Blackpool Corporation Tramways

Blackpool's standard-gauge tramway system, which opened on the 12th September 1885, was the UK's first electric-operated street tramway; current collection was effected by means of a conduit (essentially a slot between the tracks), a set up that would prove to be extremely troublesome in a wind-blown seaside location. The first line was just under 1.7 miles in length, and ran from Station Rd in the south, northwards along the promenade to Cocker Street, just beyond the North Pier. Whilst the system was formally opened on the above date, it had not actually been approved for electrical working, so the cars were hauled by horses; the first electric services running just over two weeks later on the 29th September 1885.

Although the system was owned by the corporation, it was worked under a lease arrangement by the Blackpool Electric Tramways Company. The company paid very respectable dividends during its tenure, despite a constant battle to keep the cars running, including laying rope over the conduit slot at night to prevent ingress of sand. The company's lease expired after seven years, so the corporation, having no legal powers to run the tramway, advertised for lessees willing to operate the system; however, the only applicant was the Blackpool Electric Tramways Company, and the corporation was unimpressed by the new terms the company were requesting. The company of course, knew only too well how problematical the system was to operate, a situation which was likely to get worse as the pioneering infrastructure became older, so when the council refused the terms and instead offered to purchase the company's assets, it was naturally receptive. After some haggling, a price was agreed, and the company's assets passed into corporation ownership on the 10th September 1892, the corporation taking over operation the following day, despite not having the formal consent of the Board of Trade.

The corporation set about expanding the system, building a conduit line along Lytham Rd, from a junction with the existing tramway at Manchester Square southwards to Station Rd (on the 26th September 1895), and a horse tramway from there to the municipal boundary at Squires Gate (opened on the 7th October 1895). The latter was intended to connect with a line from Lytham being built by the Blackpool, St Annes and Lytham Tramway Company, and when this was ready, the BStALTCo took over operation (to Station Rd) under a lease arrangement using its gas trams (from 11th July 1896). The Lytham Rd and Promenade conduit lines were connected at their southern ends — along Station Rd — on the 7th August 1897.

A new line was also opened at the northern end of the system on the 29th September 1898; this ran from Talbot Road Station along Dickson Rd to Gynn Square where it met the rails of the Blackpool and Fleetwood Tram Road Company; it was not however physically connected to the rest of the corporation system, being constructed for overhead current collection from the outset, operation being leased to the B&FTCo. That same year (1898), the corporation took the decision to convert the existing conduit lines to overhead current collection, the first section operating from the 21st June 1899, the last conduit car possibly running later that week (the precise date appears not to have been recorded).

Although the corporation owned all the tracks in Lytham Rd, leasing the southern section to the BStALTCo, the latter's cars were not allowed north of South Shore Station; the company however, desperate to tap into custom in the centre of town, was able to force the corporation's hand by threatening to seek running powers of its own. Agreement was duly reached, and from 1905 company cars could be seen as far north as Manchester Square (on the Promenade) and Central Station (at the end of Blackpool's Central Drive tramway). Although the BStALTCo's Lytham Rd lease expired on the 26th July 1917, company cars continued to run over the lines under the through-running agreement. In the 1920s, the corporation granted the company's successors — St Annes Urban District Council Tramways (1920-22) and Lytham St Annes Borough Tramways (1922-37) — running rights along the Promenade and as far north as Gynn Square; these through services lasted until the 24th March 1937, shortly before the closure of Lytham St Annes Borough Tramways.

The corporation acquired the Blackpool and Fleetwood Tram Road Company on the first of January 1920, thus expanding its reach to Fleetwood, whereupon it physically connected the corporation and company tracks (at The Gynn and Talbot Rd Station).

At its maximum, Blackpool Corporation's system totalled 20.97 miles, 8.2 miles of which had been acquired from the B&FTCo. Excluding the latter, the corporation system comprised lines: southwards from The Gynn, along the sea front to Starr Gate; southwards from The Gynn, in-land along Dickson Rd to Talbot Rd Station; northeastwards from Talbot Square to Layton; eastwards from Talbot Rd Station, southwards along Whitegate Drive then eastwards along Waterloo Rd to Central Station and Lytham Rd (the Marton Loop); southeastwards along Central Drive to Waterloo Rd; and southwards from Manchester Square on the sea front, along Lytham Rd to Squires Gate, then westwards to Starr Gate on the sea front. The corporation tracks were of course connected (eventually) to those of the B&FTCo to the north and the BStALTCo to the south. Whilst the corporation granted running rights to the BStALTCo (and its successors), corporation cars did not provide services outside the borough.

