Gateshead and District Tramways

History
The Gateshead and District Tramway, which was owned and operated by the Gateshead and District Tramways Company Limited, opened for business on the 22nd October 1883.

The G&DTCo's standard-gauge system extended to 6.22 miles, comprising three lines running from the vicinity of Wellington St and Hill St: southwards along High St then southeastwards along Sunderland Rd to Heworth; southwards along West St and Durham Rd to Low Fell; and southwestwards along Askew Rd to Teams.

The steam tramway appears to have led a relatively uneventful existence, save for the usual complaints from local councils about paving, noise and steam. It certainly carried a respectable number of passengers, but returns for the shareholders were meagre indeed, as was the case on many steam tramways where the City of London Contract Corporation had been involved in promotion and construction. This company and its tramway appointees (invariably acolytes of Henry Osbourne O'Hagan, a notorious Victorian businessman who controlled the CofLCC) used various devices, amongst the less underhanded being to ensure that construction contracts were placed with the CofLCC, the tramway companies paying well over the odds in the process. The fact that the G&DTCo paid between 50 to 100% more per mile to construct the tramway than similar concerns elsewhere, speaks for itself.

By the mid-1890s, the company was considering conversion to electric traction, a move which would necessitate Gateshead Corporation deferring its right, under the 1870 Tramways Act, to purchase the tramway at set timepoints, depending on when each line was constructed. Meanwhile, the British Electric Traction Company (BETCo) had appeared on the scene, a company which was embarking on a journey that would see it become a major player in the tramway world. It began by purchasing horse and steam-operated tramways across the British Isles with the intention of converting them to electric traction, as well as promoting schemes for completely new electric tramways, and was destined to own, part-own or lease almost 50 tramway concerns across the British Isles. On 12th November 1897, the BETCo and the G&DTCo reached a provisional agreement for the former to purchase the latter, providing that it was successful in securing powers to convert and extend the tramway, as well in obtaining the agreement of Gateshead Corporation to a 21-year deferment.

The G&DTCo obtained the necessary powers on the 9th August 1899, as well as the deferment (Gateshead Corporation's right to purchase was extended to the 12th August 1922), so the take-over by the BETCo presumably happened very shortly thereafter.

Construction commenced on the 12th June 1900, with the company obtaining powers for additional extensions later that year. The electric tramway, which retained the standard gauge of the steam tramway, was formally opened on the 8th May 1901, though public services throughout the day remained steam-hauled; the last steam services therefore ran on the evening of the 8th May 1901, with electric services (for the general public) commencing the following day.

At its maximum, the G&DTCo owned and operated 12.87 miles of tramway, comprising lines from the river: southeastwards to Heworth; southwards to Wrekenton and Low Fell; southwestwards along Windmill Hills with a branch leading southwards to Saltwell Park and another, also running southwards to Bensham; and southwestwards along Askew Rd to Teams, with a branch leading off westwards to Dunston. The G&DT was connected to Newcastle Corporation Tramways from the 12th January 1923 when the latter laid tracks across the railway-owned High Level Bridge, after which through services were operated by both the NCT and the G&DTCo. This was followed on the 10th October 1928 by another connection over the newly opened Tyne Bridge.

In 1914, the G&DTCo was placed under the control of the Northern General Transport Company, which had been set up by the BETCo to consolidate its transport interests in the area; these also included the Jarrow and District Electric Traction Company Limited and the Tynemouth and District Electric Traction Company Limited.

As with many tramways, the Great War brought many challenges to the system, with severe shortages of men, extremely heavy loadings (due to war work), and an inability to resource maintenance, either from a manpower or materials perspective, and restrictions on purchasing track and tramcars.

The tramway was extremely well-run and very profitable, with a blanket one-penny fare in force on all bar one route into the 1920s, a policy which ensured consistently high passenger numbers. An indication of just how profitable the concern was can be gleaned from the 1921 dividend of 10%, an almost unheard of figure for a company-owned system, and this at a time when many systems were figuratively on their knees. The company was helped in its endeavours by the good relationship it had with the municipal authority, a situation which undoubtedly contributed to Gateshead Corporation agreeing not to exercise their right to purchase the undertaking in 1922, enabling the company to invest heavily in modernising the system.

