Chester Corporation Tramways

Chester Corporation became a tramway owner and operator on the 1st January 1902, through its acquisition of Chester Tramways Company's 2.38-mile long standard-gauge, horse tramway.

The corporation had opened its own power station in December 1896, no doubt with half an eye on electrification of the horse tramway, which it had the right to compulsorily purchase in 1899 (under the Tramways Act of 1870). In the meantime, the corporation sought and obtained powers to convert the existing line to overhead electric traction, and to switch to a gauge of 3ft 6ins, standard gauge being considered too wide for the narrow streets.

Reconstruction work commenced on the 10th November 1902, the corporation continuing to operate the horse trams, but gradually cutting them back as conversion proceeded. The last horse tram ran on the 27th December 1902 (some histories state the 31st December 1902), three-and-a-half months prior to the first electric service. Given that many tramway concerns literally ran horse trams up to the day before electric services commenced, it is unclear why such a gap was necessary, though it may have been the need to carry out major structural alterations to the depot and stables to enable their use by electric vehicles.

The first electric tram service ran on the 16th April 1903 over the same course as the old horse tramway, most of the line having been doubled, compared to less than half of it in CTCo days. An extension eastwards through Broughton to termini on Tarvin Rd and Christleton Rd, was opened on the 6th December 1906.

The tramway appears to have been reasonably healthy financially, though the corporation made little attempt to expand it — usually citing the narrowness of the streets — or to modernise the tramcars, which were already rather old-fashioned even when new. A short extension was eventually authorised, but was never built as the Great War intervened.

Like many other tramways, the system emerged from the rigours of the Great War in run-down condition, and with a large maintenance backlog. Somewhat surprisingly, the corporation chose to renew much of the life-expired track, but did nothing about the aged tramcars. A change in the pattern of travel to Chester in the mid-1920s — increasingly by road instead of rail — led to a drop-off in the number of passengers, many of whom arrived at Chester General, which was situated to the northeast of the city centre. The corporation seemed happy to simply run the trams down, and on the 28th March 1928, it formally decided to abandon them. Replacement buses were purchased, the last tram — No 10 — running on the 15th February 1930.

At its maximum extent, Chester Corporation Tramways operated just 3.58 miles of tramway, comprising a main line from Chester General Station, travelling roughly southeastwards through the city, across the Dee at Grosvenor Bridge, then westwards to Saltney on the Welsh border; and a line eastwards from a junction with the main line on Foregate St through Broughton, where it split into two, one branch going to a terminus on Tarvin Rd and the other to a terminus on Christleton Road.

Although images that unequivocally show the horse tramway in its corporation-owned days (1st January to the 27th December 1902) are unknown, given the fact that uniforms were not worn during 'company' days (see link), it seems reasonable to assume that the corporation saw fit to do likewise.

Photographs taken in the first few months of the electric tramway's opening clearly show staff wearing plain jackets without markings of any kind, including the buttons; although these jackets may well have been self-purchased, the consistent style evident in surviving images suggests that they were issued by the corporation. Headgear took the form of a kepi-style cap with a stiff glossy peak; these appear to have had a prominent ridge half way up (around the circumference), below which a standard script-lettering grade badge was worn — either Conductor or Driver — and above which a small shield-shaped badge was mounted. In all likelihood, the latter is the pattern of municipal shield badge shown below.

The plain jackets were quickly superseded, probably within the first year, by formal issues. These took the form of single-breasted jackets with five nickel buttons (bearing the municipal device — see link), two breast pockets (with button closures) and upright collars; the latter bore an employee number — in individual numerals — on the bearer's left-hand side, and system initials — 'C C T' — on the right-hand side. The badges were almost certainly nickel to match the buttons. Between 1905 and 1907, the kepi-style caps were superseded by more modern military-style caps with an unusually wide, tensioned crown (top); the cap badges remained the same. The style of uniform and cap were from then on unchanged right through to the closure of the tramway.

Tramcar crews were also issued with long, double-breasted greatcoats with two rows of five buttons and upright collars; the latter bore an employee number on the bearer's left-hand side and system initials — 'C C T' — on the right-hand side.

Inspectors initially wore identical attire to tramcar staff, but with a metal, script-lettering grade badge — Inspector — on their kepi-style caps, along with the municipal shield badge; the cap badges were almost certainly nickel. Inspectors were presumably issued with uniform jackets at the same time as tramcar staff, but with Inspector in embroidered script-lettering on both collars. Caps initially remained the same (kepis), but were soon superseded by rather elaborate, wide-crowned military-style caps, which bore a hat band upon which the grade — Tramways Inspector — was carried in embroidered script lettering; both the hat band and the crown were embellished with light-coloured piping. The standard municipal shield badge continued to be worn above the hat band. This elaborate style of cap appears however to only have lasted a short time, before being replaced by a plain wide-crowned cap with a hat band bearing the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script-lettering. At some point in the mid-to-late Edwardian era, the standard jackets were superseded by a standard 'tramway inspector' style with 'hook and eye' fastenings. Inspectors appear to have worn the same style of double-breasted greatcoats as tramcar crews, but with Inspector in embroidered script lettering on the collars, rather than the usual metal insignia.

