The Trams Were a Mixed Blessing

Especially in Middleton. Among other things, the Middleton Electric Traction Company only partly got it right. Amongst their problems were odd track planning; expensive fares; and not reaching their travel goals.

Inadequate Routes

Their routes – Rhodes to Chadderton (optimistically labelled Oldham on the trams) and Middleton to Sudden did not connect with the tramways of the great towns of Oldham and Rochdale; whilst Rhodes was left without a through service to Manchester until the advent of the express buses in the 1920s.

Rhodes Isolated

These were opportunities lost. The Rhodes line to Manchester although sought by the MET company, was never built.  The company was thwarted by Prestwich council who, in 1899, preferred to support Salford and Manchester in keeping the company out of their areas.  The Prestwich interest was ultimately one of rateable value. A line to Rhodes was built quite early on  by Manchester and then leased to Salford. The service was always just short of adequate. This sort of politicking led to what should have been a valuable arterial route becoming a truncated branch line – and one run by the wrong neighbour at that.

We can revisit these topics again. They are a fascinating reminder of some chronically bad plans that were made worse as time went by.

Accidents and Court Cases

Middleton Electric Traction Company had its share of bad accidents too. Going through some old papers has turned up so many that this is another topic that could run and run. However, for now, we could just have a look at the first few years and some grim occurrences that ended in unfortunate fatalities.

Through these accidents and the subsequent hearings, our modern Traffic Acts and Highway Code have been formed. Whatever the causes, they all make fascinating reading. These will suffice for now.

From the Newspapers 1902 – 1907 – A Child Loses Its Life

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Friday 11 July 1902


The adjourned inquest into the circumstances attending the death of Florence Eliza Fitton, 3, of Chadderton, who was killed on Sunday afternoon by one of the cars of the Middleton Electric Traction Company, was resumed last night at Chadderton. George Watson, the driver, said if any person had had his foot on the trigger of the lifeguard he thought it would act. Some of the “gates” were, however, so sensitive that the wind blew them down. The Coroner said the jury had visited and examined the car in question, and on putting their feet on the trigger the lifeguard could not be forced down. Continuing, Watson said the gate that worked the lifeguard was not on the iron hinges but was tied up with string. He had not tied it up, but it was his opinion that the lifeguard would work just the same as being on hinges. The jury returned a verdict of “Accidental death” and exonerated the driver from all blame. They made a recommendation to the effect that the trigger of the lifeguard should be removed or carefully guarded; and added that the gate, with not being on the hinges, allowed too much “play” and assisted in the lamentable accident.

Adults Are No Safer

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Wednesday 15 July 1903

TRAM CAR FATALITY. Damages for the Loss of a a Husband. An action was brought Elizabeth Clayton, of Oldham, against the Middleton Electric Traction Company for damages for the loss her husband, who lost his life as the result a tramway collision on January 12th on Middleton Road. The action was brought under Lord Campbell’s Act. Mr. Shee. K.C., and Mr. T. F. Byrne were for the widow, and the defendants Were represented Mr. Taylor, K.C,. and Mr. Langdon. From the statement of Mr Shee it appeared that Edward Clayton, lurryman. aged 52. with other men in the employment of the Star Corn Millers’ Company, Oldham, left the mill with a load of flour early in the morning cf January 12th, and proceeded along Middleton road in the direction Radcliffe. Just past Norden-lane. where there is an incline, the tram car ran into the lurry, the shaft horse of which was being led by the deceased. Clayton was thrown down and run over by his own lurry, and carried a considerable distance by the fender the car. The defence denied negligence, and the driver of the tram car said that the lurry was sharply turned on to the line when only 12 yards away from him. He applied the brake, but could not stop in time, and his car struck the lurry. The jury found for the plaintiff for £150. As the sum awarded was less than the sum paid into Court—£151— which his lordship described as a very astute payment, on Mr. Taylor’s request the question of costs was reserved.

Cases Considered Important Enough to Be Reported Elsewhere

Dundee Courier – Monday 20 July 1903

At Manchester Assizes on Saturday, William Henry Coffee, a French Polisher, living at Blackley, recovered £200 damages from the Middleton Electric Traction Company.

Horse Drawn Vehicles and Electric Tramcars Do Not Mix

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Saturday 25 July 1903

TRAMCAR ACCIDENTS. HEAVY DAMAGES AGAINST MIDDLETON ELECTRIC COMPANY. At the Manchester Assizes, on Saturday. William Harry Coffey, a French polisher, brought action against the Middleton Electric Traction Company for damages arising out of a tram car accident. The facts on which the claim was founded were that the tram car ran into governess car in which were plaintiff and a friend, breaking it up, and it was alleged, injuring the plaintiff. Defendants did not deny negligence, but contended that plaintiff had suffered no injury. Plaintiff alleged that he had suffered from the shock and from injury his thigh up to the present time, and that he might never be able to follow his occupation again. Mr. Ambrose Jones and Mr. Rhodes were for the plaintiff, and defendants were represented Mr. Shee, K.C., and Mr. Wingate Saul. The jury found for the plaintiff, and awarded him £200 damages. Judgment was given for this amount with costs.

Some Claims Raised Eyebrows too…

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Thursday 3 October 1907
At the Oldham County Court, yesterday, a claim by Henry Tetlow, a Rochdale carrier, for £4 8s. 6d. against the Middleton Electric Traction Company Limited for alleged damage as the result of a collision between his lurry and horse and a tram car, as adjourned till the 17th of October by the Judge, the driver of the car having sworn that when he examined the lurry after the accident he saw no damages, except a broken shaft. The Judge directed the Plaintiff to being before him the wheelwright who had repaired the lurry. He said he was tired of this sort of thing, and would get to the bottom of this case.

Some Cases Were Open and Shut

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser – Friday 13 March 1907

THE WRONG TURNING. WHEELWRIGHT’S SUCCESSFUL CLAIM. Yesterday, at the Salford Hundred Court of Record, compensation to the extent of £25 was awarded by a jury to James Redford, a wheelwright, of Chadderton, Oldham, for damages received by him in a tramcar accident. The defendants were the Middleton Electric Traction Company. Mr. Sandbach, who was instructed Mr E. Bold, for the plaintiff, said that on the evening of the 23rd July, Redford was out driving, and called at the Hare and Hounds Hotel, Middleton-road, between Oldham and Middleton. There was some talk of selling the horse to the landlord the house, and for the purpose of showing off the horse Redford got into his trap and drove a little way down the road. A tramcar was coming behind in the same direction, and as Redford turned the horse across the road to drive back the Hare and Hounds, the tram crashed into the vehicle, knocking the horse and trap over, and throwing him against the street wall. The car was going very quickly, and the driver of it gave no warning. Several witnesses, including the plaintiff and the landlord the Hare and Hounds, gave evidence in support of this statement. The defence put forward by Mr. Wingate Saul, who was instructed by Mr. W. F. Chambers, that the car was not going at more than a moderate speed; that the driver rang his bell and whistled, and did all could to avoid the accident ; and that Redford turned the horse quite suddenly without first looking behind to see if any car was coming up.

  • Notice too that newspapers were quite happy to print the word “lurry” – and why not? It is in the Oxford English Dictionary. Zealous schoolteachers outlawed this word after the 1870 Education Act when many pupils were made to feel ashamed of their accents and their use of what were often wrongly referred to as “dialect words”. Prejudice against “lurry” in schools and in day-to-day sniffiness lasted well into the 1970s.
  • Notice also that “tram”, “tram car”, and “car” all mean “tram”.

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