Birkenhead Corporation Tramways

Early photos - and an article from Tramway and Railway World (1901) - indicate that staff were initially issued with smart double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics (made from heavy blue serge) with two rows of five buttons in 'German silver' (nickel; see link) and upright collars. The collars, cuffs and trouser seams were all piped in scarlet cloth, whilst the cuffs were also faced in leather. The collars carried individual nickel initials on the right-hand side - 'B C T' - and an employee number on the left-hand side. Caps were in the kepi style with piping, and had a steeply inclined glossy peak. A small, nickel municipal shield badge was worn towards the top of the cap, above a nickel script-lettering badge denoting the employee's grade - either 'Driver' or 'Conductor'. The Tramway and Railway World article makes great play of the fact that the double-breasted tunics were designed to be worn "buttoned up", obviating the need for collars and ties, and thus guaranteeing a smart, tidy appearance!

At some point, probably in the mid-to-late Edwardian era, the old fashioned kepi-style caps gave way to a more modern military style of cap with a tensioned crown (top); these caps continued to carry the same insignia as previously.

No change was made to the general style of the uniform until very late in the tramway's existence, at which time a double-breasted, naval style jacket with lapels was introduced. It is however uncertain when this change was made, as the vast majority of photos indicate that staff invariably wore long, double-breasted overcoats (with lapels) over their tunics. Other than the two rows of buttons, these overcoats appear not to have carried any insignia.

Photos of inspectors are rare, and the one example shown (from 1913) indicates that they wore typical tramway inspector garb, namely: single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or an hook and eye affair), edged in a finer material than the main jacket, and with upright collars; the latter carried the designation 'Inspector' in embroidered script lettering. Caps by this time were in a military style with a tensioned crown, though doubtless kepis were worn in the earliest years; the caps carried the grade 'Inspector' in embroidered script lettering on a hat band, above which was worn the standard municipal shield badge.

As with many tramway systems, women were employed in significant numbers during the Great War to make up for the loss of male staff to the armed forces. The first women were employed as conductresses (six started on 13th September 1915) and by 1917, this had risen to 84, virtually the entire conducting staff. Although 6 women were employed as ticket inspectresses, they appear never to have served as motorwomen. Precise details of the uniforms are unclear, though long, single-breasted, tailored overcoats were worn, together with the standard male cap and badges.

For a detailed history of Birkenhead Corporation Tramways, see: 'The Tramways of Birkenhead and Wallasey' by T B Maund and M Jenkins; LRTA (1987).


Motormen and conductors
Birkenhead Corporation Tramways driver and conductor
A commercial portrait of a Birkenhead motorman (driver) and a conductor (No 17). The above photo comes from a short article, presumably paid for by the uniform manufacturers (Messrs Pearson, Huggins and Co, 51 Scrutton St, Finsbury, E.C), in Tramway and Railway World, 1901. With thanks to David Voice.

Birkenhead tramways badges
Standard script-lettering grade cap badges of the pattern used by Birkenhead Corporation Tramways - nickel.

Birkenhead Corporation Trmawys Tram No 52 and crew
Motorman and conductor with what appears to be a newly outshopped and top-covered No 52, dating the photograph to summer 1904. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Birkenhead Corporation Tramways conductor 1904
A blow-up of the above photo showing details of the conductor's uniform, including what appears to be an officially issued belt, something of a rarity for a UK tramway system.

Municipal cap badge of the type possibly worn by tramways staff - nickel. Note that this badge is larger than the ones seen in the photos, and may thus post-date the tramways.

Birkenhead tram driver and conductor
Conductor and motorman pose with Tramcar No 20 at Woodside - photo undated, but certainly taken before 1910 when this car was fitted with a top cover. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Birkenhead Corporation Tramways staff photo Edwardian
A depot photo showing a rather informal grouping of drivers and conductors. The photo is undated, though the general 'feel' is mid-to-late Edwardian. The tramcar in the background is one of the G F Milnes-bulit 14-44 series, and carries a top cover, making it either No 16 or No 17; these vehicles were top-covered in 1903, but the photograph is certainly later than this. Author's collection.

Birkenhead Corporation Tramways conductor and motorman
A blow-up of the above photo showing a driver (Employee No 78) with his dog, a conductor (Employee No 12), and a smartly dressed youth; it is unclear what position the latter holds, as his two-piece grade badge is indecipherable. Although the style of uniform is unchanged from that first issued, the caps had clearly, by this time, been superseded by a more modern military style.

Birkenhead Corporation Tramways Tram No 52 and motorman
Motorman at the controls of Tramcar No 52 in 1932. Photo by M J O'Connor, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Senior staff
Birkenhead Corporation Tramways Tram No 28
A Birkenhead inspector poses for what is presumably a press shot in 1913 with Tramcar No 28, newly fitted with a rather 'Heath Robinson'-looking folding windscreen Author's collection.

Birkenhead Corporation Tramways inspector 1913
A blow-up of the above photo showing the inspector, whose uniform is typical of tramway practice at this time.

Female staff
Birkenhead tramways conductress and driver
A rare photograph showing a Birkenhead conductress, with motorman, aboard Tramcar No 5 - photo undated, but almost certainly taken during the Great War. Author's collection.