History of the Tramway...

The Douglas Bay Horse Tramway is the oldest remaining horse-drawn passenger tram service in the World.

1876   Founded as the Douglas Bay Tramway by Thomas Lightfoot at the peak of the Victorian tourist trade in 1876, by that summer a single line 3ft gauge track had been constructed from the Iron Pier (then at the foot of Broadway) to Burnt Mill Hill (now Summer Hill), terminating adjacent to a wide grassed area known as the ‘Playground’.
Three tramcars were ordered to commence the service, two open-top double-deckers (no.2 & no.3) and a single deck saloon (no.1). 

Highroads surveyor James Garrow inspected the line on 7 August 1876 and it is believed the line began carrying passengers that day and that the first driver was a Jack Davies from Onchan.

By December 1876 the tramway had been extended along Harris and Loch Promenades with its new southern terminus in Peveril Square; permission to open this new section was given in January 1877. It would be another 25 years before the tramway was re-aligned to run directly onto Victoria Pier.
Fifteen horses were used and stabled at Lightfoot's residence, Athol House (near to the present Queen's Hotel on Queens Promenade), its sea-front walled garden was used to keep the tramcars when not in use.

1877   Lightfoot purchased a small detached property at the bottom of Burnt Mill Hill and proceeded to build new larger stables on land behind to accommodate the expanding stud of horses.  The dwelling was replaced by a three-storey terrace of three houses. 

1882   To help finance his other Douglas real estate developments, on 6 January 1882 Thomas Lightfoot sold his horse tramway to three local businessmen who formed a new company, The Isle of Man Tramways, Limited

1883-84   Five more double-deckers were acquired for the service, no.4 in 1882, no.5 & 6 in 1883 and no.7 & 8 in 1884.
Also in 1884, original tramcar no.1 was converted into a double-decker, and the first of the cross-bench 'Toastrack' cars (no.9 & no.10) were introduced, a design so popular with tourists through to the present day.

Sadly none of the original ten tramcars have survived, but ‘Toastracks’ no.11 dating from 1886 and no.12 delivered to the Island in early 1888 both have.
1886-87   The northern end of the line, then along Tramway Terrace, was diverted off The Cresent (now Queen's Promenade) road to a newly built terminus shed and tramcar depot on the seaward side of the highway at Burnt Mill Hill.
In 1887 the company purchased six second-hand double-deck tramcars (renumbered no.13 to no.18) from a failed South Shields tramway concern. Five of these had been built by the Metropolitan Railway Carriage Co of Saltley, Birmingham, which also supplied many of the Isle of Man Steam Railway carriages and wagons. The sixth car (no.18) was built by the Falcon Engine & Car Works of Loughborough, albeit to a similar design.

Passenger numbers were growing at an exceptional rate: 360,000 in 1885; 550,000 in 1888; 630,000 in 1891; 805,000 in 1892.

1889-92   By late 1890 after protracted negotations with a number of land owners, the tramway was finally extended along Strathallan Crescent, the track ending near to the castellated entrance to the Derby Castle Pleasure Grounds.
In 1889, doubling of the track was completed along the full length of the Loch Promenade section, and between the Falcon Cliff and the station at Burnt Mill Hill (actually named Derby Castle station, but still somewhat short of the Derby Castle Pleasure Grounds entrance).

A further eight ‘Toastrack’ cars (no.19 to no.26) were purchased between 1889 and 1891, followed by three new elegant single-deck winter saloons (no.27 to no.29) in 1892.

1894   The horse tramway was sold for £38,000 to the Douglas & Laxey Coast Electric Tramway Co, later that year renamed Isle of Man Tramways and Electric Power Company Ltd., builder and operator of the fledgling Manx Electric Railway which had started operating in September 1893 from Derby Castle to Groudle.

1895-97   The 12-road horse tramcar depot seen today at the end of Strathallan Crescent was built as a single storey structure in 1895/6, with a traverser system and capacity for 36 tramcars, together with an ornate cast iron terminus canopy with clock tower over the horse tram tracks adjacent to the Derby Castle attractions and the new Manx Electric Railway. The new facilities at Strathallan replaced those at Burnt Mill Hill which were promptly demolished.
Image: DBTHT Postcard Collection
The new owners then purchased six additional tramcars of a 'sunshade' type (no.32 to no.37), basically a 'Toastrack' car with fixed canopy roof.

