Bessbrook and Newry Tramway

History
Although the Bessbrook and Newry Tramway clearly had 'tramway' in its title, it was to all intents and purposes a 3ft 0ins-gauge, centre-rail electric railway, whose prime purpose was to move workers and goods between the nearest railhead at Newry, and the flax spinning mills at Bessbrook. Although it was initially planned to be a steam-operated concern, a decision was taken to go with electric traction, power being obtained by means of a hydro-electric scheme; this forward-looking decision seems especially noteworthy given that the company was based in a rural backwater miles from any urban influence. The tramway did however have two 'tramway' like features, namely: the single-deck tramcars/coaches with bow collectors, and the use of overhead current collection, though this was only for 50 yds at a road crossing.

The line opened for business on the 1st October 1885 and proved to be a good investment, with traffic at times very heavy indeed. The rolling stock and generating equipment were modernised in the 1920s, though not without a good deal of friction over funding between the company and local government. The maintenance challenges of this Second World War however, left the tramway in a poor state, and perhaps inevitably, this and competition from bus operators saw it close on the 10th January 1948.

Uniforms
A couple of very early photos have survived, and these show that staff (motormen and conductors-cum-guards) wore long, double-breasted coats with two rows of seven buttons, narrowing from top to bottom; it is unclear whether these garments carried insignia of any kind. Caps were in a kepi style and seem to have borne a cap badge of some description, though what form this took is unknown.

Photographs taken from the 1890s through to the 1920s seem particularly sparse, so it is not possible to say what type of uniforms were worn during these years, or indeed, if uniforms were worn at all. By the 1930s, the company seems to have totally abandoned the use of uniforms, and it is entirely possible that it did so much earlier; all images taken during the 1930s and 1940s show staff wearing informal attire, often just a single-breasted jacket, shirt and a flat cap.

Given the railway-like nature of the tramway, it would seem highly unlikely that the B&NT employed the services of inspectors, and certainly, no surviving photos show them. Likewise, and in contrast to the vast majority of British mainland tramways during the Great War, the B&NT does not appear to have employed the services of women to replace male staff lost to the armed services.

Further reading
For a history of the tramway see: 'The Bessbrook and Newry Tramways' by A T Newham; Oakwood Press (1979). For an overview of the Irish tram scene, including the Bessbrook and Newry, see 'Irish Trams' by James Kilroy; Colourpoint Books (1996).

Images

Motormen and conductors
Bessbrook and Newry Tram No 1
A motorman and conductor/guard with what is undoubtedly a nearly new Tramcar No 1, dating the photo to 1885/6. Photo in the public domain; original believed to be held by the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.


Bessbrook and Newry Tramway tram conductor 1885
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor, in long double-breasted coat and kepi-style cap.


Bessbrook and Newry Tramway Tram No 1 Millvale crossing
Bessbrook and Newry No 1 stands at Millvale level crossing with three wagons in tow — photo undated, but probably taken shortly after opening, so in the 1880s. Photo in the public domain; original believed to be held by the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum.


Besbrook and Newry Tramway staff 1880s
A blow-up of the above photo, with the motorman (on the platform) wearing a long double-breasted coat and kepi-style cap.


Bessbrook and Newry Tram No 4
B&NT No 4 shunting a box van, with Car No 6 (a private saloon built in 1922) in the background — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1930s or 1940s. The motorman is wearing an informal jacket, shirt and a flat cap. Photo courtesy of Jim Kilroy, tram archivist at the National Transport Museum (see link).


Bessbrook and Newry Tram No 4
Tram No 4 stands at the Edward St terminus in Newry — photo undated, but almost certainly taken in the 1940s. It is unclear whether the man standing rather nonchalantly in the cab is the motorman or a member of the public. Photo by V Goldberg, courtesy of Jim Kilroy, tram archivist at the National Transport Museum (see link).


Bessbrook and Newry Tramway No 4
Bessbrook and Newry No 4 again, this time at Millvale crossing — photo undated, but certainly taken in the 1940s, and probably not too long before closure (1948). Photo courtesy of Jim Kilroy, tram archivist at the National Transport Museum (see link).