Blackburn Corporation Tramways

History
Although Blackburn Corporation became a tramway owner in the late 1880s, it did not actually work the services itself, instead leasing them to the Blackburn Corporation Tramways Company Ltd, which despite the title, was a completely separate entity.

The BCTCoLtd was first and foremost a steam tram operator, with the first services commencing on the 28th May 1887. The steam services were however supplemented by horse traction — from 25th August 1888 onwards — at the insistence of the corporation, who did not want steam traction used on certain lines. By the end of the following decade, and after a good deal of acrimony between the corporation and the steam tramway companies operating within the town (the BCTCoLtd and the Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways Company), the corporation acquired both concerns, the BTCoLtd on the 24th August 1898, and the B&ODTCo on the 1st January 1899. The B&ODTCo was purchased by Blackburn and Darwen Corporations based on the proportion of track in each of the municipalities, but with Blackburn agreeing to continue running the services in Darwen under a lease agreement.

The acquisition of the two steam tramways was a necessary step in establishing Blackburn's vision of a municipally owned electric tramway system, something that would take it the best part of three years to achieve. Its desire to fulfill this vision undoubtedly led to it paying a premium for the two steam tramways, as the BCTCo (in particular) still had ten years left on its lease. Nevertheless, the deals were concluded and conversion started, the first electric service commencing on the Billinge End line on 20th March 1899. The last horse service ran in the summer of the same year (the precise date has not been recorded), and the last steam service on the 8th July 1901 (probably).

At its maximum, Blackburn Corporation operated 14.73 miles of tramway, comprising lines: northwards to Wilpshire; eastwards to Church; southeastwards to Audley End, southwards to Earcroft; westwards to Cherry Tree; and northwestwards to Billinge End. Blackburn Corporation tracks met those of Accrington Corporation (at Church) and those of Darwen Corporation (at Earcroft), with inter-running agreements insitituted for both; as a result, Blackburn tramcars ran through to Accrington and Whitehall, whilst those of Accrington and Darwen Corporations ran through to Blackburn.

Although Blackburn continued to invest in its tramway system in the 1920s, by the 1930s, the tide had turned, with neighbouring Accrington abandoning its system (along with Rawtenstall) in 1932. Blackburn's first closure came on the 13th February 1935 (the Audley End line), but like many systems, full abandonment was delayed by the Second World War. The process restarted in the second half of the 1940s, with the last tram running on the 3rd September 1949.

Uniforms
In common with the vast majority of steam tramways, engine drivers wore railway footplate-like attire comprising cotton jackets and trousers, along with soft-topped or flat caps; no insignia was worn on either the jacket or the caps. In contrast, corporation conductors were issued with single-breasted jackets with a row of five buttons, one slit-top breast pocket (on the bearer's left-hand side), a waist-level pocket (with flap) and upright collars; it is unfortunately not possible to discern whether or not the latter bore any badges. Caps were in a kepi-style and may have borne a cap badge, most likely a script-lettering grade badge, though this is unclear. At some point, the uniforms were changed to the same style as those worn by staff working the electric services (see below); however, in contrast to the latter, they also wore round licences, usually suspended from a pocket button or a cash-bag strap.

Staff working the new electric services were issued with single-breasted jackets with five buttons, almost certainly nickel (see link), two slit-top breast pockets (with button closures) and upright collars; the latter carried 'B C T' initials on the bearer's left-hand side in individual nickel letters, and an employee number on the right-hand side, in individual nickel numerals. Some photos show staff wearing these badges on the opposite collars. Caps were in a kepi style and carried a nickel script-lettering cap badge — either Driver or Conductor — above which an employee number was worn, again in individual nickel numerals. Photos suggest that licences were not worn during the Edwardian era, but were re-introduced around 1910.

Perhaps unsurprisingly given the Lancashire weather, tramcar staff were also issued with long, heavy-duty, double-breasted greatcoats with two rows of five buttons and high fold-over collars; the latter did not bear any insignia.

Sometime after the Edwardian era, but prior to the Great War, the uniform jacket was changed to a noticeably smarter design (the Tramways Committee clearly took civic pride very seriously), which although still single-breasted, now had flaps on the breast pockets (with button closures and piping), epaulettes (with button fastenings) and upright collars. Both the epaulettes and collars were finished in a material of a different colour to the rest of the uniform, which was possibly leather (see below); the collars continued to carry the same insignia. Around the same time, the caps were changed to a military style with a tensioned crown (top), though they continued to carry the same badges as previously. It appears to have been departmental policy for all tramcar crews to wear rain covers on these caps, black from the first Sunday in October to the first Sunday in May, white thereafter. Licences also appear to have been reintroduced as photos taken from 1910 onwards always show staff wearing them — conductors' licences were blue enamel and bore, in white lettering, 'CONDUCTOR' (at the top) and 'BLACKBURN' (at the bottom), with the licence number in between.

