Accrington Corporation Steam Tramways

The Accrington Corporation Steam Tramways Company commenced operation of Accrington Corporation's newly built, 4ft 0ins-gauge steam tramway — under a 21-year lease — on the 5th April 1886.

The steam system eventually comprised a line out to Church in the west, a line to Clayton in the north, and a very steeply graded line to Baxenden in the south. The latter line was subsequently extended by Haslingden Corporation through to its boundary with Rawtenstall (at Lockwood) — who like Accrington leased the lines to the ACSTCo — and by the company itself from there through to Queens Square, Rawtenstall. Although the system was eventually connected to two other 4ft 0in-gauge steam tramways — at Church (Blackburn Corporation Tramways) and Rawtenstall (Rossendale Valley Tramway Company) — other than the odd special working, no regular through running took place.

The early years of the tramway were troubled indeed, including significant issues between the corporation and the contractors during construction, coupled with a disastrous choice of rail — the Barker rail — which was to cause serious problems for the ACSTCo, who ended up having to maintain the track as part of their lease, not to mention the deleterious effect it had on its engines. The expense incurred in dealing with the rail problem, as well as severe downturns in the cotton trade and an unenviable accident record, led to low or no dividends for the best part of a decade.

The tramway did however eventually pay its way, attracting the attention of the British Electric Traction Company in 1899. At this time, the BETCo were aggressively purchasing horse and steam-operated tramways across the British Isles with the intention of converting them to electric traction, as well as promoting schemes for completely new electric tramways. Although agreement on the terms of a sale was reached, BETCo interest waned when it became clear that Accrington Corporation intended to electrify and work its own lines.

Rather than buying the ACSTCo out of its lease, Accrington Corporation chose to wait until it expired — in April 1907 — no doubt to ensure that they got the best deal possible. The down side of this was that conversion to electric traction came rather late in the day compared with Blackburn and Darwen, though Haslingden and Rawtenstall were later still, the latter becoming the last street tramway system in Britain to use steam traction on a regular basis.

Despite planning well ahead, the corporation were however not ready to take over operation of the system when the lease expired, so the ACSTCo continued to work the steam services until agreement could be reached. Accrington formally purchased the engines, trailers and assets necessary to work its lines on the 20th September 1907, with the ACSTCo agreeing to continue working the steam services until the end of the year. Long before a price was agreed however, Accrington set about converting its tracks to electric traction, the first service running on the 2nd August 1907. The last steam tram — operated under contract by the ACSTCo — ran on the 31st December 1907. The following day (1st January 1908) the ACSTCo's remaining assets were acquired by Haslingden and Rawtenstall Corporations.

Like many other steam-operated tramway systems, steam tram drivers wore railway footplate-like attire comprising cotton jacket and trousers, along with a grease-topped or soft-topped cap; no badges or insignia were worn.

Photos suggest that conductors probably wore informal jackets, along with soft-topped caps with a glossy peak; the latter seem to have borne a badge of some description, possibly a block-lettering grade badge — 'CONDUCTOR'. In later years, single-breasted uniform jackets were probably issued, though what insignia they bore, if any, remains unknown.

A studio portrait has survived which may well show an ACSTCo inspector. If the attribution is indeed correct, then the photo suggests that they wore long, double-breasted overcoats with two rows of four buttons (plain), and lapels, without insignia of any kind. Caps were in a kepi style with a stiff glossy peak and bore a one-piece, block-lettering grade badge 'INSPECTOR'. Whether the buttons and badges were brass or nickel is currently unknown. The John ST photo shown below includes an individual who may be an inspector, though they are problems dating the image. If it was indeed taken in ACSTCo days, then single-breasted jackets were worn, along with kepi-style caps; the latter appear to have borne a large oval cap badge.

Further reading
For more information on the system, see: 'The Tramways of Accrington 1886-1932' by R W Rush; The Light Railway Transport League (1961).


Steam tram drivers and conductors
Accrington Steam Tramways Co Steam Tram No 14
Steam Tram No 14 and an unidentified trailer — photo undated, but certainly taken between 1887 and 1890 given that it is towing an Ashburys trailer with open upper-deck sides (thanks to Phil Calvey for this information). The location is probably Blackburn Rd, Haslingden. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Accrington Steam Tramways Co Steam Tram No 14 and crew
A blow-up of the above photo, showing the engine driver (wearing cotton jacket and a soft-topped cap) and the conductor, who is clearly wearing a cap with cap badge; whether the jacket is a uniform item or not is unclear.

