Robin Longbottom examines the evolution of Keighley’s public transport network

ON May 28, 1904, George Bannister, a Keighley photographer, recorded the last Keighley horse-drawn tram as it made its final journey from Utley to the tram depot at the junction of South Street and Queens Road.

He subsequently printed a postcard with a caption at the side framed in black that read 'In Affectionate Remembrance of the Keighley HORSE CARS which Succumbed to an ELECTRIC SHOCK May 28, 1904. GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN'.

The double-decker tramcar, drawn by two horses, was being replaced by new trams powered by electricity from an overhead wire network.

The tramline between Ingrow Bridge and Utley had been opened in 1889 and was operated by the Keighley Tramway Company.

The company’s first proposal to lay tramlines between Ingrow Bridge and the Roebuck Inn at Utley was put to Keighley Town Council in September, 1887. Once the line was built it was then intended to extend the network to Cross Roads, Steeton, Worth Village and Thwaites. The tramway would be single track with passing loops, and the single and double-decker cars were to be drawn by horses.

Capital was raised by way of £1 shares and work to lay the first rails from Ingrow to North Street, via Church Street, commenced in December, 1888. The second phase, from North Street to Utley, was scheduled to begin the following spring. A tram shed with stables for the horses, and company offices, was built in South Street.

Despite its grand intentions the tramway company never got beyond building the Ingrow to Utley line and by October, 1894, it was in financial difficulties. The directors therefore asked the shareholders to consider handing the tramway over to Keighley Corporation rather than go into liquidation. A deal was finally agreed in April, 1895, and the corporation purchased the company for £5 with an agreement to lease it back to the company for £1 per annum.

Following electrification, a new extension from the top of Cavendish Street to Victoria Park was opened on October 12, 1904, and extended to Stockbridge the following year. However, laying tramlines was an expensive undertaking and the corporation began to turn to a trackless alternative, the trolley bus. The existing tramline routes remained in service until 1924 when Keighley became the first town in the country to abolish the system and go completely rail-less.

The trackless trolley bus had been introduced before the Great War and enabled the corporation to greatly extend its service routes. The Keighley Corporation Act of 1912 granted powers to run a new service of trackless buses to Oxenhope, Oakworth and Sutton. A new network was introduced at this time, the Cedes-Stoll system. This was an Austrian development which allowed buses to run both ways on one set of overhead wires and presented a considerable saving compared with a double line system. However, the downside was that when buses wished to pass each other they had to stop and exchange the trolleys that connected to the overhead line.

The electricity for the new trackless system was supplied from the Keighley Electrical Department’s power station in Coney Lane. The new trolley network brought electricity for the first time into local villages and the Electrical Department made small amounts available to a few businesses along the routes. At Eastburn, John Lund’s machine tool works were allowed a small supply from the Keighley to Sutton network but caused chaos when they exceeded their quota and brought the entire trolley bus route to a standstill.

The introduction of the motor bus after the Great War heralded the end for the electric trackless bus in Keighley. The Oakworth route was abandoned in 1921 and by the end of the decade the motor bus had replaced all other routes.