Hartlepool Electric Tramways

The first electric tram service in the Hartlepools, indeed in all of northeast England, ran on the 19th May 1896.

The tramway was owned and operated by the General Electric Tramways Company Limited, which was a subsidiary of the Electric Construction Company Limited, a company which had taken over the assets of the defunct 3ft 6in-gauge Hartlepools Steam Tramways Company (probably in late 1894) and acquired powers to reconstruct it for electric working. The key player in the electrification story was Stephen Sellon, who not only acquired the former steam tramway for the ECCo, but also secured the support of the respective corporations (Hartlepool and West Hartlepool) for its conversion to overhead electric traction. Whilst powers were obtained to this end (which belonged to the ECCo), Sellon had also, and independently of the ECCo, promoted a series of tramway extensions within West Hartlepool, together with a Francis Ashby.

In late 1894, Sellon left the ECCo (taking the extension application with him), along with the ECCo's Managing Director, Emile Garcke. The latter, with help from Sellon, set up the British Electric Traction (Pioneer) Company Limited on the 7th November 1895, which one year later on the 26th October 1896, became the British Electric Traction Company Limited. The BETCo began life by purchasing horse and steam-operated tramways, with the intention of converting them to electric traction, as well as promoting schemes of its own; it would, over the course of its existence, go on to either own, part-own or lease almost 50 tramway systems across the British Isles. The BET (Pioneer) Co entered into an agreement with Sellon and Ashby, and on the 15th October 1896, it formed a subsidiary company — the Hartlepool Electric Tramways Company Limited — to construct and operate the planned electric lines in West Hartlepool.

Work commenced on the HETCo's new lines in April 1897, with public services starting on the 22nd January 1899. Whilst it seems odd that two companies independently built tramways within the same town (West Hartlepool), there was clearly a lot of discussion behind the scenes, the ECCo seemingly not harbouring any grudges with its two former employees. Indeed, by the late 1890s, the ECCo was in fact keen to divest itself of tramway operation, and so sold its subsidiary company — the GETCo — to the HETCo in January 1899. Although the HETCo now took over operation of both tramways, working them as one system, the GETCo continued to exist as the legal owner of the reconstructed former steam lines between Hartlepool and West Hartlepool.

The tramway system was eventually expanded to a maximum of 6.98 miles. It took the form of a cross centred on Library Corner, West Hartlepool, with lines running: northwards along Clarence Rd and Cleveland Rd to Northgate in Hartlepool; eastwards along Church St then southeastwards via Seaton Rd to Seaton Carew; southwards along Stockton St to Foggy Furze; and westwards along Victoria Rd to Park. Although various plans were made by other companies to link the tramways of Middlesbrough with those of Hartlepool, none ever came to fruition.

The tramway was not particularly profitable, and whilst never making a loss, after all interest payments and loan charges had been made, a dividend was only paid in 3 out of the 13 years the tramway was owned by the HETCo. Nevertheless, West Hartlepool Corporation, or at least elements within the corporation, seemed keen to purchase the various tramway lines as and when they became due. Unfortunately for the corporation, there was no single date when they could exercise their option to purchase the undertaking, as the system had been constructed by two different companies, under several authorisations, with dates falling due in 1909, 1911, 1922 and 1925. If that wasn't enough of a challenge, it seems that the corporation wasn't even sure that it wanted to purchase the tramway, its general approach probably best being characterised as shambolic, decisions being taken that turned out to be non-quorate, decisions being made then overturned, and all against a deadline that they clearly hadn't prepared for (they were required to give 6 months notice of their intention to the company). On top of that, the corporation then challenged the company's valuation of the two lines they had the option to buy (Park and Foggy Furze), which ended up in arbitration with an award very close to the HETCo's, which the corporation then rather unwisely appealed, only to be given a fairly public rebuke for wasting the Lords Justices time.

The corporation effectively took ownership of the Foggy Furze and Park lines on the 25th September 1911, the date the HETCo had communicated that it would cease operating services on the line; the corporation was however in no position to operate the lines itself, and in fact, seemed to have been unsure whether it wanted to become a tramway operator to not. As a result, it was forced to lease its newly acquired lines back to the HETCo on what turned out to be quite punitive terms, the corporation eventually making a substantial loss on the arrangement. Additionally, the corporation had to pay interest on the purchase price of the two lines (which was back-dated to the 6th January 1910), which it had not yet paid, as it was ostensibly considering yet another appeal. The upshot of the delay was that it was ordered to pay up, the Justice in the case pointedly remarking — on the 7th November 1911 — that he would "give the corporation no more time to play the fool".

