City of Birmingham Tramways Company

History
The City of Birmingham Tramways Company (CofBTCo) began life as a tramway operator in September 1896 by virtue of its acquisition of the Birmingham Central Tramways Company, and is probably unique amongst English tramway systems in operating horse, steam, cable and overhead electric services simultaneously, at least for a short period. The company inaugurated its first overhead electric service in May 1901, replacing battery-electric tramcars, but by June of the following year, it had fallen prey to the British Electric Traction Company (BETCo), which hoped to build a unified electric tramway network spanning Birmingham and the Black Country. In 1904, the BETCo transferred all its shares in the CofBTCo, along with three of its other local tramway companies, to Birmingham and Midland Tramways Ltd, yet another company it controlled. All these systems were then operated as a single entity, governed by the Birmingham and Midland Tramways Joint Committee (B&MTJC), which comprised board members of the individual concerns.

Unfortunately for the B&MTJC, its aspirations in Birmingham directly clashed with those of the corporation, who were intent on creating and running their own municipal system; as the majority of the CofBTCo's lines were leased from Birmingham, its days were clearly numbered. The CofBTCo ran its last horse service on the 30th September 1906 (on the Nechells route), and on the 31st December, its last steam service, the majority of its Birmingham leases having expired at the end of that year. Its remaining Birmingham leases expired on the 30th June 1911, resulting in the withdrawal of the cable trams, with the CofBTCo's remaining leases and assets passing to the corporation on the 31st December 1911, whereupon the company ceased to exist as a tramway operator; it was wound up the following year.

At its zenith, the CofBTCo operated circa 36.65 miles of tramway, the vast majority of it leased from Birmingham Corporation. The system comprised lines: northwards to Perry Barr; northeastwards to Nechells, Saltley and Gravelly Hill; eastwards to Yardley; southeastwards to Spark Hill; southwards to Kings Heath; southwestwards to Cotteridge and Selly Oak; and northwestwards to Handsworth and Lozells.

Uniforms
Although photographs of staff working the horse-tram services are relatively rare, it is clear that drivers wore informal but smart attire, comprising trousers, jackets and waistcoats, along with white shirts, ties, and bowler hats. Conductors appear to have worn informal jackets, along with drooping-peak caps, which almost certainly bore a one-piece 'CBT' initials cap badge. Some time in the early-Edwardian era, very probably following the BETCo takeover of 1902, a switch was made to single-breasted jackets with five buttons, one pocket on the bearer's left-hand breast (with a button closure and a pleat) and stand-up collars; the latter probably bore individual 'C B T' initials on the right-hand side, and an employee number on the left-hand side, all in brass. All surviving photos dating from late in the tramway's life show horse-tram conductors wearing flat caps.

In common with the majority of UK steam-operated tramways, steam-tram drivers wore very similar attire to their railway counterparts, namely, heavy cotton trousers and jackets, often light in colour, along with grease-top caps or flat caps. No badges or insignia were worn on either the jackets or the caps. Conductors on the other hand appear to have worn a variety of smart jackets, suggesting that they were self-purchased rather than company issued; occasionally however, photographs dating from the period prior to the BETCo takeover show conductors wearing single-breasted jackets with stand-up collars and metal buttons, strongly suggesting that uniforms were at some point provided. Like their horse-tram counterparts, steam-tram conductors wore drooping-peak caps bearing a one-piece 'CBT' block-capital cap badge. In later years, again probably following the BETCo take-over of 1902, conductors were issued with single-breasted jackets with a single breast pocket (with button closure and pleat) and stand-up collars; the latter bearing the same insignia as horsecar conductors' jackets. Unlike their horsecar equivalents however, steam-tram conductors were provided with tensioned-crown peaked caps; these almost certainly bore a script-lettering grade badge, presumably 'Conductor'.

