Bexley Urban District Council Tramways

History
Bexley Council Tramways was a 5.1-mile, standard-gauge electric system that opened for business on the 3rd October 1903. It was slightly unusual in not actually serving the town of its title (Bexley), but rather Bexleyheath, which was a short distance to the north.

When built, the tramway was isolated, meeting at its northwestern extremity — though not physically connected to — the 3ft 6ins-gauge horse tramway of the Woolwich and South East London Tramways Company. The council were however aware of the tramway aspirations of both Erith Urban District Council (to the northeast) and Dartford Urban District Council (to the southeast), so through traffic was always anticipated.

An end-on connection was made with Erith Council Tramways at Northumberland Heath on the opening of that system (26th August 1905), but not to Dartford Council Light Railways at Gravel Hill (opened on the 14th February 1906), where a few inches were left between the respective tracks. Given that Bexley's tramway was making a loss at this time, it seems perverse that the council refused to entertain through running by its two neighbours, a position which effectively forced passengers to get out and change trams at the council boundary. However, after coming under heavy criticism locally, Bexley eventually cut a deal with Dartford, with the latter's trams running through to Bexleyheath from the 27th August 1906.

Meanwhile, London County Council Tramways had acquired the W&SELTCo (in June 1905), and subsequently converted it to standard gauge electric traction, opening the route from Woolwich through to Plumstead on the 17th April 1908. The LCC unfortunately needed to acquire a short length of Bexley-owned track for their Abbey Wood extension, so had to grant Bexley — no doubt through gritted teeth — running rights through to Woolwich. With this through-running agreement in the bag, Bexley now seemed receptive to more, so finally agreed to allow Erith cars to run through to Bexleyheath. This happy state of affairs was not however to persist for long, with Bexley and Erith falling out over the rate to be paid for mileage run over Bexley tracks; this resulted in termination of through running to Bexleyheath on the 25th July 1909. An attack of common sense eventually resolved matters, and through running began again on the 26th July 1910, though relations were to sour again four years later, resulting in cessation of through running on the 26th July 1914. It eventually took the Great War, and government intercession, to drive the two parties back to the table (munitions workers were being greatly inconvenienced), with through running returning at the end of October 1915.

Whilst passenger satisfaction and good neighbourliness do not seem to have featured overly high on Bexley UDC's agenda, events were now to take a very different turn, and this time much to Bexley's credit. Neighbouring Dartford's tram depot and its entire tramway fleet were destroyed by fire in the early morning of the 7th August 1917, with Bexley coming to the rescue in the form of emergency service provision from the 8th August, subsequently hiring in cars to provide a full service.

After the war, both systems suffered from the closure of munitions factories, and from the years of war-time neglect, incurring financial losses as time wore on. These eventually resulted in the formation of the 'Bexley Council Tramways and Dartford Light Railways Joint Committee', which was to run both systems as a single entity. The agreement was signed on the 6th February 1922, but back dated to the 1st April 1921, which was the day after the Dartford operating lease had expired. The official Dartford lessee was Balfour Beatty and Company, though they had in fact not operated the trams since the fire of 1917.

On the 1st July 1933, the systems of Bexley and Dartford UDCs passed, along with 12 others, into the hands of the newly formed London Passenger Transport Board. The last tram over Bexley metals, operated by the LPTB, ran on the 23rd November 1935.

Uniforms
The precise chronology of the uniforms issued by Bexley UDC Tramways is a little unclear. Although the majority of Edwardian photographs show staff in single-breasted jackets, odd examples have survived, particularly of motormen, which show them in double-breasted 'lancer-style' tunics. On the basis of the current evidence, it would therefore seem likely that both motormen and conductors were initially issued with single-breasted jackets with five brass buttons (containing a stylised letter 'B' — see link), two breast pockets (with button closures), epaulettes (again with button closures) and upright collars; both the epaulettes and the right-hand collar bore badges of some description, possibly employee numbers, though these cannot be made out with certainty on surviving photographs. The uniforms are believed to have been of dark, navy-blue serge. Caps were military in style and carried standard, 'off the shelf', script-lettering grade badges, either Motorman or Conductor; these were probably brass to match the buttons. A small badge was worn above the grade badge, which probably comprised the white horse of Kent above a scroll containing the Kent motto, INVICTA.

For motormen, a gradual switch appears to have been made to double-breasted, 'lancer style' tunics with two rows of five buttons (narrowing from top to bottom), epaulettes and upright collars; these were apparently in blue serge with red piping and appear to have been worn by them right through to the take-over of the system by the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933, whereas conductors probably wore the original style of single-breasted jacket until the mid 1920s or so, after which they were issued with single-breasted jackets of a more modern cut, with five buttons, epaulettes and lapels. Tramcar staff were also issued with double-breasted greatcoats with five pairs buttons, epaulettes and high fold-over collars; the former carried an employee number and a small badge, almost certainly the same pattern as worn on the cap, whilst the latter were devoid of insignia.

Motormen and conductors always appeared in service wearing enamel Public Carriage Office licences issued by the Metropolitan Police (see link).

