Darlington Corporation Light Railways

History
Darlington Corporation became a tramway owner on the 24th January 1902, when it purchased the town's 3ft-gauge horse tramway from its owners, the Imperial Tramways Company Limited. Although the ITCo had obtained powers in 1899 to rebuild and electrify the system, its aspirations were to come to naught as it quickly became clear that the corporation had plans of its own, the first step of which, in December 1900, was the opening of a municipal power station.

The corporation eventually acquired powers (in July 1902) to build and operate an electric tramway, in the meantime, leasing operation of its newly acquired horse tramway to a Mr C J O'Dowd. Mr O'Dowd ran the tramway for the last 19 months of its life, the last horse tram running on the 18th August 1903. For some reason, it took the corporation another 10 months before the inauguration of the new electric services — on the 2nd of June 1904 — quite a hiatus for passengers, even taking into account the change of gauge to 3ft 6 ins.

The system was just 4.87 miles long, comprising lines running: northwards to Harrowgate Hill; northeastwards along Haughton Rd to a terminus near Bolton St; eastwards to Eastborne; and northwestwards along Woodland Rd to Cockerton. The corporation, and before it the ITCo, had held vague hopes of building a line eastwards to Stockton, but the DCLR was destined to remain isolated all its life.

The system was well-used, the sixteen single-deck tramcars soon proving inadequate for the passenger numbers. Two new double-deck vehicles were acquired in 1913, and with loadings continuing to increase during the Great War, another six were added to the fleet, coming second-hand in 1918 from the defunct Sheerness and District Tramways, which had closed in 1917. Like many systems, the DCLR presumably suffered from the effects of the Great War, namely, heavier loadings, staff shortages, and severe restrictions on maintenance and renewals. As such, it likely emerged from the conflict in a run-down condition (details are sparse), but as the corporation was still toying with the idea of building tramway extensions as late as 1923, it seems that it had caught up on its maintenance backlog and that it, or key individuals on the Tramways Committee, still viewed the tramway as being central to the future of the municipal transport undertaking.

The status quo was however soon to change, as the extension proposals led to the commissioning, in late 1923, of an independent report on the future direction of transport within and around Darlington. Whilst independent, the author, Alfred Baker, was General Manager of Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways, a concern which had already introduced trolleybuses, and who could therefore reasonably be expected to be positively disposed towards this method of traction. It was of course an attractive option for towns like Darlington, which possessed their own electricity generation plant. With expensive track renewals required, and passenger numbers falling away, it was perhaps no surprise when conversion to trolleybus operation came out as the best option, at least financially.

The full council formally decided to abandon the tramway system in favour of trolleybuses on the 3rd July 1924, and following acquisition of the necessary powers, the first conversion took place on the 16th January 1926. Although the last tram officially ran on the 10th April 1926, they reappeared for a short while a few days later due to capacity issues during rush hours.

Uniforms
Motormen and conductors were issued with double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics with five pairs of buttons (narrowing from top to bottom) and upright collars; the latter carried an employee number on the left-hand side in individual numerals, and the system initials — 'D C L R' — on the right-hand side, all almost certainly in brass to match the municipal buttons (see link). Caps were in a military style with a glossy peak and tensioned crown (top); they carried standard, 'off the shelf', script-lettering grade badges, either Motorman or Conductor, again almost certainly in brass. The style of the uniforms and the insignia do not appear to have changed at all during the entire course of the tramway's relatively short existence (1904 to 1926).

Tramcar staff were also issued with double-breasted greatcoats with five pairs of buttons and high, fold-over collars; these garments do not appear to have borne insignia of any kind.

Inspectors wore typical senior staff tramway staff jackets, single-breasted with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair), edged in a finer material than the main jacket, and with upright collars; the latter carried the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering. Caps were in the same military style used by tramcar staff, only differing with respect to the grade badge, which was also in embroidered script lettering. Inspectors were also issued with double-breasted overcoats with five pairs of buttons, and lapels; the upper part of the latter carried the designation Inspector, again in embroidered script lettering.

Women were employed in the Great War — certainly as conductresses, and possibly also as motorwomen — to replace male staff lost to the armed services. These ladies were issued with tailored single-breasted jackets with lapels and long matching skirts; it is currently unclear if they carried badges of any kind. Hats — at least in summer — took the form of dark-coloured straw bonnets, which may have borne a grade badge, though this cannot be stated with certainty. Female staff were also issued with long, tailored, single-breasted coats with large lapels; the latter appear to have borne an employee number on the left-hand side.

