Wigan Corporation Tramways

Summary
Wigan became a tramway owner around June 1892 (the precise date has not be recorded), when it took over the lines of the former Wigan Tramways Company, which it leased to the latter's successor, the Wigan and District Tramways Company. The lines were narrow gauge (3ft 6ins) and steam operated. Although new lines were subsequently built and leased to the company, the corporation always intended to build a municipally owned electric system, operating the trams itself; the first new electric service ran on the 25th January 1901 (also narrow gauge). The corporation bought out the company on the 30th September 1902, gradually building new lines and converting existing steam lines to electric traction; the last steam service ran on the 26th Septmber 1904. Unfortunately, the tramway suffered enormously from decisions taken at the council level, the most damaging of which was an initial insistence on narrow gauge lines — when all adjacent systems were standard gauge — and then a volte face, but only after several lines had been built to what was now the wrong gauge, with tramcars supplied at this gauge. As a result, electrification was significantly more expensive than it need have been, leaving the tramways department to service excessive loan repayments. This was further compounded by decisions to build lines serving very sparsely populated districts, then setting fares too low (against the advice of the tramways department), and charging the tramway excessive electricity costs, which effectively meant that the latter was subsidising domestic consumers. Despite having the good sense to seek a report from an independent, and well-respected, tramway expert (Mallins of Liverpool Corporation Tramways), the council then proceeded to ignore most of his recommendations. The tramway, despite carrying large numbers of passengers, was therefore in constant financial difficulties. After recovering from the privations and challenges of the Great War, a decision was made to convert one of the last two narrow gauge lines to standard gauge, and the other to trolleybus traction, goals which were achieved in 1923 and 1925, respectively. Despite these investments in electric traction, the council once again changed its mind, abandoning the tramways on the 28th March 1931 and trolleybuses on the 30th September 1931.

From the outset of municipalised operation, which began with the opening of the first electric line on 25th January 1901, Wigan Corporation issued its tramcar staff with uniforms; these comprised single-breasted jackets with five buttons (presumably brass — see link), two breast pockets with button closures, upright collars and epaulettes. The upright collars did not carry any badges, which seem instead to have been borne on the epaulettes, though their precise form remains unclear. Somewhat surprisingly, the basic style of the uniform does not appear to have altered over the entire 30-year existence of the tramway.

Caps were initially of a kepi type with a glossy peak, and bore a brass script-lettering grade badge — either Conductor or Motorman - above which, a small cap badge was worn. This almost certainly depicted Wigan Moot Hall - the central device on the Seal of Wigan - which was used extensively by Wigan prior to the official grant of arms in 1922. The caps were changed at some point during the Edwardian period, probably as early as 1904, to a military style with a tensioned crown (top); it is likely that a new cap badge was also introduced at this time; this again made use of the Moot Hall, but within a wreath (see below). White rain covers were apparently compulsory between May 1st and September 30th.

In 1922, the County Borough of Wigan was officially granted its municipal arms, and photos taken from the mid-1920s onwards clearly show that the ‘Moot Hall’ device had been replaced by a more elaborate badge, which consisted of the new coat of arms within a wreath (see below).

Motormen and conductors were also issued with long greatcoats — these had two rows of four buttons and high fold-over collars, though in later years capes appear to have also been issued. It is unclear whether these garments bore badges.

Wigan Corporation officially became a steam tram operator on 30th September 1902, when it took over the Wigan and District Tramways Company. The Corporation operated steam services for almost two years, until their withdrawal on the 26th September 1904. Only a single surviving photograph can be securely dated to this period, and this clearly shows that the Corporation, unlike the W&DTCo, issued uniforms to conductors working the steam services. These uniforms appear to have been identical to those issued to staff working on the electric trams. In contrast, and perhaps unsurprisingly, drivers and stokers continued to wear railway footplate-like attire.

Inspectors wore single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair) and upright collars; it is probable that the collars carried the designation Inspector, more than likely in embroidered script-lettering. Kepi style caps were most probably worn in the early years, changing to a military pattern with a tensioned crown at the same time as the other tramcar staff. Although the brass badge shown below — depicting Wigan Moot Hall within a wreath — was possibly also worn by inspectors, definitive photographic evidence is currently lacking.

Conductresses, who were employed during the Great War to replace men lost to the armed services, were issued with long skirts, and long single-breasted jackets with breast pockets (with button fastenings) and a waist belt. Round bonnets were worn; these probably bore the same badges as mentioned above, though photographic evidence is inconclusive. Although at least one inspectress was employed during the Great War, Wigan never made use of motorwomen (female drivers).

