Yarmouth and Gorleston Tramways

This standard-gauge, horse-drawn tramway, running from South Town Station in Great Yarmouth to Feathers Plain in Gorleston, opened on the 25th March 1875. Although the line had been promoted by the East Anglian Tramway Company, they transferred their powers to the East Suffolk Tramway Company, which eventually built and operated the tramway.

Three years later, in April 1878, the tramway was taken over by a new company — the Yarmouth and Gorleston Tramways Company Limited — which struggled along for a few years with the original track (laid on longitudinal sleepers), before relaying it completely in 1882, to the narrower gauge of 3ft 6ins. It is unclear why the gauge was altered, though it was possibly with one eye on double-track operation in narrow streets.

The tramway was extended in 1884, 1886 and 1896, to its final length of 3.25 miles. It was essentially a long, single line with passing loops, starting at the Great Eastern Railway's Yarmouth South Town Station, running southwards along Southdown Rd, Gorleston High St and Lowestoft Rd, where it turned eastwards along Englands Lane to a terminus outside the King William IV public house on the River Yare quayside.

The tramway struggled financially in its early days, the company having to write down its capital value in the early 1880s in order to be able to pay a reasonable dividend, which though no doubt welcomed by the shareholders, left them in possession of a tramway which was worth considerably less than they had paid for it. From the mid-1880s, other than building some short extensions, the tramway seems to have led a relatively uneventful life. Its peace was, however, disturbed in 1900 by the British Electric Traction Company Limited, which had, since the mid-1890s, been aggressively purchasing horse and steam-operated tramways across the British Isles, with the intention of converting them to electric traction. The BETCo formed a subsidiary, the Great Yarmouth and District Tramways Company, which then acquired a controlling interest in the the Y & GTCo, doubtless quite cheaply.

The BETCo presumably hoped to persuade Great Yarmouth Corporation, which had acquired powers to construct an electric tramway in 1899, to support a scheme to electrify and extend the horse tramway. Although the corporation blocked all attempts by the BETCo to acquire its own powers, there was considerable opposition within the council to the concept of a municipally owned tramway, a campaign which ultimately failed by just a single vote. Construction duly started on the 16th October 1901, public services commencing eight months later on the 20th June 1902.

With the corporation system up and running, there was little more that the BETCo could do other than operate the horse tramway until such time as the corporation wished to take it over, and to then obtain the best price possible. Agreement was eventually reached, the corporation taking possession of the horse tramway on the 12th March 1905, after which conversion to electric traction commenced. It is highly likely that the BETCo continued to operate the horse trams for a further four months, the last horse service running on the 4th July 1905, the same day that electric services commenced.

All that has survived from the very earliest days of the tramway, i.e., under the aegis of the East Suffolk Tramways Company, is a pencil drawing of the opening day (not shown); although far from clear, it suggests that crews wore informal attire.

Photographs taken during the era of the Yarmouth and Gorleston Tramways Company (1878 to 1900) are scarce, but those that have survived indicate that drivers and conductors wore robust but informal attire: shirt and jacket, and the horse tram driver's headgear of choice, the bowler hat. At some point, licence badges were issued — certainly to conductors, and possibly to drivers too — and these were suspended by a leather strap, either from a jacket button or the conductor's cash bag. They were quite large, broadly oval, and were almost certainly enamel; precise details are, however, unknown, as no examples appear to have survived.

At some point following the takeover by the British Electric Traction Company (in 1900), uniforms were issued; this was in fact quite unusual for the BETCo, as they almost always waited until the inauguration of electric services before issuing them, understandably given that their company device included a magnet and electrical flashes. I know of only two other examples where the BETCo issued uniforms to horsecar staff (Brighton and Shoreham Tramways and South Shields Tramways) and it is probably no coincidence that in both these cases the BETCo eventually gave up on its goal of electrification in the face of concerted municipal opposition. Uniform jackets were double-breasted with five pairs of buttons (of the standard BETCo pattern — see link) and lapels; the jacket collars probably bore embroidered system initials, though these cannot be made out on surviving photographs. Caps were soft-topped with a glossy peak and bore the standard BETCo 'Magnet and Wheel' cap badge (almost certainly in brass), beneath which was an employee number.

