Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways

Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Ltd was a subsidiary of the much larger British Electric Traction Company Ltd (BETCo), a concern which at its zenith either owned, part-owned or leased almost 50 tramway concerns across the British Isles. Surviving photos strongly suggest that WDET staff initially wore the familiar and largely regulation BETCo uniform. Although jackets appeared to vary somewhat between BETCo systems, as well as across the decades, the cap badges, collar designations and buttons invariably followed a standard pattern. However, in 1904, the WDET was asborbed - along with five other BETCo-controlled companies in the Midlands - into the Birmingham and Midland Tramways Joint Committee, which was the embodiment of BETCo's ambitious plans for a unified network throughout this area. Following the creation of the B&MTJC, various attempts were made at standardisation across the constituent companies, and these activities extended to uniforms and badges. Somewhat ironically, the attempt to brand the constituent companies of the B&MTJC as a single entity, effectively made it 'non standard' in respect of uniform insignia, when compared to the vast majority of other BETCo-owned systems.

The early photo below shows a conductor and a motorman wearing single-breasted jackets with non-standard headwear (a flat cap and a military-style cap), but with the standard brass BETCo ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge (see below). It is unclear if these were formal uniform issues or whether they were used in an interim period, as all other photographs I've seen depicting the era prior to the advent of the B&MTJC, show staff wearing double-breasted tunics with two rows of four buttons (presumably of the standard BETCo pattern - see link) and high fold-over collars. The latter, by analogy with other BETCo-owned systems, probably carried 'WDET' initials in embroidered lettering. Caps were in a kepi style with a glossy peak, and carried a standard brass BETCo ‘Magnet & Wheel’ badge (see below); no employee number appears to have been carried.

From the 1st July 1904, shares in all the BETCo's Black Country and Birmingham companies were transferred to the Birmingham and Midland Tramways Co Ltd, all systems subsequently being operated by a newly formed body called the Birmingham and Midland Tramways Joint Committee. From this time onwards, a standard uniform policy was imposed across all the member companies, including the W&DET. Motormen and conductors were issued with double-breasted jackets with two rows of four buttons (almost certainly the standard BETCo 'Magnet and Wheel' pattern - see link) and high, fold-over collars; the latter carried individual metal initials - either 'B M T' or 'B & M T' - on the right-hand side and an employee number on the left-hand side, almost certainly in brass. Surviving examples suggest that the first collar badges may have had diagonal striations giving a rope effect (see below). Caps were initially in a kepi style, and carried a prominent oval brass cap badge that consisted of intertwined 'BMT' initials beneath the 'Magnet and Wheel' device, all within a wreath (see below).

At some point, probably after the Great War, a change was made to military style caps with tensioned crowns (tops); insignia however, remained unchanged.

Staff were also issued with greatcoats. In the pre-B&MTJC era, these were in both single and double-breasted styles, and appear to have carried script-lettering insignia on each collar, probably 'WDET'. Following absorption into the B&MTJC, new issues were double-breasted, and did not now carry any insignia on the collars.

Although photographic evidence is currently lacking, inspectors most probably wore single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or an hook and eye arrangement) and upright collars; the latter bearing Inspector in embroidered script lettering. The standard ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge (or 'B&MTJC' badge) was most probably worn, but with a script-lettering ‘nspector badge.

Female staff were almost certainly employed during Great War to replaced men lost to the armed services, however, details of the uniforms, are currently unknown.

For a general history of the WDET, see: Black Country Tramways Volumes 1 and 2, by J S Webb; (1974 and 1976).


Motormen and conductors
Wolverhampton and District Electric Tramways Tram No 8
Conductor and motorman pose with Tramcar No 8 - photo undated, but probably taken in the first year of operation, as a canopy was subsequently added to this vehicle. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways
A blow-up of the above photo showing the tramcar crew. Both men are wearing single-breasted tunics, and this fact, together with the absence of the kepi-style caps seen in the vast majority of other photos, suggests that this shot may pre-date the advent of a formal WDET uniform.

Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways crew tram 19
The crew of Tramcar No 19 at Stow Heath terminus, which the WDET only operated until 1905. Both men are wearing kepi-style caps with the standard British Electric Traction Company 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge. Photograph courtesy of Stephen Howarth.

Standard British Electric Traction Company ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge - brass

Birmingham and Midland Tramways
'BMT' tramwayman No 321 in double-breasted tunic with later military style cap with tensioned crown (top). There is unfortunately nothing to identify which of the B&MJTC's constituent tramway companies the above individual worked for. However, as uniforms were standardised, it is fairly safe to say that the photo is representative of the uniform worn by staff of the WDET.

Birmingham and Midland Joint Tramways Committee badge
B&MTJC cap badge - brass. This was introduced some time after 1904, when the Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways Company became part of the B&MTJC. Note the use of the British Electric Traction Company 'Magnet and Wheel' symbol; the BETCo controlled the B&MTJC and all its constituent tramway companies. Author's Collection.

Birmingham and Midlands Tramways collar badge
Probable Birmingham and Midland Tramways Joint Committee early 'rope effect' collar initials and collar number. Author's Collection.