Burnley and District Tramways

The Burnley and District Tramways Company — in which the promoter, the Tramway and General Works Company Ltd was a major shareholder — began operations on its standard-gauge steam tramway on the 17th September 1881. The company was unfortunately handicapped before services had even started, when the Board of Trade refused to licence Church St in Burnley for steam traction due to its narrowness, effectively splitting the system in two.

The system was essentially one line, 7.10 miles long, running from Padiham in the west through to Burnley, where it turned northwards through Reedley and Brierfield to Nelson. The first section to open was northwards to Nelson, followed a week later (on the 24th September 1881) by the line westwards to Padiham. Horse traction was introduced on the short connecting section along Church St, with trams waiting for each other at both ends of the horse-worked section and inevitably obstructing other traffic, which quickly drew the ire of residents and the council alike. This was not the only problem, as the company seems to have been poorly managed from the off, with services proving to be anything but reliable. Far worse was however to come, as the company was repeatedly summonsed for offences against the Tramways Act, primarily for the emission of steam. The first few cases turned into a torrent, week in, week out, the company being continually fined. The company's engines were Kitsons, which were operating without adverse comment on many other tramways, yet in Burnley , the police and magistrates considered them, and more specifically the steam emissions, to be a danger to life! The magistrates blamed the company, the company blamed the engines, and Kitsons blamed the drivers. The engines were subsequently modified by Kitsons, but the steam emissions continued, as did the fines.

It is difficult at this remove to see why steam emissions, as opposed to smoke emissions, were considered such a problem —one that was frankly impossible to eliminate on cold days with the available technology — when all around factory chimneys and domestic dwellings were free to pour forth as much smoke as they so desired. What is certain however, is that the company was pursued relentlessly by the police, and whilst the truth will probably never be known, the sheer volume of the prosecutions hints at vested interests, probably the carriage-owning classes, a supposition supported by the statement of a police superintendent, who admitted that he had been directed — by the Assistant Chief Constable —to proceed against the company "somewhat vigorously" in respect of steam emissions. Ironically, the Chief Magistrate, who seems to have been fond of levying the maximum as far as fines were concerned, was also the Mayor.

The company simply had no other option but to introduce horse traction to supplement the engines, and eventually, around the 1st March 1882, to replace them altogether. The corporation and various burghers finally managed to rouse themselves and come to the company's defence, when it became clear that the town was not only in danger of losing the steam trams, but also the tramway itself. The company were almost at the point of throwing in the towel, horse traction being not only expensive, but palpably unsuited to the terrain. Despite vocal critiscim of the prosecutions, including by other local authorities, nothing really changed, the company struggling on, killing horses at the rate of one a week.

Various new engines were brought in on trial, and as witnessed by yet more summonses, the company also ran some of the Kitsons, presumably as and when it thought they would not emit steam. New Falcon-built engines were however finally purchased in 1893, which seem to have mollified the opposition, and by August of that year, services had improved significantly, though some horses were kept in reserve until 1885. Through services via a widened Church St were finally introduced in February 1885, but only after a lot of squabbling between the corporation and the company over payment, the former demanding £1000 for a scheme it had apparently planned before the tramway had ever been heard of!

The company was at long last able to settle down to a profitable existence, relatively unmolested by the authorities, and was to pay good dividends throughout its remaining years. The company was taken over — on 1st of March 1900 — by no less than five local authorities, through whose territories the lines ran (Burnley and Nelson Corporations, Padiham and Brierfield Urban District Councils, and Reedley Hallows Parish Council). Burnley Corporation then continued to run the steam trams for another 20 months until it withdrew them completely — on the 17th November 1901— prior to reconstructing (and regauging to 4ft 0ins) the lines within its boundaries for overhead electric traction.

The Burnley and District Tramways remained an isolated system for its entire existence, its nearest neighbour being the Rossendale Valley Tramways Company, which had its northerm terminus at Crawshawbooth, around 6 miles to the south of Burnley.

Unfortunately no photographs have survived of B&DTCo horse trams, so it is not possible to say whether or not the crews wore uniforms.

Numerous photographs have however survived which show B&DTCo steam tram crews reasonably close up, and these reveal that drivers and stokers (often boys) wore very similar attire to their railway counterparts, namely, heavy cotton trousers and jackets, predominantly light in colour. Headgear also followed railway practice, with photos invariably showing grease or soft-topped caps, though trilbies and flat caps also made an appearance. No badges of any kind were worn, including licences.

