Blackburn Corporation Tramways Company Ltd

Blackburn Corporation Tramways Company commenced steam tram operations on the 28th May 1887, under a lease arrangement with the owners of the track, Blackburn Corporation. The agreement was somewhat unusual in that although the corporation owned the track, it was the company which raised the finance and constructed the tramway, being remunerated in the form of the lease.

The 8.75-mile system was built to a gauge of 4ft 0ins, and comprised the following lines: northwards to Cemetary; eastwards to Intack and Church; southwestwards to Witton Stocks; and westwards to Billinge End. At Church, the system was connected to another 4ft 0in-gauge steam tramway (that of Accrington Corporation Tramways), however, no through running took place. The tracks of the BCTCo also crossed those of yet another 4ft 0ins-gauge steam tramway (the Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways Company) — at the junction of Darwen Street and Jubilee Street in Blackburn — but here there was no physical connection.

The steam services were supplemented by horse traction from 25th August 1888 onwards, at the insistence of the corporation, who did not want steam used on certain lines. The company continued to operate the services for another decade, much of it spent at loggerheads with the corporation, who seem to have had a never-ending list of complaints about speeding, general safety and violation of emissions legislation (somewhat ironic given that Blackburn was a coal-powered mill town).

Overall, the company was relatively successful, even though hampered by the corporation's perverse insistence on the use of loss-making horse traction (on some lines), meaning that the profitable steam services were effectively used to subsidise a form of transport that they were originally intended to replace.

By the late 1890s, the corporation was keen to take ownership of the system, convert it to electric traction, and then operate it municipally. This meant however, buying the BCTCo out of its lease, which did not end until 1908, with the result that the corporation was forced to pay a premium. In spite of this, a deal was duly reached, and the corporation took possession on the 24th August 1898, operating the system until it had been fully converted to electric traction, a process that would take it the best part of three years to achieve. The last steam service is thought to have run on the 8th July 1901.

Only a single photograph has survived depicting the company's horse trams, and unfortunately, it gives few clues as to the date it was taken. What it does however show is that drivers wore informal but smart attire, comprising jacket, shirt and tie, along with the ubiquitous bowler hat, a particular favourite of Victorian horse vehicle drivers. Conductors may possibly have been issued with jackets (this is unclear), but definitely wore company-issued soft-topped kepi-style caps, which bore a large metal badge of unknown pattern (regrettably, none appear to have survived). This single photo also suggests that horse tram drivers and conductors may have been required to wear licences, though it is far from conclusive.

In common with the vast majority of steam tramway operators in the British Isles, drivers wore railway footplate-like attire such as cotton jackets and trousers, along with soft-topped or grease-topped caps; neither the jackets nor the caps carried badges or insignia of any kind. In contrast to their horsecar counterparts, conductors working the steam services appear to have worn informal attire rather than uniforms, i.e., jacket, shirt and tie, along with that late-Victorian northern favourite, the flat cap. Most photos however, date from the second half of the 1890s, so it may well be that conductors wore similar attire to their horse-tram counterparts in the earlier years of operation, but gradually adopted a less formal appearance as the years wore on, possibly as a result of cutbacks caused by the increasingly strained relationship with the corporation. It would appear that drivers and conductors were at some point required to wear municipal licences, though only one photo clearly shows a steam engine driver doing so. The licences were round and were suspended from the jacket or some other item of uniform paraphernalia, such as a cash-bag strap, by means of a leather hanger. An example is yet to come to light, so details of the markings they undoubtedly carried, remain unknown.

It is currently unclear what uniforms were worn by senior staff such as inspectors, or indeed, whether the BCTCoLtd ever employed their services.

Further reading
For a detailed history of the company, see: 'A History of the British Steam Tram — Volume 2' by David Gladwin; Adam Gordon Publishing (2006).


Horse tram drivers and conductors
Blackburn Corporation Tramways Horse Tram No 22 and crew
The driver and conductor of Horsecar No 22 pose for the cameramen at the Billinge terminus of the Preston Road horse tram route — photo undated, but probably taken in the early 1890s given the pristine condition of the vehicle. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Blackburn Corporation Tramways Horse Tram No 22 and crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the driver (in tall bowler hat), who may possibly be wearing a licence, and the conductor (holding the dash rail). The latter is wearing a single-breasted jacket (possibly company issued) and a soft-topped cap bearing a large reflective, and therefore metallic, cap badge; unfortunately, no examples are known to have survived, so details of what the badge bore remain unknown.

Steam tram drivers and conductors
Blackburn Corporation Tramways Steam Tram No 3 and crew
A driver (with oil can) and conductor pose for the cameraman at the Cemetery terminus with 'Thomas Green-built' Steam Tram No 3 and Trailer No 4 (both of 1887)— photo taken in 1896. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Blackburn Corporation Tramways Steam Tram No 3 and crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the driver and conductor. The former is wearing typical footplate clothing befitting the filthy nature of his work; the conductor is wearing informal attire, including a flat cap, with no evidence of badges or a licence. What at first glance would appear to be a licence (on his cash-bag strap) is in fact a round ticket punch.

Blackburn Corporation Tramways Steam Tram No 11 and crew
The driver and conductor of Steam Tram No 11 and Trailer No 13 captured for posterity in Water Street, the town centre terminus of the Cemetery route — photo taken in 1897. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.

Blackburn Corporation Tramways Steam Tram No 11 conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor, who is wearing clogs and a round licence, the latter hung from his cash-bag strap.

Blackburn Corporation Tramways Steam Tram No 11 driver
Another blow-up of the above photo, this time showing the driver; he is clearly wearing a round licence.

Blackburn Corporation Tramways Steam Tram and crew
An unidentified 'Thomas Green'-built steam engine and Trailer No 4, again taken at the Cemetery terminus, purportedly around 1892, though given the battered state of the engine (built in 1887), it is probably very much later than this. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Blackburn Corporation Tramways Steam Tram No 10 and crew
Driver and conductor with 'Thomas Green'-built No 10 and Trailer No 16 at the Cemetery, clearly a favoured photographic location — photo taken around 1898. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.