Sheerness and District Tramways

The Sheerness and District Electric Traction Co Ltd was a subsidiary of the much larger British Electric Traction Company Ltd (BETCo), a concern which at its zenith either owned, part-owned or leased around 50 tramway concerns across the British Isles. The photos below clearly show Sheerness staff wearing the familiar and largely regulation BETCo uniform. Although jackets appeared to vary somewhat between BETCo systems, as well as across the decades, the cap badges, collar designations and buttons invariably followed a standard pattern.

Photos of the early years are scarce, but those that have survived show that conductors and motormen were issued with single-breasted jackets with five buttons (of the standard BETCo pattern — see link) and upright collars; by analogy with other BETCo systems, the latter probably bore an employee number on the bearer's left hand side (in individual numerals) and system initials — most likely 'S D T' — on the right-hand side (in individual letters). Caps were military in style with a tensioned crown (top) and stiff glossy peak; they bore the standard BETCo 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge, worn above an employee number (in individual numerals). The badges and buttons were almost certainly brass. At some point, probably in the late Edwardian era, a change was made to double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics with two rows of five buttons (narrowing from top to bottom) and upright collars; the latter carried the same insignia as the earlier jackets. Photos clearly show that both styles of jacket co-existed, suggesting that the transition from one to the other was gradual.

Photos of senior staff are rare, but the one staff photo that has survived indicates that inspectors wore single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or a hook and eye affair) and upright collars, with the pockets and jacket edged in a finer material than the main body; the collars probably bore Inspector in embroidered script lettering. The standard ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge was worn on the cap, but with an embroidered script-lettering Inspector badge in place of the usual employee number.

It is currently unclear whether or not the S&DETCo employed the services of female staff during the Great War, to replace male employees lost to the armed services. A studio portrait of a conductress has survived, which was clearly taken in a Sheerness studio, with a uniform bearing BETCo buttons. Although this could be taken as evidence that the subject worked on the trams, it may well be that she worked on the S&DTCo's bus services, which initially complemented the tram services, and from July 1917, completely replaced them.

For a history of Sheerness and District Tramways, see: 'The Tramways of Kent' by Invicta - Volume 1, West Kent; The Light Railway Transport League (1971).


Motormen and conductors
Sheerness and District Tramways Tram No 7
A photograph that almost certainly depicts a brand-new Tramcar No 7 during test running, prior to the opening (April 1903). The man at the controls is wearing informal attire, and is more than likely an employee of the tramcar electrical contractors, Siemens. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice

Sheerness Tramways Tram No 4 in Sheerness Town Station loop
Tramcar No 4 stands at the entrance to Sheerness Town Station loop, its unusual bow collector clearly in evidence — photo undated, but probably late Edwardian. The motorman is wearing a single-breasted tunic with upright collars. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Sheerness and District Tramways Tram No 1 on Marine Parade
Tramcar No 1 trundles along Marine Parade — photo undated, but probably taken in the late Edwardian era, given that the vehicle bears advertising enamels. The conductor (on the top deck) is wearing a single-breasted jacket, whilst the motorman (at the controls) is wearing a double-breasted greatcoat. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Sheerness and District Tramways staff photo
Probably the entire staff of the SD&T assembled at the depot — photo undated, but possibly taken shortly before the Great War. A mixture of single-breasted jackets and double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics are on show. Other photos clearly show motormen and conductors wearing both styles of jacket, suggesting that they overlapped, rather than each being used for a specific grade. Caps bear the standard British Electric Traction Company 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge (see below), worn above an employee number. All insignia were probably brass.

Sheerness and District Tramways cap badge
Standard British Electric Traction Company ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge — brass

Female staff
Sheerness Tramways Great War conductress
Studio portrait of a British Electric Traction Company Great War conductress, clearly embossed: 'J Griffiths, Sheerness-on-Sea'. It is currently unclear whether female staff were employed on the trams, which closed for good on 7th July 1917, or whether she worked on the bus services which the Sheerness and District Traction Company also ran, both as a supplement to the tram services, and eventually to replace them. Author's Collection.

Sheerness and Distirct Traction Company Great War tram or bus conductress
A blow-up of the above photo. Although the subject is not wearing a BETCo cap badge, her buttons are certainly the standard BETCo 'Magnet & Wheel' pattern.