The tramway continued to carry large numbers of people through the 1920s and even well into the 1930s, despite the severe economic depression. By the mid-1930s however, the transport landscape was changing, with the NCT instituting its first trolleybus service, which was a tramway replacement rather than a supplementary feeder service. Gateshead Corporation once again waived their right to purchase (in 1936), agreeing to support the company in converting the system to trolleybus operation, powers for which were obtained on the 29th July 1938. The Second World War however stalled all conversion plans, and even after its conclusion the G&DTCo seemed happy to spend significant sums on relaying life-expired tramway track whilst doing little to implement the trolleybus replacement. In the end, the company had a change of heart, convincing the local authorities — Gateshead Corporation and Felling Urban District Council — to support a switch to buses, powers to this end being obtained on the 12th July 1950.

The company had meanwhile obtained approval to introduce a limited number of bus services, the first of these commencing on the 5th March 1950. The first tramway line to close was to Wrekenton, sometime between June and September 1950 (the precise date the last tram ran has not been recorded), with the last tram of all running on the 4th August 1951; this was not only the last G&DTCo tram service, but also the last company-operated tram service in the whole of the United Kingdom.

Uniforms
In the 1880s, steam tram crews wore informal but robust attire comprising jackets, trousers and bowler hats; no badges of any kind appear to have been worn. The clothing worn by drivers gradually changed, such that by the 1890s, they were wearing very similar attire to their railway counterparts, namely, heavy cotton trousers and jackets, often light in colour, along with soft-topped caps or flat caps. At some point however, and unlike most of their counterparts on other steam tramways, they were issued with a prominent cap badge — probably oval — the details of which are currently unknown. By this time, conductors were also wearing a uniform of sorts: plain single-breasted jackets with lapels (possibly self-purchased), along with a shirt, tie and soft-topped kepi-style cap; the latter carried a large cap badge (almost certainly the same pattern as that issued to the drivers). A few photos exist showing staff in uniforms, but without the cap badge, suggesting that the badges may have been dispensed with at some point, possibly following the British Electric Traction Company (BETCo) take-over of 1899.

Following the introduction of electrification services in 1901, G&DTCo staff were issued with the familiar and largely regulation BETCo uniform. Although jackets appeared to vary somewhat between BETCo systems, as well as across the decades, the cap badges, collar designations and buttons invariably followed a standard pattern. The earliest jackets issued to G&DTCo staff were double-breasted with two rows of five buttons (of the standard BETCo pattern and presumably brass — see link) and lapels; the latter carried individual embroidered initials (possibly ’G D T’), on both the left-hand side and the right-hand side. Caps were military in style with a tensioned crown (top), and a glossy peak; they carried the standard brass BETCo ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge (see below) above an employee number. These jackets were however relatively quickly superseded by double-breasted 'lancer-style' tunics with five pairs of buttons (narrowing from top to bottom), upright collars and epaulettes (with button fastenings). The collars carried individual metal letters — ‘G & D T Co’ — on the bearer's right-hand side and an employee number on the left-hand side, all presumably brass to match the buttons.

At some point, probably around the late 1920s or early 1930s, the men's tunics were changed to a more modern double-breasted style with five pairs of buttons, waist pockets and lapels. The latter appear to have carried the designation ‘G & D T Co’ on the right-hand collar (in individual metal letters) and an employee number (in individual metal numerals) on the left-hand side. The practice of wearing employee numbers beneath the ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge appears to have been discontinued by this time. This style of uniform remained unaltered until closure in 1951.

Tramcar crews were also issued with long, double-breasted greatcoats. Up until the 1930s/40s, these had high, fold-over collars and epaulettes, but later on had a more modern cut with lapels but without epaulettes; these garments seem to have been worn without badges of any kind.

In the early years, inspectors wore single-breasted jackets edged in material of a finer quality than the main jacket, with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair), two waist pockets, two breast pockets and upright collars, the latter carrying the designation Inspector in embroidered script lettering. Caps were similar to those worn by tramcar staff, but bearing an embroidered script-lettering Inspector badge, which in the early years at least, was worn along with the standard BETCo 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge. In the last decades of the tramway's existence, a more modern gabardine style coat appears to have been worn, though photographic evidence is scanty.

