South Staffordshire Tramways

Summary
Only a single photo has survived from the earliest years of the South Staffordshire and Birmingham District Steam Tramways Company's tenure (1883-89), and this shows a number of staff assembled at an unidentified depot in 1884. Whilst it is not possible to be certain whether drivers and conductors are amongst those depicted, in all probability they are. Assuming this is indeed the case, it would suggest that steam engine drivers wore very similar attire to their railway counterparts, namely, heavy cotton trousers and jackets, along with cotton or flat caps, whilst conductors probably wore smart, but informal attire, namely: shirt and tie, waistcoat, jacket, trousers and the fashionable headgear of the day, at this time the bowler hat with upturned brim. A later photograph, probably taken in 1888 (see below), also shows a conductor in informal attire. Although an example of a large oval cap badge bearing the company name — 'Sth Staff. & Birm. Dist. Steam Tramways Ltd' — has survived (see below), this is almost certainly a manufacturer's pattern book example that was made for consideration by the company, with the company eventually deciding not to proceed.

Uniforms were certainly issued at some point by the 'South Staffordshire Tramways Company' (1889-99), as a depot photograph has survived that was taken between 1895 and 1900, and this clearly shows drivers and conductors in smart new uniforms. At this time, drivers wore single-breasted jackets with metallic buttons and lapels, along with a soft-topped, military-style cap with a chin strap; neither the jacket nor the cap bore insignia of any kind. Conductors on the other hand were issued with three-quarter length, double-breasted coats with two rows of five metallic buttons and high, fold-over collars, along with kepi-style caps with a glossy peak and pom pom; once again, neither the jackets nor the caps bore badges.

The first electric services were actually worked by the Electric Construction Corporation Ltd under a lease agreement. Motormen and conductors wore double-breasted jackets with two rows of five buttons and lapels. The collars appear to have carried some kind of embroidered badges. Caps were in a tall kepi style and carried three initials, which cannot unfortunately be made out on surviving photographs. Tramcar staff also appear to have been issued with long, frock style, double-breasted overcoats.

The SSTCo was formally taken over by BETCo in 1899, all services being operated by their wholly-owned subsidiary, the 'South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company'. Photographs of steam tram crews taken after the BETCo take-over sometimes show crews in uniforms, and sometimes in informal attire, suggesting that the company's attitude to uniforms became much more lacks as the steam services were gradually run down as they were replaced with electric traction.

Over the course of its history, BETCo either owned, part-owned or leased almost 50 tramway concerns in the British Isles, across which it largely imposed a standard uniform policy. 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 the case of the BETCo's Black Country and Birmingham systems (see link), the parent company appears to have initially allowed each of its operating companies a degree of autonomy. Photos from this period show motormen and conductors in a variety of uniform jackets (double-breasted with lapels; single-breasted with upright collars) as well as informal attire; it is currently unclear whether the uniform jackets carried any insignia. Headgear appears initially to have been informal (flat caps), but later on tall kepi-style caps became the norm; curiously, these do not appear to have carried the standard BETCo 'Magnet and Wheel' cap badge (see link), but instead may have carried some kind of grade designation. A block lettering 'S.S.T.Lessee Co' cap badge has survived (see below) that may have been used in the period between 1899 and 1904/5, however, confirmatory photographic evidence is currently lacking. Staff are frequently depicted wearing long, double-breasted overcoats with two rows of five buttons and high fold-over collars; the latter appear to have also carried an embroidered designation of some description, possible a grade badge or company initials.

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. At some point afterwards, it is unclear exactly when, a standard uniform policy was imposed across all the member companies, including the SSTLCoLtd. Motormen and conductors were issued with double-breasted jackets with two rows of four buttons (bearing the standard BETCo's 'Magnet and Wheel' device — 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 the 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, caps were changed to a military-style with a tensioned crown (top), though they continued to carry the same cap badge. Jackets varied subtly in style across the decades, always double-breasted, but sometimes with four buttons and sometimes five, and with three waist-level pockets. The jackets could be worn open at the neck giving the effect of lapels or buttoned up; the collar insignia remained unchanged throughout the life of the tramway. Double-breasted overcoats were also issued; these had high, fold-over collars that carried the same badges as the jackets worn underneath.