Several photos show staff with a chevron(s) on their jacket sleeves; these were definitely blue in the 1940s, and possibly beforehand as well, and though the meaning of them is not known for certain; they almost certainly denoted good conduct or long service.

Later on in the system’s life — possibly in the mid 1930s or 1940s — tunics were changed one final time to a more modern single-breasted design with lapels, two breast pockets (with button closures) and epaulettes (see below for photos).

Blackburn also made use of parcels boys. These young lads wore identical uniforms to tramcar staff, with a script-lettering cap badge — Parcels — but appear not to have been issued with an employee number.

Steam-era photos indicate that inspectors initially wore identical uniforms to steam tram conductors, the sole distinguishing feature being a large oval cap badge, which was probably cloth, and by analogy with other local systems, possibly carried the grade — Inspector — and the system initials, 'B C T' within a wreath, all embroidered. A change was however made relatively quickly, certainly by 1902/3, with inspectors now being issued with single-breasted jackets with three waist pockets (with flaps) and lapels, the latter embroidered on each side with the grade Inspector. A further change was made at some point prior to the Great War, inspectors now being issued with fairly standard tramway 'inspector' uniforms comprising: single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair), with slit breast and waist-level pockets and upright collars; the latter bore lettering, possibly system initials, whilst the pockets and front of the jacket were all edged in a finer material than the main body. Caps remained in a kepi-style, at least initially, but now bore a standard script-lettering grade badge, Inspector. In later years (1930s onwards?), inspectors wore double-breasted jackets with two rows of three buttons, and lapels with embroidered designations (it is unclear what these were as they seem too short to be Inspector). Caps were also switched to a military type and the large oval badge was dispensed in favour of a script-lettering Inspector badge in nickel.

In common with many tramway systems during the Great War, Blackburn employed numerous female staff to cover for the severe shortages caused by military service, eventually employing 36 motorwomen, 70 conductresses and 2 inspectresses. Female staff were issued with long skirts (with piping), long tailored single-breasted jackets with two waist pockets and epaulettes (both with button fastenings), a waist belt (adorned with two buttons) and high fold-over collars; the latter do not appear to have carried any insignia. Several photos do however show a more feminine style of jacket with two pockets, lapels and epaulettes, all piped. Wide-brimmed bonnets were worn along with the standard script-lettering cap badges. Although the occasional photo shows individuals wearing what appear to be the ‘B C T’ collar initials on their bonnets, this was probably a personal touch rather than standard policy.

Inspectresses wore long skirts, along with a double-breasted jacket with two rows of four buttons and lapels, each carrying a script lettering Inspector badge (probably embroidered) and epaulettes (with button fastenings). They also wore the same bonnets as conductresses and motorwomen, but adorned with a nickel Inspector script-lettering cap badge.

Recently, several examples of a ‘war service’ badge have come to light which are almost certainly from the Great War, however, as all the ones I’ve seen are in mint condition (see below), it is unclear whether they were ever issued to staff. If they were, this was probably for off-duty use.

Further reading
For a very brief history of Blackburn's tramways, see: 'The Tramways of Accrington 1886-1932' By R W Rush; Light Railway Transport League (1961).

Images

Steam tram drivers and conductors
Blackburn Corporation Steam Tram and Trailer No 13 24th August 1898
An unidentified and rather care-worn Thomas Green engine (ex-BCTCoLtd) with Milnes Trailer No 13, on what is possibly the first day of municipal operation of the former B&ODT, i.e., the 1st January 1899. The location is believed to be the steam tram depot at Darwen (thanks to Duncan Holden for the identification). Photo courtesy of David Gladwin, with thanks to Trevor Preece.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Steam Tram driver 1898
A blow-up of the above photo showing the driver, who is wearing rather new-looking, light-coloured cotton jacket and trousers, and a soft-topped cap. The whole ensemble is devoid of insignia.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Steam Tram inspector and conducto
Another blow-up of the above photo, this time showing two uniformed individuals, an inspector on the left and a conductor on the right. Both men are wearing single-breasted jackets with a single slit breast pocket, a waist-level pockets (with flaps) and upright collars, along with kepi-style caps. The inspector's clearly bears a large oval cap badge, probably embroidered.


