Ayr Corporation Tramways

Ayr Corporation Tramways began public services on its standard-gauge, electric tramway on the 26th September 1901. The system eventually totalled 6.39 route miles, running from Prestwick Cross in the North, through Ayr and St Leonards, to Burns Monument in the South, with a short branch out eastwards from the centre of Ayr to the Racecourse; the latter was not opened until the 18th August 1913.

The system was well run and profitable, being heavily used by holiday makers. Unlike the majority of British and Irish tramway systems, it emerged from the Great War in reasonable shape, and quickly embarked on an improvement programme to replace life-expired infrastructure and to make good the effects of the minimal maintenance regimen of the war years.

Further expenditure was needed at the end of the decade, and whilst the council initially voted to back the tramways, there was much lobbying, supported by the local press, against municipal ownership. The tramway appeared to have survived this challenge, but out of the blue — on the 13th November 1931 — it was announced that an offer had been made for the system by the Scottish Motor Traction Company, a large private bus operator who were aggressively expanding at this time. Their offer involved complete replacement of the trams by SMTCo buses, along with significant measures protecting the company from competition. The last tram was to run on the 31st December 1931, barely seven weeks later. The indecent haste with which this was done certainly came back to haunt the council, as they received several unpleasant surprises — in the form of claims for compensation (from the Ayrshire Electricity Board, Ayr County Council and the advertiser, John Menzies) — which they had clearly not taken into account.

Motormen and conductors wore double-breasted 'lancer-style' tunics with two rows of five nickel buttons (narrowing from top to bottom, and bearing the full system title and municipal device — see link) and upright collars; the latter bore system initials — 'A C T' — on the bearer's right-hand side and an employee number on the left, both in individual letters/numerals, almost certainly nickel to match the buttons. Caps were soft-topped with a glossy peak, and bore a script-lettering grade badge, either Driver or Conductor, again presumably in nickel.

Several photographs taken in the early years of operation show that some conductors wore single-breasted jackets without marked buttons or badges of any kind, suggesting that uniforms may have been in short supply at some point.

The script-lettering cap badges were very quickly superseded by a titled tramways cap badge; this bore the Ayr shield and title on a regimental-style cross, surmounted by a king's crown. This design seems very odd for a municipal tramway, especially the use of a crown, which almost everywhere else in the UK civilian world was reserved for police usage.

At some point prior to the Great War, probably in the Edwardian era, the soft-topped caps were replaced by more modern military-style caps with a tensioned crown (top); they continued to carry the same 'tramways' cap badge.

The style of the uniforms was changed one last time — probably in the 1920s — to a smart double-breasted design with two rows of four buttons, three waist/hip-level pockets (with flap closures) and lapels; the upper part of the latter (the collars) probably bore a one-piece nickel initials badge on the bearer's right-hand side — 'A.C.T' — and an employee number on the left, preceded by a grade letter ('D' is known, but presumably 'C' existed as well').

Motormen and conductors were also issued with double-breasted greatcoats with high fold-over collars (piped); the latter bore system initials on the bearer's right-hand side and an employee number on the left.

Photographs of inspectors from the early years of operation are yet to come to light, so it is currently not possible to state what uniforms they wore. By 1916 however, they were certainly wearing typical 'tramway inspector' garb: single-breasted jackets edged in a finer material than the main body, with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair) and upright collars; the latter probably bore the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering. Caps were in the same military style as worn by the tramcar crews, but with the grade in embroidered script-lettering on a hat band.

In common with many tramway systems during the Great War, Ayr employed numerous female staff to cover for the severe shortages caused by military service, both as conductresses and as motorwomen. These ladies were issued with long skirts, tailored single-breasted jackets with four buttons, two waist and two breast pockets (with button closures), lapels and epaulettes (also with button closures); neither lapels nor epaulettes appear to have borne insignia. Headgear took the form of a waterproof bonnet with a hat band around it; it is unclear whether this carried a badge or not. By 1917, only nine of the tramcar staff were male.

Further reading
For a full history of Ayr Corporation Tramways, see 'The Tramways of Ayr' by Ronald W Brash (N B Traction; 1983).


Motormen and conductors
Ayr Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 10 1901
Ayr Corporation Tramways motorman at the controls of what appears to be a brand-new Tramcar No 10 (possibly at Prestwick Toll loop), which would date the photograph to the tail end of 1901. Photo with kind permission of Kenny Baird.

