Colchester Corporation Tramways

History
After an application by the British Electric Traction Company Limited to build a small tramway system in Colchester had been refused by the Light Railway Commissioners in 1899, Colchester Corporation eventually decided to build and operate an electric tramway itself, duly obtaining powers to construct a 3ft 6in-gauge overhead electric system in 1901. Construction however did not start until 1904, due to a faction on the council which opposed the tramway and which wished to see whether the motorbus would prove to be a better bet, but once started it quickly progressed, the tramway opening on the 28th July 1904.

The system was 5.74 miles long, reaching its maximum size on the 28th January 1906 with the opening of the only extension built. The system comprised lines running: westwards from Head St along Lexden Rd to Lexden; northwards from Head St along North Hill to the Great Eastern Railway's Colchester North Station; eastwards from Head St along High St, East Hill and East St to East Gates; southwards from the end of High St along Queen St to St Botolphs Station (also owned by the GER), where the lines diverged, one running eastwards along Magdalen St to Hythe, the other running southeastwards along Military Rd to a terminus near the Recreation Ground.

Like many tramway systems across the country, Colchester's suffered during the Great War from loss of staff (and skills), and an inability to carry out anything but the bare minimum of track and vehicle maintenance. As a result, the system emerged from the conflict in badly run-down condition.

Whilst the system seems may have been profitable (this is unclear), the corporation made little or no effort to build up a renewals/reserve fund, and showed little or no interest in modernising the system, so when major track and tramcar renewals were called for in the mid-1920s, the corporation opted to close the system. Powers were therefore obtained in 1927 to operate motorbuses within the borough, as well as to run trolleybuses over the tram routes, though the latter were in fact never exercised.

The first tram service to be withdrawn was from North St to East St on the 21st May 1928, the last tram of all running just over six months later, on the North St to Recreation Ground route, on the 8th December 1929.

Uniforms
Motormen and conductors were issued with double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics with five pairs of buttons — narrowing from top to bottom and bearing the full corporation title around the rim, surrounding the municipal shield (see link) — and with upright collars; the latter bore an employee number on the bearer's left-hand side (in individual metal numerals) and system initials — C C T — on the right-hand side (in individual metal letters). Caps were military in style with a tensioned crown (top) and bore standard, 'off-the-shelf', script-lettering grade badges, either Motorman or Conductor. Buttons and badges were probably brass to start with, but at some point were changed to nickel. The basic style of the uniform remained unchanged for the entire 25 years of the system's existence.

Tramcar crews were also issued with double-breasted greatcoats with five pairs of buttons and high-fold-over collars; they do not appear to have carried any insignia. In later years, the greatcoats bore epaulettes, and these carried system initials — C C T — in individual metal letters.

Inspectors wore single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair) and a slit breast pocket, all edged in a finer material than the main body of the jacket, this also being used, in the form of a chevron, to embellish the sleeves. The jacket had upright collars that almost certainly bore the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering. Caps were in a kepi style, and whilst precise details cannot be made out on surviving photographs, they probably bore the grade (in embroidered script-lettering on a hat band), with the glossy peak embellished with braid. In all likelihood, the kepi-style cap would have been superseded at some point by a military-style of cap similar to that worn by tramcar staff, however, photographic evidence is currently lacking.

In common with the vast majority of UK tramways, Colchester employed the services of female staff during the Great War — as conductresses — to replace male staff lost to the armed services. These ladies, the first four of whom commenced work in 1916, were issued with tailored, single-breasted jackets with five buttons, two hip-level pockets (with button closures), a waist belt and lapels; the upper part of the latter (the collars) were initially left plain, but subsequently carried an employee number on the bearer's left-hand side, and system initials — C C T — on the right-hand side. Headgear took the form of a felt bonnet, which carried a standard, 'off-the-shelf', grade badge — Conductor — affixed to a wide hat band. Waterproof bonnets were also worn, probably as a winter issue, as well as standard, military-style peaked caps. It is currently unclear whether Colchester dispensed with the services of its conductresses after the Great War (this was usually the case) or whether some were kept on.