Drivers and conductors working the cable-hauled services appear to have initially worn very similar attire to their steam and horse counterparts, i.e., informal but smart jackets, along with company-issued drooping-peak caps bearing one-piece 'CBT' cap badges. It is highly likely that crews working these services were eventually issued (circa 1902) with the same style of uniforms as those issued to conductors working the steam and horse services, namely, single-breasted jackets with stand-up collars. Following the creation of the B&MTJC in 1904, tramwaymen working the cable services were eventually issued with the same style of uniform as those working the electric services (see below).

Tramcar crews working the CofBTCo's new electric services (introduced on the 14th May 1901) were provided with uniforms, though what insignia they bore, if any, is unclear. After the BETCo take-over of 1902, motormen and conductors working on the electric cars were issued with the same style of single-breasted jacket, with five buttons, a single breast pocket and stand-up collars, that were issued to their horse and steam counterparts. The caps were however of the tensioned-crown peaked type, which appear to have carried a standard, off-the-shelf, script-lettering grade badge. Several photographs show staff wearing flat caps, suggesting that it took some time to issue proper uniform caps.

Following the creation of the B&MTJC on the 1st July 1904, a standard uniform policy was eventually imposed across all the member companies, including the CofBTCo. Motormen and conductors were now issued with double-breasted jackets with four pairs of buttons (bearing the standard BETCo 'Magnet and Wheel' device — see link) and high, fold-over collars; the latter carried individual metal initials — either 'B M T' or 'B & M T' — on the right-hand side and an employee number on the left-hand side, all almost certainly in brass. Surviving examples suggest that the first collar badges may have had diagonal striations giving a rope-like effect (see below). The employee number was eventually dispensed with, leaving the left-hand collar badgeless. Caps were initially of the drooping-peak type; they carried a prominent oval brass cap badge comprising intertwined 'BMT' initials beneath the 'Magnet and Wheel' device, all within a wreath (see below). The new uniform was certainly worn on the company's cable and electric services, but seems not to have been extended to staff working the horse and steam services (both withdrawn in 1906), possibly because its introduction post-dated their demise.

Conductors and drivers working within the confines of Birmingham during the horse, steam and cable eras were required to wear a round licence badge; these bore the arms of Birmingham, a number and the grade ('CONDUCTOR'). For some reason, this requirement seems not to have been applied to steam engine drivers, though they may have had them but simply didn't bother to wear them. In the electric era, conductors and motormen working within the Birmingham boundary were also required to wear licence badges, still with the arms, a number and the grade, but in a new style (see below).

Photographs of inspectors taken prior to the BETCo take-over of 1902 are unfortunately scarce, however, what has survived suggests that they wore single-breasted jackets with lapels, along with soft-topped caps. Details of the insignia remain unknown. During the period following the transfer of the CofBTCo to the B&MTJC, inspectors wore typical 'tramway inspector' jackets, single-breasted with hidden buttons (or more likely hook and eye fasteners), edged in a finer material than the main jacket, and with stand-up collars; the latter carried the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering, as did the drooping-peak caps. The caps also bore the same pattern of BMT cap badge worn by tramcar crews.

Further reading
For a general history of the tramways of Birmingham, including the CofBTCo, see: 'Birmingham Transport — a History of Public Road Transport in the Birmingham Area' by A G Jensen; Birmingham Transport Histrocal Group (1978).

Images

Horse tram drivers and conductors
City of Birmingham Tramways horse tram at the first of Albert Street
A Nechells horse tram arriving at the foot of Albert St — photo undated, but probably taken in the early Edwardian era. Author's Collection.


City of Birmingham Tramways horse tram conductor and driver
An enlargement of the above photograph showing the driver and the conductor; the former is clearly wearing a licence, whereas the situation with the latter is less clear. The conductor's drooping-peak cap bears a badge of some description, almost certainly 'CBT' initials (see below); his jacket would appear to be informal.


