South Metropolitan Electric Tramways

The South Metropolitan Electric Tramways and Lighting Company Ltd was a subsidiary of the much larger British Electric Traction Company Ltd (BET), a concern which at its zenith either owned, part-owned or leased almost 50 tramway concerns across the British Isles. BET were the operator (lessee) of Croydon Corporation Tramways, but also had their own territorial ambitions around Croydon, which included the lines that eventually became the SMET. These lines were intended to form part of an integrated network centred on Croydon, but following Croydon Corporation's termination of the BET lease, the SMET effectively ended up as three limbs missing its central spine.

The photos below clearly show SMET staff wearing the familiar and largely regulation BET uniform. Although jackets appeared to vary somewhat between BET systems, as well as across the decades, the cap badges, collar designations and buttons invariably followed a standard pattern. The majority of photos show both conductors and motormen wearing single-breasted tunics with five buttons, two breast pockets (with button closures), and upright collars; the latter carried individual ‘S M T’ letters on the right and an employee number on the left, all presumably brass. A minority of employees, but particularly motormen, wore double-breasted, cross-over tunics with two rows of five buttons and upright collars; these carried the same insignia as the single-breasted tunics. Both these tunics differed markedly from the 'naval' style of jackets used on the BET's other large London system (the Metropolitan Electric Tramways), and may well have been the result of a deliberate decision to differentiate SMET staff from those of their erstwhile employer, Croydon Corporation, who continued to use 'naval' style jackets.

Caps were military in style with a glossy peak, and carried a standard brass BET ‘Magnet & Wheel’ badge (see below) above an employee number; this was standard BET practice. However, early photos show that some staff wore script-lettering cap badges ('Conductor' and 'Motorman') rather than the 'Magnet & Wheel' device. This is - as far as I am aware - the only BET tramway that ever used script-lettering cap badges, or for that matter, failed to use the standard 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge. However, standard practice appears to have been relatively quickly imposed as photos taken after the early years always show staff wearing the 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge.

Motormen and conductors always appeared in service with a Metropolitan Public Service Vehicle badge (see link), usually worn on the left breast.

Following the transfer of the SMET into the 'London & Suburban Traction Company Ltd' (a holding company jointly owned by the 'Underground Electric Railways Company of London Ltd' and BET’) in 1913, no change appears to have been made to the uniform policy; however, shortly after the First World War, an effort was made at standardisation across all three consitutuent tramways, the SMET, London United Tramways and Metropolitan Electric Tramways. A double-breasted style of jacket with lapels was now used, similar to that used on the M.E.T; the lapels carried brass 'SMET' initial badges, which exist both with and without a lozenge-shaped surround, the significance of which is unclear. The standard BET 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge was replaced by a large nickel and blue enamel cap badge in the shape of the Underground Group 'bullseye', which bore the word 'TRAMWAYS' across the middle, with 'SOUTH MET' above and 'ELECTRIC' below.

Staff were also issued with heavy double-breasted overcoats with two rows of four buttons and lapels; these latter appear to have carried 'SMET' initials, probably embroidered, but possibly metal after World War I.

In the early days, inspectors wore uniforms which followed standard BET practice, namely, a single-breasted jacket with hidden buttons and upright collars, the latter carrying the designation 'Inspector' in embroidered script lettering. The caps bore a hat band with the standard BET 'Magnet & Wheel' badge, along with 'Inspector' in embroidered script lettering. Inspectors were also issued with double-breasted overcoats with lapels; the latter probably bore 'Inspector' in embroidered script lettering. Although it is currently unclear what uniforms were worn during the Underground Group era, the cap badge was probably changed to a 'bullseye' pattern with INSPECTOR across the bar in the middle. District Inspectors - a more senior grade - were issued with small circular brass and blue enamel cap badges.

Cap and lapel badges also exist (see below) which are just marked 'TRAMWAYS'; these were more than likely issued to staff who worked across all three 'Underground Group' tramway systems, such as ticket issuers/collectors etc.

Female staff were employed in significant numbers during the Great War (from late 1915 onwards), and were in all likelihood issued similar uniforms to those used on the BET's other major London system, the M.E.T (see link). The sole surviving photo unfortunately shows female employees in their winter overcoats (see below), so details of the uniform worn underneath are unknown, though in all probability they were the same style as those worn by their M.E.T breathren, namely: tailored single-breasted jackets with five buttons, lapels and a waist belt (with button fastening), along with a medium-length matching skirt and lace-up gaiters. The lapels probably bore 'SMET' in embroidered letters. Headgear was a dark-coloured, wide-brimmed straw bonnet, to which a standard BET badge was affixed (on a hat band). Overcoats were single-breasted with the buttons offset to the wearer's left-hand side, along with epaulettes and high fold-over collars; the latter probably bore 'SMET' in large embroidered letters.


