Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways

Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Ltd (WDET) was expressly set up by the British Electric Traction Company (BETCo) to operate the lines of the former Dudley and Wolverhampton Tramways Company, a steam-worked system which the BETCo had acquired in 1899, and which it was in the process of converting to electric traction. Each newly converted section was operated by another of the BETCo's local subsidiaries (the Dudley, Stourbridge and District Electric Traction Co Ltd), up until February 1901 when the WDET formally took over. The final steam service ran later that month. In 1904, the BETCo transferred all its shares in the WDET, along with three of its other local tramway companies, to the Birmingham and Midland Tramways Co Ltd, yet another BETCo-controlled concern. All these systems were then operated as a single entity, governed by the Birmingham and Midland Tramways Joint Committee (B&MTJC), which comprised board members of the individual concerns.

In the 1920s, the WDET's lines were gradually taken over by local corporations, culminating on the 31st August 1928 with its last line in Wolverhampton; on the same day, the WDET's remaining services were handed over to the DS&DETCo, whereupon the WDET ceased to exist, at least operationally. The B&MJTC struggled on for two years more, before finally handing over its last service of all — operated by the DS&DETCo — to Walsall Corporation on the 1st October 1930.

The BETCo was a concern which at its zenith either owned, part-owned or leased almost 50 tramway concerns across the British Isles; although jackets appeared to vary somewhat between BETCo systems, as well as across the decades, the cap badges, collar designations and buttons invariably followed a standard pattern. The creation of the B&MTJC in 1904 was the embodiment of the BETCo's ambitious plans for a unified network throughout the area, and following its creation, various attempts were made at standardisation across the constituent companies, activities which extended to uniforms and badges. Somewhat ironically, the attempt to brand the constituent companies of the B&MTJC as a single entity, effectively made it 'non standard' in respect of uniform insignia, when compared to the vast majority of other BETCo-owned systems across the country.

Photos taken prior to 1905 suggest that conductors and motormen were issued with single-breasted jackets with a single pocket on the left breast (with button closure and pleated) and upright collars; the latter probably bore system initials on the bearer's right-hand collar and an employee number on the left, though these cannot be made out on surviving photographs. It appears the caps were not initially issued, as several photos of the WDET, as well as other BETCo Birmingham and Black Country systems, show conductors and motormen wearing flat caps. Kepi-style caps were eventually issued, and these bore the standard brass BETCo ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge (see below). At some point, the motormen's kepis were probably replaced by military-style caps, though still bearing the standard BETCo cap badge.

Following the creation of the B&MTJC on the 1st July 1904, a standard uniform policy was eventually imposed across all the member companies, including the WDET. Motormen and conductors were issued with double-breasted jackets with two rows of four buttons (almost certainly the standard BETCo 'Magnet and Wheel' pattern — see link) and high, fold-over collars; the latter carried individual metal initials — either 'BMT' or 'B&MT' — on the right-hand side and an employee number on the left-hand side, almost certainly in brass. Surviving examples suggest that the first collar badges may have had diagonal striations giving a rope effect (see below). The employee number was eventually dispensed with, leaving the left-hand collar badgeless. Caps were initially in a kepi style, and carried a prominent oval brass cap badge that consisted of intertwined 'BMT' initials beneath the 'Magnet and Wheel' device, all within a wreath (see below). At some point prior to the Great War, a change was made to military-style caps with tensioned crowns (tops); the insignia however, remained unchanged.

Prior to 1904, tramcar crews were also issued greatcoats with high, fold-over collars; the collars bore system initials — 'WDET' — on both sides, probably in individual brass letters. Conductors were issued with single-breasted coats, in contrast to motormen, who wore a double-breasted style. Following absorption into the B&MTJC, new issues were double-breasted; these had high, fold-over collars that probably carried the same badges as the jackets worn underneath.

Although photographic evidence is currently lacking, inspectors most probably wore single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye arrangement) and upright collars; the latter bearing Inspector in embroidered script lettering. The standard ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge (or 'B&MTJC' badge) was most probably worn, but with a script-lettering Inspector badge.

Female staff were employed during the Great War to replace men lost to the armed services; they were definitely employed as conductresses, though whether they were also employed as motorwomen remains unclear. These ladies were issued with tailored, single-breasted jackets with five buttons, lapels, and a belt with button fastening; it is currently unclear what type of insiginia was worn on the lapels, though they may have been left plain. Headgear took the form of a dark-coloured straw bonnet or a baggy cap (probably for summer and winter wear, respectively); these bore the standard B&MTJC cap badge, attached to a ribbon in the case of the bonnet. Double-breasted, 'lancer-style' greatcoats were also issued; these had five buttons, epaulettes and high, fold-over collars; the latter usually bore system initials on the right-hand collar only, but were also left plain.