City of Birmingham Tramways Horse Tram No 7 and crew
Horsecar No 7 on the Nechells Rd route in 1906. By this time conductors were clearly being provided with single-breasted uniforms jackets, though seemingly without formal caps. Photo purportedly by A Twigg, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


City of Birmingham Tramways horse tram, Nechells route
The conductor and driver of the last Birmingham horse tram (No 2), on the Nechells Rd route — photo taken on 30th September 1906, the last day of horse-tram operation. Both men are wearing round licence badges, probably of the type depicted below. Photo by A Twigg, courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society.


Birmingham tram drivers licence
Birmingham municipal driver's licence badge (No 122), almost certainly the same pattern issued to drivers working the City of Birmingham Tramways horse, cable and electric services from 1889 (following the full grant of arms to the new city) to the early Edwardian era. Author's Collection.


Birmingham Corporation Tramways conductor licence
Birmingham municipal conductor's licence badge — almost certainly the same pattern issued to conductors working the City of Birmingham Tramways horse, steam, cable and electric services from 1889 (following the full grant of arms to the new city) to the early Edwardian era.


Birmingham Corporation tram conductor licence
Birmingham municipal licence — brass. This oval pattern of licence may well have been used at some point, though photographic evidence supporting this is completely lacking. Author's Collection.


Steam tram drivers and conductors
City of Birmingham Trmaways Steam Tram No 79 and crew
A conductor and a driver with Kitson Steam Tram No 79 and Falcon Steam Trailer Car No 23 (possibly) in the depot yard at Kings Heath — photo undated, but probably taken in the late 1890s or early 1900s given that No 79 was new in 1893 and it is looking distinctly worse for wear here. The only uniform item on show appears to be the conductor's drooping-peak cap. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


City of Birmingham Tramways Company Steam Tram No 40
A driver, a stoker and a fitter (probably) pose for the cameraman at Silver Street depot with Falcon Steam Tram No 40 — photo undated, but probably taken in the late 1890s or early 1900s. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


City of Birmingham Tramways Steam Tram No 41
The driver of Falcon Steam Engine No 41 poses for the camera with a service for Moseley — photo undated, but given that No 41 was built in 1885 (for the Birmingham Central Tramways Company) and is looking somewhat battered in this shot, it was probably taken in the late 1890s. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


City of Birmingham Tramways conductor
Taken from the same photograph as the previous shot, a conductor poses in front of Steam Trailer No 56, which still bears the device of its former owners, the Birmingham Central Tramways Company, suggesting that the photo was taken not long after 1896. Although the overcoat may not have been a company issue, the drooping-peak cap and cap badge clearly were; the latter was a one-piece, block-capital, system-initials badge, 'CBT'.


City of Birmingham Tramways Company Steam Tram No 86 and crew
A conductor and a driver on a Saltley service with Kitson Tram No 86 (built 1898) — photo undated, but given that the conductor is wearing a tensioned-crown peaked cap and single-breasted uniform jacket, this may well have been taken in the last days of steam operation (1906). Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


City of Birmingham Tramways Company cap badge brass
Script-lettering grade cap badge — Conductor — of the type issued to staff working the CofBTCo's steam, cable and electric services, from circa 1902 to 1906. Brass. Author's Collection.


City of Birmingham Tramways Company Steam Tram No 89 and crew
Two conductors and an engine driver with Kitson Steam Tram No 89 on the Saltley route, once again, probably taken in the last years of steam operation under B&MTJC jurisdiction. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Cable tram drivers and conductors
City of Birmingham Tramways cable tram No 150 and crew
A conductor and two (?) drivers pose for the camera with Cable Tram No 150 in Colmore Row — photo undated, but probably taken in 1900/1901. All the individuals in the photo are wearing municipal licences. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


City of Birmingham Tramways cable tram conductor
An enlargement of the above photograph showing the conductor; the cap badge appears to comprise block letter 'CBT' initials. He is clearly wearing an informal jacket.


