Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways

The first section of this standard-gauge, overhead electric tramway, which was owned and operated by the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways Company, is believed to have been opened on the 29th July 1913. Whilst a date of the 4th July is often quoted, the available evidence from local newspapers better supports a date of the 29th July for a regular timetabled service.

The N&DTCo, which was formed on the 29th November 1902, grew out of a failed scheme to construct around 95 miles of tramway spanning the Derbyshire Nottinghamshire border, the vast majority of which would have been inter-urban in nature, covering towns such as Long Eaton, Borrowash, Allestree, Belper, Hucknall, Ilkeston, Ripley, Heanor, Langley Mill and Nottingham. The large number of local authorities through whose areas the tramway was planned to run inevitably meant that the promoters ran into significant objections, both from the local authorities themselves (some with tramway systems of their own or plans to build them, and others who wished to extract as many concessions as possible from the company) as well as from other vested interests, chief amongst which was the Midland Railway Company. These objections resulted in a reduction in the size of the projected system to around 39 miles — powers for which were granted on the 11th August 1903 — though only around 11 miles were ever built.

The much-reduced scheme was still estimated to cost £450,000, a very considerable sum for the time, and perhaps unsurprisingly, the company ran into difficulties raising the capital, having to seek extensions (in 1906, 1908 and 1911) to the time allowed for construction to commence. During this interregnum, a deal was reached to transfer the powers the company held for lines within Nottingham to Nottingham Corporation, who would then build the line between the Nottingham boundary at Cinderhill and the NCT system at Basford (the company paying a rent), provided that the company actually got around to building the rest of the tramway.

The funding problems were finally addressed around 1911 with the appearance of Balfour-Beatty and Company; the latter purchased the entire share capital of the N&DTCo, subsequently transferring it to another newly set-up subsidiary — the Tramways Light and Power Company — in 1912.

BB&Co had been founded in 1909 to promote, purchase, or otherwise acquire interests in provincial tramways and electric supply companies across the United Kingdom, a policy which would eventually see the company control the following systems: 1909 (Dartford Council Light Railways; Dunfermline and District Tramways; Llandudno and Colwyn Bay Electric Railway; Llanelly Tramways; Luton Corporation Tramways); 1911 (City of Carlisle Electric Tramways); 1912 (Leamington and Warwick Electric Tramways; Mansfield and District Light Railway; Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways); 1914 (Cheltenham and District Light Railway); 1920 (Falkirk and District Tramways); and lastly, in 1922 (Wemyss and District Tramways).

Around the same time as the Tramways Light and Power Company took over ownership of the N&DTCo, it also acquired the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire Electric Power Company (suppliers to Ilkeston Corporation and its tramway), neatly solving the question of electricity supply for the planned N&DT.

The injection of capital finally led to construction work commencing, track laying beginning at several points in February 1913, with the first tram service running — between Crosshill near Codnor and Cinderhill — only 5 months later. The final section of the N&DTCo's tramway opened on the 15th January 1914, and though plans existed to extend the system, it was destined to remain as built.

The N&DTCo main line ran southeastwards from Ripley in Derbyshire to Nottingham city centre, passing through Codnor, Loscoe, Heanor, Langley Mill, Eastwood, Kimberley, Nuttall, Cinderhill and Basford, many of them mining communities. Of the 12.72 miles of tramway operated by the N&DTCo, 11.36 miles were owned by the company (from Ripley to the Nottingham City boundary) and 3.66 miles by Nottingham Corporation, the first 1.36 miles (from Cinderhill to Basford) operated under a lease agreement, and the last 2.3 miles (from Basford to Upper Parliament St in Nottingham) under a through-running agreement over Nottingham Corporation Tramways tracks. Although N&DTCo tramcars ran through to central Nottingham, Nottingham Corporation Tramways vehicles never provided passenger services over N&DTCo metals.

The tramway was certainly well-patronised — particularly by miners — but the good days were not to last for long, the tramway and its employees being quickly engulfed by the Great War. Although the tramway probably fared better than most, being less than a year old, the company still had to contend with severe shortages of staff (and skills), which resulted in reduced maintenance and an inevitable negative impact on the track and tramcars. The tramway emerged from the conflict in run-down condition, the company then making an effort to catch-up on maintenance and to improve the tramcar fleet through the fitting of a small number of top covers. The 1920s were however to bring new challenges, including inflation, a significant downturn in the mining industry, and perhaps most damaging of all, competition from independent motorbus operators.

In the middle of the war, the NDTCo had also seen fit to take over Ilkeston Corporation Tramways (on the 30th June 1916), though it was to be another 7 years before payment was finally completed. In acquiring the Ilkeston system, the N&DTCo no doubt saw a chance to expand its influence and to join the two systems up, even though they were built to different gauges. This led, in 1922, to the acquisition of powers to not only link the two tramways — between Heanor and Cotmanhay — but also, to convert the Ilkeston system to standard gauge. From a vantage point in the 21st Century, it seems quite perverse for the company to have pursued such an expensive proposal, which effectively involved the complete rebuilding and re-equipping of the Ilkeston system, given that it had been a loss-making concern, virtually from its inception.

