The Leeds Transport Historical Society is holding an evening stroll on Monday 13 July 2015 down part of the trackbed of the Middleton Tramway to commemorate the ninetieth anniversary of its opening on 12 November 1925.
The group will meet on the Ring Road Beeston Park at the junction with Bodmin Road at 7:15pm. Look for the start of a footpath signposted ‘Balkcliffe Lane’. The walk will be about 1¾ miles long.
The Middleton Light Railway
In 1919 Leeds City Council was authorised to extend its boundary to include land at Middleton for housing of a Garden Village type. Its tenants were to be people displaced by the demolition of insalubrious houses.
No roads connected Leeds with Middleton, but eventually the city’s new Ring Road would arrive there. The construction of a light railway was also authorised in 1919. By May 1921 a temporary standard-gauge railway had been built to take building materials up to Middleton. By 1923 the Ring Road had been partially completed. Eventually a very limited bus service started.
The temporary railway was discontinued in June 1923. Would the tramway now be built?
Houses had already been occupied by working people who previously lived near their place of work. These early residents were faced with a walk of almost 1½ miles through the park and down Gipsy Lane to the tram terminus at Dewsbury Road outside Tommy Wass’s farm (or was it already a pub?).
Early in 1924 a decision was made to construct the tramway. It would be an express sleeper track about three miles long starting from the Middleton Colliery’s coal staithe alongside Hunslet Moor, running alongside the historic Middleton Colliery Railway, before climbing through the fields of Lockwood (or Ward’s) Farm, continuing through the woods of Middleton Park, emerging to run alongside a piggery and open land to the Water Tower. The final stretch to Middleton Arms was alongside Middleton Park Road.
In 1925, less than three months before its opening it was almost complete, but the Authorities had yet to decide which of the three options to choose to link it to the rest of the city’s tramway system! Eventually a connecting track was built – street track in Moor Road where it crossed Hunslet Moor – to link the Light Railway with Dewsbury Road at the ‘Junction’ pub.
So, the first passengers were carried from the Corn Exchange loop on 12 November 1925. The line was extended to Lingwell Avenue on 26 November 1927. On 28 August 1949 it was joined, by a fourth extension of the Balm Road route, to create a circular service. This wonderful tramway closed on Easter Saturday, 28 March 1959 after thirty-three years and nine months. The circular route had only operated for nine years and seven months.
What remains to be seen? About a third of it. A few yards of Moor Road and Hunslet Moor can be seen, but the Coal Staithe site is burried beneath junction 4 of the M621, which also covers the trackbed to a point beyond Parkside. You can still walk on a section starting from behind the former Parkside Cricket Ground as far as the curve beyond the former Cuckoo Steps bridge (dual levels) over the two railway tracks.
From there to the entrance to the woods the contours of the area were greatly changed by open cast coal mining in the early 1980s.
The trackbed through the woods, being inside the park itself, remains unchanged, but on leaving the woods and the park beyond the ‘sub station’ and site of the crossover, it disappears under holes ten to eighteen of the golf course, which is itself now closed. This is the Municipal Golf Course, not to be confused with the private South Leeds Golf Club, not far away which straddles the Ring Road.
Beyond the end of Town Street and the Water Tower the site of the tramway can easily be seen to the left of Middleton Park Road and Ring Road Middleton, although in some places it’s hard to decide exactly which grassy stretch covers the remains!
When reaching Belle Isle Road, the central reservation is easy to spot! But, then, the Balm Road and Belle Isle route is another story!
From 1926 to October 1929 trams with number screens showed 16 for the service from the Corn Exchange to Middleton. From October 1929 cars showed 12.
Before Christmas in 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1938, to ease traffic congestion, the No 12 was moved from its terminus on the Corn Exchange No 1 Loop to temporary loading points near Swinegate. from October 1939 the permanent boarding points were in Swinegate and at the foot of Mill Hill as trams on routes 12, 25 and 26 ran round the unidirectional loop (Swingate > Neville Street > Great Wilson Street). From August 1949 some trams showed ’12 Circular’ and ’26 Circular’.
From July 1956 to closure on 28 March 1959 trams to Middleton were linked to the York Road routes thus:
- Crossgates (18) – Kirkgate – Middleton (12, 12 Circular)
- Middleton (26 Circular) – Belle Isle (27) – Belle Isle (26) – Balm Road (26) – Kirkgate – Central Bus Station (26, later 27 too) – Harehills Lane (17) – Halton (20) and occasionally Templenewsam (22).
For more information about the construction of the Middleton Light Railway and the Ring Road, please consult Jim Soper’s wonderful history, pages 338, 356, 357 (Volume 2) – but note that the photograph on page 356 shows the mIddleton line under construction as it crosses Ward’s fields!
This post was written by Eric Smith using our Create an article for South Leeds Life page.