City of Birmingham Tramways Cable Tram No 118 and crew
Cable Tram No 118 with conductor and driver — photo undated, but certainly taken after 1904, and probably after 1906, as both men are wearing the large B&MJTC cap badge (see below). Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


City of Birmingham cable tram No 96 in Handsworth
Cable Tram No 96 stands with crew in Holyhead Rd, Handsworth — photo undated, but thought to have been taken around 1909. Author's Collection.


City of Birmingham Tramways cable tram driver and conductor 1909
An enlargement of the above photograph showing the driver and the conductor, both of whom are wearing licences and drooping-peak caps bearing the standard B&MTJC cap badge (see below).



Birmingham and Midland Tramways Joint Committee cap badge — brass. This was introduced after 1904 (probably around 1906), when the City of Birmingham Tramways Company became part of the B&MTJC. Note the use of the British Electric Traction Company 'Magnet and Wheel' symbol; the BETCo controlled the B&MTJC and all its constituent tramway companies, including the CofBTCo.


Motormen and conductors
City of Birmingham Tramways tram No 242
The crew of Tramcar No 242 pose for the camera with a Birmingham-bound service — photo undated, but definitely taken no earlier than 1904, when No 242 was put into service. Both men appear to be wearing flat caps with their uniforms. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Edward Davies City of Birmingham Tramways Company conductor or motorman
A studio portrait of Edward Davies, who was probably a CofBTCo employee. The photograph was taken in central Birmingham at the studios of Hamnett Photographers on Bristol St; they were only in business at these premises, and with this specific trading name, from 1904 to 1912, so the earliest the image could have been taken is 1904. The buttons are the standard BETCo 'Magnet & Wheel' pattern, so he definitely worked for one of the BETCo systems that were eventually subsumed into the Birmingham & Midland Tramways Joint Committee. The CofBTCo is certainly the best candidate system as it would seem unlikely that Edward would travel to central Birmingham to be photographed if he were working on one of the BETCo systems to the north and west of Birmingham in the Black Country. The photo was probably taken in 1904 or 1905, and depicts the uniform worn at this time; he is also not wearing a cap, which tallies nicely with other photos taken at this time, which show tramwaymen wearing flat caps. Edward was living in Dudley in 1901 (working as a stationary engine driver), and by 1911, he was working on the railways and living in Sparkbrook, Birmingham. Photo courtesy of Gillian Flint, with thanks to Amanda Higham.


City of Birmingham Tramways tram No 202
The crew of Tramcar No 202 pose for the camera — photo undated, but definitely taken after 1904, when No 202 was built. The driver is wearing a flat cap, whilst the conductor appears to be wearing a tensioned-crown peaked cap. With thanks to Judith and David Smith.


City of Birmingham Tramways Company Tram No 229 and crew
A conductor and a motorman on the platform of Tramcar No 229 — photo undated, but definitely taken during B&MTJC days, and probably around 1906/7. The collar badges are individual system initials: 'B & M T'. Author's Collection.


Birmingham and Midlands Tramways collar badge
Probable Birmingham and Midland Tramways Joint Committee early 'rope effect' collar initials and collar number. Author's Collection.


Birmingham Corporation Tramways licence
Birmingham ‘Conductor’ licence of the pattern issued to all tramway conductors operating within the confines of Birmingham, including Birmingham Corporation Tramways, from the early Edwardian era through to the end of the Great War. Author's Collection.


Senior staff
City of Birmingham Tramways steam tram and Trailer No 1313
Falcon-built Steam Tram No 45 and CBT-built Steam Trailer Car No 131 stand at the Springfield terminus in Stratford Road — photo believed to have been taken on the last day of steam operation in Birmingham, namely, the 31st December 1906. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice


City of Birmingham Tramways Inspector
An enlargement of the above photograph showing an individual who is possibly an inspector.


City of Birmingham Tramways Company inspector
A City of Birmingham Tramways inspector in B&MTJC days (i.e, post 1904), taken from the same photo as that of the crew of No 229 above. Author's Collection.