By 1922, events were overtaking any plans the N&DTCo had had for expansion, its parent company (BB&Co) actively responding to motorbus competition by introducing motorbus services of its own — via a new motorbus-operating subsidiary, initially called the 'General', but soon renamed the 'Midland General Omnibus Company' — the new company sharing a depot with the N&DTCo at Langley Mill.

The Tramways Light and Power Company had meanwhile been renamed (in November 1921), becoming the Midland Counties Electric Supply Co Ltd; although it continued to own the N&DTCo, as well as the MGOCo and the Mansfield and District Tramways Company (another local BB&Co undertaking), all were operated as part of a single coordinating group called the 'Midland General Group'.

With motorbus competition providing quicker and more modern services, and the tramway reported to be losing £30 a week by 1925, it was clear that a decision had to be made, either to modernise the undertaking or replace it with a different form of traction. The way forward was finally set in September 1928 when the N&DTCo secured powers to convert its main line, as well as the Ilkeston system, to trolleybus operation, a much-favoured form of traction at this time, especially where the tramway owner also owned the electricity generation infrastructure, as was the case with the N&DTCo. As part of the enabling act, the N&DTCo's title was formally changed to the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Traction Company, to reflect the impending transition.

By 1930, the track — which had inevitably suffered from mining subsidence — as well as the tramcars, were all reaching the end of their working lives, so it was imperative that the switch to trolleybus traction be quickly made. The Ilkeston system was by this time in a parlous state, so was the first to go, track lifting commencing on the 22nd December 1930, and the last tram running just over two weeks later on the 8th January 1931. The trolleybuses were however not yet available, so the services were operated by motorbuses for exactly a year, before they in turn were displaced by the new trolleybuses on 7th January 1932.

The N&DTCo main line was next to receive attention, the first trolleybuses entering into service in August 1932, and the last tramway service proper running some time in September, the precise date, like the inauguration of services in 1913, having eluded posterity. The date that the last tram of all ran — testing the final section of new overhead trolleybus wiring — is however known, the 5th October 1932, through trolleybus operation beginning the following day.

There is some evidence to suggest that staff initially wore informal attire, however, given that the system was opened in sections, with many proving runs undertaken, it may be that the early photographic record shows these unofficial early operations as opposed to revenue-earning services.

Uniforms took the form of double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics with five pairs of buttons (narrowing from top to bottom) and upright collars; the latter appear initially not to have carried any insignia, but later on certainly carried system initials ('N & D T Co or 'N D T'; both are seen) on the bearer's left-hand side, with an employee number (prefixed with either a 'C' or an 'M') on the bearer's right-hand side. In later years, the system initials were worn on both collars. The uniforms were of blue serge and the buttons were plain with a scalloped rim; there is anecdotal evidence that the buttons and insignia were nickel, though this is based on peoples' memories of the last years of operation, so is potentially unreliable. Caps were in a military style with a tensioned crown (top) and carried standard, 'off-the-shelf', script-lettering grade badges — either Motorman or Conductor — presumably nickel to match the buttons. One photo exists which shows a motorman wearing an underlined script-lettering grade badge, suggesting that uniform policy was somewhat lacks in respect of the badges. In the last few years of operation, motormen often wore Driver cap badges, probably reflecting a general decision across the company, given its impending move into trolleybus operation.

A small number of staff in the 1913 depot photo below are wearing single-breasted jackets with lapels; these do not appear to be grade-specific, so it may simply be that the 'lancer-style' tunics were in short supply. Later on, probably shortly after the Great War, a switch was made — for conductors only — to single-breasted jackets with five buttons, two breast pockets; upright collars and epaulettes; the collars carried system initials on both sides, whilst the epaulettes were left plain.

Tramcar crews were also issued with heavy-duty, double-breasted greatcoats with five pairs of buttons, high fold-over collars and epaulettes with button fastenings; the latter carried individual system initials — 'N&DT' — at the shoulder end, possibly striated to give a rope effect. Several photographs exist of motormen in oil skins, heavy aprons and leather mitts, hinting at the hardships to be endured in driving open-platform trams across country in adverse weather conditions.

Inspectors were issued with single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair) and upright collars; the jackets were edged in a finer material than the main jacket, and the collars almost certainly bore Inspector in embroidered script-lettering. Headgear was identical to that issued to tramcar staff, but with the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script-lettering on a hat band.

In common with the vast majority of UK tramway systems, the N&DTCo employed women in significant numbers during the Great War to replace male staff lost to the armed services. These ladies were employed as conductresses, and were issued with tailored, single-breasted jackets with lapels and epaulettes, along with long, matching skirts. The majority of photos however, show these ladies wearing heavy-duty, double-breasted greatcoats, which appear to have been identical in style to those issued to male employees. Caps were baggy with a glossy peak, and carried a standard grade badge — Conductor — though regimental sweetheart badges were frequently worn instead (also the case for male staff at this time).

