Bolton Corporation Tramways

History
Although Bolton Corporation's tramway ownership extended as far back as 1880, this was not as an independent concern, but instead as a member of a partnership involving Astley Bridge, Farnworth and Kearsley Local Boards (later Urban District Councils); this enterprise — Bolton and Suburban Tramways — opened the first line of what became an extensive standard-gauge horse tramway system on the 1st September 1880, operation of which was leased to a local undertaking, Edmund Holden and Company (see link).

In 1898, the track in Astley Bridge passed into the ownership of Bolton Corporation following the latter's absorption of the former, and in June of the following year, Bolton Corporation — as a prelude to electrification — purchased the assets (and remaining leases) of Edmund Holden and Company; the tracks in Farnworth and Kearsley however, remained in the ownership of the respective UDCs.

Bolton Corporation's first electric service ran on the 9th December 1899, and the last horse tram (worked under contract by Edmund Holden and Company) ran on the 1st January 1900.

The corporation took over operation of Farnworth UDC's newly electrified Moses Gate to Black Horse line on the 13th April 1900, working it for two years before Farnworth eventually took over (on the 2nd June 1902). Farnworth subsequently abandoned running the system itself, instead leasing its lines to the South Lancashire Tramways Company (SLTCo), though they were eventually to return to Bolton Corporation some 30 years later on the 16th December 1933 — along with Kearsley UDC's lines and a section owned by the SLTCo — following the SLTCo's withdrawal from tramway operation.

At its height, the Bolton Corporation system totalled 32.36 miles, comprising lines: northwards to Dunscar and Tonge Moor; eastwards to Breightmet; southeastwards to Darcy Lever and Moses Gate; southwards to Great Lever and Swan Lane; southwestwards to Four Lane Ends and Westhoughton; westwards to Horwich; northwestwards to Montserrat, Church Rd (Doffcocker) and Halliwell. The corporation's tracks met those of Bury to the east of Breightmet, Farnworth at Moses Gate (subsequently leased to the SLTCo) and the SLTCo at Four Lane Ends. At various times, through-running agreements were struck, such that Bolton tramcars could be seen in Bury, Farnworth, Clifton and Walkden, whilst cars of the SLTCo and Bury Corporation Tramways could be seen in Bolton.

The system was extremely well run and profitable, though this wasn't allowed to stand in the way of abandoning loss-making lines, the earliest — a loop line between the Crown Hotel in Horwich back onto Chorley New Rd, via Church St and Victoria Rd — going on the last day of 1907. It was however to be a further 20 years before the next closures, the first of these being the Darcy Lever route in 1928 (replaced by buses).

By the early 1930s, there was a widespread feeling in the country — encouraged by road interests and a Royal Commission report — that tramways were old fashioned, and without any sense of irony, a major cause of road congestion. Bolton had dabbled unsuccessfully with bus operation in the Edwardian era, but by the mid-1920s, it had become clear that an integrated transport system would involve both trams and buses. Significant numbers of buses were purchased in the 1920s, many of which ran on routes which already had tramways, so were to some extent siphoning off traffic rather than acting as feeders. This probably betrayed the corporation's thinking, so it was perhaps no surprise that as various tramway routes came up for track renewal, and the significant investment which that would entail, they were replaced by buses (and in one case trolleybuses). It was however not until 1938 that the council formally accepted the recommendation of the Transport Committee to completely abandon the tramways.

Although the Second World War brought a reprieve, due in large part to restrictions on oil-based fuels and bus manufacture, tramway abandonment began again in earnest in 1944. The last tram of all ran on the Tonge Moor route on the 29th March 1947.

The name of the undertaking was only changed to Bolton Corporation Transport in June 1949, fully two years after the demise of the trams.

Uniforms
Early photos suggest that crewmen were initially issued with long, calf-length, single-breasted jackets with five buttons and upright collars; the latter probably bore an employee number on each side, though this is far from certain. These tunics seem somewhat old-fashioned for the period, and were fairly quickly superseded by double-breasted 'lancer-style' tunics with two rows of five buttons (narrowing from top to bottom, and presumably nickel — see link), epaulettes (with button fastening) and upright collars; the latter bore employee numbers on each side, as well as a small municipal shield badge. Although occasional photos show motormen wearing double-breasted jackets with two parallel rows of very closely spaced buttons, these were probably only worn for a very short period, before giving way to the standard double-breasted 'lancer-style' tunics.

