City of Carlisle Electric Tramways

Carlisle's 3ft 6ins-gauge, electric tramway, which opened on the 30th June 1900, was built and operated by the City of Carlisle Electric Tramways Company Limited.

The tramway was only 5.73 miles long, comprising lines: northwards to Stanwix; eastwards along Warwick Rd to Petteril Bridge; southeastwards along London Rd, with a branch southwards along Blockwell Rd to Boundary Rd; southwards to Denton Holme; and westwards to Newtown. The system was geographically isolated, so was never connected to another tramway.

The original company always struggled financially, the last dividend, and a pitiably small one at that, was paid in 1906. There were several reasons for this, but first and foremost was the small population served and the high cost of electricity, which the company purchased from Carlisle Corporation. The company reacted by cutting back on maintenance, and by 1910, both the track and the cars were in extremely poor condition, and the spectre of expensive renewals was looming large. At this point, the directors recommended selling the company, and perhaps surprisingly, they found a buyer, in the form of Balfour Beatty and Company, who took control in November 1911.

Balfour Beatty and Co had been actively promoting, purchasing, or acquiring interests in, several provincial tramways across the country, a policy which would eventual see it control the following systems: 1909 (Dartford Council Light Railways; Dunfermline and District Tramways; Llandudno and Colwyn Bay Electric Railway; Llanelly Tramways; Luton Corporation Tramways); 1911 (City of Carlisle Electric Tramways); 1912 (Leamington and Warwick Electric Tramways; Mansfield and District Light Railway; Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways); 1914 (Cheltenham and District Light Railway); 1920 (Falkirk and District Tramways); and lastly, in 1922 (Wemyss and District Tramways).

The new owners immediately negotiated a reduction in the electricity price, then set about what was virtually a complete renewal of the system, including track, overhead and the entire tramcar fleet. The system managed a couple of years of steady operation before it was once again plunged into a period of low maintenance and 'make do and mend', this time caused by events completely beyond its control, namely, the Great War. Like most other tramway concerns across the Britain, the system emerged from the conflict in badly run-down condition. Moreover, the system had failed to keep pace with housing developments in the city and its environs, so was poorly placed to serve the population, unlike the independent and unregulated bus operators who were shortly to appear.

By the mid-1920s, the writing was on the wall; although the company managed to avoid making a loss, it was never going to be in a position to fund the large capital outlay that would be needed to renew the track or to extend the lines to better serve the population. Although it changed its name in March 1926 — to the Carlisle and District Transport Company Ltd — no doubt reflecting an aspiration to introduce bus services, the company never took this step. Instead, in late 1930, a sale was agreed to Ribble Motor Services of Preston, who intended to replace the trams by buses.

Ribble's intentions were intially thwarted by the corporation, which was keen to set up its own municipal transport enterprise, a plan which involved acquisition of the tramway. The Northern Traffic Commissioners however, quickly threw a spanner in the corporation's works, by refusing to grant them the bus operating licences that they would need. After a short period of reflection, the council stepped back, taking on a transport co-ordination role, and allowing Ribble to proceed with acquisition of the tramway, which it took control of in 1931 (it is exactly unclear when).

The last Carlisle tram ran on the 21st November 1931, with buses taking over the following day.

The earliest photos of Carlisle tramcar crews show them wearing single-breasted jackets with five buttons — presumably bearing the full title and monogram (see link) — and upright collars; it is unclear if the latter carried any badges. Caps were initially soft-topped with a glossy peak; they bore a large round cap badge comprising an armorial device (not doubt unofficial) surrounded by the full company title set within a garter (see below for an example). The design was very similar to that used by the Blackpool and Fleetwood Tram Road Company (see link), more than probably due to the influence of Mr G Readman, who was a director of both enterprises.

A staff photograph taken in 1904 (not shown) shows that the early uniforms did not last long, being replaced by double-breasted 'lancer-style' tunics with two rows of five buttons — narrowing from top to bottom — and upright collars; the latter bore an employee number on the left-hand side, probably in individual nickel numerals, and system initials on the right-hand side, possibly 'C E T', though this cannot be made out with certainty on surviving photographs. The caps were also changed — probably at the same time — to a smart kepi-style with piping, but retaining the prominent round cap badge.

The kepi-style caps appear not to have lasted long, as photos taken from 1905 onwards increasingly show individuals wearing military-style caps with tensioned crowns (tops), suggesting that the kepis were gradually replaced as they wore out, rather than en masse. The large round cap badges probably lasted to shortly before the Great War, being superseded by standard, off-the-shelf, script-lettering grade badges — Motorman or Conductor — more than likely in nickel. It is however currently unclear exactly when this occurred, as the photographic record between 1908 and 1927 is sparse in the extreme, though a reasonable candidate would be soon after 1911 when the tramway was taken over by Balfour Beatty and Company. By the latter years of the tramway, and possibly since the BB&Co take-over, the style of jackets worn by conductors had changed to a fairly standard single-breasted design with five buttons, upright collars and epaulettes; the collars probably bore an employee number on the bearer's left-hand side and 'C E T' initials on the right.

Tramcar crews were also issued with double-breasted greatcoats with two rows of five buttons, epaulettes and high-fold-over collars; the epaulettes possibly bore an employee number.

Edwardian photographs show staff wearing round licences — almost certainly brass — which were suspended from a button on the bearer's tunic or from a cash-bag strap in the case of conductors. As the years wore on, the wearing of these licences appears to have been at best sporadic. Several examples of alloy armbands have also survived — specifically marked 'tramcar' — though these are not seen in any surviving photographs. One possible explanation is that they were only in use for a short period, as they probably required two people to buckle up, and even then they must have had a tendency to slip down the bearer's arm.

