Northampton Corporation Tramways

History
Northampton's 3ft-6ins-gauge, overhead electric tramway had a rather long gestation period, the corporation first expressing an interest in building a municipally owned electric tramway system in 1897. Negotiations with the Northampton Street Tramways Company — owners of the town's 3ft 6ins-gauge horse tramway — began the following year, but progress was slow, the NSTCo rejecting the corporation's final offer for the concern in 1900. The company however did a volte a face the following year after suffering a fatal and costly accident, seeking to accept the offer they had already declined; there is a sense that this may have been more in hope than in expectation, but their luck was in, and the corporation agreed.

In the meantime, the corporation had pressed on with its municipalisation agenda, having obtained powers — on April 22nd 1901 — to reconstruct the horse tramway for electric working and to operate the system itself.

The corporation took over operation on the 21st October 1901, working the horse tramway for almost three years pending conversion to electric traction. The corporation made several improvements to the horse tramway, which probably reflected the fact that plans for electrification were not as well-advanced as they might have been. Work on the new tramway did not actually start for another 27 months — in January 1904 — with another 6 months passing until the first electric service ran on the 21st July 1904. Once this milestone had been passed, work proceeded apace to finish the system, the last horse service running one month later on the 19th August, the electric trams taking over fully the following day.

The tramway was an immediate success, and though financial details are unclear (or at least un-researched), the fact that passenger numbers increased continually to a peak of 13.8 million in 1928, strongly suggests that it was a highly profitable enterprise.

Rather unusually for a municipal tramway, as built, it was almost a one-to-one match for the horse tramway, differing only by two very short extensions, one to the Kingsley line and the other to the Abington Park line. Powers to extend the tramway, as well as to introduce trolleybuses, were acquired in 1911, but the only improvement which actually materialised was a new line out to Far Cotton, which opened on the 23rd October 1914, and was in fact a conversion of a corporation horse-bus route.

The Far Cotton extension took the tramway to its final size of 6.41 miles. Like its horse-drawn predecessor, the centre of the system was situated opposite All Saints Parish Church along the Drapery and Mercers Row. Lines ran: southwards along Bridge St and across the railway via a level crossing to Far Cotton; westwards along Gold St then northwestwards along St James Rd and Weedon Rd to a terminus near Franklin Gardens at St James End; northwards along Kingsthorpe Rd to Kingsthorpe; eastwards along Abington St to Abington Square, where the line split, one line running northeastwards along Kettering Rd to Kingsley and the other following Wellingborough Rd eastwards then northeastwards to Abington Park.

Like most systems, Northampton suffered from the exigencies of the Great War, with shortages of staff (and skills), restrictions on the purchase of new track or vehicles, and an inability to do anything other than the minimum amount of maintenance. Although the system emerged from the conflict in poor condition, the arrears of maintenance were made good, four new tramcars were purchased and several were refurbished/modified.

Although the corporation remained committed to the tramway undertaking, this did not stop it looking at other modes of transport, and in 1922, it introduced its first motorbuses, on routes that did not compete with the trams. It is believed that the name of the department was altered to 'Northampton Corporation Transport' shortly after this. The track on several routes was however now deteriorating badly, which no amount of maintenance and repair could rectify, expensive track renewal being the only option. The entire St James route was relaid between 1925 and 1927, but when the Wellingborough Rd route (out to Abington Park) fell due in 1929, the corporation decided to experiment with a mixed tram and motorbus service, introducing the buses in September 1928 and withdrawing the trams completely on the 20th April 1929. The success of this measure didn't quite put paid to any thoughts of renewing the other lines, but when the costs of even minimal track renewal on the Kingsley route were calculated, the corporation once again opted for bus replacement, the line closing on the 31st August 1930.

The track on the rest of the system, with the obvious exception of the St James route, became ever more decrepit, one councillor recording a staggering 27 derailments outside his premises on the Kingsthorpe route in a single day in 1932. New and rented motorbuses were eventually procured, the Kingsthorpe line closing on the 27th September 1933 and the last tram of all running, with due ceremony, on the 15th December 1934.

Uniforms
The corporation took over the assets of the erstwhile Northampton Street Tramways Company in 1901, and continued to run horse-drawn services for almost three years before electrification finally rendered them obsolete. Fortunately, two photographs have survived from this period, both of which show that the corporation continued to allow the men to wear informal attire, though it did see fit to issue them with kepi-style caps; the latter bore a metallic cap badge, possibly comprising the system initials — 'NCT' — in block letters.

