Newcastle Corporation Tramways

Newcastle became a tramway owner on the 5th December 1878, when services commenced on its newly-built, standard-gauge horse tramway; the corporation did however not operate the tramway itself — this was prohibited by the Tramways Act of 1870 — so it was leased to William Turton and Daniel Busby. Turton and Busby were well-known tramway entrepreneurs, who either separately or together had interests in several horse tramways in the north of England, most notably, those of Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Salford.

In 1892, the corporation started a long and ultimately fruitless dalliance with the idea of converting some or all its lines to cable traction. Electric traction was also coming to the fore, and whilst the corporation took a long, hard look at its options, key voices in the council were set against the perceived disfigurement of overhead electric wires, and in November 1895, the full council voted to promote a cable system. There followed however, a further and protracted period of discussion, including not just the question of traction — cable, conduit and overhead all being in contention — but whether the corporation wished to lease whatever new system it built, or whether it would operate it itself. On the 25th January 1898, the council finally decided to obtain powers to run the tramway itself following the end of the company's lease (11th November 1899), and these were duly acquired during 1899.

Relations between the corporation and the lessee — by this time the Newcastle and Gosforth Tramway and Carriage Company — were however not exactly cordial, given that the latter had been hoping to lease the new tramway, and had to some extent been strung out by the council's inability to make up its mind. Nevertheless, on the 7th November 1899, agreement was reached for the company to continue working the horse tramway until the corporation was ready to convert the existing lines to overhead electric traction (a decision having finally been made on the form of traction to be used), initially to the 1st December 1899, and thereafter, subject to three months' notice.

Construction of the new system commenced on the 19th April 1900, and on the 10th January 1901, the council gave notice to the company that the lease of the existing lines would be terminated on the 13th April 1901. The corporation seemingly wanted the company to continue working the lines during conversion, but the company was not interested in the terms offered, so all services stopped that day, leaving omnibuses to fill the transport gap for the best part of 8 months.

By the end of December 1901, 14.75 miles of track were in operation, with two extensions opening in 1906 and 1907, six between 1912 and 1916, and ten in the 1920s, the last of all being in 1928 over the new Tyne Bridge. The last major addition to the system came in 1930 when the NCT acquired the Tyneside Tramways and Tramroads Company's Gosforth to Gosforth Park Gates and Neptune Bank to Wallsend lines following the closure of that company's tramway system on the 6th April 1930. The department had wanted to acquire the entire tramway system, but was prevented from doing so by the council, who baulked at the expense involved.

At its greatest extent, Newcastle Corporation operated 51.27 miles of tramway, including tracks within the neighbouring municipalities of Gosforth, Longbenton, Newburn, Wallsend and Westerhope. The system comprised lines running: westwards through Scotswood to Throckley, through Elswick to Benton, and along Westmoreland Rd to Gluehouse Lane; northwestwards along Westgate Rd to the Fox and Hounds, with a branch leading off along Elswick Rd to Benwell, and along Fenham Hall Drive to Westerhope, with a branch along Silver Lonnen to Denton Burn; northwards along the Great North Rd to Gosforth Park Gates, turning east to West Moor; northeastwards along Jesmond Rd to Benton Rd, with branches to Jesmond and Jesmond Dene Rd; northwards along Chillingham Rd and Benton Rd to West Moor, with a branch along Whitley Rd to Forest Hall; eastwards to Wallsend via Shields Rd and Welbeck Rd, and along the Tyne via Walker Rd to Neptune Bank. The tramway met the tracks of the TT&TCo at Gosforth, Shields Rd and Neptune Bank, with NCT cars eventually running through to Gosforth Park and Wallsend, and TT&TCo cars running into Newcastle Stanhope St. In the 1920s, the NCT tracks were also connected to those of the Gateshead and District Tramways Company — via the High Level Bridge (in 1923) and the newly built Tyne Bridge (in 1928) — with NCT cars running through to various destinations in Gateshead, and G&DTCo cars running through similarly to various destinations in Newcastle.

The name of the enterprise was officially changed to 'Newcastle Corporation Transport and Electricity Undertaking' in 1915, though the use of 'Transport' rather than 'Tramways' on vehicles, uniforms and paperwork does not appear to have become widespread until the 1940s.