A report conducted in 1910 reveals that Wigan Corporation Tramways Traffic Department had 9 clerks, 1 chief inspector, 7 inspectors, 61 motormen, 66 conductors, 6 pointsmen and 2 parcel boys.

For a detailed history of Wigan Corporation Tramways, as well as its steam and horse predecessors, see 'The Tramways of Wigan' by E K Stretch; Manchester Transport Museum Society (1978).

Images

Steam tram drivers and conductors
Wigan Corporation Steam Tram 1904
Wigan Corporation Tramways staff pose with an unidentified steam tram and Trailer No 7 outside Hindley Depot — photo undated, but more than likely taken to mark the end of steam services on 26th September 1904.


Wigan Corporation Steam Tram conductors
Although of rather poor quality, this image does show that all the conductors appear to be wearing uniforms identical to their colleagues operating the electric tramcar services, but with military style caps rather than kepis, suggesting that the latter had been replaced by 1904. The conductors, as well as the inspector (front left in main photo), are clearly wearing a round cap badge — larger than that seen in earlier electric era images (see below), along with what is very probably a script-lettering grade badge (Conductor). The round badge is almost certainly the brass 'Moot Hall and Wreath' badge depicted below.


Wigan Corporation tramways inspector's badge
Wigan Corporation Tramways cap badge — brass. Although confirmatory photographic evidence is sketchy, this badge was probably introduced in 1903/4, remaining in use through to the mid-1920s. Author's Collection.


Motormen and conductors
Wigan Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 19 on the Boars Head route crew
A conductor and motorman pose aboard Tramcar No 19 on the Boar’s Head route — date unknown, but most probably taken in 1902/3. An epaulette badge or number is just visible on the motorman’s right shoulder. Both men are wearing kepi-style caps bearing script-lettering grade badges — either Conductor or Motorman — along with a small badge, the precise form of which is unclear. It does however seem likely that the latter depicted Wigan Moot Hall, which was used a municipal symbol prior to the granting of arms in 1922. Author's Collection.



General pattern script-lettering grade cap badges (brass), as worn by Wigan staff during the early years of electric operation. Author's Collection.


Wigan Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 91 and crew
WCT conductor, informally attired, and motorman with Tramcar No 91 at the Abbey Lakes terminus — photo undated, but probably taken during the late 1920s. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Wigan Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 91 and crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman, whose cap almost certainly carries the new municipal cap badge, which would have replaced the old 'Moot Hall & Wreath' cap badge around 1922, when Wigan was granted official arms.


Wigan Corporation Tramways brass cap badge
Late period cap badge worn from around 1922 through to closure — brass. Wigan was formally granted these arms in 1922, so the cap badge cannot be earlier than this. Author's Collection.


Wigan Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 90 and crew
Conductor and motorman pose for the camera on the last day of operation (28th March 1931) with Tramcar No 90 at the Abbey Lakes terminus. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Wigan Corporation tramways late period cap badge
Wigan Corporation Tramways/Transport cap badge — chrome. Although the Wigan system closed in 1931, which was before the widespread adoption of chrome as a badge material (see link), the fact that chrome Wigan Corporation Tramways buttons have survived, suggests that chrome cap badges may also have been issued towards the very end of the tramway system's life. This particular example belonged to Charles Makin, a Wigan Corporation Transport bus driver (see photo below). Author's Collection.



Bus driver No 46, Charles Makin (above right), owner of the late-period cap badge shown above — photo taken during the 1950s. Although long after the demise of the tramway, earlier photos (see above) show tramway staff wearing the identical form of cap badge.


Senior staff
Wigan Corporation Tramways Steam tram inspector
A blow-up of the 1904 steam-era shot above showing the inspector. His military-style cap probably bears the standard 'Moot Hall & Wreath' cap badge.


Female staff
Wigan Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 20 on the Aspull route crew
Conductress, inspector and motorman pose with Tramcar No 20 on a service for Aspull - photo undated, but almost certainly taking during the Great War. The inspector is wearing a typical single-breasted tramway inspector's jacket and a military-style cap. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Wigan Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 13 on the Aspull route crew
Another photo of a conductress and motorman on the Aspull route, but this time with a very battered looking Tramcar No 13 — photo undated, but clearly taken during or shortly after the Great War. Neither of the subjects appear to be wearing a cap badge. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.