Further reading
For a short history of Darlington's horse and electric tramways, see: 'The Light Railways of Darlington' by G S Hearse, in The Tramway Review (Volume 2, No 11, p49-58); Light Railway Transport League (1953).

Images

Motormen and conductors
Darlington Corporation Light Railways Tram No 13 and crew
A motorman and conductor pose for the camera with Tramcar No 13 at Cockerton — photo undated, but probably taken not long after opening judging by the pristine condition of the tramcar. Photo courtesy of the Stephen Lockwood Collection.


Darlington Corporation Light Railways Tram driver No 22
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman and his collar insignia: employee number on the left-hand side (22) and system initials — 'D C L R' — on the right-hand side.


Darlington Corporation Light Railways cap badges
Standard ‘off the shelf’ script-lettering cap badges of the type used by Darlington Corporation Light Railways — brass. Author's Collection.



Darlington Corporation Light Railways Tram No 2 and crew
A conductor, motorman and an inspector with Tramcar No 2 at the Eastbourne terminus — photo undated, but given the excellent condition of the tram, probably taken in 1903 or 1904.


Darlington Corporation Light Railways Tram No 2 and crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor and motorman.


Darlington Corporation Light Railways Tram No 13 at Eastbourne terminus
The crew of Tramcar No 13 at the Eastbourne terminus — photo undated, but probably taken shortly after the inauguration of electric services. Photo courtesy of the Stephen Lockwood Collection.


Darlington Tram Staff April 1908
A staff photo taken at Freemans Place depot in April 1908. Photo courtesy of the Stephen Lockwood Collection.


Darlington Corporation Light Railways conductors 1908
A blow-up of the above photo showing three of the conductors and a motorman.


Darlington Corporation Light Railways Tram No 15 at Barton St terminus
The crew of Tramcar No 15 pose for the cameraman at the Barton Street terminus shortly before the Great War. Both men are wearing double-breasted greatcoats, seemingly without badges of any kind. Photo courtesy of the Stephen Lockwood Collection.


Darlington Corporation Light Railways conductor 1912
A rare studio portrait of a DCLR conductor, postally used on the 15th January 1912. The back is signed 'Arthur', which may well be the subject's name. Author's Collection.


Darlington Corporation Light Railway conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the cap and collar insignia — 'D C L R' on the bearer's right-hand collar, and employee number ('3') on the left.


Senior staff
Darlington Corporation Light Railways inspector
A blow-up of the early Edwardian photograph of Tramcar No 2 above, showing the inspector. His overcoat and the upright collars of his jacket underneath both appear to carry his grade — Inspector — in embroidered script-lettering. In all probability, his cap also carries the same embroidered designation, though this cannot be made out on the photograph.


Darlington Corporation Light Railways Eastbourne Tram No 12
The crew of Tramcar No 12, together with an inspector, standing in sylvan surrounding at the terminus at Eastbourne — photo undated, but probably early-to-mid Edwardian. Photo courtesy of the Stephen Lockwood Collection.


Darlington Corporation Light Railways inspector
A blow-op of the above photo showing the inspector (right).


Darlington Corporation Light Railways tram inspector
A blow-up of the 1908 staff photo above showing an inspector — the embroidered script-lettering grade on his collars and cap can just be made out.


Female staff
Darlington Corporation Light Railways Tram No 15 and crew
The crew of Tramcar No 15 pose for the camera at the terminus at Eastbourne — photo undated, but certainly taken during the Great War. Photo courtesy of the Stephen Lockwood Collection.


Darlington Corporation Light Railways Tram No 15 and crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductress and the motorman (Harry Auckland, later an inspector). Both the subjects are wearing a small round badge, the conductress on her right lapel and the motorman on his cap; these may signify that they were on War Service, though this is pure conjecture. Photo courtesy of the Stephen Lockwood Collection.


Darlington Corporation Light Railways Tram No 17 and female crew Great War
A DCLR conductress, and possibly a motorwoman, with Tramcar No 17 at the Harrowgate Hill terminus — photo undated, but certainly taken during the Great War or shortly thereafter. Photo courtesy of the Stephen Lockwood Collection.