Motormen and conductors
South Metropolitan Electric Tramways staff
Conductor and Motorman pose with Tramcar No 13 in Stafford Road, Waddon Village, most probably in the first year, or at least the very early years, of operation. Note that both men have script lettering cap badges, whilst the distinctive ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge of the parent company - British Electric Traction - is completely absent. With thanks to Richard Rosa.

Motorman and Conductor badges
General pattern script-lettering cap badges - Motorman and Conductor - brass.

South Metropolitan Electric Tramways staff
Conductor and motorman pose in the same location as the previous photo, but this time with Tramcar No 7 - photo undated but probably 1906/7. Although the conductor is wearing a script-lettering cap badge, the motorman is not; both men appear to be wearing the standard BET 'Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with particular thanks to David Voice.

British Electric Traction Company badge
Standard British Electric Traction Company Limited ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge.

South Metropolitan Electric Tramways staff
SMET Motorman on Tramcar No 13, though now looking distinctively battered and scratched - photo undated, but from the PSV badge, taken no earlier than 1909. It’s possible that he is the same individual as in the first photograph above. Note that the earlier script lettering ‘Motorman’ cap badge has now been replaced with the standard issue BET ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge and an employee number. The PSV badge iappears on magnification to bear the number ‘3’, which is amazingly low considering that most examples I’ve seen run to 4 or 5 digits! This type of licence had a white enamel centre with dark blue digits, surrounded by red enamel with white lettering: ‘Stage Driver and Conductor - Mechanical Power’. With thanks to Richard Rosa.

South Metropolitan Electric Tramways staff
Studio portrait of a SMET conductor dated 4th September 1914, but possibly taken earlier. The subject is wearing the standard BET ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge but is not wearing an employee number on his cap. With thanks to Richard Rosa.

South Metropolitan Electric Tramways motorman
Motorman at the controls of Tramcar No 3 on a service for Sutton, approaching the junction with Woodcote Road, Wallington - photo undated. Note that he is wearing a double-breasted crossover style of tunic, and his cap appears to have both a 'Magnet & Wheel' and a script-lettering cap badge. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with particular thanks to David Voice.

South Metropolitan Electric Tramways conductor and motorman
Conductor and motorman pose with Tramcar No 20 at Mitcham Fair Green with a service bound for Croydon - photo dated 9th November 1929. The 'Underground Group' SMET cap and collar badges can be clearly seen. The motorman' is wearing a Type DM3 Mechanical Power PSV badge (issued 1909 to 1931), probably Number '1566'. Photograph by Dr Hugh Nicol.

South Metropolitan Electric Tramways roundel cap badge
South Metropolitan Electric Tramways 'Underground Group' era cap badge - nickel and blue - probably worn from around the end of the First World War until the creation of the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933.

South Metropolitan Electric Tramways collar badge
'Underground Group' era collar badges - brass - probably worn from around the end of the First World War until the creation of the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933.

Senior staff
Three inspectors at Sutton Depot - taken from a Great War staff photo (see below). With thanks to The Friends of Honeywood Museum (Sutton Local Studies Collection)

South Metropolitan Electric Tramways District Inspector
This photo, which is a cropped image taken from the same photo as the previous image of Tramcar No 20, possibly shows a SMET District Inspector - 9th November 1929. The cap badge is definitely not an 'Underground Group' Inspector's badge, but is however suspiciously similar in size to badges issued to District Inspectors by Metropolitan Electric Tramways (see link) and London United Tramways (see link); the M.E.T and L.U.T were of course also members of the 'Underground Group'. Photograph by Dr Hugh Nicol.

Official's badge - nickel and blue enamel (with acknowledgement to 'Wheels of London', Times Newspapers Ltd, 1972)

General 'Underground Group' Tramways cap badge - nickel and blue enamel

General 'Underground Group' Tramways collar badge - brass

Female staff
South Metropolitan Tramways Sutton depot photo - Great War
Staff photo taken at Sutton Depot on Westmead Road during the Great War. With thanks to The Friends of Honeywood Museum (Sutton Local Studies Collection).

South Metropolitan Tramways Sutton depot photo - Great War
A blow-up of the above photo, showing details of the ladies' uniforms. With thanks to The Friends of Honeywood Museum (Sutton Local Studies Collection)