Rossendale Valley Tramways

The Rossendale Valley Tramways Company commenced operating the first section of its 4ft 0ins-gauge steam tramway — from Rawtenstall, eastwards to Waterfoot — on the 31st January 1889. An extension of the line through to Bacup was opened on the 3rd August 1889, and later that month, a line northwards from Rawtenstall to Holmefield. Although a further northwards extension to Crawshawbooth was opened on the 9th September 1891, the ultimate target of Burnley was never reached, the system remaining at 6.35 miles. Despite this, the tramway appears to have been very profitable, unlike its near neighbour, the Accrington Corporation Steam Tramways Company, which struggled for the best part of a decade before attaining profitability.

Although the RVTCo tracks were physically connected to those of the ACSTCo in Queens Square, Rawtenstall, both systems being the same gauge, regular through running was never instigated.

In July 1898, the British Electric Traction Company Ltd acquired a majority interest in the RVTCo. At this time, the BETCo was aggressively purchasing horse and steam-operated tramways across the British Isles with the intention of converting them to electric traction, as well as promoting schemes for completely new tramways. The BETCo seems to have had ambitions for a sizeable electric tramway network in Northeast Lancashire, as the following year it struck an agreement with the neighbouring ACSTCo aimed at securing electrification of that company's lines in Accrington, Haslingden and Rawtenstall. Its plans were however frustrated by Accrington Corporation, which already owned the tracks in Accrington (the ACSTCo operating them under a lease agreement), and which eventually decided to convert them to electric traction and operate the system itself.

Despite this setback, the BETCo, in the form of the RVTCo, acquired powers to electrify its lines in Rawtenstall and Bacup. These were however never brought to fruition, primarily due to disagreements between Rawtenstall and Bacup Corporations in respect of municipal versus company operation. As time wore on and the deadline when the corporations could purchase the undertaking in their respective areas approached — 1909 and 1910 — the BETCo seems to have resigned itself to getting the best price it could and selling out to the corporations. The RVTCo was duly sold to Rawtenstall and Bacup Corporations on the 1st October 1908, the former operating the entire system.

In common with the vast majority of UK steam tramways, RVTCo drivers wore railway footplate-like attire, comprising heavy-duty cotton jackets and trousers, along with soft-topped or cloth caps; no badges of any kind were worn. Up until the mid-to-late 1890s, conductors wore smart but informal attire: jacket and trousers, shirt and tie, along with an overcoat. Headgear followed the fashion of the day, initially the bowler hat, but later on the flat cap. No insignia, including licences, appears to have been worn.

In the mid-to-late 1890s, or possibly following the take-over by the British Electric Traction Company in 1898, conductors were issued with double-breasted jackets (edged in a lighter material), with two rows of four buttons, three waist/hip-level pockets and lapels, together with matching trousers and a soft-topped cap. Neither the jackets nor the caps appear to have borne any badges. In the mid Edwardian era, the style of the jackets was altered, though they were still double-breasted with lapels. The caps were also changed to a military style with a tensioned crown (top), though still without badges. The absence of insignia was very unusual for a BETCo subsidiary, but may have been a deliberate policy by the company, whose symbol (the 'Magnet & Wheel') very much reflected their electrification agenda, which in the case of the RVTCo, ultimately foundered on the rocks of municipal opposition.

Photos indicate that inspectors wore long single-breasted coats — which like those of conductors, were edged in a lighter material — with four buttons and lapels; once again, the latter did not carry any badges. Caps were in a kepi-style with a glossy peak, and appear to have carried an oblong metal badge of unknown pattern.

Further reading
For a brief history of the RVTCo, see: 'A History of the British Steam Tram Volume 4' by David Gladwin; Adam Gordon (2008).


Steam tram drivers and conductors
Rossendale Valley Tramways Steam Tram No 3 and crew 1890
A brand new Steam Tram No 3 (a Thomas Green and Sons product) and a newly delivered trailer — photo probably taken prior to opening, in December 1888 or January 1889. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society.

Rossendale Valley Tramways Steam Tram No 3 and crew 1890
A blow-up of the above photo showing the driver and two other officials. The driver is wearing typical railway footplate attire and a soft-topped cap; no badges or licences are in evidence.

Rossendale Valley Tramways Steam Tram No 6 and crew 1890
Rossendale Valley Tramways Company Steam Tram No 6 stands outside the Queens Arms, Rawtenstall, circa 1890. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.

Rossendale Valley Tramways Steam Tram No 6 and crew 1890
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor, in overcoat and flat cap, and the driver, in typical footplate attire.

Rossendale Valley Tramways Steam Tram and crew
A group of four tramwaymen stand with an unidentified engine and trailer near Stacksteads — photo undated, but probably taken in the mid-to-late 1890s. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society.

Rossendale Valley Tramways Steam Tram and crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the tramwayman; all bar the conductor are filthy, as is the roadway. The conductor appears to be wearing informal attire along a soft-topped cap, all probably self-purchased.

Rossendale Valley Steam Tram at Glen Top Brewery
The crew of an unidentified steam tram pose for the camera together with an inspector (in all likelihood) outside Glen Top Brewery, Stacksteads — photo undated, but probably taken around the turn of the century. The conductor (middle) is clearly wearing a uniform edged in a lighter material than the main garment, along with a soft-topped cap. Neither the driver nor the conductor are wearing a cap badge, the bright spot on the driver's cap merely being a reflection. Author's Collection.

Rossendale Valley Tramways steam tram and crew
A rather poorly focused shot, but another image which shows a conductor in double-breasted jacket edged in material of a lighter colour — photo undated, but probably early 20th Century. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society.

Rossendale Valley Tramways Steam Tram No 1 and crew 1890
Steam Tram No 1 standing in Burnley Rd, Crawshawbooth in 1907. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society.

Rossendale Valley Tramways Steam Tram No 1 and crew 1890
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor (Bill Dust), driver (Dick Walmsley) and an inspector. By this time conductors were wearing a different style of jacket, still double-breasted, along with a military style of cap with a tensioned crown (top), still seemingly devoid of insignia.

Senior staff
Rossendale Valley Tramways InspectorRossendale Valley Tramways Inspector
Two RVTCo inspectors taken from the photos above. Both are wearing long single-breasted coats with four buttons and lapels, along with kepi-style caps bearing an oblong badge, probably in metal. The apparent stripes on the sleeves of the man in the first photograph are possibly creases highlighted by the camera flash.