Barrow-in-Furness Tramways

History
Although Barrow Corporation obtained powers for a tramway in the town as early as 1881, it subsequently decided against building a system itself, instead soliciting proposals from the private sector. Agreement was eventually reached with the Barrow-in-Furness Tramway Company Ltd to construct and operate a 4ft 0ins-gauge steam tramway, the first services commencing on the 11th July 1885.

The tramway appears to have operated reasonably well for a number of years, but by the mid-1890s, it was clearly in trouble, with angry shareholders and much friction between the corporation and the company over the state of the engines and track, as well as irregular running. Matters did not improve, and on the 25th February 1896, the company entered liquidation. Although the corporation was offered the system on the 19th November 1898, it formally declined to purchase it, thus leaving the way open for the British Electric Traction Company Ltd to acquire the company, a deal which they completed on the 23rd December 1899. At this time, the BETCo was aggressively purchasing horse and steam-operated tramways across the British Isles, with the intention of converting them to electric traction; however, for reasons which are now unclear, it took the BETCo over four years to achieve this goal in Barrow.

Meanwhile, the company continued to run the ever-more decrepit steam trams — directly rather than through a subsidiary as was the usual case with the BETCo — until disaster struck on the 27th June 1902 when a fire destroyed all bar two of the engines, and half the trailers, an event which not surprisingly resulted in the suspension of services. Services were however resumed on the 8th August 1902, six days after the company had reached agreement with the corporation to convert the system to electric traction. The last steam tram ran on the 13th July 1903 and the first electric service on the 6th of February 1904.

On the 4th August 1911, the company commenced services to Biggar Bank, an extension to the system owned by the corporation and leased to the company.

Like many other tramways across the British Isles, by the end of the Great War, the system was in very poor condition following four years of minimal maintenance and investment. The corporation came to the rescue, purchasing the tramway on the 1st January 1920; however, and in spite of its best efforts, including the purchase of many second-hand cars, the system continued to lose money. One accusation that could not be levelled at the corporation was inefficiency, as Barrow Tramways had the lowest operating costs of any system in the UK during the 1920s.

The corporation introduced its first bus service in 1923, expanding services slowly over the course of the next few years. The tipping point came in 1932 when a choice had to be made to either completely renew the tramway, which was life expired, or abandon it altogether. Unsurprisingly, the latter course of action was chosen, and the last trams ran on the 5th of April 1932.

Uniforms
Steam engine drivers and firemen wore typical railway footplate attire, namely: cotton jackets and trousers, with grease-top or heavy cotton caps. Conductors may have worn uniforms in the earliest years (this is not clear), but were definitely issued with kepi-style caps which bore a badge of unknown pattern (an example has not survived). By the mid-1890s however, conductors were definitely wearing informal attire — jackets and trousers, shirt and tie, along with the fashionable headgear of the day, usually the flat cap.

It seems highly likely that the BETCo continued the uniform policy of its predecessor — as far as steam services were concerned — only issuing uniforms once electric services commenced.

The BETCo, which operated Barrow Corporation Tramways from 1899 to 1920, was a concern which at its zenith either owned, part-owned or leased almost 50 tramway concerns across the British Isles. The photos below clearly show Barrow tramway staff wearing the familiar and largely regulation BETCo uniform. Although jackets appeared to vary somewhat between systems, as well as across the decades, the cap badges, collar designations and buttons invariably followed a standard pattern.

Electric tramcar crews were initially issued with double-breasted jackets with two rows of five brass buttons (of the standard BETCo pattern — see link), three pockets with flap closures (two hip level and one waist level) and lapels; the latter appear to have carried embroidered, script-lettering system initials on both sides: BINFT. Caps were in a military style with a tensioned crown (top) and glossy peak; they carried the standard BETCo ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge (see below), beneath which an employee number (in individual brass numeral) was probably worn. Although the studio portrait below shows an individual without an employee number, it is possible that they had not been issued at the time the photograph was taken.