Like most systems nationally, the NCT was placed under immense pressure during the Great War, with significantly increased loadings, greatly reduced maintenance and severe restrictions on the purchase of new rails, tramcars and spares; additionally, severe staff shortages necessitated the employment of conductresses and part-time motormen. As such, the system emerged from the conflict in run-down condition, and into a post-war world of high inflation, and ultimately, economic depression. Despite these challenges, the corporation continued to invest in its tramway, with significant expansion of the system during the 1920s, renewal of track and modernisation of the tramcar fleet. The NCT first introduced bus services — as feeders to the tramways — as early as 1912, but still only had fives routes as late as 1925, some having been replaced by tramway extensions.

Whilst the corporation still viewed the tramways as the backbone of municipal transport during the 1920s, by the end of the decade, the position was subtly changing, with the trams increasingly being viewed as the past, and buses/trolleybuses as the future. Although tramway abandonment was in no way a policy goal, it was clear that as routes came up for major expenditure (primarily track renewal) other options would be explored. Although minor and poorly used sections of track had been abandoned over the years, the first significant tramway abandonments came on the last day of September 1935 (east/west services using Westgate Rd and City Rd), with trolleybuses taking over the following day. Thereafter, tramway closures came throughout the decade, some being replaced by trolleybuses and others by buses, though final abandonment was inevitably postponed by the outbreak of the Second World War. Further closures came towards the end of the war, though it was to be a new decade before the final NCT tram bowed out, on the 4th March 1950. This was not however the last tram to run in the city, that honour going to the G&DTCo, whose final service between Newcastle and Gateshead ran on the 4th August 1951.

On commencement of corporation-operated electric services (in December 1901), motormen and conductors were issued with double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics with five pairs of buttons (narrowing from top to bottom, and bearing the full corporation title and device — see link), two waist-level pockets, and upright collars; the latter bore an employee number on the bearer's left-hand side (in individual metal numerals), and system initials — 'N C T' — on the right-hand side (in individual metal letters). The tunic had a pronounced seam down the centre, an uncommon design, though not unique to Newcastle. Caps were initially in a kepi-style and carried a script-lettering grade badge — either Motorman or Conductor — above which a small municipal device badge was worn. The kepi-style caps were relatively quickly superseded — probably around 1905/6 — by military-style caps with tensioned crowns (tops); these continued to bear the municipal arms badge, but instead of the previous script-lettering grade badge, an employee number was carried; motormen had even numbers and conductors odd. All insignia were presumably brass to start with (brass buttons have survived), a material which was at some point superseded by nickel, possibly at the same time the kepi-style caps were dispensed with.

Staff were also issued with long, double-breasted greatcoats with five pairs of buttons, and high fold-over collars; an employee number was worn on the left-hand collar and individual 'N C T' initials on the right-hand side.

The uniforms were piped in red until around 1926 when a change was made to blue. During the 1940s, the old 'lancer-style tunics were finally superseded by more modern single-breasted jackets with lapels, though these are seldom seen on surviving images, as most crews appear to have been captured in their greatcoats. In the last years of operation, the caps were changed to a more modern soft-topped style with a glossy peak; they continued to carry the same insignia as previously. It seems likely that a switch was made to uniforms bearing 'Newcastle Corporation Transport' insignia and buttons, possibly when the old 'lancer-style' tunics were replaced in the 1940s.

Few photos of inspectors have survived from the first two decades of operation, however, what has indicates that inspectors were issued with single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair) with two slit breast pockets and upright collars; both the jacket and the pockets were edged in a finer material than the main body. The upright collars bore system initials — N C T — on the bearer's right-hand collar, and the grade — Inspector — on the right-hand side, both in embroidered script lettering. Headgear took the form of a kepi-style cap bearing the standard municipal arms badge above an embroidered grade badge — Inspector — on a hat band.

At some point, inspectors' uniforms were changed to a single-breasted design with four buttons, two hip-level pockets (with flaps), two breast pockets (with scalloped flaps and button closures) and lapels; the upper part of the latter (the collars) bore system initials — NCT — on both sides in embroidered script lettering. The caps were also changed to a military style with a tensioned crown; these bore the same badges as previously, but with the grade badge carried on a braided hat band, bordered (above and below) with light-coloured piping. This style of jacket was also changed slightly in the last decade of operation through the addition of epaulettes.

