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Isle of Man Douglas Horse Tramway Toastracks

Updated on June 14, 2011
Sun, sea, blues skies and horse trams on Douglas prom, Isle of Man  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Sun, sea, blues skies and horse trams on Douglas prom, Isle of Man David Lloyd-Jones 2010

Douglas Horse Tramway - For over the last 130 years or so, Douglas seafront promenade has echoed to the melodic clip-clop of the horse drawn tramway. The route of the 3ft gauge Douglas Horse Tramway runs along the majestic Victorian seafront promenade for just over 1-½ miles, from the northern terminus at Derby Castle, which it shares with the Manx Electric Railway, to its southern terminus at the Sea Terminal at Peveril Square and ferry piers. The tramway is owned and operated by the Douglas Corporation and is one of the few remaining horse-drawn tram routes in the world.

As the island's capital Douglas developed from a small fishing village in to a major tourist town, the need for better public transport for the ever increasing numbers of Victorian holidaymakers was highlighted. From the mid 1880s, various hotels and boarding houses were being built along the two-mile long sweeping crescent shaped bay, and the promenade walkway developed. To provide transport to and from hotels, a 3ft horse drawn tramway was proposed in 1875. The first section of the Douglas Horse Tramway was originally opened on 7 August 1876 by Thomas Lightfoot, a retired Sheffield civil engineer.

The tramway, which was originally single line with passing loops, ran from the terminus and stables at the bottom of Summerhill (originally called Burnt Mill Hill) at the north end of the promenade to the Iron Pier, a structure that stood at the bottom of Broadway in the centre of Douglas promenade. The Iron Pier was built in 1869, but dismantled for re-erection at Rhos on-Sea in North Wales in 1894. However, by December 1876, the horse tramway had been extended the length of the promenade to Peveril Square and Douglas harbour beyond to link with the numerous steamers arriving packed full of Victorian holidaymakers at the piers.

Originally, double decker tramcars were used, hauled by one horse, but public opinion forced the operators to use two horses with such a heavy load (even today, the remaining double decker tramcar, hauled by a single horse, only runs with passengers on the top deck). The first of the very popular single deck open 'toastrack' tramcars arrived on the system in 1884, which only required a single horse for operation.

In 1882 Lightfoot sold the line to a syndicate, which became Isle of Man Tramways Ltd. In 1894 this concern was bought by the Douglas & Laxey Coast Electric Tramway Co Ltd., which changed its name to Isle of Man Tramways & Electric Power Co Ltd in the same year. The line was extended northwards about ¼ mile to meet the Manx Electric Railway at Derby Castle to form an interchange station.

As with nearly every business and individual on Isle of Man, the crash of the local Dumbells Bank in 1900 hit Isle of Man Tramways & Electric Power Co Ltd hard, and went in to liquidation as a result. Douglas Corporation Tramways Department came into existence in same year to negotiate the purchase of the horse and the Upper Douglas Cablecar lines from the Liquidators. In January 1902, Douglas Corporation took over the lines within the Borough.

Douglas Horse tram toastrack, Isle of Man  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Douglas Horse tram toastrack, Isle of Man David Lloyd-Jones 2010

However, despite Douglas Corporation ownership, there were numerous discussions and reports into electrification of the horse tramway by extending the Manx Electric Railway along Douglas promenade to the Sea Terminal, or even beyond to link with the Isle of Man Railway at the top end of Douglas quay. Even today, the electrification of the horse tramway is still discuss periodically in Tynwald, the island's Parliament. Even today, there have been a number of proposals to extend the tramway around Douglas's north quay to the Isle of Man Railway station.

The Douglas Horse Tramway has run every year since it opened in 1876, except for a period during the Second World War. Since 1927, following a battle with motor buses, the service is run during summer season only. The Upper Douglas Cablecar Tramway was less fortunate, closing on the 19 August 1929, when it was replaced by motor buses.

After the end of the Second World War, as mentioned previously in other chapters, the Manx tourist industry started on a rapid decline, falling victim, as many other seaside resorts in the British Isles, to cheap package holidays to foreign shores with almost guaranteed sunshine. The Douglas Horse Tramway was no exception to this decline with numerous threats of closure rumoured with every bad season in the late 1950s / early 1960s. However, the tramway has plodded slowly on, and reached it centenary in 1976, and remarkably, 125 years of operation in 2001.

However, in recent years, with further dwindling tourist numbers and rising operating costs, the future of the Douglas Horse Tramway is often discussed by Douglas Corporation, and the cost to the Douglas taxpayer. As each summer season draws to close, people wonder if this is the final season for the tramway.

During the winter of 2007, Douglas Corporation have been looking at various options to cut running costs including possibly removing the conductor, and have a driver only operated trams, and the fitting of nappies to the horses to cut down on track cleaning expenses, while providing the local parks and gardens with extra fertiliser.

There have been a number of calls to nationalise the system, and bring it under control of the Government run Isle of Man Railways. Again, this raises the issue of electrification, and possible extension of the MER along the promenade to the sea terminal, which was first mooted in back the 1900s.

© David Lloyd-Jones 2010

Douglas Horse tram winter saloon - Isle of Man  David Lloyd-Jones 2010
Douglas Horse tram winter saloon - Isle of Man David Lloyd-Jones 2010


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    • klanguedoc profile image

      Kevin Languedoc 5 years ago from Canada

      Is Isle of Man mostly Irish, English or Scottish?