Darwen Corporation Tramways

Darwen Corporation became a tramway owner the 1st August 1899 as a result of taking over the tracks of the Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways Company within the municipal boundary, as well as a proportion of its rolling stock and assets. The B&ODT system, which was built to a gauge of 4ft 0ins, essentially consisted of a single main line, 4.93 miles in length, running southwards from St Peter Street in the centre of Blackburn, through Ewood to the municipal boundary, then onwards through Darwen to Whitehall.

Both corporations intended to construct and operate 4ft 0ins-gauge electric tramway systems, but in the meantime, needed to continue running steam services until such time as they were in a position to carry out the conversion of the ex-B&ODT line. Agreement was reached between Darwen and Blackburn Corporations, the latter having purchased the tracks in its area, along with the remainder of the tramway engines and trailers, to operate the whole line under a short-term lease arrangement. As far as is known, other than owning the steam depot and a proportion of the engines and trailers, Darwen Corporation did not play any role in the day-to-day operation of the services.

The steam line, which had been built on the single line and loop principle, was doubled by the addition of a second track, and the new overhead electric infrastructure was installed. This enable a smooth transition to electric traction, the first electric service commencing on the 17th October 1900. Although electric services were always operated jointly by Darwen Corporation Tramways and Blackburn Corporation Tramways, the latter did not initially have enough tramcars, so was forced to continue using the steam trams and trailers for around two weeks; the last steam service is thought to have operated on or the 27th November 1900. From the 1st December 1900 onwards, DCT cars ran through to St Peter St in Blackburn and BCT cars ran through to Whitehall.

The DCT's only other tramway route ran eastwards from Darwen Circus to Hoddlesden, rising 250 ft in just over a mile; this was opened on the 11th October 1901, taking the system to its final form and size of 4.36 miles.

Little is known of the financial affairs of the DCT, but seeing as they continually invested in new tramcars, particularly after the Great War, during which the system would have been run down, it seems likely that the system was profitable. As well as new tramcars, the corporation also undertook a rebuilding programme in the mid-1920s, and took the opportunity to purchase spares from Rawtenstall Corporation Tramways in the early 1930s, a system which ran to the same gauge, and which was closing down.

It is assumed that the DCT suffered from unregulated competition by private bus operators in the 1920s, and that its acquisition of powers to run its own buses, was at least in part a response to this. The DCT's first bus service ran on the 19th September 1926, with further vehicles following in 1927, 1928 and 1930. As well as new routes, the buses were also used to supplement tram services on the Hoddlesden route, the trams working the heavily loaded rush-hour services.

Although two new extremely modern streamlined tramcars were purchased in 1936, it was probably around this time that the corporation took the decision to abandon the steeply graded Hoddlesden route, an event which took place on the 14th October 1937. The track on the main line to Blackburn seems to have been allowed to deteriorate, a process which was greatly accelerated by the heavy loadings and reduced maintenance of the Second World War. The corporation no doubt had tramway abandonment on its mind when it ordered further buses in 1942, a decision purportedly hastened by a fatal accident involving a DCT tram at Kidder St in Blackburn the previous year. The war was however to give the trams a temporary reprieve, the new buses not being delivered until late 1946.

The last DCT tram service ran on the 5th October 1946, the section of the old B&ODT between Whitehall and just after Earcroft (where the municipal boundary was situated) closing that day. A tram service did however continue on the remainder of the old route — operated by the BCT — until the 2nd July 1949.

Despite this relatively long history, photographs of the tramway are far from common, with those depicting staff rarer still; nevertheless it is however possible to tell the story of the uniforms.

At the commencement of electric services, staff wore uniforms which were very similar, if not identical, to those of their close neighbour, Blackburn (see link). Jackets were single-breasted with a row of five buttons — almost certainly nickel (see link) — with breast pockets and upright collars; it is currently unclear if the latter initially carried insignia (surviving photographs are of insufficient quality), though they certainly did so by the mid-Edwardian era (see later). Caps were in a tall kepi style and bore a large oval cap badge of uncertain pattern, possibly cloth. Long, double-breasted greatcoats with two rows of five buttons and high, fold-over collars were also worn, and it is possible, but by no means certain, that the latter bore some kind of embroidered insignia.

By autumn 1903 at the latest, the kepi caps had been superseded by military-style caps with tensioned crowns (tops), the previous oval cap badges being dispensed with in favour of a small badge of unknown pattern, but which almost certainly involved the Darwen municipal device. By this time, and possibly from the inception of services, tramcar crews were wearing single-breasted jackets with five buttons, two breast pockets (with triangular flaps) and upright collars; drivers had just the two pockets, but conductors also had two waist-level pockets (with square flaps). The jacket edges and the pockets were all piped. Initially, the bearer's right-hand collar bore a small badge of unknown pattern, presumably a municipal device of some sort, whilst the left-hand collar bore an employee number. At some point in the mid-Edwardian era, the right-hand collar badge was replaced by a standard, off-the-shelf, script-lettering grade badge — either Driver or Conductor — aping Manchester Corporation Tramways practice. The collar badges were almost certainly nickel to match the buttons.

Late in the system's life, probably in the 1930s or 1940s, the jacket style was changed to a more modern single-breasted design with four buttons and lapels; the latter certainly bore badges, though of what pattern is currently unclear.