Caps were initially in a kepi-style with a stiff glossy peak and a large cap badge (of unknown pattern); these were relatively quickly displaced by flatter, military-style caps with tensioned crowns (tops) and a new style of cap badge comprising the municipal shield and elephant surrounded by a wreath, all above a ribbon carrying the full system title, 'Bolton Corporation Tramways' (see below). This cap badge was substantially smaller than the badges worn on the earlier kepi-style caps. It is unclear whether tramways staff were ever issued with 'Bolton Corporation Transport' cap badges, which were identical in form to the 'tramways' badge, bar the name, as they may have been reserved for bus and trolleybus staff.

The majority of photos indicate that tramcar staff usually wore long double-breasted greatcoats, presumably as a first-line of defence against the Bolton climate. These had two rows of five buttons, and initially, upright collars with an employee number in individual numerals (very probably nickel) on both sides, as well as a small shield badge (the municipal arms). Later however, the style appears to have been altered slightly to one with high, fold-over collars and epaulettes; the employee numbers (and possibly the shields) were no longer applied to the collars, but instead to epaulettes.

Early photos also reveal that motormen wore a large shield-shaped licence on their left breast, with conductors carrying a round licence; however, later photographs clearly show conductors with shield-shaped licences and motormen with round licences. The licences carried a number (different from the employee number), above which was the issuing authority ('BOLTON'), and below which, the bearer's grade ('DRIVER or 'CONDUCTOR'). The licences were however dispensed with around the end of the Great War, as they are absent from all photos taken thereafter.

During the Second World War, Bolton, like several other tramway and transport operators, used the services of auxiliary conductors. These individuals were members of the travelling public, who helped the conductor load and unload cars and ring signals in exchange for free travel; they wore their own clothing, and were probably issued with armbands, which presumably conferred a degree of authority.

In the last years of operation, a switch was made to a more modern double-breasted style of jacket (almost naval in appearance) with two rows of three buttons, lapels and epaulettes; these appear to have been predominantly worn by conductors, whilst motormen tended to stick with the older, doubtless warmer, 'lancer-style' tunics. The epaulettes carried employee numbers, along with the small municipal 'coat of arms' badge, which by this time served as a cap badge for bus crews (see below), and eventually tramcar crews too.

Inspectors wore single-breasted jackets, possibly with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair), edged in a finer material than the main body, and with upright collars; the latter likely carried the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering. Although the jackets doubtless changed in style over the years, photographic evidence is only really available for the last few years; by this time, inspectors were wearing double-breasted jackets with lapels, effectively identical to those worn by conductors. In the early years, inspectors wore the same elaborate municipal cap badges and kepi-style caps as tramcar staff, and presumably moved to military-style caps and smaller badges at the same time as the tramcar staff. In later years, a much smaller badge was worn, possibly the Transport Department municipal arms badge.

Women were employed as conductresses during the Great War (from the 17th January 1916) and the Second World War (from the 4th March 1940), to replace men lost to the armed services; they continued to be employed through to the demise of the trams.

In the Great War, these ladies were issued with single-breasted jackets with five buttons, epaulettes and high folder-over collars, along with a matching skirt and gaiters; the epaulettes carried an employee number in nickel numerals, whilst the collars were unadorned. The jackets and skirts were of dark blue serge, and were supplemented by a winter overcoat. Hats took the form of felt bonnets, which some ladies wore turned up at one side, Australian bush-hat style; it is unclear if a cap badge was worn.

During the Second World War, the corporation employed a staggering 650 women, the maximum at any one time being 267. Few photographs have survived, so all that can be stated with certainty is that they were issued with tailored, single-breasted jackets with lapels and epaulettes (all piped). The latter were fastened at the next end with a button, and bore a small, municipal arms badge. Headwear took the form of a peaked cap reminiscent of a military forage cap; it is unclear whether this bore a badge or not.

Further reading
For a history of Bolton's tramway system, see: 'Tramways in Bolton' by Tony Young and Derek Shepherd; Light Rail Transit Association (2019).

