Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways

Great Yarmouth Corporation applied for powers to construct an electric tramway system in 1898, the resultant act receiving royal assent in 1899. At this point, the British Electric Traction Company appeared on the scene; the BETCo had been aggressively purchasing horse and steam-operated tramways across the British Isles since the mid-1890s, with the intention of converting them to electric traction, as well as promoting entirely new tramways. The BETCo set up a subsidiary company — the Great Yarmouth and District Tramways Company — which then acquired a controlling interest in the local 3ft 6ins-gauge horse tramway owned by the Yarmouth and Gorleston Tramways Company. BETCo presumably hoped to persuade Great Yarmouth Corporation to support a scheme to electrify and extend the horse tramway, but all attempts by the company to acquire the necessary powers were blocked by the corporation. The council was, however, divided on the matter of municipal tramway operation, the decision only going the way of the pro-municipalisation lobby after protracted discussion, and by just a single vote. This indecision inevitably delayed a start on the new 3ft 6ins-gauge corporation tramway, construction only starting on the 16th October 1901; progress thereafter was, however, relatively quick, the first public services commencing 8 months later on the 20th June 1902.

Agreement was eventually reached with the BETCo to purchase the horse tramway, the corporation taking possession the 12th March 1905, after which, conversion to electric traction commenced. The corporation continued to operate the horse trams for a further four months, the last service running on the 4th July 1905, electric services commencing the same day.

The core of the system lay along the spit of land between the River Yare and the sea, with extensions opening in October 1904, August 1905 and May 1907; the rebuilt horse tramway line lay to the west of the River Yare, the two parts of the system remaining physically unconnected for the entire lifetime of the tramway. At its maximum, the system extended to 9.94 miles, lines to the east of the Yare running from the junction of King St and Regent St: northwards through the Market Place, along Northgate St, Caister Rd and Yarmouth Rd to Caister; eastwards along Regent Rd then southwards along Marine Parade to Wellington Pier; southwards along King St, Blackfriars Rd, Camden Rd and Admiralty Rd, with a short branch along Barrack Rd to the Fish Wharf; westwards along Regent St, turning northwards along North Quay to join the Caister line via Fullers Hill, with a short branch to Vauxhall Station; and lastly, a short connecting line between King St and Marine Parade along St Peters Rd. To the west of the Yare, the line ran westwards from Haven Bridge to South Town Station, where it turned southwards along Southtown Rd and High St to Feathers Plain in Gorleston and on to a terminus along Lowestoft Rd near Gorleston-on-Sea railway station; a branch also ran eastwards from Feathers Plain along Baker St, Pier Plain and Pier Walk to Gorleston Quay and the beach.

Like most tramways on the British mainland, Great Yarmouth suffered during the Great War from a loss of staff (and expertise), as well as an inability to carry out anything other than minimal maintenance, with acquisition of new track or spares proving extremely challenging if not impossible. As a result, the system emerged from the conflict in badly run-down condition, the first call on funds being to make good the backlog of track and vehicle repairs.

By 1920, the corporation was giving some thought to the future of transport within the town, and authorised the purchase of a number of second-hand motorbuses, which were to be used as tramway feeders. The first of these new services commenced on the 6th October 1920, and they quickly proved their worth, so much so, that when the King Street to Fish Wharf section of the tramway required track renewal, it was abandoned in favour of bus operation — on the 15th May 1924 — along with the St Peters Road and Vauxhall Station to Fullers Hill lines, both of which had always run at a loss.

Although much of the track on the remainder of the system was also in poor condition, the corporation still viewed the tramway as the core of its municipal transport service, so it borrowed heavily to renew the track and rebuild the tramcar fleet between 1924 and 1926. New bus services continued to be introduced in the late 1920s, and as the economic case for them became ever more compelling, a decision was made to abandon the short line to Vauxhall Station, the last tramcar service over it running on the 6th October 1929. This left just two lines operating — Southtown to Gorleston and Wellington Pier to Caister — it only being a matter of time before any call for significant expenditure would see them close too. The Gorleston line succumbed on the 25th September 1930, three years before the last tram ran of all ran, with much ceremony, on the 14th December 1933.

There is some evidence to suggest that motormen and conductors, of whom there were initially 24 of each, initially wore double-breasted, naval-style jackets of indigo blue, along with soft-topped caps, though confirmatory photographic evidence is currently lacking. These early uniforms cost £1-18s-6d each.

