Oldham Corporation Tramways

History
Oldham Corporation became a tramway owner on the 1st November 1880, when services started over its newly built standard-gauge lines; these were however not worked by the corporation, but were instead leased to the Manchester Carriage and Tramways Company (a horse tramway operator). The embryonic system totalled 4.96 miles, comprising: a line running from the borough boundary at Springhead in the East, through the centre of Oldham and then southwestwards to the borough boundary at Failsworth; and a loop line within the centre of Oldham running to the south of the main line.

A second set of lines were opened on the 1st August 1885; these were also standard gauge, but were leased to the Manchester, Bury, Rochdale and Oldham Steam Tramways Company, which operated a large system centred on the towns in its title, with the notable exception of Manchester, which it never reached (the city was dropped from the company name in 1888). The steam-operated lines within Oldham comprised 3.21 miles as follows: a line from the borough boundary at Royton in the North, running southwards to the boundary with Limehurst Rural District Council at Fir Tree Avenue; and a line running from a junction with the main line on Rochdale Rd, southwestwards along Featherstall Rd North and South to meet the horse tramway at Manchester Rd.

In 1898, Oldham Corporation successfully sought powers to construct and operate its own standard-gauge, overhead electric tramway system, the first line opening on the 15th December 1900, with others following in quick succession. The MC&TCo's lease expired on the 31st October 1901, with the horse-drawn services being immediately withdrawn so that conversion to electric traction could begin. Although the BR&OSTCo leases had expired on the same date, agreement was reached for the company to continue operating the steam services between Royton and West St pending their conversion. The last steam tram ran on the 28th June 1902.

The tramway initially had a difficult time financially, largely because it had cost significantly more to build than had been anticipated, which meant that for 9 of the first 13 years, significant operating surpluses became overall losses due to servicing the large debts.

Oldham began experimenting with bus operation as early as the 12th May 1913, though it was only on a very limited scale. Like many tramways, the OCT emerged from the Great War with a significant backlog of track and car maintenance, both of which had suffered tremendously under the heavy wartime loadings and inability to replace life-expired components. Despite these challenges, the corporation found the money to invest in the system, which continued to thrive, ensuring that the tramways were in a position to take on the unregulated bus competition of the mid-1920s, which included the introduction of corporation bus services.

The tramway system was itself expanded in 1925 when the Middleton Electric Traction Company was acquired by the three local authorities in whose areas the system operated (Rochdale and Middleton Corporations, and Chadderton Urban District Council). The latter immediately sold its share of the METCo (1.66 miles) to Oldham Corporation, which commenced through services to Middleton on the 9th August 1925. That same month, the corporation introduced a joint but short-lived trolleybus service — between Oldham and Ashton — together with Ashton Corporation Tramways. This began on the 26th August 1925, but due to continual difficulties with vibration (over the cobbled roads), operation in Oldham was brought to an end on the 5th September 1926.

Despite the tramway continuing to make a profit during the late 1920s, expensive track renewals resulted in the first abandonment (the line to Lees on the 1st May 1928), which was quickly followed by the line to Grains Bar on the 23rd December 1928). These abandonments reflected a change in policy, the corporation having formally decided to abandon the system in favour of buses (as and when track renewals made the switch advisable) in early 1927.

The bus services were steadily expanded during the early 1930s, years which also saw Manchester Corporation run its last tram to Middleton (on the 23rd March 1932) and Rochdale Corporation completely abandon its tramway system (on the 12th November 1932). The name of the enterprise was changed in August 1933 — to Oldham Corporation Passenger Transport — to reflect the increasing number of bus services. Further tramway routes were abandoned over the course of the 1930s, with just two routes left (totalling 5 miles) by the outbreak of the Second World War. The conflict led to an inevitable reprieve for the oil-independent trams, but withdrawal resumed immediately after the war, the last tram running on the 3rd August 1946.

At its maximum, the system extended to 25.93 miles, including 0.36 miles owned by Lees UDC, 1.48 miles by Crompton UDC, 4.08 miles by Royton UDC, and 1.66 miles acquired from Chadderton UDC in 1925. The system comprised lines: northwards to Summit; northeastwards to Shaw (via Royton and via Higginshaw) and Grains Bar; eastwards to Waterhead and to Lees; southwards to Hathershaw; southwestwards to Hollinwood (via Manchester Rd and Hollins Rd); and westwards to Mills Hill.

The tracks of the OCT met those of Rochdale Corporation Tramways at Summit, those of Manchester Corporation Tramways at Hollinwood; those of the Oldham, Ashton and Hyde Electric Tramways at Hathershaw, and those of the Middleton Electric Traction Company at Werneth (Featherstall Rd). The tracks at Summit were connected up, and a joint OCT/RCT service was introduced between Hathershaw and Norden (to the northwest of Rochdale) on the 1st May 1906. Although the OCT and the MCT tracks were physically connected at Hollinwood, the tracks there were not owned by the MCT, but were leased from Failsworth UDC, who took umbrage at this step, as well as its exclusion from discussions with the OCT on through running. The municipal differences were eventually resolved, and through-running began on the 21st January 1907 between Manchester Piccadilly (Stevenson Square from the 4th August 1910) and Waterhead, via Hollinwood.

