Cork Electric Tramways

Cork's electric tramway, which opened for business in late 1898, was built and operated by the Cork Electric Tramways and Lighting Company Ltd, a subsidiary of British Thomson-Houston Co Ltd. It led a fairly uneventful existence until 1931, when it became — to the best of my knowledge — the only tramway system in the British Isles to be closed twice. This was due to the failure of the Irish Omnibus Company to provide the agreed replacement bus services, which led to the tramway's re-opening — one week later — and to it operating for a further six months at the expense of the IOCo. It was closed for a second and final time in September 1931.

Several photos of the earliest days have survived, and whilst some may be of proving runs before services proper began, the sheer number of them that show staff wearing informal attire, strongly suggests that uniforms had not been issued when services commenced, nor for a considerable period afterwards. Staff therefore wore smart but informal attire, comprising: jacket, shirt and tie, along with the fashionable headgear of the day, which around the turn of the century, was the flat cap and the bowler hat. This may in fact have been a deliberate policy of the CET&LCoLtd, though why they would choose not to issue uniforms is unclear.

During the early Edwardian era, photos clearly show staff wearing kepi-style caps, which were presumably company-issued, along with single-breasted jackets with lapels. Unfortunately, it is not possible to say from the surviving images what insignia, if any were carried, or indeed, whether the jackets were informal or company-issued. From around 1905 however, it would seem that uniforms were definitely being worn; these were single-breasted with two breast pockets (with button closures) and upright collars. It is unclear what insignia the latter carried, though in later years they certainly bore a round badge, with a border, in the centre of which were either system initials or an employee number. Caps were military in style with a tensioned crown (top), and bore a cap badge of some description, possible bearing the grade, but certainly not the classic off-the-shelf, script-lettering Motorman and Conductor grade badges in widespread use elsewhere.

Tramcar staff were also issued with double-breasted greatcoats with high, fold-over collars; it is unclear whether these carried any insignia.

Photographs of senior staff are yet to come to light, so it is currently unclear what uniforms they wore.

Unlike the vast majority of tramway systems elsewhere in the British Isles, the CETCo appears not to have employed the services of women during the Great War, possibly because the loss of men to the armed services did not warrant it.

Further reading
For a history of Cork's tramways, see: 'Tram Tracks Through Cork' by Walter McGrath; Tower Books (1981).


Motormen and conductors
Cork Electric Tramways Tram No 6 on Parnell Bridge in 1900
Although out of focus, this shot of Tramcar No 6, captured on Parnell Bridge, suggests that tramcar crews initially wore informal attire. The photo was purportedly taken in 1900, a full year after opening, but this seems open to question given the pristine condition of the vehicle. The image may therefore be of a proving run rather than a revenue-earning service. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Cork Electric Tramways Tram No 1 in Matthew STreet
Tramcar No 1 stands in Patrick Street, with the Father Matthew statue in the background — photo undated, but given that the latter no longer has railings around it, probably taken in the early Edwardian era. 'D S' signifies that the tram is working a Douglas-Statue service. Photo believed to have been taken by Alec R Day, courtesy of Jim Kilroy, tram archivist at the National Transport Museum (see link).

Cork Electric Tramways conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman, who is clearly wearing a kepi-style cap, and a jacket which would appear to have lapels, unlike subsequent jackets.

Cork Electric Tramways Tram No 1 in Patrick Street
Tramcar No 1 on a St Sundays Well-Summerhill service in Patrick St — photo undated, but probably taken shortly before the Great War. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Cork Electric Tramways Tram No 1 and tram driver
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman, who is clearly wearing a single-breasted jacket and military-style cap.

Cork Electric Tramways Tram No 9, 1931
A shot of Tramcar No 9 taken on the 3rd September 1931 at St Sundays Well, barely four weeks before the system's final demise. Apart from the advertising enamels and the sagging platforms, the vehicle appears to be in relatively good condition. Photograph by Dr H Nicol, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Cork Electric Tramways tram driver and conductor 1931
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman and conductor, both evidently still proud of their jobs and their charge.

Cork Electric Tramways Tram No 13 and crew 1931
Another crew shot taken on the same day (3rd September 1931) and at the same location, but this time of Tramcar No 13. Photograph by Dr H Nicol, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Cork Electric Tramways conductors and tram drivers 1931
A rare study of four tramwaymen taken inside the depot, but one which is unfortunately out of focus. Photograph by Dr H Nicol (taken on the 3rd September 1931), courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Senior staff
Cork Electric Tramways street scene in Douglas Edwardian
An animated street scene in Douglas village — photo undated, but probably mid Edwardian. The figure on the left may well be a tramway inspector, though this is far from certain. Photo from the Fergus O'Connor Collection, courtesy of the National Library of Ireland.