In 1905, the above uniforms were replaced by single-breasted jackets with lapels and four buttons (bearing the full system title and municipal shield — see link); the lapels, along with the jacket edges and cuffs, were all piped in silver braid (as were the trousers). Other than the buttons, the jackets appear to have been plain, i.e., devoid of badges. Caps were naval in style with a soft top and glossy peak, and bore a large cap badge which comprised the Great Yarmouth municipal 'scalloped' shield, within a garter bearing the full system title: 'Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways'. Examples of badges and buttons exist in both gilded brass and in nickel, suggesting that a transition was made at some stage from one to the other, most probably from the former to the latter.

At some point, probably in the late Edwardian era, the uniforms were changed once again to a double-breasted 'lancer-style' of tunic with five pairs of buttons (narrowing from top to bottom), and upright collars. The latter carried an employee number on the bearer's left-hand side (in individual metal numerals) and systems initials — 'G Y C T' — on the right-hand side (in individual metal letters). Although initially without epaulettes, these were later added, and were used for the employee number, with the collars then carrying a small municipal shield badge (on each side). The precise chronology of this change is unclear, with a staff photo taken in the mid 1920s clearly showing a mix of both types. Caps were probably changed at the same time as the tunics, to a military style with a tensioned crown (top); these continued to carry the same cap badge as previously, and were embellished with braided cord (at least initially).

Tramway staff were also issued with double-breasted greatcoats with five pairs of buttons and high fold-over collars; the latter bore system initials on both sides — 'G Y C T' — in individual metal letters. In later years, the greatcoats bore epaulettes, and these, along with the collars, were worn without insignia, even the buttons being plain.

Motormen and conductors were required to wear a round enamel licence when in service. This was usually hung from a button on the bearer's left breast, and bore a number, the full system title and the grade, all in black lettering on a white background.

Inspectors, initially numbering three individuals, were issued with single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair), and a slit breast pocket, all edged in a finer material than the main body, and with upright collars; the latter probably bore the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script-lettering. Caps were in a kepi style with a stiff glossy peak, and bore a large, oval-shaped cap badge of unknown pattern. The first uniforms cost £2-0s-6d. The kepi-style cap was subsequently replaced by a military-style cap with tensioned crown, which continued to carry the same badge as the earlier kepis. The uniform jacket was eventually changed to a more modern design, certainly by the 1920s, and whilst still single-breasted with hook and eye fastenings, now bore epaulettes and two breast pockets (with button closures).

Great Yarmouth also employed the services of a Chief Inspector, who can be glimpsed at the controls of a decorated tramcar in the opening day photo below. His jacket, which was modelled on a British Military Patrol Jacket, was single-breasted with hook and eye fastening and upright collars, and bore elaborate decorative braided loops. It is unclear whether the collars bore any insignia. The cap was very similar to those worn by inspectors, carrying a very similar if not identical cap badge, but with decorative braid on the peak. It seems highly likely this style of uniform was superseded by a more modern design at some point, though no details are available.

In common with the vast majority of UK tramway systems, Great Yarmouth took on female staff during the Great War (starting in 1916) to replace male staff lost to the armed services. Unfortunately, photographs are yet to come to light, so all that is known comes from paper records, which indicate that 10 long-skirted uniforms were initially purchased at a cost of at 35 shillings each. However, given as only 5 straw hats (with bands) were purchased in the summer of 1917, at a cost of 4 shillings each, it would appear that only that number of ladies had actually been appointed, though 10 winter overcoats were purchased at the same time, presumably in anticipation of further recruitment. Five more sets of uniforms (including gaiters) were purchased in 1918. In June 1919, instructions were issued for the sale of female uniforms, suggesting that all the ladies had departed by this time.

I am indebted to David Mackley (and the late Terry Barker) for much of the information above, and to Colin Tooke (as well as David) for permission to reproduce many of the photos shown below.

Further reading
For a photographic history of Yarmouth's tramways, see 'Great Yarmouth Tramways' by David Mackley; Middleton Press (2003).


Motormen and conductors
Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways Tram No 24
A brand new No 24 posed for the cameraman on the Gorleston-Southtown route with a service bound for Yarmouth Bridge — photo undated, but probably taken around the time the route was opened, i.e., July 1905. The motorman is wearing a single-breasted jacket with lapels, and a soft-topped cap which bears a large round municipal cap badge (see below). His left breast bears a black and white enamel licence.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways cap badge
Great Yarmouth Corporation cap badge — gilded brass. Author's Collection.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways cap badge
Great Yarmouth Corporation cap badge — nickel. Author's Collection.

