Belfast City Tramways

History
Belfast Corporation became a tramway owner during 1900, when it opened a number of extensions to the Belfast Street Tramways Company network, which it then leased to the company. The corporation clearly intended to bring the tramways under municipal control and operate them itself, and in 1902, negotiations took place with the company to purchase the undertaking; however, the corporation's valuation fell short of the company's, so no agreement could be reached at that time.

The corporation's attitude to the BSTCo hardened, and in 1904, it successfully sought powers to compulsorily purchase the undertaking. The corporation took control on the 1st January 1905, with the BSTCo receiving compensation following arbitration, which was around 10% less than the corporation had offered three years before. A short spur into the Belfast and County Down Railway's Queen St Station was acquired at the same time, this being owned by the railway company rather than the tramway company.

The corporation set about converting the system to electric traction, including much doubling of single lines, all of which it did 'en masse', rather than on a line-by-line basis, so the disruption was significant. The first electric service commenced on the 30th of November 1905, and the last horse tram ran a mere four days later on the 4th November 1905.

Following a long, drawn-out process, the corporation finally took control of the only remaining Belfast-area tramway in private hands — The Cavehill and Whitewell Company (a subsidiary of the British Electric Traction Co Ltd) — on the 1st June 1911.

A significant expansion took place on the 29th January 1913 with extensions along Donegall Rd, Botanic Avenue, Stranmillis Rd, Ligoniel, Castlereagh Rd and Bloomfield Rd, after which little happened in this regard until the 1920s, when a series of smaller extensions were built (Stormont, Killeen Ave, Dundonal, Chichester St and Ballygomartin).

In the late 1920s, the tramway was subject to intense unregulated bus competition, which had serious financial consequences, exacerbated by a law which effectively prevented the corporation from subsidising loss-making services. Matters were only resolved by new bye laws, which were heavily challenged, and a spirit of compromise which led to all parties reaching agreement on the corporation's area of control. The agreement included the transfer — to the corporation — of buses and bus routes within the municipality, all of which ensured that the trams were shielded from direct bus competition. On the 1st of January 1929, and in order to better reflect its enlarged remit, the name of the department was changed to Belfast Corporation Tramways and Motors Department.

The corporation obtained powers to operate trolleybuses in 1930, though it was not until the 28th March 1938 that the first route was opened. This first route proved such a success, that just over 10 months later (in January 1939), the corporation decided to abandon the tramways. It also changed the concern's name once again — on the 1st January 1938 — this time to Belfast Corporation Transport Department.

The war put paid to the initial 5-year abandonment plan, and it was to be just over 14 years before the last tram ran, on the 28th February 1953. It is sobering to consider that even as late as 1948, and with a much reduced network, the trams were still carrying almost as many passengers as the buses and trolleybuses combined.

At its largest extent, Belfast Corporation's tramway system extended to 51.54 miles, comprising lines to: Belmont and Knock in the East; Cregagh Rd and Ormeau Rd in the South; Malone Rd, Balmoral and Andersons Town in the Southwest; Springfield Rd in the East; Ligoniel and Cliftonville in the Northwest; and Chichester Park and Greencastle in the North.

Uniforms
Belfast Corporation operated horse tram services for approximately 12 months, from its takeover of the Belfast Street Tramways Company on the first day of 1905, to the final run on the 4th December. Existing photographs are difficult to date precisely, but those shown below, strongly suggest that the corporation was content for tramcar crews to continue wearing the uniforms issued by the company. These comprised single-breasted jackets and overcoats, both with lapels, and seemingly devoid of insignia. Caps were in a kepi style, and bore an employee number in individual metal numerals.

Belfast City (Corporation) Tramways electric tramcar crews (motormen and conductors) appear to have worn the same basic style of jacket throughout the system's almost half century of service. Jackets were double-breasted with two rows of five buttons (bearing the BCT monogram — see link), three pockets at hip/waist level (with flap closures), and lapels; the upper part of the latter (the collars) bore system initials — 'B.C.T.' — in block letters on both sides, with the top set of buttons sitting between the lapel and the collar. Whilst the jackets always carried two rows of five buttons, with the top set buttoned between lapel and collar, in later years the bottom four sets of buttons became much more closely spaced, conferring a decidedly naval appearance on the jackets. Caps were military in style with a tensioned crown (top) and bore standard, 'off-the-shelf', script-lettering grade badges — either Motorman or Conductor — above which an employee number was worn (in individual numerals). The badges were almost certainly brass to match the buttons.

In the late 1930s or 1940s, a switch was almost certainly made to chrome insignia, a change which probably coincided with the introduction of underlined grade badges — Motorman and Conductor, and later on Driver — a pattern which was rarely used by UK tramway operators. Towards the very end of the system's life, photos show that some staff dispensed with the grade badge, wearing a one-piece, chrome, 'BCT' block initials badge in their place.

Motormen and conductors were also issued with double-breasted greatcoats with high, fold-over collars; the latter carried embroidered system initials on each side.

Unfortunately, photographs of Belfast City Tramways inspectors have proven very elusive, so it is currently impossible to state what uniforms they wore; however, an oval cloth cap badge has survived — embroidered with bullion block letters, 'INSPECTOR' and 'BCT' — which is almost certain an issue of Belfast Corporation Tramways.