During company days, no connection was made between the tracks of the OCT and either the OAHETCo or the METCo; however, following both companies acquisition by the local authorities (in 1921 and 1925, respectively) connections were put in. The connection at Hathersaw resulted in a joint service involving the OCT and the new owners of the former OAHETCo tracks (Ashton Corporation Tramways), which commenced running between the Star Inn in Oldham and Ashton Market Place on the 2nd July 1921. As mentioned above, the connection to the tracks of the former METCo at Werneth resulted in a through service to Middleton from the 9th August 1925.

Uniforms
Staff working the new electric services, which commenced in 1900, were issued with single-breasted jackets with five buttons (presumably brass — see link), upright collars and epaulettes. The bearer's right-hand collar bore system initials — 'O C T' — in individual letters, whilst the left bore an employee number in individual numerals; the epaulettes were fastened at the neck end with a button, and carried a small municipal shield badge. Caps were military in style with a tensioned crown (top), and bore a script-lettering grade badge — either Motorman or Conductor — above which a municipal shield badge was worn (the same pattern as worn on the epaulettes). All badges were probably brass initially. In the late Edwardian era, the collar insignia were altered such that the employee number was now worn on both sides; the number being preceded by a letter, 'C' in the case of conductors, and 'M' in the case of motormen.

At some point prior to the Great War, probably in 1912/13, the grade and municipal shield badges were replaced by a single more elaborate cap badge, which comprised the Oldham shield and motto within a wreath, but without a title of any kind. Motormen's jackets were probably changed at the same time to a double-breasted, 'lancer-style' with two rows of five buttons (narrowing from top to bottom) and upright collars; the latter carried the same insignia as previously. These tunics, as well as those worn by conductors, appear to have been initially issued without epaulettes, though later photos show them with. A final change was made in the mid-1930s to a more modern-looking, double-breasted design with two rows of four buttons and lapels; it is currently unclear what insignia the latter bore.

Oldham Corporation Tramways buttons have survived in brass and nickel, and un-marked cap badges in brass, nickel and chrome. It is likely that the first issues were in brass, with a transition to nickel at some point, possibly when the uniforms and cap badges were changed shortly before the Great War. As the name of the undertaking was changed to Oldham Corporation Passenger Transport in 1933, new uniform issues after this would have borne O C P T insignia and buttons, and these would initially have been nickel, subsequently being switched to chrome.

Tramcar crews were also issued with long, double-breasted greatcoats with five pairs of buttons, high fold-over collars (without insignia) and epaulettes with button fasteners; the latter carried the same insignia as the jacket epaulettes worn underneath.

Long service was reflected by the issue of an elaborate brass badge comprising the Oldham shield and motto within a garter containing the full system title — 'Oldham Corporation Tramways' — inlaid with blue enamel and surmounted by a wreath; this was probably issued after 5-years' service. An embellished version was issued for 10-years' service (with a more elaborate wreath and red inlay), with 15 and 20-years' service marked by the addition of one and two stars, respectively; it is currently unclear where the stars were placed. The 25-years' version is believed to have been made in sterling silver rather than brass. Photographs indicate that these badges were worn on the bearer's upper left jacket sleeve. In later years (probably from the mid-1930s onwards), the material was changed to chrome, and given that they also exist in 'Oldham Corporation Transport' form, it is probable that tramcar staff were issued with these in later years, rather than the 'Tramways' version.

Details of inspectors uniforms are currently unclear, though photographic evidence from the early years suggests that they wore single-breasted jackets with embroidered collars, and military-style caps with a municipal badge and 'Inspector' beneath.

In common with many UK tramway systems, Oldham employed female staff during the Great War to replace men lost to the armed services. These ladies were issued with single-breasted, tailored jackets with four buttons, a waist belt with two buttons, lapels and epaulettes, along with matching knee-length skirts. It is currently unclear what insignia, if any, were carried. Long, single-breasted coats were also worn; these had five buttons, off-set to one side, high fold-over collars (without insignia) and epaulettes. The latter were fastened with a button and carried an employee number preceded by a 'C'. Headgear took the form of a bonnet that was worn with one side pinned up, reminiscent of Australian practice; these bore the standard brass municipal shield and wreath cap badge.

Further reading
For a history, see 'Oldham Corporation Tramways' by Arthur Kirby; Triangle Publishing (1998).

Images

Motormen and conductors
Oldham Corporation Tramways tram conductor 262
Oldham Corporation Tramways conductor (Employee No 262) — photo undated, but probably taken around the time the first electric services were introduced (late 1900 onwards). The badges would presumably have been brass to match the buttons. Author's Collection.


Oldham Corporation Tramways cap badge
Oldham Corporation Tramways municipal shield badge — brass. This served as a cap badge — worn above a script-lettering grade badge — as well as being worn on the epaulettes. Author's Collection.