Crews working the new electric services were issued with double-breasted jackets with three waist-level pockets (with flap closures), four pairs of buttons and lapels; the latter carried an employee number on the bearer's left-hand side — in individual numerals — and system initials — 'N.C.T.' — on the right-hand side. It is unclear whether the insignia were brass or nickel, as buttons have survived in both materials, which suggests that a change was made from one to the other, most likely brass to nickel. Caps were in a military style with a tensioned crown (top), and carried a script-lettering grade badge — either Conductor or Motorman — above which a small municipal arms badge was worn. Surprisingly, the general style of these uniforms remained unchanged for the entire life of the system (right through to closure in 1934), the only discernible alteration being the addition of a pair of buttons which fastened between the lapels and collars. Given that the corporation changed the name of the department in 1931, after this date, uniform issues to tramcar staff would almost certainly have borne 'Northampton Corporation Transport' insignia.

Tramcar crews were also issued with double-breasted greatcoats with five pairs of buttons, epaulettes (with button fastening) and high, fold-over collars; the latter appear to have carried the same insignia as the jackets, though in later years they may have carried the system initials on both sides.

Inspectors were issued with single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or a more likely a hook and eye affair), the garment being edged in material of a finer quality (and possibly a different colour) than the main body, and embellished with braiding; they also bore epaulettes and upright collars, the latter bearing embroidered script-lettering system initials — NCT — on both sides. Caps were probably initially in a kepi-style, though they were quickly superseded by a military style with tensioned crown (top); they carried the bearer's grade — Inspector — on a hat band in embroidered script lettering, above which a circular cloth cap badge bearing system initials was worn, again in embroidered script lettering. At some point, the jackets were changed to a double-breasted design with four pairs of buttons (dark coloured) and lapels; the upper part of the latter (i.e., the collars) certainly bore embroidered 'N C T' system initials on the right-hand side, and probably on the left-hand side as well. The cap insignia probably remained unchanged, though this cannot be made out with certainty on the surviving photographs.

In common with the vast majority of tramway systems, Northampton employed female staff during the Great War — as conductresses — to replace male employees lost to the armed services. These ladies were issued with stylish, tailored, 'lancer-style' jackets with five pairs of buttons (narrowing from top to bottom) and upright collars; the latter carried an employee number on the bearer's left-hand side and system initials — 'N C T' — on the right-hand side (in individuals letters/numerals, almost certainly brass). A long matching skirt was also worn. In the sole surviving photograph, the subject is wearing a waterproof bonnet with a hat band, which does not appear to be carrying a badge. Given that this is a single photograph, it may well be that it is not fully representative, so other headgear (and badges) may have been worn.

Further reading
For a history of the system, see: 'Northampton Corporation Tramways' by D R Howard, in the Tramway Review, No 128 (p227-246); Light Rail Transit Association (1986).

Images

Horse tram drivers and conductors
Northampton Corporation Tramways Horse Tram No 20 and crew
The crew of Horsecar No 20 pose for the cameraman in Weedon Rd at its junction with Glasgow Street — photo undated, but certainly taken after the corporation take-over of 1901. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Northampton Corporation Tramways horse tram crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the crew, both of whom are wearing informal attire, but with corporation-issued kepi-style caps. The latter bear a metallic cap badge, which though difficult to make out, probably consists of the system initials — ' NCT' — in block letters. The cars were painted in route colours, this one being green (with thanks to Alan Brotchie).


Northampton Corporation Tramways Horse Tram No 23 in 1904
Horsecar No 23 outside the Kingsley Park Hotel on the Kingsley route in 1904. The tram would have been painted blue. With thanks to Alan Brotchie for the background information.


Northampton Horse Tram driver W Hoskins and Driver E Patrick
A blow up of the above photo showing the crew (Conductor E Patrick and Driver W Hoskins), both of whom are wearing informal attire, with the notable exception of Conductor Patrick's kepi-style cap, which once again hints at a 3-letter cap badge, almost certainly 'NCT.'


Motormen and conductors
Northampton Corporation Tramways staff photo
A rather washed-out image, but one which shows a large number of staff assembled to mark a now long-forgotten occasion (possibly the opening) — photo undated, but undoubtedly very early in the system's life. Photo courtesy of the Graham Croucher Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways tram driver motorman
A blow-up of the photo above showing a motorman, which although grainy, clearly shows that the collars bore system initials — 'NCT' — on the bearer's right-hand side, and an employee number on the left. The small badge worn above the script-lettering grade badge is almost certainly the same pattern as the municipal badge illustrated below.


