Tramways came comparatively late to Torquay as there was strong local feeling against the erection of overhead wires especially near the sea front.
The 3’6″ gauge Torquay Tramways were opened on 4th April 1907 and were originally operated on the Dolter system. The Dolter system collected the current from studs between the rails, which were energised when a tram passed over, rather than from conventional overhead wires.
There were routes to Torre Station from St. Marychurch and from Beacon Quay, with a circular route from Strand to St. Marychurch via Wellswood and Ellescombe or vice versa. A route along the seafront from Strand to Torquay Station opened a later. All of the routes were mainly single track with passing loops.
The original fleet consisted of eighteen cars (Nos. 1-18) which all 4-wheel open-toppers. The depot was at Plainmoor, in a private road which was later to become Westhill Avenue.
Numerous problems were experienced with the Dolter system, and during 1909-11 the system was rebuilt with traction poles and overhead wires. A double-track extension to Torquay Station to Paignton was built at the same time.
The undertaking was owned and operated by the Torquay Tramways Co Ltd from 25th March 1909, and the Paignton extension was opened on 17th July 1911.
A small depot was built at Preston, on the outskirts of Paignton, and twelve new cars (Nos. 19-30) were delivered in 1911 with a further three (Nos. 31-33) in 1912. These were of the same Brush design as the first batch but had Brill 21E trucks rather than earlier Mountain & Gibson.
The total length of the tramway was 9.24 route miles.
After the first world war, motor bus competition began to affect usage of the trams, so the Tramways Company inaugurated its own motor bus services, and built up fleet of thirty six new buses and charabancs between 1919 and 1922.
It bought out its main competitor the Devon General in 1922 but set up a new company with the same name.
An explosion and subsequent fire at the Plainmoor depot in 1921 seriously damaged a number of trams and buses but the damage was made good by insurance.
The next additions to the tram fleet came when three cars from the Taunton system when this system closed in 1921. These were 4-wheel, single deck cars (Nos. 34-36) and were mainly used on the Torre Station – St. Marychurch summer service. They were not used after 1932.
To alleviate over crowding on the Paignton route, four 76 seat bogie cars (Nos. 37-40) were obtained in 1924/5, and two very similar 72-seaters (Nos. 41-2) were purchased in 1928. These like Nos. 1-33, were open-top, but the bogie cars had vestibules as the Board of Trade would not permit top covers.
Various proposals were made for the introduction of trolleybuses but these came to nothing.
Following a poll of the residents the trams were replaced with Devon General buses, with the last tram running on 31st January 1934.
The bogie cars and six of the four-wheelers were sold to Plymouth for further service.
The depot in Torquay Road, Preston at the corner of Orient Road became car showrooms and remains in this use today.
The Westhill Avenue depot, after many years of use as the Council’s lorry depot, was demolished in 1993. The site is now occupied by a residential development and a somewhat inaccurate plaque has been erected to commemorate the tramways.
Torbay Transport by Fisher Barham
Tramways of South-West England by Bett & Gillham
Torquay Council Minutes
Torquay Tramways Co. Ltd. Minutes
Devon General 0 & T Co. Ltd. Minutes
–Notes by Les Folkard, edited by John Perkin