Wolverton and Stony Stratford Tramway

Summary
The Wolverton & Stony Stratford Tramway was something of a peculiarity, being built primarily to transport workers between Stony Stratford and the large 'London North Western Railway'-owned carriage works at Wolverton. Its traffic was therefore largely confined to specific times of the day, during which it had to carry huge numbers of people, something it achieved by using the largest trailers ever to see the light of day in the British Isles. At the beginning and end of factory shifts, these were often coupled together as a rake of two or even three trailers, with an official capacity of 250, though probably carrying nearer 300, something which would have caused apoplexy amongst authorities elsewhere in the country, but which seemes not to have been an issue in rural Buckinghamshire. Unfortunately, the company agreed to carry the workers for a fare of one shilling per week, which was far too low to be economically viable, with results that were all too predictable.

The Wolverton and Stony Stratford District Light Railways Company commenced steam-hauled services on the 27th May 1887, but was in serious financial difficulties within two years, being unable to service creditor and shareholder obligations. The company was reconstructed as the Wolverton and Stony Stratford Tramroads Company Ltd on the 26th July 1889, but this failed to stave off the inevitable, the company passing into receivership, from where it was closed on the 17th December 1889. It remained closed for almost two years, before being re-opened on the 20th November 1891 by a local syndicate. A new company — the Wolverton and Stony Stratford and District New Tramway Co Ltd — was formed, and this took over on the 15th September 1893. After a period of stability that lasted almost twenty years, the exigencies of the Great War brought the company to its knees, and it entered voluntary liquidation on 17th July 1919. Salvation came in the form of the London North Western Railway Company, who no doubt viewed the W&SST as an anachronistic but necessary evil, which was needed to transport its workforce. The LNWR was amalgamated with several other railway companies on the 1st January 1923 to form the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company, but this mattered little, as unfettered motor bus competition was resulting in sizeable annual losses. The last tram ran on the 3rd May 1926, the following day being the first day of the country-wide General Strike; when the strike finally finished, the LMSR simply chose not to run any more services.

Throughout its 39-year existence, steam tram drivers wore railway footplate-like attire, heavy duty or cotton jackets and a variety of headgear (bowlers, soft-topped caps and flat caps); no insignia was carried on either jackets or caps.

Prior to passing into the hands of the London and North Western Railway Company in 1920, conductors appear to have worn informal attire such as jackets, shirts and ties; headgear initially took the form of soft-topped caps, but in later years, the flat cap appears to have been the norm. An exception to this was a conductor named 'Little Billy' Newton, who wore a double-breasted uniform jacket and a military-style cap with a tensioned crown (top); neither jacket nor cap appears to have borne insignia of any kind. Why only this individual wore a uniform is unknown, though he was apparently a 'character', so it is entirely possible that it was self-purchased.

Photos of conductors taken after the railway company take-over have unfortunately not survived, so it is currently unclear if either the LNWR, or its successor the LMS, issued conductors with uniforms.

Given the nature of its operation, the company probably did not employ inspectors, and certainly, none of the numerous surviving photos show them. The available evidence also suggests that unlike the vast majority of UK tramway systems, the W&SST did not employ the services of women during the Great War.

For a history of the system, see: 'The Wolverton and Stony Stratford Steam Trams' by Frank D Simpson; The Omnibus Society Publications Department (1981).

Images

Drivers and conductors
Wolverton and Stony Stratford Steam Tram No 1 1880s
Steam Tram No 1 (a Thomas Green & Sons product of 1887) stands in the depot yard at Stoney Stratford. Although the photo is undated, the fact that the engine is in very good condition and the trailer is unencumbered by advertisements, strongly suggests that it was taken in the late 1880s.


Wolverton and Stony Stratford steam tram driver 1880s
A blow-up of the above photo showing the driver, who is wearing a single-breasted, heavy-duty jacket and a soft-topped cap, all without insignia of any kind.


Wolverton and Sonty Straford tram engine Krauss 1888
A shot taken outside the Foresters Arms in Stony Stratford — a location which was seemingly a photographers' favourite — with one of the unusual Krauss engines, and what would appear to be a brand new 80-seat trailer, dating the photograph to 1888. Photo courtesy of David Gladwin, with thanks to Trevor Preece.


Wolv'n & St S'ford 001 CROP
A blow-up of the above photo showing the driver (third from left, presumably) and the conductor (standing, whistle in hand). The driver is wearing an informal jacket and tall bowler with upturned brim (popular in the 1880s), with the conductor, also in informal attire, in a soft-topped, peaked cap, all seemingly devoid of insignia.


Wolverton Station with Wolverton and Stony Stratford steam tram
One of the Thomas Green & Sons engines stands with its long, sagging trailer outside Wolverton Station - photo undated, but from the fashions on display, probably taken in the late 1890s or early 1900s. Photo courtesy of David Gladwin, with thanks to Trevor Preece.


Wolverton and Stony Straford tram conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing the assembled throng, including a conductor, in informal attire with a cash bag and soft-topped cap.


Wolverton and Stony Stratford Steam tram and trailer outside the Foresters Arms
One of the extremely large 100-seater trailers stands outside the Foresters Arms in Stony Stratford along with one of the Green's engines — photo undated, but probably taken between 1910 and the Great War. Photo courtesy of David Gladwin, with thanks to Trevor Preece.


Wolverton and Stony Stratford Tramway conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor, standing on the rear platform with cash bag; he is wearing an informal jacket and a large flat cap.


Wolverton and Stony Stratford steam tram
Steam Tram No 3 (a Krauss product) stands at Wolverton Station with one of the 100-seater trailers. The photo is unfortunately difficult to date. The advertisements on the trailer however, suggest that it may be Edwardian (or up to the Great War), yet no other photo from this period shows a conductor wearing a uniform. Photo courtesy of David Gladwin, with thanks to Trevor Preece.


Wolv'n & St S'ford 002 CROP
A blow-up of the above photo. The man on the left is definitely a postal worker, whilst the diminutive figure on the right is 'Little' Billy Newton, a long-time W&SS conductor; 'Little Billy' is clearly wearing a uniform and military-style cap, but seemingly without insignia of any kind.


Wolverton and Stony Stratford Tramway steam tram driver
Another blow-up of the above photo, this time showing the driver, who is wearing a heavy-duty cotton jacket and a flat cap.


Wolverton and Stony Stratford Steam Engine No 5 and driver
A well-known shot of Engine No 5 (a Bagnall delivered in 1921) standing outside the Forresters Arms — although undated, the engine is in LMS livery so it must have been taken after the railway 'grouping' of 1923. The man standing to the right may be the driver, though this is far from clear.