Wigan Corporation Tramways

History
Wigan became a tramway owner around June 1892 (the precise date has not be recorded), when it bought the lines of the former Wigan Tramways Company from receivership, which it then leased to the WTCo's successor, the Wigan and District Tramways Company. The lines were narrow gauge (3ft 6ins) and steam operated. Although a new steam line was subsequently built by the corporation and leased to the company, the corporation's thoughts eventually turned to electric traction, and on the 15th July 1898, it acquired the powers to convert the system, as well as to operate it itself.

The W&DTCo was keen to build and operate the system itself, and to this end had reached a provisional agreement with the British Electric Traction Company. At this time, the BETCo was actively purchasing steam and horse tramways with a view to conversion to electric traction, and would eventually go on to own, part-own or lease almost 50 tramway concerns across the British Isles. The corporation was however reluctant to see its system operated by a company, especially one headquartered in London. Construction of the first new line began on the 11th June 1900, to a gauge of 3ft 6ins, with the first overhead electric, municipally operated service running on the 25th January 1901.

Although more new lines were opened later that year, the corporation would sooner or later need to convert the existing steam lines, and for that it needed to buy the company out of its leases or reach some other accommodation that would see steam services gradually phased out. The corporation chose to acquire the company, but quite bizarrely, it agreed to pay well over the odds, given that it already owned all bar a few hundred yards of track, the tramcars and engines were of questionable value, and a significant number of valuable buildings were excluded from the deal. The transaction was nevertheless completed, the corporation taking over operation of the steam lines on the 30th September 1902, and the company no doubt gleefully distributing the corporation's largesse amongst its shareholders. Thereafter, the steam lines were gradually converted to electric traction, the last steam service running on the 26th September 1904.

Unfortunately, the tramway suffered enormously from decisions taken at council level (as opposed to the tramway's management), the most damaging of which was an insistence on narrow gauge lines — when all adjacent systems were standard gauge (and this was also the strong preference of key local authorities). Whilst not a disastrous decision in and of itself, the council subsequently performed a volte face under pressure from local authorities through which the corporation system would run; this was however only after several lines had already been built to the narrower gauge, some of which were then converted, whilst others were left narrow gauge for their entire operating lives. As a result, electrification was significantly more expensive than it needed to have been, leaving the tramways to service excessive loan repayments. This was further compounded by decisions to build lines serving very sparsely populated districts, then setting the fares too low (again against the advice of the tramway's management), and charging excessive electricity costs, which effectively meant that the tramway was subsidising domestic and commercial electricity consumers. Despite having the good sense to seek a report on their struggling tramway enterprise from an independent and well-respected tramway expert (Mallins of Liverpool Corporation Tramways), the council then proceeded to either ignore most of his recommendations or fail to implement them, a feat it subsequently repeated in 1921 (this time involving J B Hamilton of Leeds City Tramways). The tramway, despite carrying large numbers of passengers, was therefore in constant financial difficulties, often severe.

Like most tramway systems, Wigan's emerged from the Great War in very run-down condition, with a large backlog of maintenance work and renewals. Although the corporation experimented with a few bus services in late 1919, they made heavy losses and were all withdrawn by late 1922. The corporation had meanwhile chosen to invest in the tramway, ordering new tramcars, rebuilding others and relaying track. The narrow-gauge lines to Aspull and Martland Mill were particularly bad, but rather than convert them both to standard gauge, half of the former was re-gauged (re-opened on the 22nd December 1923), the outer portion being replaced by buses, whilst the latter was converted to trolley bus operation (opened 7th May 1925).

Bus services were steadily expanded during the second half of the 1920s, and in 1926, yet another report on the tramways recommended that they (and the trolleybuses) should be replaced with buses as and when the track condition demanded or local authority leases expired. The tramway routes were gradually closed during 1930 and 1931, some of them having only had the track replaced a handful of years earlier, the last tram running on the 28th March 1931. The trams were followed into oblivion by their erstwhile replacement — the trolleybuses — only six months later on the 30th September 1931.

At its maximum extent, Wigan Corporation Tramways operated 24.83 miles of tramway, 19.23 miles owned by the corporation, 1.99 miles by Ashton-in-Makerfield Urban District Council, 2.45 miles by Ince-in-Makerfield UDC, 0.45 miles by Hindley UDC and 0.32 miles leased from the South Lancashire Tramways Company, who it turned leased it from Hindley UDC. The system comprised lines: northwards to Standish; northeastwards to Aspull; eastwards to Hindley; southeastwards to Platt Bridge; southwards to Ashton-in-Makerfield via both Poolstock and Goose Green; westwards to Abbey Lakes (Orrell); and northwestwards to Martland Mill. The tracks of the WCT approached those of the SLTCo at Ashton-in-Makerfield, Platt Bridge and Hindley, but were only ever connected at Ashton and Hindley, and then only very late on in the system's life (26th October 1926 and the 21st April 1928, respectively). A joint through service between St Helens and Wigan, via Ashton, was subsequently introduced — over SLTCo tracks leased by St Helens Corporation — with St Helens Corporation Tramways cars appearing Wigan, and those of the WCT appearing in St Helens. This service was however only to last for 13 months before being withdrawn. Other than WCT tramcars running through to terminate in Market St in Hindley, no through running was undertaken over this connection.

Uniforms
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.

Further reading
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.