The above uniform was quickly superseded by a more robust outfit: conductors were now issued with single-breasted jackets with five buttons, a single breast pocket (with button closure), and upright collars; the latter carried individual ‘B E T’ initials on the right-hand side — presumably standing for 'Barrow Electric Tramways' — and an employee number on the left-hand side, all brass. Motormen wore double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics with two rows of five buttons (narrowing from top to bottom) and upright collars; the latter carried the same insignia as conductors' collars. Caps were as previously, but definitely carried an employee number. At some point, and certainly by the time of the Great War, the collar initials had shrunk to 'B T' (i.e., Barrow Tramways).

Tramcar staff also wore round municipal licences, invariably on the left breast of their tunics. Long double-breasted greatcoats were also issued; these had two rows of five buttons and high fold-over collars, and in later years, epaulettes; the collars possibly carried insignia, though precisely what form this took is currently unclear.

In 1907 the company employed just 34 motormen and conductors, with a solitary inspector (Barrow-in-Furness Transport; Ian L Cormack, 1977).

A wonderfully detailed depot photo has survived from the Great War (see below), which shows staff wearing a motley assortment of uniforms and insignia; the latter primarily regimental badges. This was common practice amongst tramway staff during the Great War, presumably either to mark military service rendered, or to show support for a close family member or partner (in the case of female employees) who was on active service.

Whilst the uniforms do not appear to have changed substantially in style following the corporation take-over, photographs clearly reveal that a large round cap badge was worn from 1920 onwards; this was almost certainly the same pattern as used in the later 'Corporation Transport' era, and featured the Barrow armorial device within a wreath (see below). In all likelihood, staff were also issued with Barrow-in-Furness Corporation buttons (see link), most probably brass.

Inspectors wore standard BETCo uniforms, which comprised single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair); the jackets were edged in a finer material than the main body of the jacket, with the collars bearing either Inspector or Traffic Inspector in embroidered script lettering. Headgear comprised the same military-style caps issued to tramcar crews, but with Inspector, in embroidered script lettering on a hat band. Inspectors also wore long double-breasted overcoats with lapels, the upper part of which bore the designation Traffic Inspector in embroidered script lettering. By the time of the Great War, Barrow Tramways employed the services of a Chief Inspector; his uniform was essentially identical to those worn by inspectors, but with Chief Inspector in place of Inspector.

In common with many other UK tramway systems, women were employed during the Great War, initially as conductresses, but also as motorwomen and inspectresses. Female staff initially wore makeshift uniforms along with long overcoats and whatever headgear was to hand; the latter was invariably adorned with regimental badges. Eventually, smart, tailored uniforms were issued, comprising a long skirt, with a long, matching, single-breasted jacket with five buttons, a waist belt and two hip-level pockets; the jackets do not appear to have carried any insignia. Headgear consisted of dark, round-brimmed straw bonnets (presumably for summer use), and possibly baggy peaked caps (for winter use); both bore the standard BETCo ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge. Female staff were also issued with long, single-breasted overcoats with buttons offset to one side. These coats were tailored, with a broad waist belt carrying two buttons, and large hip level pockets and epaulettes.

Barrow also had lady inspectors (see below), who appear, at least initially to have worn long overcoats (probably because uniforms were yet to be issued), along with a baggy cap bearing an Inspector badge in embroidered script lettering.

Further reading
For more information on Barrow's tramways, see: 'Seventy-Five Years on Wheels' by Ian L Cormack; The Scottish Tramway Museum Society (1960).

Images

Steam tram drivers and conductors
Barrow Tramways Company Steam Tram No 7,  standing at the junction of Abbey Rd and Hartington St 185
What looks to be a brand-new Kitson engine (No 7) and Falcon trailer (No 2) standing at the junction of Abbey Rd and Hartington St. Although the photograph is undated, the pristine condition of the vehicles strongly suggests that the shot was taken on the opening day, 11th July 1885. Photo from the R Corlett Collection, courtesy of Peter Holmes.