Whilst the vast majority of UK tramway systems employed conductresses and occasionally motorwomen during the Great War, to replace male staff lost to the armed services, there is no evidence that Belfast ever did, nor in the Second World War either.

Further reading
For a history of the system, see 'Belfast Corporation Tramways, 1905-1954' by J M Maybin; Light Rail Transit Association.

Images

Horse tram drivers and conductors
Belfast City Tramways horse tram No 23 1905
An excellent study of Belfast City Tramways Horsecar No 23 taken in 1905, so after the corporation take-over. The car is still in the livery of the erstwhile Belfast Street Tramways Company. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.


Belfast City Tramways horse tram conductor 1905
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor. The uniforms appear to be those issued by the company (see link), with the greatcoats unmarked, and the kepi-style cap bearing a metal employee number.


Belfast City Tramways horse tram driver 1905
Another blow-up of the above photo, this time showing the driver, once again in smart overcoat and with kepi-style cap.


Belfast Street Tramways horse tram number 73
The crew of Horsecar No 73 pose for the cameraman at Fortwilliam Park on the Antrim Rd route on the last day of service, 4th December 1905. Both men are wearing smart overcoats and kepi-style caps. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Belfast Street Tramways horse tram number 140
A rather battered Horsecar No 140 standing in Yorkvale Road station goods yard after horse services had ceased, and possibly awaiting shipment to Cork. The uniformed men on the platform are therefore almost certainly railway employees. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Motormen and conductors
Belfast Corporation Tramways Tram No 110 5th December 1905
The crew of Tramcar No 110 pictured at the Greencastle terminus on the first day of services on this route, 5th December 1905. Both men are wearing military-style caps with script-lettering grade badges, though the specifics cannot be made out on this particular photograph. Photo courtesy of Jim Kilroy, tram archivist at the National Transport Museum (see link).


Belfast City Tramways Tram No 138 and crew
The crew of what would appear to be a nearly new Tramcar, No 138, pose for the cameraman — photo undated, but probably taken in 1906. Source unknown.


Belfast City Tramways conductor 1905
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor. The collars of his jacket bear embroidered system initials, whilst his cap carries an 'off-the-shelf', script-lettering grade badge — Conductor — and an employee number, '158'.


Belfast City Tramways driver 1905
Another blow-up of the above photo, this time of the motorman, who is wearing a greatcoat with high, fold-over collars, clearly embroidered with system initials; his grade badge is Motorman.


Belfast Corporation Tramways cap badges
Standard ‘off the shelf’, script-lettering cap badges of the type used by Belfast Corporation Tramways — brass. Author's Collection.


Belfast Corporation Trawmays Tram No 152 c1910
A conductor and motorman with Tramcar No 152 on a Knock service — photo undated, but probably late Edwardian. The conductor would appear to be wearing a hat band, something not seen in other photos. Source unknown.


Belfast Corporation Tramways Tram No 89
The crew of Tramcar No 89 pose for the camera in 1923. The style of jacket appears unchanged from that introduced at the inauguration of electric services in 1904. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.


Belfast City Tramways Tram No 158 at the docks
A rather evocative scene outside one of Belfast's shipyards at the end of a shift — photo undated, but probably taken shortly before the Great War. The motorman is wearing a double-breasted greatcoat. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Belfast Corporation Tramways motorman
A fine studio portrait of a Belfast Corporation Tramways motorman — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1940s or 1950s. His cap carries an employee number (805), along with a script-lettering grade badge; the latter is underlined, which probably reflects the late date, as the vast majority of UK tramway operators used badges without underlining. The buttons are the 'BCT' monogram type (see link). Stephen Howarth Collection.


Belfast Corporation Tramways Tram No 249 and crew
A rather battered-looking Tramcar No 249 outside what is probably the shed fan in Gaffikin St — photo undated, but possibly taken in 1953 by M J O'Connor. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.


Belfast Corporation Tramways driver in 1953
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman. He appears to be wearing a standard script-lettering Driver cap badge (possibly underlined), above which is what would seem to be an employee number in particularly large numerals — possibly 369.


Belfast Corporation Tramways cap badges 1940s and 1950s
Script-lettering Driver and Conductor cap badges, of the type used in later years by the BCT — chrome.


Belfast Corporation Tramways tram crew at Mount Pottinger depot
A nice crew shot taken by M J O'Connor alongside Tramcar No 340 at Mount Pottinger depot on 6th June 1953. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.


Belfast Corporation Trmaways motorman
A blow-up of the above photo which clearly shows that the motorman (on the left) is wearing a 'BCT' block initials cap badge.


Belfast Corporation Tramways cap badge chrome
BCT system initials cap badge — chrome. These were appear to have been used a cap badges in later years. Stephen Howarth Collection.


Belfast Corporation Transport Trainee armband
Belfast Corporation Transport 'Trainee' armband — red on white enamel. Probably worn from 1938 onwards. Author's Collection



Enamel armband pass. Author's Collection.


Senior staff
Belfast Corporation Tramways inspector's cap badge
Probable Belfast Corporation Tramways inspector's cap badge — cloth and gold bullion wire. Author's Collection.


Non-staff badges

Pin-back, school pupil’s brass travel badge — red and white enamel. Author's Collection.



Pin-back, school pupil’s brass travel badge — blue and white enamel. Author's Collection.