Whilst it is believed that early in the tramway's life, inspectors wore elaborate 'bandmaster-style' uniforms with black braid frogs, photographic evidence remains elusive. By the time of the Great War, inspectors were certainly wearing double-breasted jackets with four pairs of buttons and lapels; the latter carried the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering. Caps were military in style and carried the grade, almost certainly embroidered, on a hat bad.

In common with the vast majority of UK tramways, Bexley employed female staff during the Great War to replace male staff lost to the armed services. These ladies were issued with smart tailored uniforms comprising a single-breasted jackets with five buttons (offset to one side), two waist pockets (with button closures), a belt with button fastening, cuffs with button adornment and high fold-over collars; the latter were plain, i.e., devoid of insignia. A long matching shirt was also worn, which had a row of three buttons, aligned vertically, embellishing the bottom of the garment. Headgear comprised a felt bonnet with a wide brim, which carried a standard script-lettering grade badge affixed to a hat band. Female staff were also issued with long coats which had two rows of five buttons, epaulettes and high fold-over collars; the former carried a badge of some description, whilst the latter were devoid of insignia. The last conductresses ceased work on 24th December 1919.

Further reading
For a history of Bexley UDC Tramways, see 'The Tramways of Woolwich and South East London' by 'Southeastern'; Light Railway Transport League (1963).

Images

Motormen and conductors
Bexley UDC Tramways Tram No 8 and crew 1903
A conductor and motorman stand with Tramcar No 8 at Courtleet Bottom — photo undated, but probably taken around 1903. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Bexley UDC Tramways Tram No 8 and crew 1903
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor and motorman. Both men are wearing standard script-lettering grade badges, with a small badge above.


Bexley Urban District Council Tramways cap badges
Standard ‘off the shelf’ script-lettering cap badges of the type used by Bexley UDC Tramways — brass. Author's Collection.


Bexley UDC Tramways Tram No 13 and crew 1913
The crew of Tramcar No 13 captured shortly before the Great War at the Market Place in Bexleyheath. The postcard was postally used in September 1913 so the image must pre-date this. Photo courtesy of the Richard Rosa Collection.


Bexley UDC Tramways Tram conductor and motorman 1913
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor and the motorman. Both men are wearing double-breasted greatcoats with high, fold-over collars and epaulettes. The latter bear an employee number and a municipal badge, the latter almost certainly the same type as worn on the caps; magnification reveals it to include the rampant white horse of Kent with a scroll beneath (see later).


Bexley Council Tramways staff photo 1914
A staff photo taken at Gravel Hill depot in May 1914. Photo courtesy of Bexley Archives (see link).


Bexley Council Tramways tram drivers and conductors Great War
A blow-up of the above photo showing eight of the motormen (in 'lancer-style' tunics) and conductors (in single-breasted jackets). Only two of the individuals appear to be wearing a small badge above their script-lettering cap badges, suggesting that it was no longer being issued to new employees.


Bexley UDC Tramways Conductor Great War
Bexley UDC Tramways Great War conductor. The buttons — on magnification — appear to be a stylised 'B' within a circlet. Photo courtesy of Bexley Archives (see link).


Bexley UDC Tramways cap badge
A blow-up of the above photo showing the cap badge, which comprises the white horse of Kent (rampant) above a scroll; the latter almost certainly bearing the Kent motto 'INVICTA'. The badge is almost identical to those used by the Queens Own Royal West Kent Yeomanry Regiment during the Great War.


Bexley Council Tramways Great War staff photo
Another staff photo taken at Gravel Hill depot, purportedly in 1916, and presumably, to record the new intake of female staff. Although wearing uniforms, the ladies appear to be in a variety of headgear, suggesting that formally issued hats were yet to arrive. Photo courtesy of Bexley Archives (see link).


Bexley Council Tramways Tram No 14 and motorman
Bexley Council Tramways conductor aboard Tramcar No 14 — photo undated, but probably taken in the early 1930s. Photo by Dr H Nicol, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Bexley Council Tramways Tram No 14 and driver depot
Another shot of Tramcar No 14, this time at the depot, with motorman at the rear — photo taken in the 1930s. Photo by H Wightman, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Bexley UDC Tramways Tram No 24 and motorman
A motorman at the controls of Tramcar No 24 bound for Horns Cross — photo undated, but probably taken around 1930. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Bexley Council Tramways Tram No 27 and driver
Bexley Council Tramways motorman at the controls of Tramcar No 27 at Horns Cross on the 30th June 1933, the day before the LPTB takeover. Photo by Dr H Nicol, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Senior staff
Bexley Council Tramways inspectors
A blow-up of the 1916 staff photo above showing two of the inspectors.


Female staff
Bexley UDC Tramways Great War conductress
A slightly out-of-focus studio portrait of a Bexley Council Tramways Great War conductress, but one which does reveal the type of uniform worn — photo purportedly taken in 1918. The hat lacks the usual script-lettering grade badge, which is however present in other photos of female staff (not shown). Photo courtesy of Bexley Archives (see link).