The steam depot photo taken in 1895-1900 includes four inspectors. They are wearing three-quarter length, double-breasted coats with two rows of four buttons and lapels; the latter did not bear an insignia. Headgear took the form of a kepi-style cap with a glossy peak and pom pom; the cap carried a script-lettering grade badge - Inspector - though whether this was embroidered or metallic is currently unclear. Photographs from the electric era suggest that inspectors wore single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or a hook and eye affair) and upright collars; the latter probably carried an embroidered grade badge - Inspector - though this cannot be stated with certainty. Caps were initially in the kepi style but were later changed to a military style with a tensioned crown (top); these probably carried an embroidered grade badge, though once again this is unclear.

Female staff were undoubtedly employed in significant numbers during the Great War to replace men lost to the armed services — photographic evidence is however currently lacking, so it is unfortunately not possible to say what uniforms were worn.

For more information on the steam era, see: 'A History of the British Steam Tram - Volume 4' by David Gladwin; Adam Gordon Publishing (2008). For a general history of the SSTCo, see: Black Country Tramways Volumes 1 and 2, by J S Webb; (1974 and 1976).

Images

Steam tram drivers and conductors
South Staffordshire, Birmingham and District Steam Tramways depot 1884
A very rare and early survivor, a staff photo of an unidentified SS&BDTCo depot, purportedly taken in 1884, and there is absolutely no reason to think otherwise given the very clean brickwork (this was the Black Country after all). Photo courtesy of David Gladwin, with thanks to Trevor Preece.


South Staffordshire, Birmingham and District Steam Tramways depot 1884
A blow-up of the above photo showing some of the staff. Whilst some are clearly fitters, the men at the back in tight-fitting caps a more than likely drivers, and the man to the right may well be a conductor. No badges or licences are in evidence.


South Staffordshire Tramways Company Steam Tram No 16
SSTCo No 16 (a Thomas Green product) stands with a Starbuck trailer in the depot yard at Darlaston — photo taken around 1888, so possibly still in SS&BDSTCo days. The conductor is wearing informal attire, without a cap badge.


South Staffordshire and Birmingham District Steam Tramways cap badge
South Staffordshire and Birmingham District Steam Tramways conductor's cap badge — nickel. This badge is almost certainly a manufacturer's pattern book example, made for consideration by the company, but probably never purchased nor issued. Clues are the repetitive, and very high, employee number, nearly three times higher than the entire staff of the company! Author's Collection.


South Staffordshire Tramways Beyer Peacock Steam Tram No9 Dudley Station
SSTCo No 9 (a Beyer Peacock engine) stands at Dudley Station with Trailer No 17 on a Dudley to Handsworth service — photo undated, but possibly taken in the mid 1890s. Photo courtesy of D G Harvey, with thanks to Trevor Preece.


South Staffordhsire Tramways steam tram driver
A blow-up of the above photograph showing the driver, whose clothing clearly betrays the filthy nature of his occupation.


South Staffordshire Tramways steam tram depot, possibly Darlaston
A superb photo of a SSTCo depot, possibly Darlaston, with all the staff lined up in brand-new uniforms, along with various top-hatted luminaries. The latter suggests that this was a special occasion, some time between 1895 and 1900, which is when the photographer (Henri Gascon) was active in the area. Author's Collection.


South Staffordshire Tramways steam tram drivers and conductors 1895-1900
A blow-up of the above photo showing five conductors, in double-breasted, three-quarter length coats and kepi-style caps (with pom pom), and two drivers, in single-breasted jackets with lapels and soft-topped caps; neither of the cap types carries a cap badge. The driver pictured top left (with a dickie bow) bears a certain resemblance to the driver of Steam Tram No 9 (shown above), and may well be the same man.


SouthStaffsWilkinsonNo8_AWBCROP
Conductor and driver pose for the camera with Wilkinson Steam Tram 8 at Darlaston depot — photo undated, but probably taken in the mid-to-late 1890s. The conductor is wearing the same style of uniform and cap as the depot photo shown above. Author's Collection.