The remaining sections of single track along the new Central Promenade and the Colonel's Road (renamed Harris Promenade) were doubled in 1897, allowing for the first time twin track operation along the full length of line between Peveril Square and Derby Castle / Strathallan.

Over 1,500,000 passengers were first carried in 1897, rising to a staggering 1,620,000 in 1898. 

1900-13   As a result of the failure of Dumbell’s Bank in February 1900, the Isle of Man Tramways & Electric Power Company was forced into administration and Douglas Corporation was able to buy both the Horse Tramway and the more recently opened Upper Douglas Cable Tramway from the liquidator for the sum of £50,000. At the time of takeover on 2 January 1902, the horse tramway comprised 36 tramcars and a stud of 68 horses, plus the tracks, stable building and new Strathallan depot and terminus.

In May 1902, the southern terminus tracks were realligned to run directly onto Victoria Pier, some 140ft beyond the start of the pier buildings. This provided an immediate boost in tramway traffic as passengers found waiting tramcars a shorter walk from their arriving Steam Packet vessels.
Passenger demand was still on the rise in the early 20th century, the Corporation ordered five additional open 'Toastracks' no.38 to no.42 delivered between 1902 and 1905, then a series of five covered 'Bulkheads' no.43 to no.47 delivered between 1907 and 1911.

Commercial advertising became the order of the day with bill boards and painted adverts adorning both the tramcar depot at Derby Castle and the tramcars. Jacob's Biscuits were clearly popular on the Isle of Man!
In 1913, the Corporation acquired an additional single-deck winter saloon and numbered it no.1, the original no.1 having been converted to a double-decker, withdrawn and then scrapped at the turn of the century. 

1914-18   The War Office requisitioned 59 tramway horses in 1914 for use by the army. The tramway continued throughout the Great War, albeit with greatly reduced services, but visitors were to return in huge numbers to the Island by the mid-1920s.
Image: DBTHT Postcard Collection
1927-27   The introduction of omnibuses on the promenades in 1926 led to the cessation on 2 November 1927 of winter horse tram services. Yet 2,500,000 passengers were carried on the horse tramway in 1927.

Ever since it has been a seasonal service (generally May to September) supplemented with some out-of-season weekend and special event services. 

1935   The final purchase of new tramcars was made by Douglas Corporation in 1935 when three all-weather 'convertibles' (no.48 to no.50) were acquired, later to become affectionately known as ‘tomato boxes’. These were likely the last horse tramcars to be built in the United Kingdom. 

Also in 1935 an upper floor of offices was built on the tramcar depot at Strathallan. Three of the twelve tram roads were by now closed off to allow for ground floor offices and new stairs to be installed, limiting storage capacity to twenty-seven tramcars. 

1936   The fleet in service by 1936 comprised 46 cars, all with roller bearings now fitted, and a stud of 135 horses.  A record 2,750,000 passengers made journeys on the horse tramway in 1938. 

1939-45   The outbreak of war in 1939 led to an immediate slump in Island visitors and the horse tram service was suspended. Barbed wire fencing was erected across the promenades for creating compounds for internees and prisoners of war. The entire horse stud was sold off and the fleet of tramcars put into storage for six years.
1946-52   Services resumed in late May 1946, made possible by the purchase of 42 replacement horses from Ireland. Fourteen of the out-of-use tramcars were broken up between 1948 and 1952, including many of the early double-deckers after animal rights campaigners raised concerns about the loads having to be drawn by single horses.
Image: DBTHT Postcard Collection
By 1955 the only remaining double-decker no.14, no longer in use, left the island for the British Transport Museum (later part of the Science Museum) who restored it for static display.

1956   The tramway marked its 80th anniversary in 1956 when 80 horses paraded at the Victoria Pier in front of the Lieutenant Governor. Guests included international horsewoman Miss Pat Smyth and Mrs D'Echevarria, grand-daughter of Tramway founder Mr Thomas Lightfoot.

