Darwen Corporation Tramways

Darwen Corporation became a tramway owner in January 1899 as a result of taking over the tracks of the Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways Company within the municipal boundary. The Corporation did not however operate the services itself (they were steam hauled), instead leased their operation to Blackburn Corporation, who had purchased the tracks within their boundary. The first electric services were inaugurated on the 17th October 1900, the day after the last steam service was withdrawn. The last tram of all ran on the 5th October 1946. Despite this relatively long history, photographs of the tramway are far from common, with those depicting staff rarer still; nevertheless it is however possible to tell the story of the uniforms.

At the commencement of electric services, staff wore uniforms which were very similar, if not identical, to those of their close neighbour, Blackburn (see link). Jackets were single-breasted with a row of five buttons — almost certainly nickel (see link) — with breast pockets and upright collars; it is currently unclear if the latter initially carried insignia (photographs are of insufficient quality), though they certainly did so by the mid-Edwardian era (see later). Caps were in a tall kepi style and bore a large oval cap badge of uncertain pattern, possibly cloth. Long, double-breasted greatcoats with two rows of five buttons and high, fold-over collars were also worn, and it is possible, but by no means certain, that the latter bore some kind of embroidered insignia.

The kepi caps were relatively quickly superseded by more modern military-style caps with tensioned crowns (tops), with the previous oval cap badges being dispensed with in favour of a small badge of unknown pattern, but which almost certainly involved the Darwen municipal device. By this time, and possibly from the inception of services, tramcar crews were wearing single-breasted jackets with five buttons with two breast pockets (with triangular flaps) and upright collars; drivers had just the two pockets, but conductors also had two waist-level pockets (with square flaps). The jacket edges and the pockets were all piped. Initially, the right-hand collar bore a standard, off-the-shelf, script-lettering grade badge — either Driver or Conductor — with the left-hand side bearing an employee number, all almost certainly in nickel to match the buttons. After what appears to have been only a relatively short period, the grade badges swapped places with the cap badge, though sometimes the latter continued to be worn on both the cap, as well as on the bearer's right-hand collar.

Late in the system's life, probably in the 1930s or 1940s, the jacket style was changed to a more modern single-breasted design with four buttons and lapels; the latter certainly bore badges, though of what pattern is currently unclear.

In the first decade of operation, and possibly for much longer, inspectors wore very similar uniforms to tramcar staff, but edged in piping. The caps were also identical to those worn by the tramcar staff, but with a nickel script-lettering cap badge, Inspector. It is likely that inspectors' uniforms were changed in later years, though all that can be stated on current evidence is that they were being issued with gabardine-like overcoats after the Second World War, and that caps appear simply to have borne a small badge, probably featuring the municipal arms.

Darwen Corporation probably employed inspectors from the inception of the Blackburn Corporation-operated steam services in 1899 (over the lines of the former Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways Company), as financial records from 1899/1900 indicate that salaries were paid and uniforms purchased (my thanks to Phil Calvey for this information).

It is highly likely that Darwen, in common with the majority of British tramway systems, employed female staff during the Great War to replace male staff lost to the armed services; however, photographs are yet come to light, so it is impossible to say what uniforms were worn. Female staff were also employed in the Second World War and for a time thereafter; once again, photographic evidence is extremely sparse, with just a single example indicating that conductresses wore trousers (or were at least allowed to wear trousers) and were issued with double-breasted overcoats with lapels and epaulettes.

For a very brief history of Darwen's tramways, see: 'The Tramways of Accrington 1886-1932' By R W Rush; Light Railway Transport League (1961).


Motormen and conductors
Darwen Corporation Tramways Tram No 7 and crew
A rare early photograph of Darwen Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 7 with crew — photo undated, but almost certainly taken in 1900 when electric services were introduced. Both men are wearing kepi-style caps with what appears to be a large oval cap badge; unfortunately, an example has not survived, so it is unclear what form this took. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society.

Darwen Corporation Tramways Tram No 5 and crew
Another early but poor quality photograph, this time of Tramcar No 5, possibly decorated to mark the crowning of King Edward VII in August 1902. Both men are wearing single-breasted tunics with upright collars, along with kepi-style caps, again with a large oval cap badge. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Darwen Corporation Tramways tram crew
Darwen Corporation Tramways Milnes-built Tramcar No 1 outside the depot — photo undated, but probably mid-Edwardian. Whilst the tunics appear to be the same as in the earlier photos, the cap has been changed to a more modern military style, and the large oval cap badge appears to have been dispensed with. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Darwen Corporation Tramways Tram No 6 and crew
Darwen No 6 and crew — photo undated, but probably taken in the mid-Edwardian era. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Darwen Corporation Tramways Tram No 17
A photograph taken on the 3rd August 1907, the day Accrington Corporation Tramways' route to Oswaldtwistle was opened. The crews pictured are however not from Accrington, but from the neighbouring systems of Darwen and Blackburn, who sent trams to mark the occasion. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.

Darwen Corporation Tramways and Blackburn Corporation Tramways tram conductors and motormen
A blow-up of the above photo showing the two crews, from left to right: a Blackburn motorman, a Darwen conductor, a Blackburn conductor, and a Darwen motorman.

Darwen Corporation Tramways conductor 1907
An enlargement showing the Darwen conductor, Employee No 2. He is wearing a small badge on his cap, presumably some kind of municipal device, along with a script-lettering grade badge — Conductor — on his right-hand collar. The wearing of grade badges on jacket collars was highly unusual, but was most notably practiced by nearby Manchester Corporation Tramways.

Darwen Corporation Tramways staff photo circa 1908
A depot photo taken circa 1908. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.

Darwen Corporation Tramways drivers circa 1908
A blow-up of the above photo showing three drivers and an inspector (left). All present are wearing script-lettering cap badges, almost certainly nickel. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.

Darwen Corporation Tramways conductors circa 1908
Another blow-up of the depot photo above, showing two motormen and a conductor. The top-most motorman appears to be wearing a small circular cap badge above his script-lettering cap badge, though he is the only one of all the staff depicted, doing so. The right-hand collars carry some form of badge, probably a municipal device, whilst the left-hand collars carry an employee number. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.

Blackburn Corporation tramways script-lettering cap badges
Script-lettering cap badges of the pattern worn by Darwen Corporation Tramways staff from the mid-Edwardian era onwards — nickel. Author's Collection.

Darwen Corporation Tramways depot photo 1936
A depot photograph taken in 1936. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Darwen Corporation Tramways crew
A blow-up of the above photo, showing a conductor and motorman. With thanks to Duncan Holden.

Darwen Corporation Tramways bandsman's jacket
Darwen Corporation Tramways tunic. Given the elaborate embellishments and the red collars, this is almost certainly a bandsman's jacket, presumably belonging to a member of Darwen Corporation Tramways Band (the buttons are standard DCT pattern — see link). Photo courtesy of Beckie Johnson.

Senior staff
Darwen Corporation Tramways inspectors c1908
A blow-up of the c1908 depot photo above, showing two of the inspectors. In contrast to tramcar staff, their jackets are piped, and their caps carry a script-lettering Inspector grade badge. The meaning of the large circular badge on the right-hand arm of the right-most inspector is unclear. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.

Darwen Corporation Tramways Inspector cap badge
Script-lettering cap badge, of the pattern worn by Darwen Corporation Tramways inspectors — nickel. Author's Collection.

Female staff
Darwen Corporation Tramways conductress 1946
Inspector Albert Gardner and Conductress Lotte Clerke pose with Tramcar No 7 at the Circus shortly after the Second World War. Photo courtesy of Phil Calvey.