In 1912, after all this prevarication and uncertainty, the corporation eventually decided to bite the bullet and negotiate with the company to purchase all the remaining lines, rather than wait for them to expire and thus become available for purchase. This was however complicated by the rather inconvenient fact that around 1.25 miles of the enterprise were within the boundary of Hartlepool Corporation; these were in the end retained by the GUTCo (the legal owner), West Hartlepool Corporation leasing them from the company. With the exception of these lines, ownership and operation of the tramway formally passed into the hands of West Hartlepool Corporation on the 31st August 1912.

The corporation immediately began the process of renewing life-expired rails and overhead, and prior to the Great War, obtaining five new tramcars and rebuilding others. Like all systems, the WHCT was placed under immense strain during the Great War, with greatly increased passenger loadings (which doubled during the war years), minimal maintenance and severe restrictions on the purchase of spares, rails and new tramcars, not to mention suffering damage from direct action from enemy warships (surely unique for a tramway), which all told killed 127 people in the Hartlepools.

After the war, the WHCT set about putting the tramway concern on an even keel, renewing track, catching up on maintenance and obtaining six new tramcars, which arrived in 1920. The corporation had also given thought to motorbus operation, as feeder services to the tramways, introducing its first service on the 17th July 1920; it was however to be a long time before the latter were to show a profit. Challenging times were however ahead, with industry struggling and passenger numbers falling, economies needing to be found. As a result, when the Foggy Furze route came due for track renewal, the corporation took a long, hard look at its options and decided on the 13th June 1922 to seek powers to replace the tram services on the route with trolleybuses. Powers were duly obtained, the last tram running on the route on the 4th October 1923, motorbuses then taking over temporarily until the line was reconstructed for trolleybus operation, which began on the 28th February 1924.

Hartlepool Corporation took over ownership of the tramway tracks within its municipal boundary on the 3rd August 1925, the WHCT continuing to operate tramway services, but having agreed to convert the route to trolleybus operation. Having acquired powers for further conversions, the department's name was changed — in November 1926 — to West Hartlepool Corporation Transport.

Tram services were withdrawn from the Park route in November 1925, and on the line between the two Hartlepools on the 22nd February 1927, the last WHCT tram of all running on the Seaton Carew line on the 15th March 1927.

Photographs of Hartlepools electric tramways, either in its early years (under the General Electric Tramways Company; 1895 to 1899) or subsequently under the auspices of the Hartlepool Electric Tramways Company (1899 to 1912) and West Hartlepool Corporation (1912 to 1927) are very thin on the ground, and those showing staff are rarer still.

The only photograph I am aware of which unequivocally depicts staff in GETCo days suggests that uniforms may not have been issued to tramcar crews, as both the motorman and conductor are wearing different jackets, seemingly without insignia, together with informal headgear, again devoid of badges. Given that this is based on a single photograph, some degree of caution must however be exercised in interpreting it.

During the early HETCo era, conductors were initially issued with single-breasted jackets with a row of five buttons (undoubtedly of the standard BETCo pattern — see link) and upright collars; although nothing can be made out on the surviving images, the latter, by analogy with other BETCo systems at this time, probably bore embroidered system initials on both sides. The uniforms were apparently dark blue with yellow piping. Motormen on the other hand were provided with double-breasted jackets with four pairs of buttons and lapels; the collar insignia would have been the same as the conductors' jackets. Caps were in a kepi-style, and though nothing can be made out on the surviving photographs, these would certainly have borne embroidered system initials. The uniforms would almost certainly have been changes to either a single-breasted or lancer-style in 1904; these new uniforms would have borne an employee number on the bearer's left-hand collar and system initials on the right-hand collar, all badges being brass. By this time, the kepis would also have been superseded by military-style caps bearing the standard BETCo 'Magnet and Wheel' cap badge, along with an employee number (worn underneath).

During the HETCo era, a bonus was given to tramcar staff for good conduct; the recipients were not only paid extra per week, but also had this denoted by means of a chevron on their jacket sleeve (up to three).

At the time of the the hand-over to the corporation, there were 19 conductors, 20 motormen, 3 inspectors, 1 chief inspector and 10 parcels boys (messengers).

In the West Hartlepool Corporation era, conductors (at least) wore single-breasted jackets with two breast pockets (with button closures) and upright collars; the bearer's right-hand collar bore individual 'W H C T' initials. The uniforms were apparently blue with red piping; buttons and badges were probably brass. Caps were military in style with a tensioned crown and bore script-lettering grade badges, either Conductor or Motorman. It is possible that the style of the uniforms were changed in the 1920s, though currently, there is no photographic evidence that would either support or refute this.