South Staffordshire Tramways Steam Tram No 6 and Trailer 21
The driver of Beyer Peacock Steam Tram No 6 makes for a strange sight with his extremely grubby cotton dust jacket, contrasting starkly with his white wing-collared shirt and dickie bow. The conductor, leaning against Falcon-built Trailer No 21, appears to be wearing a cap with a cap badge, though this is more than likely a trick of the light. The photo is unfortunately undated, but is likely to have been taken around the turn of the century. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


South Staffordshire Tramways Steam Tram No 28 and crew Dudley
Conductor and driver with Beyer Peacock Steam Tram No 28 in Tipton Rd, Dudley — photo taken circa 1903, therefore under BETCo ownership (the BETCo garter is on the trailer; not shown). The conductor is wearing informal attire with a flat cap. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice


South Staffordshire Tramways Steam Tram No 8
A rather poor photo (contrast-wise) of Steam Tram No 8 and Trailer No 33, along with a number of staff, at Dudley Station on a Dudley to Handsworth service — photo undated, but probably taken around 1902/3. Both men in front of the engine are wearing caps, and what appear to be script-lettering grade badges. The individual on the left is clearly an inspector (from his cap badge) whilst the man on the right, with cash bag, would appear to be the conductor. The presence of an inspector, as well as the photographer, may well hint at a special occasion, perhaps the last steam service? Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Motormen and conductors
South Staffordshire Tramways Tramcar 55 at Wednesbury
Tramcar No 55 at Wednesbury (White Horse) — photo undated, but probably taken not long after opening of the newly electrified route to Bloxwich (1893). The staff were undoubtedly employees of the Electric Construction Company Ltd, who operated the electric services for the South Staffordshire Tramways Company. The motorman is Mr W Morris. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


South Staffordshire Tramways Company cap badge brass
South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Company cap badge — brass. I have yet to locate a photograph of a tramwayman wearing this badge (it would have been worn between 1899 and circa 1904/5), so the possibility remains that it is a pattern book example that was never used by the company. Author's Collection.


South Staffordshire Tramways Tram No 43 Tipton Rd, Dudley c1912 COnductor and tram driver
SSTCo motorman and conductor pose for posterity with Tramcar No 43 at the Tipton Rd terminus in Dudley — photo thought to have been taken around 1912, i.e., in B&MTJC days. Both men are wearing double-breasted jackets, and kepis bearing the standard B&MTJC cap badge. Author's Collection.



Birmingham and Midland Tramways Joint Committee cap badge — brass. This was introduced some time after 1904, when the South Staffordshire Tramways (Lessee) Co Ltd 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.


South Staffordshire Tramways No 24 and crew
South Staffordshire Tramways Tramcar No 24 and crew — photo undated, but probably taken prior to the Great War (No 24 was cut down from its original double deck form around 1912). Author's Collection.


South Staffordshire Tramways No 17 at Darlaston
The crew of South Staffordshire Tramcar No 17 pose for the camera at Darlaston — photo undated, but probably taken in 1929. Photo by Dr H Nicol, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


South Staffordshire Tramways Tram No 14 at Tipton
South Staffordshire Tramcar No 14 at the Tipton Rd terminus in Dudley — photo undated, but very probably taken in the late 1920s. Photo by Dr H Nicol, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Senior staff
Staffordshire Steam Tramways Company steam tram inspectors
A blow-up of the 1895-1900 steam depot photograph above showing two of the inspectors. Both are wearing double-breasted, three-quarter length coats with lapels, along with kepi-style caps topped with a pom pom; the caps bear a script-lettering grade badge - Inspector - though it is unclear whether this was embroidered or metal.


South Staffordshire Tramways steam tran insspector
A really poor quality photograph, but one which in all probability shows a South Staffs inspector in steam tramway days. The location is supposedly Tipton and the date is probably the late 1890s. The inspector is the individual in the long, unbuttoned, double-breasted coat, in the centre of the shot.


South Staffordshire Tramways Steam Tram No 12 and two inspectors
Another not particularly good quality photograph, but one which shows two inspectors, one third from the left, and the other on the front of No 12, a Beyer Peacock engine, both men in long coats and kepi-style caps. The engine, pictured at Christ Church, High St, West Bromwich, is in post-1902 British Electric Traction Company livery, so the photo must have been taken in that year, given that the line was converted to electric traction on the 19th December 1902. I am indebted to D G Harvey for this information. Photo courtesy of D G Harvey, with thanks to Trevor Preece.


SouthStaffs24-1_Insp
South Staffordshire Tramways inspector, taken from the photo of electric tramcar No 24 above — undated, but possibly taken just prior to the Great War. Author's Collection.


South Staffordshire Tramways Tividale tram depot
Two inspectors and four tramcar men captured at Tividale Depot in 1920. Author's Collection.


South Staffordshire Tramways tram inspector 1920
A blow-up of the above photo showing one of the inspectors.