Further reading
For a history of the system see: 'The Tramways of East Anglia — Chapter 2' by R C Anderson; The Light Railway Transport League (1969).

Images

Motormen and conductors
Colchester Corporation Tramways tram driver motorman
A fine studio portrait of a Colchester Corporation Tramways motorman, Employee No 17 — photo undated, but probably taken around the time of opening, i.e., 1904 or 1905. Photo by Whitfield, Crosser and Company; Author's Collection.


Colchester Corporation Tramways tram driver motorman
A blow-up of the above photo, showing details of the uniform. The cap badge is a standard, off-the-shelf, script-lettering, grade badge.


Darlington Corporation Light Railways cap badges
Script-lettering cap badges of the type used by Colchester Corporation Tramways — brass. Author's Collection.


Colchester Corporation Tramways  special occasion car 1905
A specially decorated tram on private hire to a Mr Bunting — a local nurseryman — on the occasion of his daughter's wedding and reception in 1905. Although the motorman (right) appears to be wearing some kind of licence, this is not seen in other photos, so is in all probability a button hole. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Colchester Corporation Tramways staff photo 1904
Colchester Corporation Tramways staff photo — purportedly taken in 1910.


Colchester Corporation Tramways staff 1904
A blow-up of the above photograph showing a number of the motormen and conductors. They are all wearing double-breasted 'lancer-style' tunics with 'off-the-shelf', grade badges on their caps.


Colchester Corporation Tramways St John's Ambulance Brigade
Colchester Corporation Tramways St Johns Ambulance Brigade — photo undated, but possibly taken shortly before the Great War.


Colchester Corporation Tram No 4 and crew
The crew of Tramcar No 4 on the Lexden route — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1920s. The motorman is wearing a white rain cover on his cap, so the photo was presumably taken in summer. Photo courtesy of Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service (see link).


Colchester Corporation Tramways Tram No 6 1920s
The crew of Tramcar No 6 pose for the camera, possibly on Lexden Rd — photo undated, but from the fashions on display, almost certainly taken during the 1920s. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Colchester Corporation Tramways tram crew
A blow-up of the preceding photo showing the crew, the motorman in greatcoat with system initials on his epaulettes, the conductor in 'lancer-style' tunic unbuttoned at the top.


Senior staff
Colchester Corporation Tramways inspector
A blow-up of the 1905 private hire photo above showing an inspector in kepi-style cap (left) and a motorman (right).


Female staff
Colchester Corporation Tramways Great War tram conductress Miss Ann Cudden
Miss Ann Cudden, one of Colchester’s first batch of four Great War conductresses — photograph taken in 1916, no doubt as a publicity shot to mark the occasion. Photo courtesy of Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service (see link).


Colchester Corporation Tramways Great War tram conductress Miss Ann Cudden
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the uniform. Her felt bonnet carries a standard 'Conductor' grade badge affixed to a wide hat band; the jacket lapels and collars are devoid of insignia.


Colchester Corporation Tramways Great War conductress
An evocative studio portrait of an unknown Great War Colchester Corporation Tramways conductress. Photo courtesy of Colchester and Ipswich Museum Service (see link).


Colchester Corporation Tramways Great War conductress
A blow-up of the above photo, revealing the subject to be Employee No 11 (collar insignia). In contrast to the felt bonnet seen in the previous photo, the bonnet here is clearly waterproof.


Colchester Corporation Tramways Great War conductress
A conductress, again in waterproof bonnet, and with metal collar insignia, C C T — photo undated. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Colchester Corporation Tramways Great War conductress
A studio portrait of an unknown Colchester Corporation Tramways conductress — photo dated 1917. The subject is wearing a standard military-style cap rather than the usual bonnet. Source unknown.


Colchester Corporation Tramways Great War conductress
A poor quality photograph (of Tramcar No 4 at Hythe terminus), but one which does show a conductress in a greatcoat — photo undated, but probably taken in the Great War or shortly afterwards. The conductress's greatcoat is seemingly devoid of insignia, whilst her headgear appears to be a military-style cap rather than a bonnet. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.