The name of the municipal enterprise was changed to Blackpool Corporation Transport in 1929.

The system was cut back in 1936 (Layton Rd and Central Drive lines), 1961 (Lytham Rd), 1962 (Marton) and 1963 (Dickson Rd). Whilst heavily pruned, these actions enabled the tramway to continue operating and ultimately to thrive, becoming the only first-generation electric tramway in the British Isles to have survived the onslaught of the internal combustion engine, or rather, its political adherents.

Staff working the conduit system during the period it was operated by the Blackpool Electric Tramways Company (1885 to 1892), wore informal attire, namely: jacket, trousers, shirt and tie, along with soft-topped caps; given the consistency in the latter, the company may have required its staff to wear them, and no doubt buy them too. No badges of any kind appeared on either the jackets or the caps. Due to persistent and ultimately intractable problems with the conduit system, electric services were supplemented — and often replaced — by horse traction; it is however unclear what attire was worn by staff working these services, though in all likelihood it was the same as that worn by crews working the conduit services.

At some point following the corporation takeover of 1892, uniforms were issued to staff, though photographic evidence would suggest that this was not until the mid-to-late 1890s. By the turn of the century, and possibly from the mid-1890's, tramcar staff were being issued with single-breasted jackets with five buttons, two waist-level pockets (with flap closures), epaulettes and lapels; the latter do not appear to have carried any badges. The whole ensemble, including the trousers and the cap, were heavily piped. Caps were in a military style with a tensioned crown (top), and bore a large circular cap badge comprising the municipal device, surrounded by a garter containing the full system title: 'Blackpool Corporation Tramways'. This badge exists in two forms, one with the pre-1899 unofficial municipal device, and the other with the official device granted by the College of Heralds in 1899; the first badge was therefore probably only worn for a few years before gradually being superseded by the new version.

In the mid-to-late Edwardian era, the jacket was changed to a new style, still single-breasted with five buttons, but with two breast pockets (with button closures), and upright collars; the latter initially bore an employee number on the bearer's left-hand side (in individual nickel numerals), and system initials — 'B C T' — on the right-hand side (in individual nickel letters). The jackets also had epaulettes that were secured with a button fastening, and which bore a small, municipal arms badge; once again everything was heavily piped. The employee number on the collars appears to have been quickly dispensed with, its place being taken by system initials. Caps were still in a military style — and piped — but now bore a small municipal shield badge (with the new arms), which was worn above standard, script-lettering grade badges — Motorman or Conductor — the latter despite conductors always being called 'Guards' in Blackpool. The collar initials were eventually superseded by the small municipal shield badge, certainly by the 1920s.

Given that the name of the undertaking was changed in 1929, uniforms ordered after this date almost certainly bore 'Blackpool Corporation Transport' insignia and buttons.

Uniform jackets were changed once again, possibly in the 1940s/50s, to a more modern single-breasted design with lapels, though exactly when these were introduced is unknown.

Tramcar staff were also issued with double-breasted greatcoats with five pairs of buttons, high fold-over collars and epaulettes; the latter bore 'B C T' initials on each side, together with the standard municipal 'coat of arms' badge.

Blackpool also appears to have made use of parcels boys; the uniforms were identical to conductors and motormen, but with a script-lettering grade badge — Parcelsboy.

Tramcar staff were also issued with enamel licences, which had the full system title around the outer edge and a number in the centre. These licences exist in three varieties: blue, deep red and white, and apparently represented the three depots, Rigby Rd, Marton and Bispam, though which colour related to which depot is unclear (thanks to Stephen Howarth for this information). The licences were initially worn suspended from a button on the jacket specifically for this purpose, but later on they were almost always worn suspended from one of the jacket epaulette buttons. In later years, probably after 31st July 1980 when PSV badges ceased to be issued to bus staff, Blackpool Transport introduced its own green and white plastic number badges, for both bus and tram staff (with thanks to Stephen Howarth for this information).

Photographs of inspectors from the first two decades of operation are yet to surface, so it is currently impossible to say what uniforms they wore. An elaborate gilt cap badge has however survived; this is identical in form to the standard post-1899 cap badge, but with the grade — Inspector — in a scroll underneath. By the Second World War, inspectors were wearing single-breasted jacket with lapels; they bore embroidered insignia of some sort, very probably the grade. Caps were in a military style with a tensioned crown; they bore the small municipal arms badge, possibly in gilt/brass rather than nickel or chrome.

