Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation Tramways

History
The first operational tramway in Ashton was a standard-gauge horse line to Stalybridge, which was built and operated by the Manchester Carriage and Tramways Company Limited; services commenced on the 4th of June 1881, and were extended later that year westwards to meet with the MC&TCo's existing Manchester line at Audenshaw.

Twenty years later — on the 12th June 1899 — the first electric trams ran in Ashton, though still not operated by the corporation, but by the Oldham, Ashton-under-Lyne and Hyde Electric Tramways Co Ltd (a subsidiary of the British Electric Traction Company Limited); the line ran from Hathershaw in the north, through Ashton and Denton, to Hyde in the south.

Ashton Corporation was however keen to have an electric tramway system of its own, so powers were acquired — along with neighbouring Hurst Urban District Council — to construct a standard gauge tramway in the two boroughs. The first lines completed included those in Hurst; these were opened on the 16th August 1902 and were operated by Ashton under a lease agreement. The corporation was naturally keen to electrify the main east-west route through the town, so on the 31st March 1903, it duly exercised its right to purchase the MC&TCo's lines within the borough. It had meanwhile agreed with Manchester Corporation for the latter to reconstruct the horse tramway lines within the borough and operate a temporary horse tram service from the boundary at Audenshaw through to Ashton. This however would have left no tram service out eastwards from Ashton and across the municipal boundary into Stalybridge, until that is, the tramway was fully reconstructed; agreement was however soon reached (between the three corporations, Ashton, Stalybridge and Manchester) for the latter to reintroduce a horse service to Stalybridge, which it did on the 23rd April 1903. The last horse tram service in Ashton ran on the 14th October 1903, electric services commencing the next day.

The new electric services to Stalybridge involved yet another tramway concern — the Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Tramways and Electricity Board — which was jointly owned by the councils in its title. The councils had tried to interest Ashton Corporation in joining the SHMD Joint Board venture, but Ashton refused, a decision which would inevitably necessitate an inter-running agreement for services between Stalybridge and Ashton. This was in fact far from the only joint service agreement that Ashton would strike, as the ACT eventually sat in the middle of three tramways, the MCT to the west (at Audenshaw), the SHMD Joint Board to the east (at Stamford Park) and south (at Dukinfield), and the OA&HET running through the borough from north to south. As a result, the tramcars of all three concerns could be seen in Ashton, whilst Ashton's tramcars eventually ventured out as far afield as Mossley and Mottram in the east, Manchester Piccadilly in the west, and Hyde in the south. Being at the centre of this nexus, with complex but beneficial agreements with all its neighbours (though not always cordial), the ACT was to prove highly profitable.

As the Great War neared its end, Ashton Corporation, along with other local authorities, decided to exercise their right to purchase those portions of the OA&HET within their respective boundaries. Although the formal agreement was finalised on the 24th May 1921, the company continued to operate services until the 1st of July; thereafter, the ACT took over the services within its municipal boundary, as well as those in Waterloo and Limehurst Urban District Councils — effectively the route from Hathershaw to Guide Bridge — the UDC-owned stretches being operated under a lease agreement. The lines of the former OA&HET were finally connected up to those of Oldham Corporation Tramways at Hathershaw, with a joint service commencing between Ashton and Oldham on the 2nd July 1921.

The corporation system was now at its maximum extent, which including the lines in Hurst, Waterloo and Limehouse UDCs, totalled just over 10 miles. In the 1920s, the system was extremely profitable, carrying the most passengers per car mile of any tramway in the country.

Experiments with bus services began in the summer of 1923, and on the 26th August 1925, the first trolleybus service was introduced on the ex-OA&HET route from Ashton to Hathershaw, initially running through to Oldham — operated as a joint but short-lived service between the ACT and the OCT — the life-expired tramway infrastructure having been deemed too costly to renew. The name of the undertaking was also changed the same year — to Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation Tramways and Motors — no doubt to reflect the expansion into new modes of transport.