Blackburn Corporation Steam Tram No 21 and crew 1901
A conductor, an inspector and a driver pose for the camera with an ex-North Staffordshire Beyer Peacock 'Wilkinson patent' engine (Blackburn No 21) and ex-Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways Trailer No 18 at the Cemetery terminus in late 1900 or 1901. Both the conductor and inspector are wearing single-breasted tunics with upright collars, but now with button closures on the breast pockets and no waist-level pockets. Photo courtesy of Jim Halsall.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Steam Tram No 18
A Blackburn conductor poses with Steam Tram No 18 (a loco of uncertain origin — it is not in BCT livery) outside the Cemetery terminus — photo undated, but probably taken in 1900 or 1901. Photo: J Halsall Collection.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Steam Tram No 18
Another shot of the same loco at the same location. The conductor is wearing a kepi style cap with script-lettering grade badge (almost certainly Conductor), with an employee number above. He is also wearing a licence. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Motormen and conductors
Blackburn Corporation Tramways No 58 and crew at Brownhill in 1903
A driver, an inspector (probably) and a conductor pose with Tramcar No 58 at Brownhill sometime in 1901/2. Neither the conductor nor the motorman (called drivers in Blackburn) is wearing a licence. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation tramways script-lettering cap badges
Blackburn Corporation Tramways script-lettering cap badges — nickel. Author's Collection.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways crew
Two conductors and a driver, all in their heavy-duty greatcoats — photo undated, but probably taken in either 1901 or 1902 given the early lifeguard (thanks to Phil Calvey for this information). Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways No 88 and crew Intack depot 1908
A driver and a motorman pose with what is probably a brand-new No 88 at Intack depot — photo undated, but probably taken in 1908. Both men are wearing the 'BCT' system initials on their right-hand collars rather than the left-hand side seen in earlier shots. Once again, no licences are in evidence. Photo courtesy of the Blackburn Transport Archive Collection (Duncan Holden Collection).


Blackburn Corporation Tramways No 45 and crew
The crew of Tramcar No 45 pose for the camera at Wilpshire around 1910. Both men are wearing licences. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Tram conductor No 205
Blackburn conductor (Employee No 205) — photo undated, but probably taken shortly before the Great War. The photographer is ‘Burton and Garland Ltd, of Blackburn and Blackpool’. The uniform is a new style, with epaulettes and collars in a different colour than the main body of the uniform. A chevron on the sleeve usually denoted good conduct or long service. Author's Collection.


Blackburn Corporation Tram conductor No 205
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the uniform. The municipal licence states: ‘CONDUCTOR 205 BLACKBURN’.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Conductor licence No 73
Blackburn Corporation Tramways conductor's licence No 73. Author's Collection.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways conductor and motorwoman Tramcar 43
A conductor and a motorwoman pose in front of Tramcar No 43 — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War. The conductor is wearing the newer style of uniform and cap. Photo: J Halsall Collection. With thanks to Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Great War service badge
War service button hole badge — most probably issued for off duty use during the Great War. Author's Collection.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways conductor and motorman Tramcar 77
A motorman and a conductor pose with Tramcar No 77 in 1921. With thanks to Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways crew
Conductor Robert Pixton (right), together with his motorman, in front of Tramcar No 76 at the Queens Park Terminus — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1920s or early 1930s. Photo courtesy of Brenda Mummery (Pixton Family Collection). With thanks to Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways conductor Theo Moran 1929
Conductor Theo Moran in 1929 aged 30 years. It is unclear why he is wearing what appears to be a pre-Great War uniform, as this is the only post-1914 photo that shows this older style of uniform. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways conductor and motorman 1933
Conductor Ted Bury and Motorman Bob Barker with Tramcar No 75 at Intack in 1933. Both men are wearing black rain covers on their caps; these were worn from the first Sunday in October through to the first Sunday in May. Photo and background information courtesy of Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways tra No 48 and crew 1949
Conductor Theo Moran (left), now aged 50, poses with local children and a motorman in front of Tramcar No 48 at Intack on the last day of service, 3rd September 1949. With thanks to Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Transport cap badge
Blackburn Corporation Transport cap badge — nickel; photo provided for reference. There is no evidence that this badge was ever worn by tramway staff. Author's Collection.


Junior grades
Blackburn Corporation Tramways Parcels Boy Potts
Mr Potts, a BCT parcels boy — photo undated, but probably taken in the first decade of electric operation. Mr Potts eventually went on to become the General Manager in 1938. Photo courtesy of Chris Wilson and the family of Mr Potts. With thanks to Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Parcels Boy cap badge
Blackburn Corporation Tramways Parcels script-lettering cap badge — nickel. Author's Collection.