Accrington Steam Tram no 21
A rather jauntily angled shot of Steam Tram No 21 (ex Blackburn Corporation Tramways Ltd, and still in that company's livery) in Peel Street, Accrington — photo undated, but certainly 20th Century given that No 21 was only acquired in 1901. The figure in the cab would appear to be wearing an unbuttoned 'lancer-style' jacket. Photograph courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Accrington Steam Tram depot staff
A depot shot taken some time after 1899 (when the trailer behind was acquired; thanks to Phil Calvey for this information), apparently of steam tram drivers, though some of those depicted may be fitters. Photograph courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Accrington Steam Tram No 6 and conductor
Steam Tram No 6 (delivered in 1898) — photo undated, but probably taken in 1907 given that there appears to be an electric traction pole in the background (thanks to Phil Calvey for this information). The conductor is wearing a kepi-style cap and what would appear to be an informal jacket. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Haslingden Corporation Tramways steam tram outside the Park Pub Accrington
A photo taken outside 'The Park' pub in Manchester Rd between Accrington and Baxenden, purportedly on the 4th September 1908, showing the 'last steam tram in Manchester Rd'. On the face of it however, this would seem fairly unlikely, given that this portion of route had been converted to electric traction some eight months beforehand, and there are no signs whatsoever of overhead electric wires. It is more likely that the dating is wrong, and that it was in fact taken prior to electrification. Photo courtesy of David Gladwin, with thanks to Trevor Preece.

Accrington Corporation Steam Tramways
An unidentified steam tram, with Accrington Corporation Tramways trailer, engaged in finishing work on the new electric route to Oswaldtwistle (note the electric traction pole in the background) — this dates the photo to 1907. The figure with arms folded in the cab is almost certainly the driver, whilst the man on the right may be a stoker. It is unclear who the figure is in the cab wearing what appears to be a uniform jacket and a flat cap. Photograph courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Haslingden Corporation Steam Tram and Trailer No 13 John St, 1908
A number of employees and officials stand with a rather care-worn Thomas Green & Sons' steam tram and a Milnes trailer (No 13) in the depot yard at John St, Haslingden. Although the photo is undated, the fact that the trailer is decorated, and the driver is wearing what would appear to be brand-new overalls, indicates that it was a special occasion. The most likely candidates are the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (22nd June 1897), the Coronation of King Edward VII (9th August 1902) or the first day of operation by Haslingden Corporation Tramways (1st January 1908). Whichever it is, the smartly turned out staff are probably wearing uniforms provided by the ASTCo, as later photographs of Haslingden Corporation Tramways staff always show them wearing informal attire (see link). My thanks go to Phil Calvey and Richard Hargreaves for the background information. Photo courtesy of David Gladwin, with thanks to Trevor Preece.

Haslingden Corporation Tramways Steam Tram driver 1908
A blow-up of the above photo showing the driver, who is wearing what appears to be a brand-new, light-coloured cotton jacket, trousers and soft-topped cap. The whole ensemble appears to be devoid of insignia.

Haslingden Corporation Tramways Steam Tram inspector and conducto
Another blow-up of the above photo, this time showing two uniformed individuals, probably an inspector (on the left) and a conductor (on the right.) Both men are wearing single-breasted jackets with a single slit breast pocket, waist-level pockets (with flaps) and upright collars, along with kepi-style caps. The inspector's cap clearly bears a large oval cap badge, probably embroidered.

Senior staff
Accrington Corporation Steam Tramways Inspector?
A studio portrait of an individual who may possibly be an ACSTCo inspector. The reverse of the postcard is marked: ''J W Tattersall & Co. Blackburn Rd. Accrington", a photographer who is known to have been active during the last two decades of the 19th Century and the first decade of the 20th. Assuming that the individual was from Accrington, then the only other realistic alternative employer for a uniformed inspector would be the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway. That company's uniforms and badges are however reasonably well attested, and are quite unlike the ones depicted here; furthermore, the L&Y Rly — along with many railways — didn't use the grade 'Inspector', so it seems a distinct possibility that the local steam tramway is the correct attribution. Author's Collection

Accrington Corporation Steam Tramways Company Inspector
A blow-up of the above photograph showing details of the cap and cap badge. Magnification suggests that the buttons were plain.