A Steam Tram at Heywood, Middleton, Manchester (UK)

The February 1963 edition of the Railway Magazine included a photograph of a Steam Tram which used to serve Heywood. [1] Until coming across the image above, I had no idea that steam trams served boroughs in the Manchester conurbation.

This postcard by an unknown publisher shows the final days of the Heywood Corporation steam tramway in 1905. Just behind is Rochdale Corporation electric car 29 at the borough boundary south-west of Rochdale at the Sudden terminus where Rochdale Road and Bolton Road meet.The postcard bears the title “For Auld Lang Syne”, thereby clearly indicating the imminent demise of the steam tram service. [2]

Heywood, sits about 8 miles north of Manchester, 3 miles east of Bury and 4 miles south-west of Rochdale, and only a couple of miles from where I served my curacy in Middleton.

John R. Prentice says that “the Manchester, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramways Co. Ltd. (MBRO, founded c.1883) became the second largest steam tramway operator in Britain with over 90 tram engines, 80 double-deck passenger trailers and 30 miles of routes. Of all these, two-thirds of stock and track were narrow gauge (3ft 6ins), including the section between Bury and Rochdale, through Heywood.

The MBRO system was split into three areas: “standard gauge southwards from Bury (to Whitefield, Prestwich and Kersal) and from Royton (to Oldham and Hathershaw), but everything else between these points (i.e, nearly all the lines in Bury, Rochdale and their environs) built to a gauge of 3ft 6ins.” [3]

By 1896, “it was clear that several of the local authorities intended to build municipal electric tramways, and that the company’s days were numbered.” [3]

Ashley Birch says that, “Oldham took control of its lines (which it had always owned) in June 1902, and a year later, in June 1903, initial agreement was reached between the remaining various local authorities and the company on a sale. … The parties eventually signed a binding agreement on the 24th February 1904, so that work on electrification could progress, with a price being set by an independent referee.” [3]

The last steam tram ran “in Royton … on the 30th May 1904, the last tram in Bury on the 10th July 1904, and the last tram in Rochdale, probably on the day before the company’s assets were sold … 12th October 1904.” [3]

After nearly 20 years of operation, the MBRO network was no more. The withdrawal of steam tram services generally coincided with the electrification of the lines and the inauguration of an electric tram service. This was true for the Bury Corporation service to Heap Bridge (west of Heywood) But when Rochdale Corporation replaced its steam trams with standard gauge electric cars, it only did so “as far as the district of Sudden, a three-quarters of a mile walk to and from the Heywood borough boundary and the steam tram terminus. In December 1904, Heywood Corporation decided to run its own steam tram service by buying 13 tram engines and 10 trailers (by then, 20 years old) from the former MBRO company when it closed down.” [2]

Peter Gould says that, “On the 20th December 1904 the main line across Heywood was re-opened to the steam trams. On the 22nd December the service on the Hopwood branch was re-instated. … The locos and trailers retained their former brown and cream livery and fleet numbers, although from 24th March 1905, the legend ‘Heywood Corporation Tramways’ began to appear on the sides of locos.” [4]

Gould continues: “The initiative was not a great success and began to flounder when Rochdale initially refused permission for the trams to use the stretch of line between the Heywood boundary and Sudden, where their electric trams currently terminated, leaving a gap of around 1 mile for weary passengers to trudge. … Although Rochdale later relented, the conditions they sought to impose were unacceptable to Heywood and the steam trams continued to terminate at the Heywood boundary.” [4]

However, by April 1905, “Rochdale extended its electric service at Sudden to the Heywood boundary in Bolton Road to establish a direct transfer to the Heywood steam trams. Later the same year, on September 20th 1905, the last steam tram ran and the through service was converted to standard gauge electric operation using Rochdale and Bury cars. Thus, as a tram operating municipality, Heywood Corporation Tramways was very short-lived and lasted less than a year; something of a record in British tramway history.” [2]


  1. Alan P. Voce; A Relic of the Steam Tram Era; Letter in The Railway Magazine, February 1963, p137
  2. John R. Prentice; Heywood Corporation Steam Tram Engine 63; https://www.tramwayinfo.com/Tramframe.htm?https://www.tramwayinfo.com/trampostcards/Postc188.htm, accessed on 29th May 2021.
  3. Ashley Birch; Manchester, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramways (from 1888, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramways); http://www.tramwaybadgesandbuttons.com/page148/styled-79/page312/page312.html, accessed on 29th May 2021.
  4. Peter Gould; Heywood Corporation Tramways 1904-1905; https://petergould.co.uk/fleetlists/tramways/heywood1, accessed on 29th May 2021.

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