Images

Motormen and conductors
Bolton Corporation Tramways Tram No 42 1900
A very early photo (1900) of Tramcar No 42, built for — and later delivered to — Stockport Corporation Tramways, but on loan to Bolton. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice


Bolton Corporation Tramways Tram No 42 1900
A blow-up of the above photo showing a conductor, inspector and motorman, all wearing single-breasted tunics (seemingly without insignia) and kepi-style caps.


Bolton Corporation Tramways Tram No 46 in 1900
A conductor, motorman and inspector with Tramcar No 46 — photo undated, but probably taken in 1900 or shortly thereafter, as the tram is in open-topped condition. With thanks to Stephen Howarth


Bolton Corporation Tramways No 46 and crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor, motorman and inspector, all wearing double-breasted greatcoats and kepi-style caps bearing a large, elaborate cap badge. Whilst the conductor is wearing a round licence, his motorman's is shield-shaped. With thanks to Stephen Howarth.


Bolton Corporation Tramways crew 1901 or 1902
A conductor (in long, calf-length jacket) and motorman, pose with an almost new tramcar of the 50-59 series, somewhere on the Bolton Rd to Manchester Rd section of the route to Farnworth — photo undated, but probably taken in 1901 or 1902. Photo courtesy of Ted Gray.


Bolton Corporation Tramways crew 1901 or 1902
A blow-up of the above photo showing the crewmen. The motorman is wearing a distinctive double-breasted jacket with very closely spaced buttons. The conductor's and motorman's licences are clearly different shapes. Photo courtesy of Ted Gray.


Bolton Corporation Tramways motorman Tram 46
A rather poor quality but early photograph of a Bolton motorman at the controls of Tramcar No 46 — photo undated, though from the pristine condition of the tram (with top cover), probably taken in 1903 when No 46 was so fitted. The motorman is wearing a kepi-style cap with a large cap badge, as well as a shield-shaped licence on his breast. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Bolton Corporation Tramways Tram No 1 motorman and conductor
A conductor and motorman pose with Tramcar No 1 on a service for Tonge Moor — photo undated, but probably early Edwardian. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.


Bolton Corporation Tramways Tram No 1 motorman and conductor
A blow-up of the above photo showing the crew, both of whom are wearing military-style caps with a new pattern of cap badge (shown below). The employee numbers, worn on both left and right collars are easily discerned.


Bolton Corporation Tramways tram conductor Edwardian
Studio portrait of a Bolton Corporation Tramways conductor (Employee No 262) — photo undated, but probably mid-to-late Edwardian. Author's Collection.


Bolton Corporation Tramways tram conductor No 262
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the cap badge, collar insignia and municipal licence (Conductor 111). The employee and licence numbering system would appear to be unconnected.


Bolton Corporation Tramways cap badge nickel
Bolton Corporation Tramways cap badge, reputedly owned by George Jackson — nickel. This pattern of cap badge was probably introduced around 1903, and was eventually superseded by chrome, probably in the 1930s or 1940s. Author's Collection.


Bolton Corporation Tramways cap badge
Bolton Corporation Tramways collar and epaulette badge — nickel. Towards the end of tramway operations, these badges were frequently used in place of the larger cap badges. Author's Collection.


Bolton Corporation Tramwas 25th Jan 1907
A wonderful photograph of an unidentified BCT tram (in the No 1-48 series) and its conductor on Chorley Old Rd — photo undated, but believed to have been taken on the 25th January 1907. Source unknown.


Bolton Corporation Tramways Tram No 12 Tonge Moor
A motorman and conductor pose aboard Tramcar No 12 at the Tonge Moor terminus (outside the Royal Oak) — photo undated, but believed to have been taken circa 1908. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Bolton Corporation Tramways Tram No 12 Tonge Moor
A blow-up of the above photo showing the crew. Once again, the motorman is clearly wearing a shield-shaped licence, whilst his conductor has a round one.


Bolton Corporation Tramways motorman
Bolton Corporation Tramways motorman — photo undated, but probably taken before the Great War. The licence is round rather than shield-shaped, with 'BOLTON DRIVER 94'; his employee number is 103. Author's Collection.


