Plymouth Corporation Tramways

Summary
Plymouth Corporation took over the erstwhile Plymouth Tramways Company (owners of the Plymouth, Devonport and District Tramways) in 1892, and continued to operate horse-drawn services for some 15 years, until the last route was electrified in 1907. Despite the longevity of these services, and the reasonable number of photographs that have survived, good quality close-up views showing staff remain elusive. From the available evidence, it does however seem reasonably clear that the corporation did not see fit to issue horsecar staff with uniforms, instead continuing what was probably the policy of the former owners. Crews therefore wore smart but informal attire, comprising: jackets, shirts and ties, along with the fashionable headgear of the day, namely the bowler hat, with the flat cap predominating in later years.

Although photographs of the earliest electric services are uncommon, those that have survived show staff in single-breasted jackets with lapels, shirts and ties, wearing what appear to be peaked caps; further details are unknown. What is clear is that these uniforms (assuming they were such rather than informal attire) were soon superseded by single-breasted jackets with five brass buttons (containing the Plymouth municipal device and full system title - see link), two hip pockets (with flap closures) and high fold-over collars; the latter bore a municipal shield badge on each side, along with an employee number in individual brass numerals. Caps were in a military style with a tensioned crown (top), and carried a municipal shield badge above a script-lettering grade badge - either 'Conductor' or 'Motorman'.

At some point, certainly by the early 1920s, and possibly long beforehand, the original style of jacket was replaced, in the case of conductors by single-breasted jackets, and in the case of motormen, by double-breasted 'lancer-style' tunics; both styles bore epaulettes and upright collars. The epaulettes had a button fastening at the neck end, and bore the standard municipal shield badge, whilst the collars carried system initials - 'P C T' - on one side, with the other side unclear, but possibly carrying an employee number. The distinction between the grades in the style of uniform was mirrored by the nearby Devonport and District Tramways, a company which Plymouth Corporation ingested in 1915. Several photos do however show conductors wearing 'lancer-style' tunics, so there appears to have been some flexibility involved rather than a hard and fast dilineation.

The uniform was changed one final time, probably in the 1930s, to a more modern double-breasted design with two rows of four buttons, epaulettes and lapels; the latter carried individual system initials 'P C T' on one side and an employee number on the other side. The caps remained unchanged, though there is some suggestion that the insigina and buttons may have been changed from brass to either nickel or chrome, though this is far from certain.

Tramcar crews were also issued with long, double-breasted greatcoats with two rows of five buttons, epaulettes and high, fold-over collars; the latter carried system initials (though in later years they were left unadorned), whilst the former probably carried the standard Plymouth municipal shield badge.

Photographs of inspectors have yet to come to light, so it is currently impossible to say what uniforms they wore.

In common with the vast majority of UK tramway systems, Portsmouth employed female staff during the Great War - as conductresses - to replace male staff lost to the armed services; although these ladies apparently wore jackets, long skirts and peaked caps, photographs appear not to have survived, so further details remain unknown. Portsmouth may also have employed female staff during the Second World War, though neither documentary nor photographic evidence is available to prove this either way.

For a history of Plymouth's tramway systems, see: 'The Trams of Plymouth - a 73 Years Story' by Martin Langley and Edwina Small; Ex Libris Press (1990).

Images

Horse tram drivers and conductors
Plymouth Corporation Tramways horse tram
An unidentified Plymouth Corporation horse tram outside the Promenade Pier on the West Hoe route - photo undated, but probably turn of the century. Photo and background information courtesy of Derek Tait.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways horse tram conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor, who is wearing informal attire and a flat cap.


Plymouth Corporation Horse Tram No 7
Plymouth Corporation Tramways Horsecar No 7 in Ebrington St - photo undated, but probably turn of the century or early Edwardian. The conductor appears to be wearing informal attire. Photo and background information courtesy of Derek Tait.


Motormen and conductors
Plymouth Corporation Tramways Tram No 5
Evidently a brand-new Tramcar No 5, dating the photo to 1899 or 1900. Both men are wearing jackets with lapels, shirts and ties; it is unclear whether this is informal attire or a style of uniform that was quickly superseded. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways Tram No 10 and 12
Tramcars 10 and 12 outside the Royal - photo undated, but probably early Edwardian. Both the crewmen are wearing single-breasted jackets of the type depicted in the studio portrait below. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways conductor H Cornell
Plymouth Corporation Tramways conductor (Employee No 42) - photo dated 12th November 1917 and the subject is probably Conductor H Cornell. The cap and collar badges are the Plymouth municipal device (see below), and were almost certainly brass to match the buttons. Author's Collection.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways cap badge
Plymouth Corporation municipal shield badge, worn on the caps and collars - brass/gilt.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways cap badges
Standard ‘off the shelf’ script-lettering cap badges of the type used by Plymouth Corporation Tramways - brass.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways Tram No 83 and crew Prince Rock
The crew of Tramcar No 84 (an ex Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Tramways Company vehicle) pose for the cameraman at Prince Rock on 1st May 1921. Photo by R C Sambourne, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Portsmouth Corporation Trmaways Tram No 4
Tramcar No 24 in Beaumont Rd - photo undated, but probably taken in the early 1920s. The conductor, as well as the motorman, is wearing a 'lancer-style' tunic rather than the usual single-breasted jacket. Photo by R C Sambourne, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Portsmouth Corporation Tramways tram driver motorman
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways driver Tram No 80
Another R C Sambourne shot, again taken in the early 1920s, this time of a motorman at the controls of Tramcar No 80 at the Guildhall. His left-hand collar insignia are 'PCT'. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways conductor with Tram No 37
PCT conductor with Tram No 37 on a service to Millbank via Friary - photo undated, but probably taken in the early 1920s (No 37 was withdrawn in 1924). Photo and background information courtesy of Derek Tait.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways crew
Conductor and motorman pose with an unidentified tramcar, waiting to depart for Prince Rock and Theatre - photo undated, but from the attire of the passengers, probably taken in the early 1920s. Author's collection.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 15 and  crew
The crew of Beaumont Rd-bound Tramcar No 15 take a rest - photo undated, but probably taken in the 1920s. Author's collection.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways Tram No 155 and crew 1938
The crew of tramcar No 155 at Peverell with a service for Saltash Passage on 16th April 1938. Both men are wearing a new style of double-breasted jacket with lapels. Magnification reveals that the conductor is actually wearing a 'Motorman' script-lettering cap badge. Photo by W A Camwell, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Plymouth Corporation Trmaways cap badge chrome
Plymouth Corporation shield-shaped cap and collar badge - chrome. This material was probably introduced in the 1930s, along with the new style of uniforms. With thanks to Richard Rosa.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways Tram No 143 in 1938
Another shot taken at Peverell on the same day as the previous photograph, but this time of Tramcar No 143. Photo by W A Camwell, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways tram driver motorman
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman in his greatcoat, clearly devoid of insignia.


Plymouth Corporation Tramways conductor 1938
Another blow-up of the above photo, this time showing the conductor and the last style of jacket worn.


Senior staff
Plymouth Corporation Tramways Inspectors Cap
Plymouth Corporation Inspector's cap. It is unclear whether this particular pattern was used in the tramway era or later. Author's collection.