Photographs taken following the acquisition of the horse tramway by the corporation (12th March 1905), clearly show that staff continued to wear uniforms, almost certainly those issued by the BETCo; whilst this would on the face of it seem a little odd, there is a possibility that the BETCo continued to operate the horsecars under lease until the closure of the system barely four months later. Photos taken during this time show drivers and conductors wearing small round licences — these were almost certainly the same enamel licences issued by the corporation to its electric car staff.

The Yarmouth and Gorleston Tramways Company certainly employed the services of an inspector, though whether he wore a uniform or not is unknown, as photographs do not appear to have survived.

Further reading
For a history of the horse tramway see: 'The Tramways of East Anglia — Chapter 3' by R C Anderson; The Light Railway Transport League (1969).


Horse tram drivers and conductors
Yarmouth and Gorleston horse tram circa 1880
A busy and fairly early scene taken outside the tram depot at Feathers Plain, Gorleston (built in 1882) — photo undated, but from the style of the hats, almost certainly taken in the mid-1880s. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Yarmouth and Gorleston horse tram circa 1880
An enlargement of the above photograph showing the individuals immediately in front and to the right-hand side of the central tram. It is unclear who is, and is not a tramway company employee, but what is clear, is that all are wearing informal attire, suggesting that uniforms were not worn.

Yarmouth and Gorleston horse tram circa 1900
An unidentified Yarmouth and Gorleston horse tram stands at Feathers Plain in Gorleston — photo undated, but almost certainly taken around the turn of the century. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Yarmouth and Gorleston horse tram driver
An enlargement of the above photograph showing the driver, who is clearly wearing informal attire, including the horse-tram driver's favoured headgear, the bowler hat.

Yarmouth and Gorleston Tramways conductor
Another blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor, who has a large oval licence dangling from his cash bag, but who is otherwise informally attired.

Yarmouth and Gorleston horse tram at Halfway House 1905
A driver and a conductor pose for the camera at Halfway House — photo undated, but very probably taken in the last couple of months of horse operation (June/July 1905) after the corporation had bought the company out. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Yarmouth and Gorleston Tramways horse tram crew 1905
An enlargementof the above photograph showing the crew, both of whom are wearing uniforms with small round licences. The cap badge is probably a British Electric Traction Company 'Magnet & Wheel' issue, as it would seem that crews continued to wear BETCo uniforms right up until closure.

Great Yarmouth Tramways Licence No 52
Great Yarmouth Corporation Tramways licence — black and white enamel. These were probably issued to staff following the corporation take-over. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.

J Thurston Yarmouth and Gorleston Tramways employee
A copy of a press cutting of Y & GTCo Employee No 6 (J Thurston), presumably taken between 1900 and 1905. Although of poor quality, it nevertheless clearly shows that staff working the horse tram services wore caps bearing the standard BETCo 'Magnet & Wheel' device. Photo courtesy of the David Mackley Collection.

Yarmouth and Gorleston Tramways cap badge
Standard British Electric Traction Company ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge of the type worn by Yarmouth and Gorleston Tramways in the last five years or so of its existence — brass. Author's Collection.

Yarmouth and Gorleston horse tram 1905
Another photo of what is probably the same horsecar depicted in the Halfway House shot above, but one which is known to have been taken in June 1905 (at Feathers Plain), so definitely during the months of corporation ownership. All the tramway staff are wearing what would appear to be BETCo uniforms. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Yarmouth and Gorleston horse tram and crew
A shot taken in the last week or so of operation (July 1905), once again at Feathers Plain.