On the 1st April 1926, the Borough of Ashton was expanded to include Hurst UDC, the tramways of the latter thus becoming a formal part of the Ashton concern. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, new bus services were introduced, as well as ones directly replacing tram services, particularly those worked jointly with the SHMD Joint Board. The writing was clearly on the wall for the trams, and in 1932, the corporation formally decided on a policy of abandonment. In April of that year, the name of the undertaking was changed once again, this time to Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation Passenger Transport Department.

The last ACT tram service was withdrawn on the 1st March 1937, though the last tram of all to operate in the town (on the same day) was an MCT vehicle, perhaps fittingly given Ashton's long history of joint running with other operators.

Uniforms
Good quality photographs of ACT staff are unfortunately scarce, but those that have survived indicate that the uniform jackets were single-breasted with a row of five buttons (see link). Although the precise form of the collars is currently unknown, given that the greatcoats most definitely carried individual metal ‘ACT’ letters on the collars, it seems highly probable that jackets were likewise adorned.

Caps were in a military style with a glossy peak and tensioned crown (top), and carried script-lettering badges, either Motorman or Conductor, almost certainly in nickel to match the buttons. By the time of the Great War, and very probably from the commencement of operations, a small municipal cap badge was worn above the grade badge; although the precise form of this badge cannot be made out on surviving photographs, it was very probably the standard 'coat of arms' badge depicted below.

Photographs taken after the Great War indicate that the grade badges were gradually dispensed with, so that caps eventually bore just the small municipal cap badge. At some point in the 1920s or 1930s, a switch was made to a more modern cut of jacket, double breasted with lapels, possibly coinciding with the renaming of the department. The new jackets would therefore almost certainly have borne 'Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation Transport buttons.

Photographs of inspectors are scarce, but those that have survived indicate that single breasted jackets were worn; these had hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair) and upright collars, which probably bore the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering. Caps also bore the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering.

In common with the vast majority of UK tramway operators, Ashton employed women during the Great War to replace men lost to the armed services. Photographs of female employees are frustratingly indistinct, so all that can be said about them, is that the topcoats appear to have closely resembled those issued by neighbouring Manchester, as did the headgear, which took the form of a bonnet, not dissimilar to a modern 'beanie'.

Further reading
For a more information on the corporation system, see: 'A History of Public Transport in Ashton-under-Lyne' by W G S Hyde; The Manchester Transport Museum Society (1980).

Images

Motormen and conductors
Ashton under Lyne Corporation Tramways Tram No 15 and crew
A motorman and conductor with Tramcar No 15 in Kings Street, Higher Hurst — photo undated, but probably taken around the time of the Great War. Author's Collection.


Ashton under Lyne Corporation Tramways Tram No 15 and crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman and conductor. Both men are wearing standard, 'off the shelf', script-lettering grade badges, Motorman and Conductor; the former also appears to be wearing a small badge above his script-lettering grade badge, almost certainly the municipal arms cap badge depicted below.


Ashton under Lyne Corporation Tramways cap badges
Standard 'off-the-shelf' script-lettering cap badges of the type worn by Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation Tramways staff — nickel. Author's Collection.


Ashton under Lyne Corporation Tramways cap badge
Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation Tramways municipal cap badge — nickel. Author's Collection.


AShton under Lyne Corporation Tramways cap badge
Cap/lapel badge — brass/gilt. Author's Collection.


Ashton Corporation Tramways Tram No 35  and crew
The crew of Tramcar No 35 at Manchester Piccadilly with Service No 28 for Ashton — photo undated, but probably taken in the mid 1930s. Photo by W A Camwell, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Ashton Corporation Tramways Tram No 35  and crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor and motorman. The small Ashton municipal cap badge can just be seen under the top of the cap.


Ashton Corporation Tramways Tram No 34  and crew
The crew of Tramcar No 34 pose for the camera of W A Camwell in Audenshaw — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1930s on the same day as the preceding photo. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Ashton Corporation Tramways conductor 1930s
A blow up of the above photograph showing the conductor in double-breasted jacket. His cap carries only the municipal 'coat of arms' badge.