In common with the vast majority of UK tramways, Blackpool employed female staff during the Great War to replace men lost to the armed services both as conductresses (from July 1915) and motorwomen (from around March 1917). The odd photograph has survived which shows them wearing what appear to be men's caps and greatcoats, suggesting that ladies' uniforms were either initially unavailable or were in short supply. Female staff were however eventually issued with tailored, single-breasted jackets with four buttons, a waist belt (with two buttons), lapels and epaulettes (with button closures). The usual municipal shield badges were worn on the upper lapels, and in all likelihood, an employee number on the epaulettes. Headgear comprised a baggy cap with a glossy peak; this bore the usual municipal shield badge, but above system initials — 'B C T' — in individual nickel letters, rather than the grade badges worn by their male colleagues.

Conductresses and motorwomen were also employed during the Second World War (from June 1941). They were initially issued with long white dustcoats with collars of a different colour —probably bearing embroidered system initials — along with the standard style of cap worn by male tramcar staff. The ladies were eventually issued with single-breasted jackets with lapels, piped cuffs and epaulettes, along with a knee-length skirts; the jackets appear to have been devoid of insignia. Headgear took the form of a military-style cloth field cap; this bore the standard small municipal arms badge.

Further reading
For a history of the system, see: 'North Pier by Tram — an Introduction to Blackpool Tramway History' by Brian Turner; Train Crazy (2010).


Motormen and conductors
Blackpool Corporation Tramways Tram No 10 1891
Conduit Tramcar No 10 stands at the approach to Princess St car shed on the 17th December 1891, i.e., in Blackpool Electric Tramways Company days. All four individuals appear to be tramway staff, as they are all wearing the same style of soft-topped cap. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways driver 1891
A blow-up of the above photograph showing the individual leaning on the bulkhead. He is wearing informal attire, devoid of insignia or metal buttons.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways conduit Tram No 7 and conductor - 1897
A rather youthful-looking conductor stands in front of Conduit Car No 7 — photo purportedly taken in 1897, i.e., under corporation ownership. He is wearing a kepi-style cap and what is possibly a uniform jacket, though there appear to be no badges, just a licence. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways early period cap badge
Blackpool Corporation Tramways cap badge — nickel. This badge uses an unofficial municipal device that was superseded in 1899, and so far, I have failed to find a photograph of it in use. Significant numbers have survived, all with fairly heavy wear, suggesting that they saw plenty of use, probably from the late 1890s through to their replacement with new badges from 1900 onwards (presumably on an 'as needed' basis). Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways early period collar badge
Possible BCT epaulette badge, potentially used from the late 1890s through to the early Edwardian era — nickel. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Tram No 5
Three Blackpool Corporation Tramways men stand at Layton terminus with former conduit car No 5 , now converted to overhead electric supply. Although undated, the photo was probably taken around 1905, and certainly between 1902 and 1910. My thanks to Brian Turner for the dating and location. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways tram driver motorman 1900
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman. He is wearing a heavily piped, single-breasted jacket with lapels and epaulettes, which apart from a licence (suspended from a button) is completely devoid of insignia. The military-style cap bears a large round cap badge, which would appear to bear the 1899 municipal arms (see below).

Blackpool Corporation Tramways cap badge
Elaborate BCT cap badge bearing the new form of the Blackpool coat of arms (granted by the College of Heralds in June 1899) — nickel. This pattern of cap badge appears to have been worn from around 1900 through to the mid-to-late Edwardian era. With thanks to Darren Lodge.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Tram No 58
The crew of a very new looking Tramcar No 58 (a 'dreadnought') captured for posterity with their charge on the promenade — photo undated, but given the good condition of the tram, probably taken not too long after its delivery in 1902. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tram crew circa 1902
A blow-up of the photo above showing the crew in more detail. The conductor's uniform jacket is single-breasted with lapels, and is heavily piped, whilst his cap bears the new elaborate post-1899 cap badge.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways conductor - pre Great War
Studio portrait (taken at the Promenade Studios) of a Blackpool conductor — photo undated, but probably late Edwardian. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways conductor
A blow-up of the above photo revealing the subject to be Employee No 213, bearer of Licence No 15. By this time, the style of uniform had been changed, and though still single-breasted, it now had breast pockets and upright collars; the large cap badge had also been changed in favour or a small municipal arms badge and an 'off-the-shelf', script-lettering grade badge.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways cap badges
BCT cap badges, probably introduced in the mid-to-late late Edwardian era, and subsequently also used on uniform collars and lapels — nickel and gilded brass. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways cap badges
Standard 'off-the-shelf' script-lettering grade badges of the type worn by Blackpool staff from the mid-to-late Edwardian era onwards — nickel. Author's Collection.