Inspectors wore single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair) and upright collars, all edged in a finer material than the main body of the jacket; the collars bore Inspector in embroidered script lettering on both sides. In the early years, inspectors wore kepi-style caps which bore the same prominent cap badge as used by tramcar crews, but with Inspector on a hat band beneath, probably embroidered. At some point, the kepis were superseded by military-style caps, and probably at this time, the large round cap badge was dispensed with, leaving just the embroidered grade. Inspectors were also issued with long double-breasted overcoats, which at least in the latter years of the system had lapels, the upper part of which bore the grade in embroidered script lettering. The Chief Inspector wore the same uniform as the inspectors, but with the grade — Chief Inspector — over two lines of embroidered script lettering, on caps, jacket and overcoat collars.

In common with the vast majority of UK tramway systems, Carlisle employed women during the Great War — as conductresses — to replace male staff lost to the armed forces. Unfortunately, no photographs of these ladies appear to have survived, so it is currently impossible to say what uniforms they wore.

Further reading
For a history of the system, see: 'Tramways of the City of Carlisle' by G S Hearse; published by the author (1962; republished 1978).


Motormen and conductors

City of Carlisle Tramways crew and Tram No 4
The crew of Tramcar No 4 captured at the Warwick Rd Terminus in 1901. Photo reproduced with kind permission of the Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery, Carlisle.

City of Carlisle Tramways crew and Tram No 4
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor and the motorman, both in early single-breasted uniforms and soft-topped caps, the latter being the prominent round cap badge shown below.

City of Carlisle Electric Tramways cap badge
City of Carlisle Electric Tramways Company cap badge — nickel. Author's Collection.

City of Carlisle Tramways Tram no 14 and crew
A rather battered Tramcar No 14 at the Newtown Terminus —photo undated, though purportedly taken in 1905. The conductor is wearing a smart kepi-style cap, whereas the motorman sports a more modern military style of cap. The little girl on the steps was called Lilly, and went on to become the Mother-in-Law of author and broadcaster, Hunter Davies (thanks to John Perkins for this information). Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

City of Carlisle Electric Tramways conductor 1905
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor in his double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunic, kepi-style cap and prominent cap badge. A round licence is attached to his cash-bag strap, almost certainly the same pattern as that depicted below.

A City of Carlisle motorman's licence — brass.

City of Carlisle Tram No 6 in 1908
A conductor, inspector and motorman pose with Tramcar No 2 at Viaduct Corner in 1908. No 2 was actually a one-man operated vehicle, so it is unclear why both the conductor and a motorman are present, though the former appears not to be wearing a uniform, so could well be a trainee. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

City of Carlisle Tram no 2, conductor and driver
The crew of a rather battered-looking Tramcar No 2 (the second car to bear that number) at Newtown terminus — photo undated, but almost certainly taken in the mid-to-late 1920s. By this time, conductors were wearing single-breasted jackets with upright collars and epaulettes. The large, round cap badges had also gone, replaced by standard, 'off-the-shelf' script-lettering grade badges. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.

City of Carlisle Electric Tramways cap badges
Standard 'off-the-shelf', script-lettering cap badges of the type worn by Carlisle staff later on in the system's life. In the case of Carlisle, these were probably nickel to match the buttons. They may have been introduced in 1926 when the name of the company was changed to the 'Carlisle & District Transport Company'. Author's Collection.

City of Carlisle Electric Tramways Tram No 8 1927
A gaggle of tramway staff wait in Caldewgate for Carrs Biscuits workers to emerge from the factory — photo taken some time in 1927. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.

City of Carlisle Tramways tram conductors, drivers and inspector 1927
All the crewmen, with the exception of the inspector (second from the left) are wearing standard, off-the-shelf, script-lettering cap badges.

City of Carlisle Electric Tramways tram driver
Another blow-up of the above photo, this time showing the motorman, with employee number on his epaulette and municipal licence (the only individual depicted who has one). He also has a small round cap badge of unknown pattern — this is considerably smaller than the round cap badges worn in former times.

City of Carlisle Tramways Tram at Newtown 1931
The crew of an unidentified tram pose for the camera of Dr H Nicol at the Newtown terminus on the 10th May 1931. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.

City of Carlisle Tramways tram conductor 1931
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.

Carlisle Tramway Licences
Tramcar driver (green) and conductor (red) armbands. As these armbands are not seen in any surviving photographs, it is tempting to speculate that their use was probably transient, possibly because they must have been very awkward to put on (without assistance). Author's Collection.

Senior staff
City of Carlisle Tramways inspector 1908
CofCETCo Inspector, taken from the 1908 'Viaduct Corner' view above.

City of Carlisle Electric Tramways inpsector 1927
An inspector in conversation with a prospective passenger in the Market Place, circa 1927. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

City of Carlisle Tramways tram inspector 1927
A blow-up of the 1927 shot in Caldewgate (see above) showing the inspector. His grade is embroidered on his overcoat collars, as well as the upright collars of his jacket (underneath).

City of Carlisle Tramways chief inspector 1927
Close up of the senior figure on the platform of Tramcar No 8 from the 1927 Caldewgate photograph above. He appears to have two lines of embroidered script-lettering on his overcoat collars and cap, strongly suggesting that he was a Chief Inspector. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.