Bradford Corporation gained powers under the Bradford Corporation Tramways Order, 1881, to construct its own tramway system.
The first route ran from Rawson Square, in the city centre, to Lister Park Gates. The route was leased to the Bradford Tramways Company (later the Bradford Tramways & Omnibus Company Limited – BT&OC) and opened to the public on the 31st January 1882.
A fleet of six horse-drawn open-top 38-seat double-deck tramcars, built by Ashbury of Manchester, were used. On August 8 1882 a line was opened along Leeds Road to Stanningley and steam traction was used because of the gradients. In time, lines to Tong Cemetery, Allerton via Four Lane Ends and an extension of the horse line from Manningham to Undercliffe were opened. In 1884 a new line was constructed from the Town Hall Square to Shelf and the Bradford & Shelf Tramways Company (B&STC) was granted a lease, expiring on the same day (January 31 1903) as those of the BT&OC.
The BT&OC began a steam tram service from the city to Allerton (Reservoir Hotel) in 1883. From November 1887 the outer terminus was moved to the Druids Hotel; in 1901 an extension was made to Allerton (Ivy Lane). From February 23 1892, steam trams from the city travelled as far as Wyke via Manchester Road, Odsal and Huddersfield Road.
Because of the hills, accidents were inevitable and there were several during the early tramway era.
One occurred at Four Lane Ends, Allerton on the Bradford Tramways & Omnibus Co’s system on December 4 1889. The Yorkshire Post reported the death of one person and injury to several others. It appeared the car had become detached from the engine when operating from Bradford to Allerton, and ran back down an incline until on reaching a curve it left the rails and fell on its side. Of those in the car, several escaped unhurt or with very slight injuries. Nine were in the vehicle when it fell over and one man was killed. Others suffered injuries; in four cases they were serious.
An 1896 Act allowing local authorities to operate their own tramways led Bradford Council to initiate plans to construct and operate its own system. On February 1 1902 the corporation purchased the BT&OC and the B&STC. On January 31 1902, the horse trams that had been running on the Manningham Lane service since 1882 were finally retired. During 1903 the last steam tram ran on the former B&STC track and the Bradford tramway system became fully electrified.
Electric trams operated between Manningham Lane and Lister Park Gates from February 28 1902. The service reached Frizinghall, March 8 1902; Branch Hotel April 29 1902; and Saltaire, May 17 1902. On May 29 1902 an extension of the route inward to Forster Square made a direct service from the city to Saltaire. Then, during May 1904 a link to the Undercliffe route was formed. Many other former steam or horse tram routes were developed in stages as the electric system grew.
Car No. 210, descending one of the steepest of the inclines leading into the centre of Bradford, went out of control on the morning of July 31 1907 and hit a building. About 13 people were injured. The accident occurred about 6am when the car was nearing the city on its second journey from Undercliffe to Saltaire. The city’s steepest gradient was in Church Bank, which leads into Forster Square, and there for a hundred yards or so it is 1 in 9 to 1 in 10. It was at this point that the accident occurred. In some cases woodwork had to be broken so passengers could be released. The driver and conductor escaped with minor injuries, but a passer-by lost a leg. The accident was the result of the front axle snapping.
The Wibsey tramway opened on October 9 1907, extending from Tyrrell Street along Little Horton Lane, Brownroyd Hill, Fair Road to High Street. Cars 26 and 25 took part in the opening ceremony. The Black Dyke Mills Band played on the open deck of car No. 25.
Nab Wood was originally part of a Mid Yorkshire Tramways Company route stretching between Nab Wood and Thackley. It was taken over by Bradford Tramways on April 30 1904 and the Nab Wood-Saltaire section was linked to the city-Saltaire route. On February 3 1914 the Nab Wood to Bingley (Burrage House) section was opened. On the day of the event three cars were involved: Nos 229, 187 and 144. Car 229 had the Lord Mayor at the controls.
On August 25 1914 the Bingley (Burrage House) to Bingley (Post Office) stretch opened and on October 13 1914 the Bingley (Post Office) to Crossflatts line came into being; the city’s last major tramway extension.
Bradford Corporation built its own trams from 1912 and during the ensuing years over 150 vehicles were constructed at the Thornbury Works.
Allerton stands high above the level of the centre of Bradford, and the tramway route was very steep from the end of Chapel Lane. At the point where the gradient became less severe there was an acute angle. It was at this point, in the early hours of February 1 1918 car No 88 crashed, killing driver W. Gill and injuring 20 passengers. Curiously, the same car five years earlier was blown over at Allerton in a gale, with Gill in charge.
Trolleybuses arrived on June 20, 1911 on the service from Laisterdyke to Dudley Hill. Buses had appeared as early as 1897 but had not lasted longer than a few days. Gradually, throughout the first half of the 20th century, motorbuses and trolleybuses would replace trams; the last Bradford tramcar, No. 104, returned for the final time to Bankfoot depot on May 6, 1950.