Senior staff
Blackburn Corporation Tramways No 33 at Billinge
Two staff pose for the cameraman with Tramcar No 33 at Billinge — photo undated, but probably taken in 1899. It is probable that both men are inspectors given that they are wearing large oval cap badges (see below), and all other photos from this era show tramcar crew wearing standard script-lettering badges with employee numbers. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways inspector 1903
A blow-up of the 1903 photograph taken at Brownhill (see above) showing an inspector in front of Tramcar No 58. The jacket has lapels (with embroidered script lettering — almost certainly Inspector) rather than the upright collars seen in the previous photo and the steam-era photos shown above. The large oval cap badge is probably cloth, possibly bearing the grade (Inspector) and system initials ('BCT') within a wreath, given that this was a fairly common pattern of tramway inspector's badge. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways inspector 1907
Inspector standing in front of Tramcar No 62 near Redcap around 1906. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways crew and inspector
Motorman, conductress and inspector at Wilpshire — photograph undated, but certainly taken during the Great War. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Inspector Leeming 1949
Tramways Inspector Leeming — 18th April 1949. With thanks to Duncan Holden.


Female staff
Blackburn Corporation Tramways female great war employees; Sarah Muir, Mary Muir and Annie Muir
A studio portrait of the Muir sisters: Sarah (a conductress), Mary (an inspectress) and Annie (possibly a motorwoman) — photo undated, but certainly taken in the Great War. Photo: J Halsall Collection. With thanks to Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways female staff and male motorman
A conductress, an inspectress and a motorman pose at Wilpshire — photo undated, but probably taken during or just after the Great War. The lady on the left is wearing a municipal licence, whilst the motorman still has the older kepi-style cap. Photo: J Halsall Collection. With thanks to Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Tramcar No 71 with female staff Great War
Another Great War shot taken at Wilpshire, this time of Tramcar No 71, with a conductress (left) and a motorwoman (right, with controller handle); the latter is wearing a markedly different pattern of jacket. Both ladies are wearing similar striped blouses, raising the possibility that these were issued by the corporation. Photo: J Halsall Collection. With thanks to Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Great War tram driver and conductress
A motorwoman (with non-standard jacket) and a conductress pose in front of Tramcar No 72 at Wilpshire — photo undated, but probably taken during or just after the Great War. The lady on the left is wearing the ‘B C T’ collar initials on her bonnet. Photo: J Halsall Collection. With thanks to Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Great War tram driver and conductress
A motorwoman and conductress pose for the camera with Tramcar No 43 at Wilpshire — although the photograph is undated, there is good reason to think that it was taken in Winter 1916/17. The lady in the centre is Edith Knowles, who was born in July 1899, and who applied to join the tramway in September 1916. She would have been 17 years old at the time, so she was probably a little economical with the truth, given that applicants had to be 18 years of age. Edith apparently loathed working in the mills — from whence she came, and where she was destined to return — so tramway conducting would have been an opportunity to escape the drudgery, even if only for a few years. With thanks to Gail Everett, Edith Knowles grand-daughter, for permission to use the photograph, and for the biographical information.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways inspectress Mary Muir Great War
An inspectress poses in front of Tramcar No 55 — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War. The Inspector script-lettering cap badge on the bonnet is easily made out. Photo: J Halsall Collection. With thanks to Duncan Holden.


Blackburn Corporation Tramways Inspector cap badge
Blackburn Corporation Tramways Inspector script-lettering cap badge, as worn by inspectresses during the Great War — nickel. Author's Collection.


Uniform costs

Information has fortunately survived on the cost of Blackburn uniforms, and I am indebted to Duncan Holden for making me aware of the following.

In September 1916, a three-year contract was awarded to Briggs, Jones and Gibson Limited for the supply of uniforms. The first order was for £17. 8s. 6d., followed by further orders in October for £34.19s. 6d., November for £10.16s. 4d., December for £50.19s. 5d., and in January 1917 for £34. 1s.11d. Costs were as follows:

Motormen and conductors Tunics..................27s. 6d.
Trousers........................................................16s. 0d.
Overcoats......................................................32s. 6d.
Caps................................................................3s. 9d.

Conductresses Costumes...............................52s. 6d.
Overcoats......................................................32s. 6d.
Gaiters............................................................3s.11d.
Serge hats.......................................................3s. 9d.

A comparison was subsequently made (in 1918) with the prices that Oldham Corporation had recently paid (in August 1917); this was presumably conducted to demonstrate the savings resulting from the contract.