In common with many other UK tramway systems, women were employed in significant numbers during the Great War to replace male staff lost to the armed services. Female staff were issued with long skirts and tailored, single-breasted jackets with five buttons, a waist belt (with two buttons), hip and breast pockets (with button closures), and high fold-over collars. An employee number was worn on the bearer's left-hand collar, with the right side left plain, i.e., without system initials. Two types of uniform are known, which although identical in style, were made from different materials, one probably serge and the other in a lighter cotton-like material; these two styles probably reflect winter and summer issues, respectively. Caps also appeared in two distinct styles, the heavier one being a soft-topped cap with a glossy peak, and the other a military-style cap with a tensioned crown (top); both carried the usual municipal arms badge and an employee number, though photos exist where the latter is absent.

Female staff were also employed during the Second World War, though photographic evidence has so far been difficult to find.

Further reading
For a history of the system, see: 'The Tramways of Northumberland' by George S Hearse; self-published (1961).


Motormen and conductors
Newcastle Corporation Tramways No 24 and crew
Two tramcar staff pose with a Class H car (No 24) at Byker depot in 1901. Although uniform details are difficult to make out, both individuals are clearly wearing double-breasted 'lancer-style' tunics and kepi-style caps. With thanks to Malcolm Fraser.

Newcastle  Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 11
A 111-130 series (Class A) tramcar at Little Bridge, Gosforth — photo taken in December 1901. Author's Collection.

Newcastle  Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 11 tram driver
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman, in double-breasted greatcoat and kepi-style cap; the latter bears a script-lettering grade badge — Motorman — above which is a small badge, almost certainly the municipal arms badge shown below.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways cap badges
Standard script-lettering cap badges of the type used by Newcastle Corporation Tramways in the early Edwardian era — brass. Author's Collection.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways badge
Newcastle ‘coat of arms’ cap badge worn throughout the tramway's life (1901 to 1950) — nickel. The badges were probably brass until around 1904 and nickel thereafter. Author's Collection.

Newcastle  Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 34
Tramcar No 34 and crew pictured at Jesmond — photo undated, but probably taken in 1902/3 judging by the relatively good condition of the vehicle. Photo courtesy of the West Newcastle Picture History Collection.

Newcastle  Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 34 tram conductor and driver
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor and motorman. Both men are wearing 'lancer-style' tunics with upright collars, upon which are their employee numbers and system initials (N C T). The kepi-style caps bear a municipal ‘coat of arms’ badge along with a script-lettering grade badge.

Newcastle  Corporation Tramways Class D Tramcar No 34 on Heaton Rd 1905
An unidentified tramcar in the 131-165 series (Class D) at Heaton Rd — photo undated, but judging by the immaculate condition of the vehicle, probably taken in 1905 when it was delivered. Author's Collection.

Newcastle  Corporation Tramways Class D Tramcar No 34 on Heaton Rd 1905 motorman and conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor and motorman, both still wearing the early kepi-style caps.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways 182
Tramcar No 182 (Class G) with crew, posed for the photographer at the Bridge, with a service for Scotswood — photo undated, but probably taken in 1906/7. Image kindly supplied by Beamish Museum Limited (see link), image copyright Beamish Museum Limited.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways 182 crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the Conductor (Employee No 401) and motorman, the former in 'lancer-style' tunic and the latter in a double-breasted greatcoat. By this time, the caps had been changed to a military style with a tensioned crown (top), bearing the usual municipal arms badge, but now with an employee number rather than a script-lettering grade badge.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways tram conductor
A studio portrait of an unidentified Newcastle Corporation Tramways conductor — photo undated, but probably mid-to-late Edwardian. Author's Collection.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways tram conductor
A blow-up of the above photo revealing details of the jacket insignia ('N C T' on the bearer's right-hand collar and an employee number on the left-hand collar) and cap badges (municipal arms badge above an employee number). The employee number is odd (No 353), revealing the subject to have been a conductor.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways motorman
Newcastle motorman — photo undated, but probably taken in the late Edwardian era. Image kindly supplied by Beamish Museum Limited (see link), image copyright Beamish Museum Limited.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways 191 Scotswood Road
Class G tramcar No 191 and crew captured for posterity under the railway bridge on Scotswood Rd — photo undated, but probably late Edwardian. Author's Collection.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways 191 crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman (Employee No 340) and his conductor.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways crews
A group of motormen and conductors pose on a tramcar platform — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during or shortly after the Great War, given that two of the individuals are wearing medal ribbons, whilst the gentleman at the centre, back, has a regimental badge on the side of his cap. The employee numerals — on both cap and left-hand collar — are clearly seen, as is the municipal cap badge and the pronounced seam down the centre of the tunics. With thanks to Malcolm Fraser.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways staff
A group of motormen and conductors pose for the photographer at Byker Depot in the early 1920s. With thanks to Malcolm Fraser.

