Neath Tramways

Summary
The Neath and District Tramways Company operated horse-drawn trams for some 24 years (1875 to 1899), the first 22 of these as a wholly-owned concern, and the last two years as a lessee (following the municipal take-over of 1897). The corporation eventually made the fatal decision to convert the system to gas traction, figuratively backing the wrong horse, and thus dooming themselves to 20 years of operational issues, which bankrupted two of the lessees (the British Gas Traction Company and the Provincial Gas Traction Company) and twice left the corporation holding the reins. The system finally succumbed to bus competition in 1920, closing the day before the first bus ran, and no doubt, to relief of everyone involved.

Photographs of Neath's horse trams are exceedingly rare, either during the days of the Neath & District Tramways Company or following the latter's acquisition by Neath Corporation. However, from the few images which have survived, it would seem likely that uniforms were not issued, and that horsecar crews simply wore robust but informal attire, along with the fashionable headgear of the day, predominantly the bowler hat, and later on undoubtedly, the flat cap.

Somewhat surprisingly given the unusual method of propulsion, photographs of Neath's gas trams are also rare, with images showing drivers and conductors being rarer still. Motormen certainly wore double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics with two rows of five buttons (narrowing from top to bottom); in view of the fact that marked buttons have not come to light, it is more than likely that the uniforms carried plain buttons. Headgear took the form of a military-style cap with a glossy peak and tensioned crown (top); this bore a script-lettering grade badge, which from the length, appears to have been of the Motorman variety, as opposed to Driver.

It should be noted that the small number of surviving photographs are from relatively late in the system's life, so a degree of caution must be exercised in simply back-extrapolating the uniform policy of this era (when the corporation operated the system) to earlier years when the system was leased (first to the British Gas Traction Company, and later to its successor, the Neath Gas Traction Company, which was quickly re-named to the Provincial Gas Traction Company). Although these later photos show conductors wearing informal attire, in all probability this was not the case in more prosperous days (if the system could ever be thus described), when conductors would almost certainly have worn uniforms.

Photographs of senior staff (e.g., inspectors) are yet to come to light, so it is currently impossible to say what uniforms they wore.

Like most British tramway systems, Neath employed women during the Great War to replace male staff lost to the armed services; although they were certainly employed as conductresses, it seems unlikely, though not certain, that were ever trained to drive the trams. The sole surviving photograph (see below) shows a conductress wearing informal attire, which either suggests that uniforms had not been issued at the time the photo was taken, or perhaps more likely, in view of the precarious nature of the operation, that they were never issued.

For a history of the system, see: 'Neath Corporation Tramways, 1897-1920' by G Tucker, in The Tramway Review Nos 107 (p75-85), 108 (p110-112), 127 (p218-220) and 129 (p25-26); Light Railway Transport League (1981, 1986 and 1987).

Images

Horse tram drivers and conductors
Neath and District Tramways 1889
An assemblage of Neath and District Tramways staff, including the Manager, James Naish (seated in the centre), captured in the depot yard around 1889. None of those present, other than the soldier, are wearing a uniform. Photo by kind permission of James Naish's great grandson, Bob Barwick.


Neath and District Tramways tram conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing an individual (extreme left) who is carrying a fare collection box, and who is therefore, certainly a conductor. The boy immediately to the left of James Naish is probably also a conductor, as he appears to be wearing a cash bag.


Gas tram drivers and conductors
Neath Cororation Tramways gas tram and depot staff
A photograph purportedly taken at the London Rd depot with what appears to be a brand-new gas tram, which would date the image to the summer of 1899. All the men present are wearing informal attire, which could either mean that they are horsecar staff, or that uniforms had yet to be issued. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Neath Corporation Tramways Gas Tram No 19
Gas tram No 19 at the Briton Ferry terminus — photo undated, but probably taken in the years of corporation operation (1916 to 1920). The conductor appears to be wearing informal attire, whilst the driver wears a double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunic and military-style cap. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Neath Corporation Tramways Tram No 21
Another shot at what appears to be the same location as the previous photograph, but this time of No 21 — photo undated, but in view of the sagging platform and battered advertising enamels, probably taken around the time of the Great War. Once again the conductor is wearing informal attire, and the driver a 'lancer-style' tunic; in this photo however, the latter's cap is clearly carrying a script-lettering grade badge. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Neath Corporation Tramways cap badges
Standard script-lettering cap badges of the pattern probably used by Neath Corporation Tramways — brass. Whether Neath used brass or nickel badges is currently unknown. Author's Collection.


Female staff
Neath Corporation Tramways Grat War conductress
A studio portrait of an Mrs D Harris, a Great War Neath tram conductress — photo undated, but certainly taken during, or shortly after, the Great War. Given the toggle-style buttons and the complete lack of insignia, she would appear to be wearing informal attire. Photo kindly provided by Gordon Tucker, courtesy of Neath Antiquarian Society.