Oldham Corporation Tramways cap badges
Standard ‘off the shelf’, script-lettering grade badges of the type used by Oldham Corporation Tramways from 1900 to circa 1912/13 — brass. Author's Collection.


Oldham Corporation Tramways collar badges
OCT collar initials — brass. Author's Collection.


Oldham Corporation Tramways motorman
Studio portrait of Conductor Edwin Goddard in his greatcoat, taken in 1903 (he was employed from 1903 to 1913, most of that time as a motorman). With thanks to John Holmes.


Oldham Corporation Tramways tram 48 and crew
An inspector, a conductor and a motorman pose with Tramcar No 48 at the Norden terminus in Rochdale — photo undated, but probably taken within a few years of this service commencing (1st May 1906). Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Oldham Corporation Tramways tram crew conductor driver
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman and conductor.


Oldham Corporation Tramways staff photo 1910
A group of OCT conductors and motormen pose for an informal shot in Wallshaw Place outside the tramway depot — photo purportedly taken in 1910. Stephen Howarth Collection.


Oldham Corporation Tramwats Tram No 90 and crew
The crew of Tramcar No 90 captured for posterity at the top of Copsterhill Road — photo undated, but probably taken within a couple of years of No 90's delivery in 1911. Author's Collection.


Oldham Corporation Tramways conductor circa 1911
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor. His collars have his employee number on both sides ('197'), preceded by a 'C', all in individual numerals/letters.


Oldham Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 42 and crew
Another shot at the top of Copsterhill Road, this time of Tramcar No 42, but taken somewhat later, probably shortly before the Great War. By this time, the earlier badges had been replaced by a prominent, though unmarked (i.e., no system title), municipal cap badge comprising the Oldham shield surrounded by a wreath. The motorman is wearing a 'lancer-style' tunic which is without epaulettes (as is the conductor's jacket). Stephen Howarth Collection.


Oldham Corporation Tramways cap badge
Oldham Corporation Tramways cap badge — brass — probably worn from around 1912/13 through to the mid 1920s. Stephen Howarth Collection.


Oldham Corporation Tramways Tram No 99 and crew
Tramcar No 99 at Grains Bar on Route No 5, which opened on 4th June 1914 — photo undated, but given the pristine condition of the tram (it was delivered new in 1913), very likely taken in late 1914 or early 1915. Stephen Howarth Collection.


Oldham Tram driver Laurie KenworthyOldham Corporation Tramways staff
Motorman Laurie Kenworthy with his conductor, first on Tramcar No 44 in the early 1920s and then on a trolleybus in 1925. In the right-hand shot, he is clearly wearing a badge on the upper left arm of his tunic, almost certainly a 'long service' badge (see below). With thanks to John Holmes


Oldham Corporation Tramways Tram No 96
A conductor and a motorman pose with Tramcar No 96 at Mills Hill on Route No 3 — photo dated 19th December 1934. The motorman is once again wearing a 'long service' badge on the upper left arm of his tunic. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Oldham Corporation Tramways cap badges
Oldham Corporation Tramways cap badges — nickel (left) and chrome (right). It is unclear when the former was issued (possibly from the 1920s onwards) whereas the latter must post-date the advent of widespread chromium plating, which began in the early 1930s. Author's Collection.


Long Service Badges
Oldham Corporation Tramways long service badge
Oldham Corporation Tramways 'long-service' badge — brass with blue enamel. These were worn on the bearer's upper left jacket sleeve and were probably issued after 5-years service.


Oldham Corporation Tramways long service badge
Oldham Corporation Tramways '10-years long-service' badge — brass with red and blue enamel. These badges were also issued for 15- and 20-years service, but further embellished by the addition of one and two stars, respectively. With thanks to John Holmes and Stephen Howarth for the photo and background information.


Oldham Corporation Tramways badge
Oldham Corporation Tramways 'long-service' badge — chrome with blue enamel. This was possibly issued from the mid-1930s onwards when chromium plating came into wider use (see link).


Senior staff
Oldham Corporation Tramways Inspector
An OCT inspector, taken from the photo of Tramcar No 48 above — photo undated, but probably late Edwardian.


Female staff
Oldham Corporation Tramways Great War conductress
An Oldham Corporation Tramways Great War conductress. Author's Collection.


Oldham Corporation Tramways conductresses
A studio portrait of four Oldham conductresses — photo undated, but certainly taken during the Great War. The lady on the right is probably wearing a make-shift hat as it appears to be fur or faux fur. Author's Collection.


Oldham Corporation Tramways Great War tram conductress
A blow-up of the above photo showing the lady on the left. The epaulette insignia, 'C 944' are easily made out. The badge on her left-hand collar is almost certainly a regimental sweetheart badge, in this case, possibly the Grenadier Guards.


Oldham Corporation Tramways conductresses
A group of Oldham Corporation Tramways Great War conductresses. With thanks to John Holmes.


Oldham Corporation Tramways Great War tram conductress
A studio portrait of a lady called Alice, who was very probably an Oldham Corporation Tramways Great War conductress. Author's Collection.