Ayr Corporation Tramways motorman 1901
A blow-up of the above photo, which although not sharp, clearly shows that the motorman is wearing a 'lancer-style' tunic and a soft-topped cap, the latter with a script-lettering grade badge.

Ayr Corporation Tramways Tram No 14 and crew
The crew of Tramcar No 14, which sports a sizeable scratch on the dash, pose for the cameraman outside the Burns Monument Hotel — photo undated, but probably taken in 1902 or 1903.

Ayr Corporation Tramways conductor 1902 1903
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor (Employee No 31); his collar insignia, soft-topped cap and grade badge are easily discerned.

Ayr Corporation Tramways tram driver 1902 1903
Another blow-up of the photo above, this time showing the motorman (Employee No 26), who appears to be wearing white (or light coloured) woollen gloves.

Ayr Corporation Tramways script lettering cap badges
Standard script-lettering grade cap badges of the pattern used by Ayr Corporation Tramways — nickel. These badges were probably used for only the first one or two years of operation, before they were replaced by a titled cap badge (see below).

Ayr Corporation Tramways staff photo 1902
A rather odd assemblage of Ayr tramwaymen, officials and their wives, purportedly taken in 1902. Curiously, almost all the subjects appear to be staring to the left rather than at the camera, possibly indicating that someone was talking to them, perhaps giving a speech. Author's Collection.

Ayr Corporation Tramways staff photo 1902
A blow-up of the above photo showing a motorman (left, in 'lancer-style' tunic) and a conductor (centre) in a plain, single-breasted jacket. The plain jackets were more than likely worn out of necessity (probably due to a shortage of uniforms) as other conductors in the photos are wearing 'lancer-style' tunics.

Ayr Corporation Tramways tram conductor
Another blow-up of the staff photo above, showing a conductor (Employee No 14) in 'lancer-style' tunic.

Ayr Corporation Tramways Tram No 13
A relatively new-looking Tramcar No 13 outside St Leonard's Church — photo undated, but probably taken within the first year or two of opening. By this time the script-lettering grade badges had clearly been replaced by a new cap badge (see below).

Ayr Corporation Tramways Cap badge
Ayr Corporation Tramways cap badge — nickel. These badges were probably worn from the mid-Edwardian era onwards. For a long time, it was thought that they were home-made contrivances given that the centre is a standard 'ACT' button front, with the backing cross having the look of a Royal Scots regimental cap badge. Furthermore, I know of no other tramway badge that is topped by a king's crown, something that was normally characteristic of police badges, and in the example shown above, it has actually been reinforced by means of a clip and solder. Despite all these misgivings, photos clearly show them being worn, and the die for making them survives (see below), so they are indeed genuine. Author's Collection.

Future Museum SWScotAyr Die
Ayr Corporation Tramways cap badge and die. Photo courtesy of South Ayrshire Council Museums and Galleries Service (see link)

Ayr Corporation Tramways Newton Park Depot 1916
Presumably the entire staff (supplemented by managers' wives), assembled at Newton Park depot in 1916. The tramcar in the background is either No 23 or No 24, Ayr's first top-covered vehicles, both of which had been delivered the previous year.

Ayr Corporation Tramways tram drivers and conductors 1916
A blow-up of the above photo showing some of the motormen and conductors, who by this time were clearly wearing a more modern military style of cap with a tensioned crown (top).

Ayr Corporation Tramways driver
Ayr Corporation Tramways motorman — photo undated, but probably taken in the late 1920s. By this time the uniform had been changed to a smart double-breasted design with lapels. Stephen Howarth Collection.

Ayr Corporation Tramways
Probable Ayr Corporation Tramways collar initials — nickel. 'D' presumably stood for 'Driver'.

Ayr Corporation Tramways Tram No 28 and motorman T Sloan
Tramcar No 28 with Motorman/Conductor T Sloan (No 28 was a one-man operated car) — photo undated, but probably taken in the last year of operation, 1931. Photo courtesy of Ayr Library.

Senior staff
Ayr Corporation Tramways inspectors 1916
A blow-up of the 1916 staff photo above showing three of the inspectors.

Female staff
Ayr  Corporation Tramways Great War conductresses
Another blow-up of the Great War staff photo above showing seven of the female employees. It is unclear whether their bonnets bear cap badges or not.