In common with the vast majority of UK tramways, Chester employed the services of female staff during the Great War, to replace male staff lost to the armed services. These ladies were definitely employed as conductresses, though it is currently unclear whether they ever drove the trams. Uniforms took the form of stylish, double-breasted, 'lancer-style' coats with two rows of six buttons (narrowing from top to bottom), and high, fold-over collars; the latter bore the usual insignia on each side. The single surviving photograph shows a conductress in puttee-like leggings, suggesting that trousers may have been worn. Headgear took the form of a wide-brimmed bonnet, which bore a standard script-lettering grade badge — Conductor. Although the photo below shows a round badge of unknown pattern mounted above the grade badge, this is almost certainly a regimental sweetheart badge, the wearing of which was common practice amongst tramway employees the length and breadth of the country during the Great War.

My thanks go to Alan Brotchie for providing several of the photographs shown below, from the collection of the late Harry Dibdin.

Further reading
For a photographic history of the tramway, see 'Chester Tramways' by Barry M Marsden; Middleton Press (2007).


Motormen and conductors
Chester Corporation Tramways Tram No 12 at Saltney
In all probability, a brand new Tramcar No 12, still with curtains, pictured at the western terminus at Saltney — photo undated, but almost certainly taken in April/May 1903. Pictured left to right are an inspector, conductor and a motorman.

Chester  Corporation Tramways crew 1903
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor and motorman, both of whom are wearing single-breasted jackets completely devoid of insignia, including the buttons. The conductor's belt has fixings for both his cash bag and the ticket clipper/punch, something which may possibly have been unique to Chester; the buckle is very reminiscent of military practice, so probably had some sort of insignia or device in the centre.

Chester Corporation Tramways tram driver 1903
A close-up of the motorman's kepi-style cap, showing the script-lettering grade badge — Driver — and small shield-shaped badge above, almost certainly that depicted below.

Chester Corporation tramways script-lettering cap badges
Standard, 'off-the-shelf', script-lettering grade badges of the type used by Chester Corporation Tramways — nickel. Author's Collection.

Chester Corporation Tramways cap badge
Chester municipal shield badge, almost certainly the same pattern as that used by the Tramways Department — nickel. Author's Collection.

Chester Corporation Tramways Tram No 11 and crew
A motorman, conductor and inspector with Tramcar No 11 on the approach to Grosvenor Bridge — photo undated, but probably taken in 1904 given the absence of destination boxes. All three individuals are wearing single-breasted jackets with upright collars. Photo courtesy of Cheshire Image Bank (see link).

Chester Corporation Tramways Tram No 2 Hough Green
Tramcar No 2 with motorman (No 16), conductor and inspector, probably photographed between 1905 and 1907 along Hough Green. The kepi-style caps had by this time been replaced with military-style caps with a tensioned crown (top).

Chester Corporation Tramways tram conductor Edwardian
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor. His collar insignia are clearly discernible — 'C C T' and '14' — and he also appears to be wearing a similar belt and buckle to the conductor in the first photograph above.

Chester Corporation Tramways Tram No 7 and crew
Motorman and inspector with Tramcar No 7 at the station terminus — photo undated, but probably late Edwardian given the destination box; these were first fitted around 1907/8.

Chester Corporation Tramways motorman driver
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman — Employee No 16 - the same individual as seen in the photo of Tramcar No 2 above. The insignia on the greatcoat collars are easily made out.

Chester Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 1
A motorman and a conductor (possibly Employee No 14) pose with Tramcar No 1 at the Christleton terminus in 1907. Photo courtesy of Cheshire Image Bank (see link).

Senior staff
Chester Corporation Tramways
A blow-up of the 1903 Saltney terminus photo above, showing the inspector, in kepi-style cap with metal, script-lettering grade badge.

Chester Corporation Tramways Inspector cap badge
'Off-the-shelf', script-lettering grade badge of the type used by Chester Corporation Tramways — nickel. Author's Collection.

Chester Corporation Tramways Inspector
A blow-up of the photograph of Tramcar No 2 above, showing the inspector. By this time (circa 1905-7), the kepi-style caps had been superseded by military-style caps with an unusually wide, tensioned crown (top); they were elaborately piped, and bore a hat band with Tramways Inspector in embroidered script lettering. The jackets were the same style as worn by tramcar crews, but with Inspector in embroidered script lettering on the upright collars.

Chester Corporation Tramways inspector
A blow-up of the photograph of Tramcar No 7 above, showing the inspector. The collars on both the overcoat and the jacket (worn underneath) bear the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering. The cap however appears to be a good deal less flamboyant than that shown in the previous photo, foregoing the elaborate piping and grade in favour of a simple embroidered Inspector badge.

Female staff
CHester Corporation Tramways Great War conductress
Conductress No 42, Hilda Conway — photo taken during the Great War. Photo courtesy of Cheshire Image Bank (see link).

Chester Corporation Trmaways Great War conductress Hilda Conway
A blow-up of the above photo showing the uniform insignia. The collars badges — 'C C T' and '42' — are easily discerned; the upper badge is almost certainly a regimental badge, a common practice during the Great War.