Northampton Corporation Tramways municpal cap badge
Northampton Corporation Tramways municipal cap badge — nickel. Author's Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways cap badges
Standard script-lettering grade badges of the type used by Northampton Corporation Tramways — nickel. It is unclear what material Northampton used, as buttons exist in both brass and nickel, though more than likely a change was made from one to the other at some point. Author's Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways conductor and driver
The crew of an unidentified tramcar on a service for Castle Station & St James, pose for the cameraman in corporation-issue greatcoats (with epaulettes) — photo undated, but probably early Edwardian. Photo courtesy of the Graham Croucher Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways staff photo
A staff photo taken at the St James Rd depot — undated, but probably late Edwardian. Photo courtesy of the Graham Croucher Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways tram crews
A blow-up of the above photo showing three motormen (rear) and four conductors (front). By this time, jackets bore two additional buttons, which were used to fasten the lapels; these were absent on the earliest uniforms.


Northampton Corporation Tramways Tram No 5 conductor and driver motorman
The crew of Tramcar No 5 pose for the camera — photo purportedly taken in 1908. Source unknown.


Northampton Corporation Tramways tram No 16 and crew
Tramcar No 16 and crew — photo undated, but probably late Edwardian. Photo courtesy of the Graham Croucher Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways Tram Driver Adams
A photograph of Motorman John Adams, who was apparently the oldest driver in the service of the NCT when the image was taken; unfortunately, the photo is undated, though it is probably late Edwardian. Photo courtesy of the Graham Croucher Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways Tram No 22
Tramcar No 22 and crew — photo undated, but probably taken prior to the Great War.


Northampton Corporation Tramways tramcar crew
A tramcar crew pose for the cameraman with their unidentified charge — photo undated, though it has a pre-Great War air about it. Photo courtesy of the Graham Croucher Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways tramcar crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the collar and cap badges.


Northampton Corporation Tramways Tram No 33 and Conductor John Leeson
Tramcar No 33 with Conductor John Leason and an unidentified motorman — photo undated, but possibly taken in the early 1920s. Photo courtesy of the Graham Croucher Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways Tram No 6 and crew
An inspector stand with Tramcar No 6 and its crew — photo undated, but very probably taken in the late 1920s or early 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Graham Croucher Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways Tram No 6 at Kingsthorpe
Another shot of Tramcar No 6, this time at Kingsthorpe — photo again undated, but probably taken shortly before the system closed in 1934. Photo courtesy of the Graham Croucher Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways Tram No 34 and crew
Tramcar No 34 on what looks to have been a foggy day, with a service bound for St James — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1930s. Photo by H Nicol, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Northampton Corporation Tramways tram crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman and conductor, both in double-breasted greatcoats with epaulettes.


Senior staff
Northampton Corporation Tramways inspectors
A blow-up of the early staff photo above showing two figures in kepi-style caps and single-breasted jackets (on the tramcar platform at the back); these individuals are almost certainly inspectors.


Northampton Corporation Tramways inspector Charles Edward Bennet
A studio portrait of Inspector Charles Edward Bennet — photo undated, but probably mid Edwardian. Photo courtesy of the Graham Croucher Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways inspector Charles Edward Bennet
A blow-up of the above photo showing the embroidered collar ('N.C.T.') and cap insignia (Inspector), the latter surmounted by a circular cap badge, almost certainly of embroidered cloth.


Northampton Corporation Tramways inspector Charles Edward Bennet
A blow-up of the late Edwardian depot photo above, showing an individual who is, in all probability, Inspector Bennet.


Northampton Corporation Tramways inspector Charles Edward Bennett
A much later shot of Inspector Bennet, probably taken in the 1920s or even the 1930s. His greatcoat bears embroidered insignia on each collar, almost certainly his grade, Inspector. Photo courtesy of the Graham Croucher Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways inspector
A blow-up of the late 1920s/early 1930s photo of Tramcar No 6 above, showing the inspector. By this time the uniform jacket had changed to a double-breasted design with dark buttons and lapels; the system initials — 'N C T' — can just be made out on the right-hand collar.


Female staff
Northampton Corporation Tramways Great War conductress Cunnigham
Northampton Corporation Tramways conductress, possibly a Ms Cunningham — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War. Photo courtesy of the Graham Croucher Collection.


Northampton Corporation Tramways Great War conductress Cunnigham
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the collar insignia, 'N C T' on the bearer's right-hand side and an employee number (14) on the left. Her waterproof bonnet does not appear to be carrying a badge.