Birmingham Central Tramways

History
The Birmingham Central Tramways Company, which started life in late 1882 as the Birmingham Suburban Tramways Company, would eventually go on to operate 3ft 6ins-gauge horse, steam, battery and cable-hauled tramway services — over its decade long existence.

Its first service, which was horse drawn, ran on the 11th November 1884 over the corporation-owned line from Albert Street in the centre of Birmingham norteastwards to Nechells. The first steam service was introduced two weeks later on the 24th November over the corporation-owned route northwards to Perry Barr, with route mileage expanding greatly over the next two years, mostly via corporation leases, the latter having decided relatively early on to control all tramway development within its boundaries by building its own lines and leasing them to tramway operators.

On the 1st January 1886, the BCTCo purchased the assets of the standard gauge Birmingham Tramways and Omnibus Company Ltd, and at the same time, took over the lease of the corporation tracks formerly worked by the BT&OCo (Colmore Row to Hockley Brook). The latter line was converted to cable operation by the Patent Cable Tramways Corporation, with the first service — operated by the BCTCo — running on the 24th March 1888; it was later extended as far as New Inns in Handsworth (on the 20th April 1889). The line was not however the success that had been hoped for, so instead of cable traction, the mainly corporation-owned Bristol Rd line was switched from horse to battery electric traction, the first service running on the 24th July 1890. The company was however now locked into a host of leases, and was operating four types of traction, a situation which could hardly be described as efficient.

The BCTCo was taken over on the 29th September 1896 by the City of Birmingham Tramways Co Ltd, whose avowed intention was to convert the all routes to overhead electric traction.

At its zenith, the BCTCo operated around 26 miles of tramway, the vast majority of it leased from Birmingham Corporation. The system comprised the following lines: northwards to Perry Barr; northeastwards to Nechells and Saltley; eastwards to Small Heath; southeastwards to Spark Hill; southwards to Kings Heath; southwestwards to Bournbrook; and northwestwards to Handsworth and Lozells.

Uniforms
Although photographs showing staff of the horse, battery and cable operations are rare, by analogy with those taken following the CofBTCo take-over (see link), it seems more than likely that they wore informal attire.

Photographs of the steam-hauled services have fortunately survived in reasonable numbers, so it is possible to state with some degree of confidence what the staff working them wore. In common with the majority of UK steam-operated tramways, BCT steam tram drivers wore very similar attire to their railway counterparts, namely, heavy cotton trousers and jackets, often light in colour, along with soft-topped, kepi-style caps. No badges or insignia were worn on either the jackets or the caps. Conductors on the other hand appear to have worn a variety of jackets, suggesting that they were self-purchased rather than company issued; a variety of headgear was also worn, predominantly bowler hats and soft-topped, kepi-style caps, once again suggesting that this was the preserve of the individual rather than the company. No badges were worn on either the jackets or the caps/hats.

Conductors on all services (horse, steam, battery and cable) wore round municipal licences; these bore a number and a grade (CONDUCTOR), above which were the arms of Birmingham. There are two types of licence, which almost certainly reflect the situation prior to, and after, the full grant of arms in April 1889 (see below). Photographs suggest that drivers operating the horse and cable trams also wore licences, but that their steam counterparts did not.

A single photo has survived — taken in the mid-to-late 1880s — which shows an inspector. He is wearing a single-breasted, three-quarter length coat, edged in a finer material than the main body, probably closed with hook and eye fasteners, and with upright collars; the latter bear badges on both sides, more than likely the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering. Headgear took the form of a tall, kepi-style cap, topped with a pom pom, and bearing a badge of unknown description.

Further reading
For more information on the Birmingham Central Tramways, see: 'A History of the British Steam Tram — Volumes 1 and 2' by David Gladwin; Adam Gordon Publishing (2004 and 2006). For a history of Birmingham's tramways, see: 'A Short Review of Birmingham Corporation Tramways' by P L Hardy and P Jaques; H J Publications (1971).

Images

Steam tram drivers and conductors
Birmingham Central Tramways Steam Tram No 34 and Trailer No 42
Steam Tram No 34 and Trailer No 42, both Falcon products of 1885 stand outside the Fighting Cocks Hotel in Moseley — photo undated, but judging by the excellent condition of the vehicles, probably taken in 1885 or 1886. Photo courtesy of David Gladwin, with thanks to Trevor Preece.


Birmingham Central Tramways conductor 1886
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor. He is wearing informal attire comprising a long frock-style coat and a tall bowler with curved brim.


Birmingham Central Tramways Steam Tram No 57
Two conductors and a driver pose for the camera with Falcon-built Steam Tram No 57 (of 1884) on a Route C working (probably the Coventry Rd route to Sparkbrook) — photo undated, but probably taken in the late 1880s (No 57 was obtained second hand from Hartlepool in 1886). Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.


Birmingham Central Tramways steam tram crew
A blow-up of the above photo, showing the conductor and driver. The conductor is not wearing a uniform, the only insignia being a licence, possibly the same pattern as that shown below.


Birmingham Corporation tram conductor licence
Birmingham municipal licence — brass — of the pattern probably issued to BCT conductors prior to 1889. In April 1889. a full grant of arms was made to the city, including supporters and crest. Author's Collection.


Birmingham Corporation tram conductor licence
Birmingham municipal licence — brass — probably issued to BCT conductors from 1889 onwards, following the full grant of arms.


Birmingham Corporation tram conductor licence
Birmingham municipal licence — brass. This oval type of licence may well have been used at some point, though photographic evidence is completely lacking. Author's Collection.


Birmingham Central Tramways Perry Barr steam tram depot
An excellent photo of an array of BCT staff outside what is thought to be the depot at Perry Barr — photo undated, but probably taken in the mid-to-late 1880s judging by the headwear. The sole uniformed figure, centre right, is almost certainly an inspector. Photo courtesy of David Gladwin, with thanks to Trevor Preece.


Birmingham Central Tramways Perry Barr steam tram depot
A blow-up of the above photo showing some of the men, including two conductors with their cash-bag straps and round licences. Most of the assembled men are wearing the tall bowler hats of the period, whilst others favour a variety of soft-topped caps, none of them official issues.


Birmingham Central Tramways Steam Tram No 57
Another photograph of No 57 working the Sparkbrook route — photo undated, but probably taken in the late 1880s or early 1890s. All present are in informal attire, with the possible exception of the figure on the left, who may be wearing some form of collar insignia. Author's Collection.


Birmingham Central Tramways Steam Tram No 26
Driver and fitters working on Steam Tram No 26 — photo dated 1892. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Cable tram drivers and conductors
Birmingham Central Tramways Company cable tram
BCT driver aboard Cable Tram No 79 with a service for New Inns — photo dated 1896. Although he is clearly wearing a municipal licence, the rest of his uniform is completely devoid of insignia. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.


Birmingham tram drivers licence
Birmingham municipal driver's licence (No 122) — brass — probably issued to BCT horse and cable tram drivers from 1889 onwards (and battery trams drivers from 1890), following the full grant of arms. Author's Collection.


Senior staff
Birmingham Central Tramways inspector
A blow-up of the late-1880s Perry Barr depot photo above, showing the inspector. He is wearing a three-quarter length jacket with upright collars bearing badges of some description, more than likely his grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering. His tall kepi-style cap bears a pom pom and a cap badge.