Upper Douglas Cable Tramway

Image courtesy Manx National Heritage iMuseum (www.imuseum.im)

Before 1896, public transit options to and from upper Douglas were by equestrian taxis or horse-drawn omnibus services, the latter often being shunned by passengers wishing to journey up steep Prospect Hill for reasons of equine welfare.

The Isle of Man Tramways & Electric Power Company (builder and operator of the fledgling electric railway from Douglas to Laxey) had acquired the hugely popular Douglas Bay Horse Tramway in 1894 and wanted to extend its right to promote (operate) the horse tramway for a further 21 years, as well as to double the track throughout its length and convert it to electric power on the conduit system.

Image courtesy Manx National Heritage iMuseum (www.imuseum.im)

That decision rested with the Douglas Town Commissioners who were under pressure from their ratepayers to provide an extended tramway system to alleviate the public transit deficiency in upper Douglas. 

A new tramway was proposed for installation along a half-circular route of Victoria Street, Prospect Hill, Bucks Road, Woodbourne Road, York Road, Ballaquayle Road and Broadway [click here to view route map].

As a consequence of steep gradients on parts of the proposed route, a form of mechanical power would be necessary to move the tramcars and the San Francisco cable system was to be the chosen method, although it was already becoming obsolete elsewhere!

Image courtesy Manx National Heritage iMuseum (www.imuseum.im)

Eventually an agreement was reached between the two parties whereby the Isle of Man Tramways & Electric Power Company would:

all in exchange for being granted a 21 year lease extension of the horse tramway lines and permission to double the track throughout!

Image courtesy Manx National Heritage iMuseum (www.imuseum.im)

The Upper Douglas Cable Tramway Act was passed on 8 November 1895.

The tramway proceeded to be built by the firm of Dick, Kerr & Company under the supervision of consulting tramway engineer Mr James More.

At the foot of York Road, the company built a power station to house coal-fired boilers and the cable winding engines, and a tramcar storage shed.

At both ends of the tramway initially there were junctions with the Douglas Bay Horse Tramway (having the same track gauge of three feet) and terminal pits with huge cable-return pulley wheels.

Image courtesy Manx National Heritage iMuseum (www.imuseum.im)

The cable tramway opened for public service on 15 August 1896 and was a hugely popular transit system from the start. But it was never more than a loss-making community service; the significant profits anticipated from the horse tramway would more than offset the cable tramway losses, for the forseeable future.     

A total of sixteen cable tramcars operated on the line, of which an amalgamation of tramcars 72 & 73 survives. The rebuilt and restored cross-bench car can be seen in its original livery at the Jurby Transport Museum

The other 14 tramcars sadly were long ago scrapped. Click here for information about the types of tramcars used on the cable tramway and their livery.

Image courtesy Manx National Heritage iMuseum (www.imuseum.im)

Following the failure of Dumbells Bank in 1900, Isle of Man Tramways & Electric Power Company went into administration.

Both the cable tramway and the horse tramway were able to be purchased by Douglas Corporation (Douglas Town Commissioners) from the liquidator for a combined price of £50,000 in 1902. 

The section of line halfway along Ballaquayle Road to Broadway was abandoned in 1902 by Douglas Corporation on perceived safety grounds, tramcars thereafter terminated at Stanley View terrace.

The Town Commissioners considered but rejected electrification of the cable tramway in 1905 using a conduit system, and also sought an extension of the cable tramway onto Victoria Pier which was rejected by the Harbour Commissioners.

To combat competition and secure steamer passengers for the cable line, new additional tracks were laid in 1905 which allowed a horse tram shuttle service to run between Victoria Pier and the cable tramway terminus by the Jubilee Clock in Victoria Street.

Image courtesy Manx National Heritage iMuseum (www.imuseum.im)

In 1920 Douglas Corporation purchased five 26-seat Tilling Stevens petrol-electric omnibuses and the Upper Douglas Cable Tramway reduced to a seasonal-only service from the winter of 1921-22.

It closed finally on 19 August 1929, as the system of cable and pulleys along the route was completely worn out and the number of motor omnibuses then in use by Douglas Corporation were able to provide a better and more cost effective service.

Following closure of the cable tramway, two of the redundant cross-bench tramcars (72 & 73) were acquired from a scrap dealer in the 1930s and used to form part of a bungalow in the north of the Island. 

After becoming aware of the tramcars' survival in the mid 1960's, a Douglas Cable Car Group was formed to recover the remains of both tramcars and then use the available components to build a single example which today can be seen on display at the Jurby Transport Museum.

A 8ft diameter cable pulley wheel found in one of the tramway's terminal pits in 2000 recently has been restored by Douglas Borough Council with assistance from the Jurby Transport Museum and is mounted on a frame near to the Sea Terminal in Douglas with an accompanying heritage information sign.

Want to know more?

The Manx National Heritage i-museum has a selection of photographs and documents relating to the cable tramway in their records archive. Further historical information about the Upper Douglas Cable Tramway can be found by reading the book Double Century, the centenary story of two unique Manx tramways, authored by Stan Basnett & Keith Pearson, published in 1996 by Adam Gordon.

A number of physical exhibits from the cable tramway are on display at the Jurby Transport Museum in addition to Tramcar 72/73.

A detailed review of the cable tramway when newly completed was included in the October 1896 issue of Tramway & Railway World journal.