West Yorkshire market town of Pontefract
Pontefract Local History


Pontefract Tramway


Part One

A few days ago there occurred a notable local centenary. On 29th October 1906 the Normanton, Castleford and Pontefract Tramway opened to public service. Although operating for only nineteen years, it made an important contribution to transport in the Five Towns area and, along with the railways, enabled people to travel around the local district with relative ease.

During the second half of the nineteenth century many of our cities and large industrial towns were experiencing severe congestion due to population growth. On routes not served by local railways, the normal mode of transport was by horsepower but this was slow and cumbersome.

In order to solve this problem of congestion, two important pieces of legislation were enacted by Parliament. In 1870 the Tramways Act was passed with the purpose of simplifying procedures for the construction of street tramways which would otherwise require many separate Acts. Large municipal schemes were encouraged for the bigger cities, but for smaller towns, grouping of separate authorities to form a joint authority could be the solution; otherwise, private companies could apply to construct a tramway network for a particular district. Under the 1870 Act, in earlier days, trams were usually horse-drawn or steam-hauled by tram-engines.

In 1896 the Light Railways Act was passed which further eased the conditions under which railways and tramways could be constructed, but it was under the former Act that the Normanton, Castleford and Pontefract line was proposed.

By this time, advances in the technology of electric motors had made it more or less obligatory to design systems using electric traction where the lines ran along urban streets.

In the more populous parts of the West Riding to the west of Pontefract, the construction of tramways got underway late in the nineteenth century but it was at the turn of the twentieth century that proposals emerged to construct a tramway system for the Pontefract area.

Pontefract Castleford and Normanton Tramways Pontefract Castleford and Normanton Tramway

In November 1900 notice was given in the local press of a proposal by the United Kingdom Tramway, Light Railway and Electrical Syndicate to seek a provisional order under the 1870 Act to construct and maintain a tramway between Normanton, Castleford, Pontefract and Featherstone. By April of the following year under the West Riding Tramways Order of 1901, the Board of Trade published its Order authorising the construction of these lines and confirmed it in August of that year.

At this stage of development the eastern terminus of the proposed line was not the one eventually built, but was situated at the junction of Monkhill Station Road and North Baileygate. To accomplish this, the line would have taken a sinuous course from Market Place, through Woolmarket, Bridge Street, Finkle Street, Northgate and North Baileygate.

By 1902 the suggestion had been made to extend the line to Knottingley and this was supported by the Town Council in January. In August of that year, powers were obtained by the West Riding Tramways and Electricity Supply Company to construct the line to Knottingley which would have terminated at the Town Hall, having traversed the main Weeland Road from Pontefract. As might have been expected, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company objected to the tramway schemes, as they carried much of the local traffic in the area and the tramway was seen as a threat.

Although not strictly relevant to this article, it was pointed out in evidence given to the House of Lords Committee in June, that the L & Y Company had not in fact provided a very good railway service between Pontefract and Knottingley, nor did they provide adequate accommodation at Monkhill Station. The L & Y Company’s response indicated that they were planning to commit considerable expenditure to a scheme to provide a large new station at Monkhill with much improved facilities. In the event, the plan was not implemented.

At this stage (1902) the gauge envisaged for the tracks was 3ft 6ins but, by September, this had been changed to the standard railway gauge of 4ft 8 ˝ ins. At the same time as matters were proceeding in the Pontefract area, the Wakefield and District Light Railway Company was developing lines in Wakefield and it made a successful take-over bid for the company developing the Pontefract and Castleford Lines.

Further consolidation of these various ventures took place between 1902 and 1903 in stages. A company named the Ito Syndicate Ltd came briefly into existence with the intention of buying up the tramway powers so far existing in the Wakefield and Pontefract areas, amalgamating them and then selling them at a profit.

Peter Cookson.


Also by Peter Cookson:

Pontefract King's School Song


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