Bolton Corporation Tramways motorman and Cameron Highlanders machine gunner Great War
Bolton Corporation Tramways Employee No 128, along with his brother, who is wearing a Cameron Highlanders beret with a Machine Gun Corps cap badge — photo undated, but certainly taken during the Great War. The rear of the postcard says: "With best love & wishes from your affectionate brothers, H & P". Author's Collection.


Bolton Corporation Tramwayman 128
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the collar insignia and the cap badge. The licence is difficult to make out, but the length of the wording is consistent with him being a motorman.


Bolton Corporation Tramways Tram No 97 and driver
A motorman at the controls of Tramcar No 97 on a service to Deane — photo undated, but probably taken in the late 1930s. The badge on the epaulettes is the small, municipal shield badge depicted above (in nickel) and below (in chrome). Photographer, H B Priestley. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.


Bolton Corporation Tramways conductorBolton Corporation Tramways conductor
Two photos of conductors taken in the last years of operation, showing the change to double-breasted jackets with lapels and epaulettes. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Bolton Corporation Tramways cap badge chrome
Bolton Corporation Tramways cap badge — chrome. This material was probably used from the late 1930s or 1940s onwards. Author's Collection.


Bolton Corporation Tramways conductors
A group of bus and tram conductors listen attentively to a group of inspectors (see photo below) on the 12th August 1938. The bus conductors are wearing simple municipal 'coat of arms' cap badges, whereas the tramcar conductors still have the larger 'Tramways' cap badge. Both bus and tram conductors are wearing the simple shield badge on their epaulettes, along with their respective employee numbers. With thanks to Stephen Howarth.


Bolton Corporation Tramways conductor 1938
Another blow-up from the same photo as the previous image, showing a 'tramways' conductor — his PSV badge is 'CC 1906'. With thanks to Stephen Howarth.


North Western Traffic Area PSV badge CC 70699
North Western Traffic Area PSV badge No 70699. Author's Collection.


Bolton Corporation Tramways
A member of the depot staff (dressed in an old 'lancer-style' tunic) and conductor or motorman pose at the depot with Tramcar No 404 — photo undated, but almost certainly taken shortly before closure. Photographer W G Thomas. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.


Bolton Corporation Tramways motorman
A Bolton motorman at the controls of an unidentified tramcar — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1940s. Author's Collection.


Bolton Corporation Trmaways motorman
A blow-up of the above photo, which clearly shows that the cap badge is the same small municipal shield badge that was usually worn on the collars and epaulettes.


Bolton Corporation Tramways cap badge
Bolton Corporation Tramways epaulette badge — chrome. Chrome was probably introduced in the late 1930s or 1940s, when its use became much more widespread. Author's Collection.


Senior staff
Bolton Corporation Tramways inspector
A blow-up of the shot of Tramcar No 46 above showing the inspector — probably dating to 1900. With thanks to Stephen Howarth.


Bolton Corporation Tramways Inspectors
Two Bolton Corporation Transport inspectors engaged in earnest discussion with a large group of bus and tram conductors (see photo above) on the 12th August 1938. Two of the inspectors have straw-topped caps. The simple, unmarked Bolton municipal 'coat of arms' cap badge is easily made out. With thanks to Stephen Howarth.


Bolton Corporation Tramways collar - cap badge, gilt
Possible Bolton Corporation Tramways inspector's cap badge — gilt. Author's Collection.


Female staff
Bolton Corporation Tramways Great War Conductress
Bolton Corporation Tramways Great War conductress. Author's Collection.


Bolton Corporation Tramways Great War Conductress
A blow-up of the above photo, revealing the lady in question to be Employee No 99. The licence is BOLTON CONDUCTOR 129, and is shield-shaped rather than round.


Bolton Corporation Tramways Second World War Conductresses
Three conductresses (only one of whom appears to be wearing a uniform) being trained under the watchful eye of an inspector and a conductor in 1941. Photo courtesy of the Bolton 66 Group, with thanks to Tony Young.


Bolton Corporation Tramways Second World War Conductresses
A blow-up of the above photo showing two of the conductresses. The lady on the left is wearing a piped, single-breasted jacket with lapels and epaulettes; her cap is not unlike a military forage cap.