Further reading
For a detailed photographic history of the tramway, see 'Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway, including the Matlock Cable Tramway' by Barry M Marsden; Middleton Press (2005).


Motormen and conductors
Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway Langley Mill tram depot 1913
Staff photo taken in front of the depot at Langley Mill — undated, but almost certainly taken around the time of opening, i.e., summer 1913. With thanks to Heanor and District Local History Society (see link).

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway staff 1913
A blow-up of the above photo showing a group of motormen and conductors. Whilst the majority are wearing 'lancer-style' tunics, a small number have single-breasted jackets with lapels.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways Company
Script-lettering cap badges of the type worn by Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways Company staff — nickel. It is currently unknown whether the N&DTCo issued these grade badges in brass or nickel, though there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that it was the latter. Author's Collection.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways Tramcar No 22 1913
A conductor and motorman pose with a brand-new, top-covered Tramcar No 22 at Langley Mill depot in 1913. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways Tramcar No 22 1913
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor and motorman, both of whom are wearing 'lancer-style' tunics with plain collars, i.e., devoid of insignia.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway Tram No 1 and crew
Tramcar No 1 waits at Ripley with a short working to Heanor — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War. Photo and background information courtesy of the Barry Marsden Collection.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway Tram No 1 motorman
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman, who is, somewhat unusually for a UK tramway system, wearing an underlined script-lettering grade badge rather than the almost ubiquitous non-underlined variety. The only badges on his heavy-duty greatcoat are on the epaulettes, which from other photos are 'N&DT' initials.

Motorman grade cap badge tramway
Underlined script-lettering grade badge — Motorman — nickel. Author's Collection.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway Tram No 13 and crew
A rather tatty-looking Tramcar No 13 pictured in Station Road, Langley Mill — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War. Photo and background information courtesy of the Barry Marsden Collection.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway Tram No 13 motorman
An enlargement of the above photograph showing the fresh-faced motorman, who appears to be wearing the cross-swords badge of an army Physical Training Instructor, along with a small curved badge underneath, possibly a 'FORESTERS' shoulder badge, one of the local regiments. His robust leather mitts were a necessity given the N&DTCo's 13-miles of largely cross-country running.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway Tram No 2 motorman
A conductress, a motorman and an inspector with a very neglected looking Tramcar No 2 — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War or shortly afterwards. The 'N D T' collar initials can just about be made out.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway motorman and conductor Great War
An N&DTCo motorman and a conductor pose informally at one of their homes (presumably). Although the photo is undated, the fact that the motorman (on the left) has a raft of Great War medals strongly suggests that it was taken soon after the Great War. Author's Collection.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway conductor Great War
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor, who has individual 'N & D T' initials on both his collars, in contrast to his colleague who only has 'N D T' initials. The photo is sharp enough to clearly show that the jacket buttons were plain with a scalloped rim.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways Tram No 4 and crew
An inspector, a motorman and a conductor with Tramcar No 4, possibly at Langley Mill. The photo is undated, but was possibly taken shortly after the Great War.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor. He is wearing a single-breasted jacket, the right-hand collar of which appears to bear an employee number ('1') prefixed with a 'C', presumably standing for 'Conductor'.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway Tram No 11 motorman
The motorman of Tramcar No 11 stands with his charge at the Ripley terminus in the last year of operation, 1932. Photo by M J O'Connor, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway Tram No 11 motorman
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman in full-length leather apron, mitts and upturned greatcoat collar, clearly indicating that working the N&DT with open platform vehicles in adverse weather conditions was not to be taken lightly. His cap bears a Driver grade badge rather than the Motorman type used earlier. Photo by M J O'Connor, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Nottinghamshore and Derbyshire Tramways Company cap badge
Script-lettering Driver cap badge — nickel. These badges appear to have replaced their Motorman counterparts late in the system's life, probably reflecting the company's increasing expansion into bus operation. Author's Collection.

Senior staff
Nottinghamshore and Derbyshire Tramways inspector 1913
A blow-up of the depot photo above showing one of the inspectors.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways inspector
A blow-up of the Great War era photo of Tramcar No 4 above, showing the inspector.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramways inspector
An inspector standing in front of Tramcar No 22 — photo undated, but possibly taken shortly after the Great War.

Female staff
Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway Great War conductress
Great War conductress Annie Bronson. The script-lettering cap badge and 'N&DT' epaulette initials are easily made out, and appear to be striated, giving a rope effect. The button is possibly plain with a rim. Photo and background information courtesy of the Barry Marsden Collection.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway Great War conductress
A blow-up of the photograph above of Tramcar No 13 showing the conductress. The greatcoat appears to be devoid of insignia, whilst the cap badge is once again military, possibly Royal Artillery.

Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Tramway Great War conductress
A blow-up of the photograph above of Tramcar No 1 showing the conductress. She is wearing metal 'N&DT' system initials on her cap, presumably those which were normally worn on the epaulettes.