For a general history of the WDET, see: Black Country Tramways Volumes 1 and 2, by J S Webb; (1974 and 1976).


Motormen and conductors
Wolverhampton and District Electric Tramways Tram No 1 Fighting Cocks 1903
WDET Tramcar No 1 stands at Fighting Cocks in March 1903. Author's Collection.

Wolverhampton and District Electric ramways tram conductor 1903
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor, who is clearly wearing a company-issued greatcoat — with system initials on the collars — but with a flat cap.

Wolverhampton and District Electric ramways tram driver 1903
Another blow-up of the above photo, this time showing the motorman, once again in company-issued greatcoat, but with a kepi-style cap and standard BETCo cap badge.

British Electric Traction Company ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge - brass
Standard British Electric Traction Company ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge — brass. Author's Collection.

Wolverhampton and District Electric Tramways Tram No 8
Another photo which appears to have been taken at Fighting Cocks, again of a No 1-13 series tramcar, but with a later style of lifeguard and a headlamp fitted on the dash, so possibly taken in 1904/5. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways
A blow-up of the above photo, which although of very poor quality, does show that the tramcar crew are both wearing single-breasted tunics. Whilst the conductor is wearing a flat cap, his colleague would appear to have a military-style cap.

Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways crew tram 19
Tramcar No 19 (built by Brush in 1902) at the Stow Heath terminus, which the WDET only operated until 1905, so though undated, the photo was very likely taken in 1904 or 1905.

Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways crew tram 19
A blow-up of the above photo revealing both men to be wearing greatcoats and kepi-style caps bearing the standard BETCo 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge. The fact that both men's collars and ties are to be seen suggests that they are wearing jackets with lapels underneath their overcoats, either that or no jackets at all. The right-hand collars bear system initials.

Birmingham and Midland Tramways
'BMT' tramwayman No 321 in double-breasted tunic with later-military style cap with tensioned crown (top) — photo undated, but very probably taken during or shortly after the late-Edwardian era. There is unfortunately nothing to identify which of the B&MJTC's constituent tramway companies the above individual worked for. However, as uniforms were standardised, it is fairly safe to say that the photo is representative of the uniform worn by staff of the WDET, though the presence of a licence indicates that the subject worked within the Birmingham municipal boundary (i.e., for either the Birmingham and Midland Tramways, the City of Birmingham Tramways or the South Staffordshire Tramways).

Birmingham and Midland Joint Tramways Committee badge
B&MTJC cap badge — brass. This was introduced some time after 1904, when the Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Company became part of the B&MTJC. Note the use of the British Electric Traction Company 'Magnet and Wheel' symbol; the BETCo controlled the B&MTJC and all its constituent tramway companies. Author's Collection.

Birmingham and Midlands Tramways collar badge
Probable Birmingham and Midland Tramways Joint Committee early 'rope effect' collar initials and collar number, which were eventually superseded by plain brass letters/numbers. Author's Collection.

Wolverhampton and District Electric Tramways Tram No 109 motorman driver
A WDET motorman stands with what is, in all probability, a brand-new, B&MTJC-built Tramcar No 109, dating the photo to 1919/1920. Photo courtesy of John Dawson.

Wolverhampton and District Electric Tramways Tram No 109 motorman driver
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the cap badge and collar insignia. A date of 1919/1920 is further reinforced by the Silver War Badge on the subject's right-hand collar, indicating that he had been discharged from the armed services during the Great War after being wounded.

Great War Silver War badge
Silver War Badge 1916. Photo courtesy of John Dawson.

Female staff
Wolverhampton and District Electric Tramways Great War conductress Ethel Burrows
A very rare photo of a WDET Great War tram conductress, Ethel Jones (later Burrows). Miss Jones joined the tramway in 1915 aged 17 years (giving her age as 19), and served for four years, primarily working between Dudley and Bilston. She subsequently returned to conducting in the Second World War, working on the buses for Wolverhampton Corporation Transport. She is wearing what would appear to be a double-breasted, lancer-style greatcoat with epaulettes and high fold over collars; her right-hand collar bears individual system initials, 'B M T'. The tunic underneath is mostly hidden, but is clearly single-breasted with lapels, five buttons and a waistbelt (with button fastening). Her headgear is a black straw bonnet, which though it is not evident here, almost certainly bore the standard BMT cap badge. Photo by kind permission of Ethel's daughter, Margaret Hassall.