An excellent studio portrait has survived of Conductor No 8 of the Burnley and District Tramways Company, clearly showing that conductors wore double-breasted jackets with two rows of four buttons (probably bearing B&DT script initials; see link), three waist pockets (with flaps), a breast pocket (slit) and lapels. The left-hand collars, and very probably the right-hand too, bore the word ‘CONDUCTOR’ in embroidered block letters. Caps were in a smart kepi-style with a stiff glossy peak — sometimes referred to as a 'pill box' — and bore a large cloth cap badge containing embroidered ‘B&DT’ block initials, above which was an employee number, also embroidered. The general shape of the badge is very reminiscent of several other early tramway companies, e.g., the North Metropolitan Tramways Company (see link). A few photographs exist which show conductors in informal attire — the most likely explanation for this is that they were taken in corporation days, the new owners having understandably chosen to dispense with the B&DT uniforms and caps.

Inspectors, at least in later years, wore single-breasted jackets edged in a finer material than the main body, with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye arrangement) and upright collars; the latter probably bore the designation 'INSPECTOR' in embroidered lettering, though this cannot be made out on surviving photographs. Caps were similar to those used by conductors, but with a pom pom on the top.

Further reading
For a history of the B&DTCo, see: 'A History of the British Steam Tram, Volume 2', p209-234, by D Gladwin; Adam Gordon Publishing (2006).


Steam tramway drivers and conductors
Burnley and District Tramways conductor
Carte de Visite of B&DT Conductor No 8. The card was produced by ’Bancroft and Crabtree of Burnley, Nelson and Bacup’, and although undated, was certainly taken prior to the municipal takeover in 1900. Magnification shows the buttons to be script-lettering, 'probably 'B&DT' (see link). Author's Collection.

Burnley and District Tramways tram conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the collar and cap insignia; the latter is clearly of embroidered cloth.

Burnley and District Tramways steam tram crew
A conductor, an inspector and a driver with an unidentified Falcon steam tram — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1890s. With thanks to the now defunct Bury Image Bank; Image b13748 — copyright Bury Archive Services.

Burnley and District Tramways steam tram crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the crew and the inspector.

Burnley and District Tramways steam tram crew
A driver (entering his engine at the front), conductor and stoker (on the left) with an unidentified Falcon steam tram — photo undated, but probably taken in the mid 1890s. With thanks to Duncan Holden.

Burnley and District Tramways steam tram crew
Driver, stoker and conductor pose for the cameraman with a reasonable-condition Falcon steam tram — photo undated, but probably taken in the late 1890s. With thanks to Duncan Holden.

Burnley and District Tramways Steam Tram No 16 and Trailer No 15 1885
B&DTCo steam tram No 16, a Falcon product delivered in 1897, and Trailer (No 15) at Colne Rd — photo undated, but almost certainly taken in June 1897, given that another virtually identical photograph has survived which is thus dated. This was probably an official company shot, taken when No 16 was new, as both vehicles are yet to be festooned with advertisements, something which the B&DTCo seems to have excelled at! Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Birmingham and District Tramways Steam Tram No 16
A blow-up of the above photo showing the driver in trilby hat.

Birmingham and District Tramways Company conductor
Another blow-up of the above photo, this time showing the conductor in uniform with kepi-style cap.

Burnley and District Tramways steam tram crew
A rather poor quality photograph, but one which does show the conductor's uniform reasonably well. If the Falcon engine is No 17 (this is not entirely clear), then this would date the photograph to 1897 or later. With thanks to Jim Halsall.

Burnley and District Tramways steam tram crew
Steam tram engine crew, including a very young stoker, pose for the camera together with their conductor. As was the case with most steam tramways, the footplate crew are appropriately attired for the physical and dirty nature of their work. The conductor also looks distinctly shabby compared with other shots, suggesting that this image may have been taken towards the end of the company's existence or even in corporation days. With thanks to Jim Halsall.

Burnley and District Tramways steam tram crew
A rather decrepit-looking Falcon engine with driver, conductor and stoker. The photo is undated, though there are reasons to suspect that it is quite late — possibly after the corporation take-over — amongst them, the condition of the tram, and the conductor's informal attire, presumably the result of the corporation dispensing with the old company uniforms. With thanks to Duncan Holden.

Senior staff
Burnley and District Tramways inspector
A blow-up of one of the photos above showing the inspector, in typical tramway inspector's jacket with a kepi-style cap topped with a pom pom.