Newscastle Corporation Tramways Tram No 93 and crew
Two conductors and a motorman pose in an unidentified depot with what is probably Tramcar No 93 (Class F); this was damaged in an accident and is thought to have been vestibuled in the late 1930s, so this is the earliest that the photo can have been taken. With thanks to Malcolm Fraser for this information. Author's Collection.

Newscastle Corporation tramways motorman and conductors
A blow-up of the above photo revealing the two conductors to be Employees Nos 303 and 291.

Senior staff
Newcastle Corporation Tramways Inspector 1905
A blow-up of the 1905 Class D tramcar photo above showing the inspector. He is wearing a fairly standard, single-breasted 'tramway inspector' uniform, closed by a hook and eye arrangement, along with a kepi-style cap.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways Inspector Brown 1937
Inspector Brown of Newcastle Corporation Tramways pictured in 1937. His jacket collars bear embroidered system initials — NCT — whilst his cap carries the standard municipal arms badge, along with his grade (on a braided hat band). Photo courtesy of the West Newcastle Picture History Collection.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways Inspector Brown 1946
Another shot of Inspector Brown, this time taken in 1946; by this time, the jackets issued to inspectors had clearly acquired epaulettes. The script-lettering grade badge — 'Inspector' — appears to be metal rather than embroidered, and was probably nickel. West Newcastle Picture History Collection.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways Inspector cap badge
Inspector script-lettering cap badge, of the type used by Newcastle Corporation Tramways towards the end of the system's life — nickel. Author's Collection.

Newcastle Cororation employee
A Newcastle Corporation employee. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the subject worked in the Tramways Dept, though it remains a possibility. Author's Collection.

Female staff
Newcastle Corporation Tramways conductresses Great War
A group of conductresses and their male colleagues pose for the camera at Wingrove Depot, Fenham in 1915. Many of the ladies are wearing their tunics unbuttoned at the top, giving a false impression of lapels. The lady on the back row, far right, is Josephina Robinson (see studio portrait below). With thanks to Malcolm Fraser.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways Great War tram conductress Josephina Robinson
Great War NCT tram conductress Josephina Robinson (née Jackson), who was born on the 24th August 1888 in Cockermouth, which means that she would have been in her late twenties when the photo was taken. Her husband — George Robinson — fought in the Great War, so relatives presumably looked after the couple's three children whilst Josephina was conducting. She lived in Adair Avenue, not far from Wingrove Depot, and died there on the 13th August 1973, just short of her 85th birthday. Photo and information courtesy of Josephina's great granddaughter, Lisa Robinson.

Newcastle Tramways Conductress Hilda Rogan
Newcastle Corporation Tramways Great War conductress Hilda Rogan. Miss Rogan was Employee No 311, the number appearing on her left tunic collar and on her cap. Photo courtesy of the Stephen Howarth Collection.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways Great War tram conductress
An NCT Great War tram conductress (Employee No 207) poses for an unusual outside shot. Although the jacket and skirt are the same style as seen in other photographs, the material appears to be much lighter than in other shots (possibly cotton, rather than serge), suggesting that it may have been summer wear. The subject's cap is military in style rather than soft-topped and only carries a municipal badge. The photograph was taken by J W Middleton of Newcastle, a company which presumably took these photos with the aim of selling at least one or two of them to the subject. On the back, of the postcard, the subject — Josie — states: "There are not many men conductors left". Author's Collection.

Mary Wheatley Sutherland, Great War Newcastle Tram conductress
Conductress Mary Wheatley Sutherland (Employee No 613) and her motorman (Employee No 524), aboard the platform of Tramcar No 138 — photo undated, but undoubtedly taken during or shortly after the Great War. Mary Sutherland was born in 1901, so was probably only 18 years old when the photo was taken. Photograph courtesy of her grand-daughter, Judith Sutherland.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways Tram No 299 Scotswood
An unidentified NCT conductress and her motorman pose in front of Tramcar No 299 (Class B) at the Scotswood Bridge turning circle — photo dated 1949. Image kindly supplied by Beamish Museum Limited (see link), image copyright Beamish Museum Limited.

Newcastle Corporation Tramways conductress and motorman
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductress and motorman. The motorman appears to be wearing an open-necked modern jacket under his great coat, and in contrast to the earlier tensioned crown caps, this one is soft topped.