Warrington Corporation Tramways

Warrington Corporation's standard gauge, electric tramway opened to the public on the 21st April 1902.

Except for a short extension to Stockton Heath — opened on the 7th July 1905 — and various track doublings, the tramway essentially remained unaltered for its entire lifetime. The system totalled 6.84 miles, comprising lines: northeastwards along Manchester Rd to the Cemetery; southeastwards to Latchford; southwards to Stockton Heath, westwards to Sankey Bridges; and northwards to Longford. The latter line was in essence speculative, the corporation expecting the South Lancashire Tramways Company to build a line southwards from Lowton St Mary's to connect with it at Longford Bridge; in the event, the SLTCo line never materialised, so the corporation was stuck with an unremunerative line serving a sparsely populated area.

Despite its small size, the system was notable in having one line which not only crossed a railway on the level, but also the Manchester Ship Canal by means of a swing bridge; although this was not unique, it was certainly very rare for a tramway in the British Isles. The tramway was successful financially, making a profit in every year of its existence bar one — and contributing to the rates — all whilst subsidising the loss-making Longford line, which was retained for an astonishing 29 years.

The corporation began experimenting with bus services just prior to the Great War (in 1913), though it was to be a long time before they could be made to pay their way. Despite the exigences of the Great War — greatly reduced maintenance and severe restrictions on purchasing new vehicles or track — the tramway seems to have emerged from the conflict in reasonable condition. After the war, the corporation continued to invest in the tramway system, replacing worn-out track, ordering new tramcars and modernising the existing fleet.

Throughout the 1920s, the corporation also introduced new bus services to areas unserved by the tramway, reached accommodation with competing bus companies (Lancashire United Tramways Ltd and Crossville Motor Services) and by the close of the decade, had succeeded in creating a thriving bus operation.

The success of the buses inevitably meant that when significant expenditure was required for track renewal, a comparison would be made between renewal and abandonment (replacement by buses). In January 1931, the corporation, faced with replacing the life-expired track on the Stockton line, chose to close it, along with the loss-making Longford line; the former closed on the 17th September 1931, and the latter on the last day of the same year.

The corporation was however happy to continue operating the trams until such time as wholesale track renewal was required, slowly increasing the bus fleet through revenue as opposed to loans. The Sankey Bridge and Cemetery lines closed on the 27th March 1935, with the last tram of all running on the 28th August 1935 (on the Latchford line).

Prior to this — in April 1935 — the name of the department was changed to Warrington Corporation Transport to reflect the new bus-dominated enterprise.

Photographs depicting tramcar crews in the early years of operation are scarce, and those that do exist only show staff wearing long, double-breasted overcoats, so it is currently impossible to say what uniforms were worn underneath. Caps were in a kepi style and bore script-lettering grade badges — either Motorman or Conductor — above which another badge was worn, which by comparison with later photographs, was probably an employee number. All badges were presumably brass to match the buttons (see link).

At some point, probably in the mid-to-late Edwardian era, a switch was made to military-style caps with tensioned crowns (tops); these continued to carry an individual employee number, worn below, and sometimes above, the standard script-lettering grade badge. By the mid 1920s, most staff appear to have dispensed with the script-lettering grade badges, simply wearing the employee number on their caps. By this time, and possibly from the earliest days, motormen wore double-breasted 'lancer-style' tunics with five pairs of buttons (narrowing from top to bottom) and upright collars. The bearer's left-hand collar carried a small municipal coat of arms badge, whilst the right-hand side carried the system initials — 'W C T' — in individual brass letters. Conductors wore single-breasted tunics — at least in later years, but probably earlier years too — with five buttons and two breast pockets with button closures; the jackets also had upright collars, and these carried the same insignia as those worn by motormen. Although the brass badges and buttons may possibly have been replaced with chrome issues in the early 1930s, a surviving jacket suggests that the system initials were at some point rendered in red, embroidered script lettering.

Motormen and conductors were initially also issued with double-breasted overcoats with five pairs of buttons; these were at some point replaced by larger greatcoats. No badges of any kind appear to have been worn on these garments.

Inspectors wore single-breasted jackets edged in a finer material than the main body of the jacket, with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook an eye affair) and upright collars; the latter appear to have carried embroidered 'W C T' initials on the left-hand side and Inspector, in script-lettering, on the right-hand side. The jackets also bore epaulettes (at least in later years). Caps were probably in a kepi style originally, but were eventually changed to a military pattern with tensioned crown; the latter style carried the same Warrington Corporation municipal arms badge that tramcar staff wore on their collars. Warrington also had a Chief Inspector (see below), who wore a similar uniform to the inspectors, though presumably with different collar insignia.

In common with many UK tramway systems, female staff were employed during the Great War to replace male staff lost to the armed services. Unfortunately, the sole surviving photograph shows a group of ladies in informal attire — apart from their bonnets — suggesting that uniforms had not yet been obtained at the time the photograph was taken. It seems highly likely that uniforms were eventually issued, but until photographic evidence comes to light, their precise form remains unknown.

Further reading
For a history of Warrington's tramway system, see: 'Warrington Trams and Buses' by John P Robinson; Cheshire Libraries and Museums (1987).


Motormen and conductors
Warrington Corporation Tramways Tram No 4
An inspector (possibly), conductor and motorman with an almost new Tramcar No 4, dating the photo to the early Edwardian era. All present are wearing kepi-style caps. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Warrington Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 7 and crew
A conductor and a motorman pose for the camera with Tramcar No 7, bound for Longford — photo undated, but possibly taken in the 1920s. Both men are wearing employee numbers on their caps. Photo courtesy of Stephen Howarth.

Warrington Corporation Tramways Tram No 8 Sankey Bridges
Tramcar No 8 and its motorman captured for posterity by the camera of M J O'Connor at Sankey Bridges on 5th July 1933. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Warrington Corporation Tramways Tram No 8
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman. His left-hand collar bears a small municipal arms badge, whilst the right-hand side has individual 'W C T' initials. The cap badge is actually an employee number.

Warrington Corporation Tramways collar badge
Warrington Corporation Tramways collar badge — gilt. Author's Collection.

Warrington Corporation Tramways staff 1927
A photo of long-serving Warrington staff taken in 1927, with Chief Inspector Quinn seated centre. Three of the staff are wearing script-lettering Motorman cap badges. Photo courtesy of Stephen Howarth.

Bournemouth Corporation Tramways
Standard ‘off the shelf’ script-lettering cap badges of the type used up until the mid 1920s — brass. Author's Collection.

Warrington Corporation Tramways staff
A rather dilapidated Tramcar No 1 standards with an array of staff at the Latchford terminus — photo undated, but probably taken in 1935, either at or shortly before closure. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Warrington Corporation Tramways tram crews
A blow-up of the above photo, showing five tramcar crew.

Warrington Corporation Tramways collar badge
Warrington Corporation Tramways collar badge — chrome. Probably worn from the early 1930s until closure in 1935. Author's Collection.

Warrington Corporation Tramways collar badge
Warrington Corporation Tramways collar initials — chrome. Probably worn from the early 1930s until closure in 1935. Author's Collection.

Senior staff
Warrington Corporation Tramways inspectors
A blow-up of the long-service photo above showing Chief Inspector Quinn and another inspector to his left. Both are wearing standard Warrington municipal coat of arms badges on their caps.

Female staff
Warrington Corporation Tramways tram conductresses
A group of Warrington Corporation Tramways conductresses — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War. With the exception of the hats, all present appear to be wearing a rather motley assortment of attire, suggesting that uniforms had yet to be issued. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society.