Horse-drawn transport first made its appearance in Southampton at the commencement of the 1800’s when horse-drawn omnibuses were introduced from the site that is Portswood Bus Depot today. By the time the Southampton Street Tramways Act of 1877 authorised the construction of the first tramway in the town, horse-drawn omnibuses were operating on several routes from Portswood including to Shirley to which destination William Bevis ran ten trips daily in 1879.
Construction of the tramway, built by the Southampton Tramways Company, led to the demise of many of the horse buses. The first route opened from Portswood Depot ran from Alma Road in a two-way service to Above Bar and started on 5th May 1879.
The following day extensions were opened to Floating Bridge in Floating Bridge Road. On 9th June 1879 a second line was brought into use running from The Junction to Shirley High Street. Both routes were single-lined tracks.
In 1896, the corporation purchased the Southampton Corporation Electric and Power Company and took control of the provision of electricity for the town. On 30th June 1898 Southampton Corporation exercised its rights to buy the horse tramway and electrify it.
In 1901 Southampton Corporation experimented with the motorbus and a route from Clock Tower to Northam was inaugurated on 5th August but the hired bus a Daimler was so unreliable the service was shortly withdrawn and the corporation decided the bus was not for them!
However, buses did begin to feature again and in 1919 a service was started, running from Portswood depot out to St James Road to the Clock Tower, then at new road and now Bitterne Park Triangle and many more bus services commenced linking the town centre with districts around the town.
Portswood had during the 1930’s built many of its own trams and they were built in the workshops and known as Dome cars which were specifically designed to fit under the Bargate arch. During the 2nd World War Portswood was seen as a target by enemy bombers and buses and trams were sent to The Common for safety. The depot was hit but most of its structure was retained and survived the blitz.
It had been planned to close the tramway over a few years but the network remained largely intact until 1948 when wholesale closures had commenced. Within 2 years the trams had gone and Portswood and Shirley garages had to adapt to bus operation only.
A huge modernisation programme to introduce modern standardised buses was introduced from the end of the 40s with up to 200 Guy Arab buses being delivered and which served the town well up to the late 60s.
The depot built for trams had to be extended and take the growing fleet of buses and became itself on an island with boundaries of Portswood Road, St Denys Road and Belmont Road. The town became a city in 1964 and was at its peak in carrying millions of passengers on its bus network from two garages in Portswood and Shirley, although Portswood was the main headquarters for the corporation and employed all its administration and engineering staff to maintain the fleet which now consisted of larger buses than the Guy Arabs.
It was obvious in the 70s that one man operation was being the way forward and the modern front entrance buses were introduced in large numbers, but the old Portswood depot had to further modernise to keep up with the new vehicles maintenance. In 1981, following funding from Hampshire County Council, the depot site was 80% transformed with large new units to make working environment better for engineering work, body and paintwork and for MOT’s. The Shirley depot also closed in 1981 leaving just Portswood to work on the companies buses.
First Bus purchased Southampton Citybus in 1997 and a huge review of services commenced and the fleet was reduced. The depot once thought to house up to 300 buses on its 1981 expansion is much larger than needed by First and the company’s decision to move to a smaller site in Empress Road. In August 2010 First bus moved to the new depot. The Portswood depot closed at 2am on Sunday 29th August, therefore sealing the fate of the Portswood Depot.
Since its closure on 29th August 2010, the depot has been demolished to make way for a Sainsbury’s supermarket and houses. Sainsbury’s opened in March 2012.
The history of Southampton Corporation Transport can be found Here.