Joseph Edward Heywood Arnold Blackpool Corporation Tramways tram driver
Motorman Joseph Edward Heywood Arnold - photo undated, but probably taken in the late-Edwardian era. The subject subsequently worked for Glossop Tramways (he is described as a motorman and conductor in the 1911 census) and eventually moved to Barrow around 1913 when he would have been 40 years old. Thanks to Karen Burns — Joseph's great granddaughter — for the photo and the background information.

Joseph Edward Heywood Arnold Blackpool Corporation Tramways tram driver
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the uniform, including the licence, which is No 159. The top of the badge is obscured by the crown (top of the cap). The municipal arms badge can just be made out on the epaulettes.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Tram No 65 and crew on North Shore
The crew of Tramcar No 65 on North Shore, along with two very junior members of staff — photo undated, but given the pristine condition of the tram, probably taken in, or shortly after, 1911, when this vehicle was built.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Tram No 65 conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor. The collars bear 'B C T' initials on both sides, in contrast to the studio portrait above in which the subject clearly has an employee number on his left-hand collar. Both the collars and the trousers are piped.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Tram Bellboy
Another blow-up of the photo of No 65 above showing one of the two extremely youthful looking lads. His cap badge appears to say Parcelsboy.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways crew
A motorman and conductor pose with a fully laden 'toastrack' tramcar — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1920s. The collar initials had by this time been replaced with the small municipal device badge, identical to that worn on the cap. Both men are wearing licences suspended from their epaulette buttons. With thanks to Daniel Smith.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 62 and motorman
Motorman at the controls of No 62 on a service to Squires Gate — photo dated July 1932. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways toastrack tram and motorman
A motorman poses for the camera on the running board of a toastrack tram — photo undated, but possibly taken in early the 1920s given the passengers' attire and the fact that the subject is wearing a medal ribbon. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways licence
Licence 706 — blue and white enamel. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Licence red
Licence 187 — deep red and white enamel. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Licence white
Licence 306 — white and black enamel. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Licence white 122
Licence 122 — white and black enamel with black rim. Author's Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways conductor tram driver 1930s
Two rather likely looking BCT tramway men, possibly conductors — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1930s. Author's Collection.

Blackpool  Corporation Tramways motorman 1963
A motorman at the controls of an open-topped tram in 1963. He is clearly wearing a red and white PSV bus driver's badge, suggesting that he was also licenced to drive buses, though Blackpool may in fact have licensed all its staff irrespective of the fact that this was not a requirement of the PSV licensing laws. Photograph courtesy of the Tramway and Light Railway Society.

Blackpool 709_SHCROP
A motorman at the controls of Tramcar No 709 — photo undated, but probably taken in the early 1990s. Stephen Howarth Collection.

Blackpool Corporation Transport Motorman badge
Blackpool Corporation Transport motorman's badge — probably issued after 31st July 1980. Author's Collection

Blackpool Corporation Transport Conductor badge.
Blackpool Corporation Transport conductor's badge — probably issued after 31st July 1980. Stephen Howarth Collection.

Senior staff

BCT inspector's cap badge, with the form of municipal arms granted in June 1899 — gilt. With thanks to Talisman Auctions).

Blackpool Corporation Tramways inspector's cap badge
Possible later-era inspector's lapel badge — cloth. Author's Collection.

Female staff
Blackpool Corporation Tramways Great War Conductress
A diminutive and rather cheeky looking Great War Blackpool conductress — photo undated, but probably taken within the first few months of women being employed, as she is clearly wearing a man's cap, and probably greatcoat too.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Great War female staff
A depot shot of a group of Great War female employees, at least some of whom appear to be motorwomen (judging by the gloves).

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Great War female staff
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the baggy peaked caps and 'B C T' initials. Both ladies appear to be wearing the standard Blackpool 'coat of arms' badges on their caps and upper lapels; the lady on the right also has a municipal licence hanging from her epaulette closure button.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Tram No 65 and Great War conductress
A Blackpool conductress along with various other staff and Tramcar No 65 — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during or shortly after the Great War. Source unknown.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways Tram No 13 , soldiers and crew
A rather uncomfortable-looking BCT conductress on the platform of a Tramcar No 13 at Squires Gate, along with various other tramway staff and Great War soldiers — photo undated, but thought to have been taken in 1918. Source unknown.