journeys last?

Full journeys took approximately 20 minutes.


How many horses did the tram service own?

There were 27 horses owned by the tram service – 16 in the service and the remaining 11 were either young horses in training or retired but still used to represent the Council at ploughing matches and agricultural shows.


How many trams were there?

There were 25 surviving trams in the tram fleet. There have been 51 throughout the history of the service.


history of the horse tram service© Stewart Christian

Last modified on Saturday, 05 November 2016 15:00

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