Barrow Tramways Steam tram conductor 1885
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor, who is wearing smart attire — possibly a uniform — and a kepi-style cap bearing a cap badge.


Barrow No 7 Steam tram driver 1885
Another enlargement of the photo above, this time showing the driver, who is wearing fairly typical steam-footplate attire.


Barrow Tramways Company Steam Tram No 1 stadning in Duke St 1885
Another photograph taken on what was was in all probability, the opening day, but this time in Duke St. The subjects are Engine No 1 and Trailer No 8. Photo courtesy of David Gladwin, with thanks to Trevor Preece; the whereabouts of the original are unknown.


Barrow Tramways Steam tram conductor 1885
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor. Whilst it is unclear whether he is wearing a uniform, he definitely has what is almost certainly a company-issued kepi-style cap, which possibly bears a cap badge.


Barrow Tramways Company Steam Tram No 1
A conductor and driver pose with Kitson-built Steam Tram No 1 and Falcon-built trailer — photo undated, but probably taken in the mid-1890s given that the engine and trailer are in relatively good condition. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.


Barrow Tramways Company Steam Tram No 1 conductor and driver
A blow-up of the above photo showing the crew, both of whom are wearing informal attire.


Barrow-in Furness Tramways steam tram and crew
An extremely battered looking steam tram, more than likely one of the fire-damaged Kitsons, with driver and fireman in Abbey Road — photo undated, but probably taken in 1903, some four years after the BETCo takeover. There is reason to believe that the scene is posed, as the engine appears not to be in steam and its condition would preclude its use on public roads. The individual standing on the right could well be the same driver shown in the previous image. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Motormen and conductors
Barrow in Furness Tramways conductor or tram driver 1904,
A pristine studio portrait of a Barrow-in-Furness Tramways employee — photo undated, but very likely taken to mark the inauguration of the electric services (1904). Arthur Hollis was a photographer to royalty — hence the crowns — and the quality certainly bears testament to his talent (with thanks to Geoff Holme for the background information). Author's Collection.


Barrow in Furness Tramways driver or conductor 1904
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the cap and collar insignia; the former bears the standard British Electric Traction Company 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge, though without an employee number, whereas the latter appear to be BINFT script initials (embroidered). The photograph is so sharp, that the standard pattern BETCo buttons are easily made out.


British Electric Traction Barrow cap badge
Standard British Electric Traction Company ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge of the pattern used by Barrow-in-Furness Tramways — brass. Author's Collection.


Barrow Corporation Tramways Tram No 2 at the Abbey Terminus with crew
A motorman and conductor at the Abbey Terminus with what would appear to be a virtually brand new Tramcar No 2, dating the photograph to 1904. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.


Barrow-in-Furness tram conductor
Conductor No 4 — date uncertain, but probably late Edwardian. The collar initials are now brass 'B E T' letters, presumably standing for Barrow Electric Tramways'. Insignia include a municipal licence and the standard BETCo cap badge, but now worn with an employee number. With thanks to Geoff Holme.


Barrow Corporation Tramways Tram with crew
A conductor flanked by two motormen with an unidentified decorated tram — photo undated, but judging by the condition of the tram and the fashions on display, probably mid-to-late Edwardian. Author's Collection.


Barrow Corporation Tramways crew
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor (Employee No 12) and one of the motormen (Employee No 14). The other motorman (out of shot) is Employee No 3.


Barrow-in-Furness Tram no 19 and motorman
Motorman No 4 at the controls of Tramcar No 19 bound for Amphitrite Street — photo undated, but probably taken in the second decade after electrification. The employee number is identical to that borne by the conductor above, suggesting that they may have been grade numbers rather than employee numbers. Note the absence of the standard BETCo ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge, which is clearly seen in many other photos. The three stripes on the left sleeve probably denote good conduct or long service.