In the first decade of operation, and possibly for much longer, inspectors wore very similar uniforms to tramcar staff, but edged in piping. The caps were also identical to those worn by the tramcar staff, but with a nickel script-lettering cap badge, Inspector. It is likely that inspectors' uniforms were changed in later years, though all that can be stated on current evidence is that they were being issued with gabardine-like overcoats after the Second World War, and that caps appear simply to have borne a small badge, probably featuring the municipal arms.

Darwen Corporation probably employed inspectors from the inception of the Blackburn Corporation-operated steam services in 1899 (over the lines of the former Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways Company), as financial records from 1899/1900 indicate that salaries were paid and uniforms purchased (my thanks to Phil Calvey for this information).

It is highly likely that Darwen, in common with the majority of British tramway systems, employed female staff during the Great War to replace male staff lost to the armed services; however, photographs are yet come to light, so it is impossible to say what uniforms were worn. Female staff were also employed in the Second World War and for a time thereafter; once again, photographic evidence is extremely sparse, with just a single example indicating that conductresses wore trousers (or were at least allowed to wear trousers) and were issued with double-breasted overcoats with lapels and epaulettes.

Further reading
For a very brief history of Darwen's tramways, see: 'The Tramways of Accrington 1886-1932' By R W Rush; Light Railway Transport League (1961).


Motormen and conductors
Darwen Corporation Tramways Tram No 7 and crew
A rare early photograph of Darwen Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 7 with crew — photo undated, but almost certainly taken in 1900 when electric services were introduced. Both men are wearing kepi-style caps with what appears to be a large oval cap badge; unfortunately, an example has not survived, so details remain unknown. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society.

Darwen Corporation Tramways Tram No 5 and crew
Another early but poor quality photograph, this time of Tramcar No 5, possibly decorated to mark the crowning of King Edward VII in August 1902. Both crewmen (on the platform) are wearing single-breasted tunics with upright collars, along with kepi-style caps, again with a large oval cap badge. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Darwen Corporation Tramways tram crew
Darwen Corporation Tramways Milnes-built Tramcar No 1 outside the depot — photo undated, but almost certainly taken in the week preceding the 21st September 1903, when the play 'Circumstantial Evidence' opened; my thanks to Phil Calvey for this information. Whilst the tunics appear to be the same as in the earlier photos, the cap has been changed to a more modern military style, and the large oval cap badge appears to have been dispensed with. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Darwen Corporation Tramways staff photo circa 1908
A number of staff assembled at the depot — photo undated, but probably taken either in late 1902 or early 1903. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.

Darwen Corporation Tramways drivers circa 1908
A blow-up of the above photo showing three motormen and an Inspector Orlando Haworth (left). By this time, a switch had been made to military-style caps, all with script-lettering cap badges, almost certainly nickel. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.

Darwen Corporation Tramways conductors circa 1908
Another blow-up of the depot photo above, showing two motormen and a conductor. The top-most motorman appears to be wearing a small circular badge above his script-lettering cap badge, though he is the only one doing so of all the staff depicted. The right-hand collars carry some form of badge, probably a municipal device, whilst the left-hand collars carry an employee number. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.

Blackburn Corporation tramways script-lettering cap badges
Script-lettering cap badges of the pattern worn by Darwen Corporation Tramways staff from 1902/3 onwards — nickel. Author's Collection.

Darwen Corporation Tramways Tram No 6 and crew
DCT No 6 and crew stand at The Circus in the centre of Darwen — photo undated, but probably taken in the mid-Edwardian era. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Darwen Corporation Tramways Tram No 17
A photograph taken on the 3rd August 1907, the day Accrington Corporation Tramways' route to Oswaldtwistle was opened. The crews pictured are however not from Accrington, but from the neighbouring systems of Darwen and Blackburn, who sent trams to mark the occasion. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.

Darwen Corporation Tramways and Blackburn Corporation Tramways tram conductors and motormen
A blow-up of the above photo showing the two crews, from left to right: a Blackburn motorman, a Darwen conductor, a Blackburn conductor, and a Darwen motorman.

Darwen Corporation Tramways conductor 1907
An enlargement showing the Darwen conductor, Employee No 2. He is wearing a small badge on his cap, presumably some kind of municipal device, along with a script-lettering grade badge — Conductor — on his right-hand collar. The wearing of grade badges on jacket collars was highly unusual, but was most notably practiced by nearby Manchester Corporation Tramways.

Darwen Corporation Tramways depot photo 1936
A depot photograph taken in 1936. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Darwen Corporation Tramways crew
A blow-up of the above photo, showing a conductor and motorman. With thanks to Duncan Holden.

Darwen Corporation Tramways bandsman's jacket
Darwen Corporation Tramways tunic. Given the elaborate embellishments and the red collars, this is almost certainly a bandsman's jacket, presumably belonging to a member of Darwen Corporation Tramways Band (the buttons are standard DCT pattern — see link). Photo courtesy of Beckie Johnson.

Senior staff
Darwen Corporation Tramways inspectors c1908
A blow-up of the c1908 depot photo above, showing two of the inspectors. In contrast to tramcar staff, their jackets are piped, and their caps carry a script-lettering Inspector grade badge. The meaning of the large circular badge on the right-hand arm of the right-most inspector is unclear. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.

Darwen Corporation Tramways Inspector cap badge
Script-lettering cap badge, of the pattern worn by Darwen Corporation Tramways inspectors — nickel. Author's Collection.

Female staff
Darwen Corporation Tramways conductress 1946
An inspector and Conductress Lotte Clerke pose with Tramcar No 7 at the Circus shortly after the Second World War. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.