Blackburn Corporation Tramways
Blackburn Corporation became a steam tram operator in August 1898, having taken over operation of the services it previously leased to the erstwhile Blackburn Corporation Tramways Company Limited. Steam services continued for almost three years before full electrification was achieved. In common with the vast majority of British steam tramways, engine drivers wore railway footplate-like attire comprising cotton jackets and trousers, along with a soft-topped or greasetop cap; no insignia was worn on either jacket or cap. Conductors however were issued with single-breasted jackets with a row of five buttons, slit-top breast pockets (with button fastening) and upright collars; it is not possible to make out whether the latter bore any badges, though in all likelihood these uniforms were identical to those worn by staff working the electric services, which commenced in March 1899 (see below). Caps were in the kepi-style and almost certainly bore a nickel script-lettering cap badge - 'Conductor' - above which was worn an employee number. A municipal licence was also worn.
Staff working the electric services were issued with single-breasted jackets with five buttons, presumably nickel (see link), two slit-top breast pockets (with button closures) and upright collars; the latter carried 'B C T' initials on the 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 the kepi style and carried a nickel script-lettering cap badge - either 'Driver' or 'Conductor' - above which was worn an employee number, 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 overcoats with two rows of five buttons and high fold-over collars; the latter did not any insignia.
Sometime after the Edwardian era, but prior to the Great War, the uniform jacket was changed to a much 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 fastenings and piping), epaulettes (with button fastenings) and upright collars. Both 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, caps were changed to an upright military style, 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 chevrons on their jacket sleeves; these were definitely blue in the 1940s, and therefore probably beforehand as well, and though the meaning of them is unclear; they may have simply been embellishment, though equally, they could have 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 feastenings) and epaulettes (see below for photos).
Blackburn also made use of Parcels Boys. These young men 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 wore identical uniforms to tramcar staff, 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 embroidered on each side with the grade 'Inspector'. In later years, inspectors wore double-breasted jackets with two rows of three buttons, and lapels with embrodiered designations (it is unclear what these were as they look to short to be 'Inspector'). Caps were also switched to the upright military type and the large oval badge was dispensed in favour of a script-lettering 'Inspector' badge, though whether this was embroidered or metal is currently unclear.
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 odd photo shows ladies 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 also wore long skirts, but with double-breasted jackets with two rows of four buttons and lapels, each carrying a script lettering ‘Inspector’ badge (probably embroidered) and epaulettes (with button fastening). 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 Great War era; 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.
For a detailed history of Blackburn Corporation Tramways, visit Duncan Holden's site: 'Olive, Green and Ivory'.
Steam tram drivers and conductors
Conductor, inspector (probably) and 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 1900/01. Both conductor and inspector are wearing single-breasted tunics with upright collars, along with kepi-style caps. Photo courtesy of Jim Halsall.
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.
Another shot of the same loco at the same location. The conductor is wearing a kepi style cap with script-lettering cap badge (almost certainly 'Conductor'), with an employee number above (probably). He is also wearing a licence. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.
Motormen and conductors
Driver, inspector (probably) and conductor pose with Tramcar No 58 at Brownhill sometime in 1901/2. Neither conductor nor motorman (called 'drivers' in Blackburn) is wearing a licence. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.
Blackburn Corporation Tramways script-lettering cap badges - nickel.
Two conductors and a driver, all in their heavy-duty overcoats - photo undated, but either 1901/2 in view of the early lifeguard (thanks to Phil Calvey for this information). Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.
Driver and motorman pose with what is probably a brand-new No 88 at Intack depot - photo undated, but probably taken in 1908. Note that 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).
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 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. The chevron on the sleeve usually denoted good conduct or long service, though in this case it may simply have been embellishment. Author's collection.
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the uniform. The municipal licence states: ‘CONDUCTOR 205 BLACKBURN’.
Blackburn Corporation Tramways conductor's licence No 73. Author's collection.
Conductor and 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.
War service button hole badge - most probably issued for off duty use during the Great War. Author's collection.
Motorman and conductor pose with Tramcar No 77 in 1921. With thanks to Duncan Holden.
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.
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.
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.
Conductor Theo Moran (left), now aged 50, poses with local children and 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 - nickel. Note that there is no evidence that this badge was ever worn by tramway staff.
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' script-lettering cap badge - nickel.
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.
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 letttering - almost certainly 'Inspector') rather than the upright collars seen in the previous photo and the steam-era photo 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 inspector's badge. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.
Inspector standing in front of Tramcar No 62 near Redcap around 1906. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.
Motorman, conductress and inspector at Wilpshire - photograph undated, but certainly taken during the Great War. Photo courtesy of Duncan Holden.
Tramways Inspector Leeming - 18th April 1949. With thanks to Duncan Holden.
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.
Conductress, lnspectress and motorman pose at Wilpshire - photo undated, but probably taken during or just after the Great War. Note that 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.
Another Great War shot taken at Wilpshire, this time of Tramcar No 71, with conductress (left) and motorwoman (right, with controller handle), who 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.
Motorwoman (with non-standard jacket) and conductress pose in front of Tramcar No 72 at Wilpshire - photo undated, but probably taken during or just after the Great War. Note that 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.
An Inspectress poses in front of Tramcar No 55 - photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War. Note the ‘Inspector’ script-lettering cap badge on the bonnet, which can be clearly made out. Photo: J Halsall Collection. With thanks to Duncan Holden.
Blackburn Corporation Tramways 'Inspector' script-lettering cap badge, as worn by inspectresses during the Great War - nickel.
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.
Conductresses Costumes...............................52s. 6d.
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.