Birkenhead Street Railway

The Birkenhead Street Railway Company operated the first horse-drawn trams in the UK, and possibly even Europe (depending on the definition of what constitutes a true, permanent street railway). As such, it was very early (1860), but certainly not too early for the odd photograph to have been taken, especially as its opening was an historic event. The photo below reveals that conductors wore single-breasted jackets with marked buttons (see link) and tall kepi-style caps; the latter appear to have carried a large metal badge of unknown pattern. A wide diagonal leather strap - like a bandolier - was also worn, possibly to carry a satchel or money bag.

The line was promoted by American entrepreneur George Francis Train, who was also the man behind several other early British street railways, including three separate lines in London (Marble Arch Street Railway; Surrey Side Street Railway; Westminster Street Railway), one in Darlington (Darlington Street Railway) and one in Stoke (Staffordshire Potteries Street Railway). Staff working all these lines are known to have worn uniforms (likened by contemporary commentators to those worn by the Rifle Brigade), and were probably all Oxford grey.

For a detailed history of early street railways, including Birkenhead, see: 'Pioneers of the Street Railway in the USA, Street Tramways in the UK…and elsewhere' by John R Stevens and Alan W Brotchie; Stenlake Publishing Ltd (2014).


Horse tram drivers and conductors
Birkenhead Street Railway
A famous shot of Birkenhead Street Railway Car No 2, taken on the opening day, 30th August 1860, at the junction of Argyle St and Price St. George F Train, the pioneer of horse-drawn tramways in the UK (top deck, extreme left), adopts a somewhat theatrical pose with arm outstretched, whilst the boy on the extreme right (upper deck) is James Clifton Robinson, later chairman of London United Tramways. The conductor stands on the front platform (lower right), and appears to be wearing a uniform with cap and large badge, though details are very unclear. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.