Great Yarmouth Tramways Licence No 52
Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways driver's licence — black and white enamel. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways Tram No 26
The conductor of Tramcar No 26 stares back at the camera as his vehicle traverses Pier Plain in 1905/6. The conductor is wearing a soft-topped cap with summer rain cover. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways staff 1905
A composite photo taken in 1905 showing the tramway's staff, Caister depot on the left and Gorleston depot on the right. Photo courtesy of the David Mackley Collection.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways staff 1905
A blow-up of the above photo showing some of the conductors and motormen, all in single-breasted jackets edged in silver piping, and with soft-topped caps.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways Edwardian conductor
Studio portrait of an unknown Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways conductor — photo undated, but probably late Edwardian. By this time, the soft-topped caps had clearly been superseded by caps with a tensioned crown (top), which were embellished, somewhat unusually, with braided cord. His employee number (on his left collar) and his licence number are identical (No 93), which was usually not the case with most other tramway systems, as the licensing authority (or department) and the tramway were invariably separate entities. Photo courtesy of the David Mackley Collection.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways Tram No 32 and crew
Conductor and motorman with Tramcar No 32 — photo undated, but probably taken either shortly before or shortly after the Great War. The employee numbers had by this time migrated to the epaulettes, with both the collars now bearing a small municipal shield badge (see below). Photo courtesy of the Colin Tooke Collection.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways collar badge
Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways collar badge — brass. This badge began to be used on the upright collars of the uniform tunics from around the time of the Great War, and in later years, was sometimes substituted for the larger cap badge. Author's Collection.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways Gorleston depot staff
A group of tramcar crews assembled in the roadway outside the Feathers Plain depot (Gorleston) — photo undated, but certainly taken between 1922 and 1930 as the figure in the centre — Mr P G Campling — was the General Manager during this period. Photo courtesy of the Colin Tooke Collection.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways Gorleston tram drivers and conductors
A blow-up of the above photo showing some of the motormen and conductors. Some have the older 'G Y C T' initials and employee numbers, whilst others have the small municipal shield badge, and others still are plain.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways Gorleston depot staff
Another photo of Gorleston staff, this time assembled in front of the library window, which was adjacent to the depot. It was probably taken at the same time as the preceding photograph, given that it appears to be the identical group of men. Photo courtesy of the David Mackley Collection.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways Tram No 2, conductor and motorman
The crew of an immaculately turned-out Tramcar No 2 pose for the camera late in the system's life, probably in the late 1920s or even the early 1930s. The conductor has no insignia on either his collars or his epaulettes, and his cap badge is the small municipal shield badge previously worn on the tunic collars. Photo courtesy of the Colin Tooke Collection.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways Tram No 25 at Southtown
Tramcar No 25 stands in Bridge Rd at the Southtown terminus in 1929. Photo by Dr H Nicol, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways motorman
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman. Other than his prominent cap badge, his entire greatcoat appears to be devoid of insignia, inclusive of the buttons, which are plain.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways Tram No 33 at Caister 1932
Tramcar No 33 stands at the Caister terminus with a service for the Market Place — photo undated, but probably taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s. Photo by Dr H Nicol, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways motorman
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman in his greatcoat, which again appears to be devoid of insignia.

Senior staff
Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways  opening of Caister line
A heavily bedecked Special Car, used during the opening of the new Caister line on 16th May 1907. Both uniformed figures, including the driver, are senior staff, Photo courtesy of the Colin Tooke Collection.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways inspectors
A blow-up of the above photograph showing the two senior staff. The man on the right is an inspector, and is wearing a typical uniform for the grade. Although difficult to make out, the man at the controls is the Chief Inspector; he is wearing an elaborate jacket modelled on a British Military 'Patrol Jacket' with decorative braid loops. Both men are wearing kepi-style caps bearing a markedly larger badge than the pattern issued to motormen and conductors.

Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways inspectors
A blow-up of the 1920s Gorleston staff photo shown above, which includes the General Manager (centre back), and either side of him, two inspectors. Their cap badges are once again noticeably larger than those worn by tramcar staff, and are oval (tall) rather than circular.