During the GETCo era, inspectors were certainly issued with elaborate uniforms, comprising single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair) and upright collars, with the jacket and pockets edged in a finer material than the main body. The sleeves were also embellished with chevrons, again in a finer material than the jackets. The upright collars probably carried insignia, though this cannot be made out on surviving photographs. Headgear took the form of a kepi-style cap with a steeply inclined glossy peak, topped by a pom pom; the caps certainly carried a badge of some description, possibly 'TRAMWAY INSPECTOR' in embroidered block lettering. Photographs of inspectors from later periods are yet to come to light, so it is currently unknown what uniforms they wore, though in all likelihood, they were very similar in style to those used in the early years.

During the Great War, like the majority of UK tramway systems, the WHCT took on women workers to replace male staff lost to the armed services. The first conductresses started work on the 1st November 1915, with the first motorwomen following a little later, possibly in late 1916. By June 1917, all the conducting staff were women, a situation which presumably persisted until shortly after the end of the war. The last conductresses are thought to have left as late as 1921.

The WHCT also employed inspectresses, as well as female parcels messengers. It is currently unclear what uniforms all these ladies wore, as photographs of any of them are yet to come to light.

Further reading
For a history of the tramway, see: 'The Tramways of the Hartlepools' by J D Watson, in the Tramway Review, Nos 144 (p256-274), 145 (p11-28), 146 (p44-60), 147 (p84-103), 149 (p164-174) and 150 (p204-213); Light Rail Transit Association (1990-1992).


Motormen and conductors
Hartlepool Tramways Tram No 10 1898
GETCo Tramcar No 10 (new in 1897) stands in Church St, West Hartlepool, with its crew and an inspector, in 1898. Photograph courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Hartlepool Tramways Tram driver 1898
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman, who though smart in appearance, appears to be wearing a jacket devoid of insignia, and a tall almost maritime style of peaked cap, also without a badge of any kind.

Hartlepool Tramways Tram conductor 1898
Another blow-up of the above photo, this time showing the conductor. Whilst he is wearing an informal cap, he does appear to be wearing a single-breasted uniform jacket, though once again without any insignia.

Hartlepool Electric Tramways Tram No 12
A poor quality photo, but one which shows Tramcar No 12 (delivered new in 1899) at the temporary Sydenham Rd terminus on the Foggy Furze line — photo undated, but believed to have been taken in 1902, i.e., in HETCo days. Whilst the conductor is wearing a single-breasted jacket and a kepi-style cap, the motorman has a double-breasted jacket, and possibly also a kepi-style cap. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Jarrow and District Electric Tramways cap badge
Standard British Electric Traction Company ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge — brass. Although I have yet to see a photograph of a Hartlepool tramwayman showing this clearly, this is the pattern the BETCo issued to all its subsidiary operations (with the exception of Birmingham), so it would definitely have been used in Hartlepool between 1899 and the corporation take-over of 1912.

Hartlepool Electric Tramways Tram No 18
A busy scene in Victoria Rd with Tramcar No 18 — undated, but thought to have been taken around 1907. The tramcar carries a large bag, presumably for parcels and packages, and the staff in the street are moving large baskets marked 'T P E', standing for 'Tramways Parcel Express'. The boys with the baskets are therefore almost certainly 'Parcels Boys' rather than tramcar crew. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Hartlepool Electric Tramway Tram Conductor
A rare studio portrait of a Hartlepool Electric Tramways' conductor — photo undated, but certainly taken in the municipal era (i.e., between late 1912 and 1927); the age of the subject suggests that it may have been taken during the Great War, when it became difficult to find men for such positions. His right-hand collar bears individual 'W H C T' initials, whilst his cap carries a standard 'off-the-shelf' grade badge; the buttons bear the standard West Hartlepool Corporation device (see link). Photo courtesy of the Stephen Howarth Collection.

Hartlepool Electric Tramways cap badges
General pattern script-lettering cap badges — Motorman and Conductor — of the type used in West Hartlepool Corporation days (1912 to closure in 1927). Author's Collection.

West Hartlepool Corporation Transport collar/lapel badges — brass. Author's Collection.

Hartlepool Electric Tramways Tram
The crew of Tramcar No 18 stand at the terminus at Park in April 1914, i.e. two years after the corporation take-over. Both men are wearing script-lettering grade badges, the conductor in single-breasted jacket and the motorman in a double-breasted 'lancer-style' greatcoat. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Hartlepool Electric Tramways badge
West Hartlepool Corporation Transport badge — nickel. Although this style of badge was certainly worn during the later 'Transport' era. there is currently no evidence to suggest that it was worn in tramway days. Author's Collection.

Senior staff
Hartlepool Electric Tramways Tram Inspector 1897
A blow-up of the 1898 photo of Tramcar No 10 above, showing the inspector. He is wearing typical tramway inspector garb, embellished with fine edging material (and sleeve chevrons) and with a kepi style cap with pom pom atop; the cap clearly carries a badge of some description, possibly embroidered 'TRAMWAY INSPECTOR'.