Barrow Corporation Tramways Great War staff photo
Staff photo taken at the Salthouse Depot — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War in view of the number of female staff and the plethora of regimental badges. With thanks to the National Tramway Museum.


Barrow Corporation Tramways Employee No 5
A blow-up of the above photo showing Employee No 5; the system initials are now simply 'B T' rather than the earlier 'B E T'. He has a medal ribbon on his left breast, as well as a Silver War Badge; the latter were issued to soldiers who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or illness. Like many in this photo, his cap badge is actually an army badge, probably the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.


Barrow Corporation Tramways Employee No 4
Another blow-up of the staff photo showing the same motorman who is depicted at the controls of Tramcar No 19 above. He now has four chevrons on his sleeve rather than the three he appears to have had in the earlier photo. He looks far too old to have been involved in active service, so the cap badge he is wearing, which is possibly a General Service Corps issue, is more than likely being worn to show his support for a close family member who was serving.


Barrow Tramways Points Boy or Parcels Boy
Points Boy or Parcels Boy along with the depot dog (?), taken from the Great War staff photo above.


Barrow Corporations Tramways No 5 with crew
The motorman of Tramcar No 5 gazes into the distance whilst his conductor heads off around the vehicle, trolley reversing pole in hand. Photo undated, but probably taken in the late 1920s. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with particular thanks to David Voice.


´┐╝´┐╝Barrow Corporations Tramways No 32 with motorman
A poor quality photograph, but one which appears to suggest that a large round cap badge was worn in the corporation era (1920 onwards). Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Barrow Corporation Transport cap badge chrome
Barrow Corporation Transport cap badge — chrome. It is likely that the same pattern of badge was worn during the 'Corporation Tramways' era, but in either brass or nickel.


Barrow Corporation Tramways cap badge
Corporation badge — nickel. It is unclear whether this was worn during the tram era. Author's Collection


Barrow Corporation Tramways cap badge
Corporation badge — chrome. This would not have been worn during the tram era as the system was closed before the widespread introduction of chromium plating for badges (see link). Author's Collection.


Senior staff
Barrow Tramways traffic (tram) Inspector
A blow-up of the Great War staff photo above showing an inspector. His upright jacket collars appear to bear Inspector in embroidered script-lettering, as does the hat band on his cap, whereas his overcoat collars bear Traffic Inspector.


Barrow Tramways inspectors
Another blow-up of the staff photo above showing two senior members of staff. The man on the left appears to be the Chief Inspector, whilst the collar insignia on the right would seem to imply that the individual is a Traffic Inspector.

Female staff
Barrow Tramways conductresses
A blow-up of the staff photo above showing two female employees. Most of the ladies present, including these two, appear to be wearing makeshift uniforms, suggesting that the tailored uniforms that were subsequently worn by female staff had yet to be delivered.


Barrow-in-Furness Tramways tram conductresses
A studio portrait (by Priest of Barrow) of three Barrow Tramways conductresses in smart, tailored uniforms, making a stark contrast with the previous shot — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War. Note the BETCo ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge on the bonnets. With thanks to Geoff Holme.


Barrow-in-Furness Tramways tram inspectress Annie Wilkinson
Motorwoman Annie Wilkinson — photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War. She is wearing an embroidered Inspector cap badge, suggesting that she was an Inspector (or at least acting as one) when this photo was taken. The BETCo ‘Magnet & Wheel’ buttons can clearly be discerned on magnification. Photo reproduced with kind permission of The Dock Museum, Barrow-in-Furness (see link).


Barrow Tramways inspectresses
Another shot of Annie Wilkinson (right), along with an unidentified inspectress, this time taken from the staff photo above.


Barrow-in-Furness Tramways tram conductress
A conductress aboard Tramcar No 17, photo purportedly taken in 1915, though it could well be later given the appalling condition of the Tramcar. With thanks to Geoff Holme.