Female staff were employed in considerable numbers in both the Great War and the Second World War to replace men lost to the armed services. During the Great War, conductresses initially wore informal attire, but were subsequently issued with long single-breasted, tailored jackets with five buttons, hip pockets, lapels, and a belt with two buttons; no insignia of any kind appears to have been worn. The ladies were also issued with long double-breasted overcoats with lapels, again seemingly devoid of badges. Headgear consisted of a baggy cap with a stiff glossy peak, to which the standard BETCo 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge was affixed, though this was frequently replaced by a regimental sweetheart badge, a common practice at this time. During the Second World War, female conductors were issued with smart single-breasted jackets with four buttons, two breast pockets (with button fastenings), lapels and epaulettes (again with button fastenings). The jackets do not appear to have borne insignia of any kind. The caps were an unusual design reminiscent of military forage caps; they carried the standard ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge.

Further reading
For a history of the Gateshead and District Tramways Company, see: 'The Tramways of Gateshead' by George S Hearse; published by the author (1965).

Images

Steam tram drivers and conductors
Gateshead and District Tramways Steam Tram No 11
Steam Tram No 11 and trailer in the Sunderland Road depot yard — photo undated, but probably taken in the early 1890s.


Gateshead and District Tramways steam tram driver
A blow-up of the above photo showing the driver, oil can in hand; he is wearing typical footplate attire along with a tight-fitting and oily cloth cap.


Gateshead and District Tramways steam tram conductor
Another blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor. He is wearing a plain, single-breasted jacket (possibly self-purchased) and a company-issued kepi-style cap; the latter bears a large metallic cap badge, an example of which has yet to come to light. He is carrying a Kayes 'Patent' Fare Box in his right hand.


Gateshead and District Tramways Company Steam Tram No 3
Steam Tram No 3 at the depot in Sunderland Road — photo undated, but probably taken in the mid 1890s. With thanks to Malcolm Fraser.


Gateshead and District Tramways Company Steam Tram No 3
A blow-up of the above photo showing the driver and conductor, both of whom are wearing prominent cap badges. The conductor is again wearing a kepi-style cap and single-breasted jacket.


Gateshead and District Steam Tramways Engine No 8
A well-known shot of Steam Tram No 8, a Black Hawthorn product, in the depot yard with what is believed to be a Falcon-built trailer — photo undated, but probably taken in the mid-to-late 1890s. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Gateshead and District Tramways Steam tram driver
A blow-up of the driver, in soft-topped cap with large oval cap badge.


Gateshead and District Steam Tramway conductor
Another blow-up of the previous photograph, this time showing the conductor. He appears to be wearing a uniform jacket along with a kepi- or soft-topped cap and the usual large oval cap badge.


Gateshead and District Tramways Company Steam Tram No 11 and driver
The driver of Steam Tram No 11, oil can in hand, poses for the cameraman, wearing typical railway footplate-like attire — photo undated, but probably taken in the late 1890s. The driver does not appear to be wearing a cap badge, suggesting that this photo may post-date the BETCo take-over of 1899. With thanks to Malcolm Fraser.


Motormen and conductors
Gateshead and District Tramways Company Tram No 47 and crew 1902
Inspector C Day, Conductor W Dargard and Motorman H Malton pose with Tramcar No 47 in 1902. Image kindly supplied by Beamish Museum Limited (see link), image copyright Beamish Museum Limited.


Gateshead and District Tramways Company Tram No 47 and crew 1902
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor and motorman. Both men are wearing double-breasted jackets with lapels, the latter appear to carry embroidered 'G D T' system initials. Their caps bear the standard BETCo 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge, along with employee numbers.


Gateshead and District Tramways cap badge
Standard British Electric Traction Company ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge, as issued to staff working the G&DTCo electric services, i.e., from 1901 onwards — brass. Author's Collection.


Gateshead and District Tramways Tram No 31 and Crew
The crew of Tramcar No 31 pose for the camera somewhere on the Low Fell route — photo undated, but certainly taken prior to the Great War. Author's Collection.


Gateshead and District Tramways Tram No 31 and Crew
A blow-up of the above photo, revealing the conductor to be Employee No 132 and the motorman, Employee No 27. Their collar initials are probably 'G & D T Co'. Both men are wearing 'lancer-style' tunics rather than the double-breasted jackets seen in the earlier photograph.


Gateshead and District Tramways Company Tram No 4 1902 Driver Sam Wilson
Chief Inspector Adam Armstrong (middle) and Motorman Sam Wilson aboard Tramcar No 4, newly converted for 'Pay As You Enter' operation in 1912. Image kindly supplied by Beamish Museum Limited (see link), image copyright Beamish Museum Limited.