1961   A new tramway / bus terminal was opened on Victoria Pier, adjacent to the modern Sea Terminal building which was to open in 1965. The tramway / bus terminal was of modern design, made of pre-cast panels, glazed screens, mahogany end and facia panels, and the roof clad in copper-faced materials.
1965-74   A series of Royal visits in 1964 (The Queen Mother), 1965 (Princess Margaret), 1970 (Prince Philip) and 1972 (The Queen, Prince Philip, Princess Anne and Earl Mountbatten) publicised journeys made on the horse trams and appeared to spark some renewed interest in using the service, as passenger numbers again climbed past the 1,000,000 mark in 1974.
1976   On 9 August 1976, the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway proudly celebrated its first 100 years of passenger services along Douglas promenades with special cavalcades of tramcars and horses. Double-decker no.14 returned to the Island to lead the main centenary procession, but was rightly considered a museum piece so was afterwards mainly kept in the Derby Castle depot until in 1990 it was moved to the Manx Museum, Douglas, for more suitable permanent indoor display.
In 1980, the ornate station canopy at the Derby Castle terminus had finally succumbed to the ravages of age and salt spray. It was judged unsound and not viable to repair, so shared the fate of much Island transport heritage at the time and was demolished without replacement.

1988   The attraction of having a working double-decker for special event days and occasional normal service use led to Douglas Borough Council converting tramcar no.18 back into a double-decker in 1988, with sponsorship provided by a local brewery. It had been one of the second-hand South Shields' cars purchased in 1887, converted into a single deck winter saloon in 1903, now reverting to the double deck tramcar seen today.
2001   The Tramway celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2001, again with cavalcades of trams this time led by double-decker no.18. More recently the Olympic Torch was carried by horse tram along the Douglas promenades in 2011 as part of its tour around the British Isles.

2016   In January, after 114 years of ownership and operation, Douglas Borough Council announced that it would no longer continue operating the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway due to financial constraints.  Thankfully, the Isle of Man Government agreed to take over the operation of the horse tram service as part of its "Heritage Railways" portfolio for an initial period of three years.

The Isle of Man Government purchased all of the tram horses, the Strathallan tramcar depot and thirteen tramcars from Douglas Borough Council.  The acquired tramcars were representative of the different design types and some had historical associations (e.g. 'Royal Tramcar' no.44). The Summer Hill Stables remained in the ownership of the Council, who agreed to license their use annually to Isle of Man Transport.
The tramway's future 'service fleet' would comprise 'Toastracks' nos. 21, 38 and 42; 'Winter Saloons' nos. 1, 27 and 29; 'Sunshade' no. 36; and 'Bulkheads' nos. 43 and 45.  A separate 'museum set' would comprise 'Toastrack' no.12; 'Double-decker' no.18; 'Sunshade' no.32; and 'Bulkhead' no.44. Six other tramcars considered surplus to future operational need were sold off by Douglas Borough Council at public auction to private buyers in August 2016. 

The Tramway celebrated 140 years of service along the Douglas Promenades on 7 August 2016 with a fine procession of heavy horses along Strathallan Crescent to the depot for a photographic event alongside current and former staff, followed by a cavalcade of nine tramcars (led by double-decker no.18) from Derby Castle to the Sea Terminal and back.

2017  As new owner / operator, the Isle of Man Government commenced a programme of capital investment in the Horse Tramway which in time will see replacement of the tramway track (as part of the Douglas Promenades regeneration scheme), restoration of the retained tramcars, replacement of the life-expired tramcar storage depot, renovation of the historic stables and the purchase of new young horses for training.
'Sunshade' no.36 emerged from the Derby Castle MER workshops after full restoration and proceeded to win one of the British Trams Online awards voted for by the public.

2018   In April, the Isle of Man Government completed the purchase of the Summer Hill Tramway Stables from Douglas Borough Council after protracted negotiations.

The restorations of 'Bulkhead' no.45 and 'Long Toastrack' no.42 were completed at the Derby Castle MER workshops and both tramcars re-entered service during the season. The restoration of 'Saloon' no.27 was completed at the end of the season, allowing it to take part in the final day's cavalcade event in its new blue and ivory livery.    

To mark the end of the double track formation in the centre of the highway for the full length of the Promenades, and to celebrate the planned future for the Horse Tramway, the 2018 season ended with a procession of eighteen of its Shire Horses and Clydesdales from the Tramway Stables to Derby Castle station for photographs with the staff, followed by a cavalcade of seven in-service tramcars to the Sea Terminal and return. The final journey on 'existing metals' was undertaken with double-deck Tramcar No.18 hauled by Kewin.

Historical images on this page are sourced from the Manx National Heritage i-Museum and the DBTHT postcard collection.