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. 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. In 1904 however, the WDET was absorbed — 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 across the country.

Photos taken prior to 1905 suggest that conductors and motormen were issued with single-breasted jackets with upright collars; the latter probably bore system initials, though these cannot be made out on surviving photographs. Headgear took the form of a kepi-style cap with a glossy peak; these bore the standard brass BETCo ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge (see below). Curiously, two of the surviving photos show conductors wearing flat caps, the reason for which is unclear. At some point, the motormen's kepis were probably replaced by military-style caps, though still bearing the standard BETCo cap badge.

Tramcar crews were also issued with overcoat-cum-greatcoats with high, fold-over collars; the collars bore system initials — ' W D E T' — on both sides, probably in individual brass letters. Conductors were issued with single-breasted overcoats, in contrast to motormen, who were wore a double-breasted style.

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 prior to the Great War, a change was made to military-style caps with tensioned crowns (tops); the 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 a 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 Inspector 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 1 Fighting Cocks 1903
WDET Tramcar No 1 stands at Fighting Cocks in March 1903. Author's Collection.

Wolverhampton and District Electric ramways tram conductor 1903
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor, who is clearly wearing a company-issued overcoat — with system initials on the collars — but with a flat cap.

Wolverhampton and District Electric ramways tram driver 1903
Another blow-up of the above photo, this time showing the motorman, once again in company-issued overcoat, but with a kepi-style cap and standard BETCo cap badge.

British Electric Traction Company ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge - brass
Standard British Electric Traction Company ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge — brass. Author's Collection.

Wolverhampton and District Electric Tramways Tram No 8
Another photo which appears to have been taken at Fighting Cocks, again of a No 1-13 series tramcar, but with a later style of lifeguard and a headlamp fitted on the dash, so possibly taken in 1904/5. 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, which although of very poor quality, does show that the tramcar crew are both wearing single-breasted tunics. Whilst the conductor is wearing a flat cap, his colleague would appear to have a military-style cap.

Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways crew tram 19
Tramcar No 19 (built by Brush in 1902) at the Stow Heath terminus, which the WDET only operated until 1905, so though undated, the photo was very likely taken in 1904 or 1905.

Wolverhampton District Electric Tramways crew tram 19
A blow-up of the above photo revealing both men to be wearing greatcoats and kepi-style caps bearing the standard BETCo 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge. The fact that both men's collars and ties are to be seen suggests that they are wearing jackets with lapels underneath their overcoats, either that or no jackets at all. The right-hand collars bear system initials.

Birmingham and Midland Tramways
'BMT' tramwayman No 321 in double-breasted tunic with later-military style cap with tensioned crown (top) — photo undated, but very probably taken during or shortly after the late-Edwardian era. 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, which were eventually superseded by plain brass letters/numbers. Author's Collection.

Wolverhampton and District Electric Tramways Tram No 109 motorman driver
A WDET motorman stands with what is, in all probability, a brand-new, B&MTJC-built Tramcar No 109, dating the photo to 1919/1920. Photo courtesy of John Dawson.

Wolverhampton and District Electric Tramways Tram No 109 motorman driver
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the cap badge and collar insignia. A date of 1919/1920 is further reinforced by the Silver War Badge on the subject's right-hand collar, indicating that he had been discharged from the armed services during the Great War after being wounded.

Great War Silver War badge
Silver War Badge 1916. Photo courtesy of John Dawson.