Gateshead and District Tramways Tram No 2 and crew at Bensham
Former 'Pay As You Enter' Tramcar No 2 is captured with her crew at the terminus at Bensham. Although the photo is undated, it is certainly no earlier than January 1923, when the High Level Bridge was opened to tram traffic, thus enabling a through service to Central Station, and no later than 1928, when the last of these cars was scrapped. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Gateshead and District Tramcar crew mid 1920s
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman, Employee No 14 according to his collar (not his cap though!), and the conductor, whose Employee No is unclear.


Gateshead and District Tramways Tram No 1 Bensham
Another shot taken at Bensham, this time of Tramcar No 1 (the second car of that number) — photo undated, but probably taken in the mid-1920s, and definitely after January 1923 when services ran through to Central Station. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Gateshead and Distirct Tramways Tram driver 1920s
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman, possibly Employee No 89. His greatcoat appears to be devoid of insignia, and his cap is without an employee number.


Gateshead and District Tramways No 51 and conductor
A G&DTCo conductor with Tramcar No 51 at Teams — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1930s. Photo by Dr H Nicol, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Gateshead and District Tramways Company staff circa 1940
Tramway colleagues of a Mrs Weddle — photo taken circa 1940. Image kindly supplied by Beamish Museum Limited (see link), image copyright Beamish Museum Limited.


Gateshead and District Tramways second world war conductor
A blow-up of the above photograph showing Employee No 70. His right-hand lapel collar carries individual system initials: 'G&DTCo'.


Gateshead and District Tramways Tram driver Tram No 9
A rather unusual photograph of the interior of Tramcar No 9 with the motorman seated, and the crew of No 18 in front in animated conversation — photo undated, but very probably taken in 1950 or 1951. The motorman's smart double-breasted jacket, with its vaguely naval appearance is clear to see. Photo by M J O'Connor, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Senior staff
Gateshead and District Tramways Inspector Mr C Day
Inspector C Day — taken from the 1902 photo of Tramcar No 47 shown above. Image kindly supplied by Beamish Museum Limited (see link), image copyright Beamish Museum Limited.


Female staff
Rose Vanner, Gateshead and District Tramways Company Great War conductress
Conductress Miss Rose Vanner (holding the stanchion of Tramcar No 19) — photo undated, but very probably taken in 1915 or 1916. Miss Vanner was Gateshead’s first conductress, and later went on to become the company’s first lady inspector. In this photo she is almost certainly wearing a makeshift uniform; clearly no investment was made in this regard until the company were absolutely sure of the change! Image kindly supplied by Beamish Museum Limited (see link), image copyright Beamish Museum Limited.


Gateshead and District Tramways Tram No 45 in Wrekenton
A conductress and motorman pose with their charge, Tramcar No 45, outside the Royal Oak Inn at the Wrekenton terminus — photo undated, but probably taken in the middle years of the Great War given that No 45 was purportedly cut down to a single deck towards the end of the war. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Gateshead and District Tramways Great War tram conductress
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductress and motorman. The former is clearly wearing informal attire, including a close-fitting hat, suggesting a date of 1915 or 1916, i.e., before uniforms were issued.


Gateshead and District Tramways Company Great War conductresses
A group of Gateshead conductresses — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War. Although the two ladies on the right are wearing standard BETCo ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badges, the four ladies in the middle are sporting a variety of non-standard cap badges; the latter are regimental badges, a common practice amongst tramway staff during Great War, either to signify service (men) or to show solidarity with loved ones away in the armed services (so-called sweetheart badges). With thanks to Malcolm Fraser.


Gateshead and District Tramways Company Great War conductresses
A blow-up of the above photo clearly showing that the lady on the right is wearing a standard BETCo 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge, whilst the lady on the left is wearing a regimental sweetheart badge.


Gateshead and District Tramways Great War conductress
An evocative studio portrait of a Gateshead conductress — photo undated, but certainly taken during the Great War. The subject appears to be wearing a Royal Engineers cap badge, presumably as a 'sweetheart' badge (she has a ring on her wedding finger). Author's Collection.


Gateshead and District Trmways Company Second World War conductresses
A group of Second World War conductresses, colleagues of a Mrs Weddle — photo taken circa 1940. Image kindly supplied by Beamish Museum Limited (see link), image copyright Beamish Museum Limited.


Gateshead and District Tramways Second World War conductress
A blow-up of the above photo showing the distinctive forage-style cap.