Luton Corporation Tramways

The history of Luton Corporation Tramways falls into two distinct periods: 1908-1923, when the system was operated by a company under the terms of a lease; and from thence through to closure in 1932, when it was operated by the corporation itself.

Early photographs reveal that motormen were issued with double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics with five pairs of buttons (narrowing from top to bottom) and upright collars; the latter certainly carried insignia of some description, though exactly what this was remains unknown. In contrast, conductors were issued with single-breasted jackets with five buttons, breast pockets with button closures, upright collars and epaulettes; the collars would almost certainly have carried the same insignia as motormen's tunics.

Whilst the difference in jackets based on the grade generally held for most of the tramway's life, photographs taken from the late Edwardian era onwards show that the uniform policy was somewhat relaxed in this regard, with the occasional motorman wearing a single-breasted jacket and the occasional conductor a double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunic.

Caps were in a military style with a tensioned crown (top) and a glossy peak, each bearing a script-lettering grade badge, either Motorman or Conductor. A small unidentified badge was initially worn above the script-lettering badge, possibly a municipal device given that Luton Corporation owned the system; this badge was eventually dispensed with, as photos taken in later years show staff wearing only the script-lettering grade badges. It is currently unclear whether the badges were brass or nickel, or for that matter, what form the buttons took.

Photographs taken after the Balfour Beatty take-over of 1909 show that the jacket collars bore an employee number on the bearer's left-hand side and initials on the right-hand side. Unfortunately, the latter cannot be made out, but definitely ended in a superscript 'TD' , which presumably stood for 'Limited'. This seems a little odd, as all other tramways operated by Balfour Beatty used straightforward system initials, with no mention of the company name.

A change was made in the 1920s to a more modern style of jacket, possibly following the corporation take-over; they were double-breasted with lapels; it is currently unclear what badges these jackets bore.

Tramcar crews were also issued with long, double-breasted greatcoats with five pairs of buttons, three pockets and high, fold-over collars; the latter certainly carried insignia, very probably the same as that on the jacket collars.

Inspectors wore single-breasted jackets edged in a finer material than the main body, with hidden buttons (or a hook and eye affair), two slit breast pockets and upright collars; the latter bore Inspector in embroidered script lettering on both sides. The cap was the same style as that worn by tramcar crews, but bore a hat band embroidered with the designation Inspector. Inspectors were also issued with smart double-breasted overcoats with two rows of five buttons, three waist-level pockets with flaps, and lapels; the latter do not appear to have borne any insignia. The chief inspector's uniform appears to have differed from those issued to inspectors solely in respect of the grade badges — Chief Inspector — on the collars and the cap.

In common with the vast majority of British tramway systems, female staff were employed during the Great War to replace men lost to the armed services, though in the case of Luton, seemingly only as conductresses. These ladies were issued with mid-length, tailored, single-breasted jackets with four buttons, a waist belt (with two buttons) and lapels, along with a long matching skirt. The upper lapels definitely carried elaborate embroidered system initials — 'LCT' — on the left-hand side, and probably on the right-hand side too. Headgear consisted of a dark-coloured straw bonnet with hat band, the latter bearing lettering of some description, which cannot unfortunately be made out on the surviving photographs.

For a history of Luton Corporation Tramways, see: 'Luton's Trams — the Story of a Small System 1908-1932' by Colin Brown; Irwell Press (1999).


Motormen and conductors
Luton Corporation Tramways Tram No 5 at Round Green terminus
An inspector, a conductor and a motorman pose with Tramcar No 5 at the Round Green terminus — photo undated, but in view of the pristine condition of the tramcar, very probably taken in the first year of operation. Author's Collection.

Luton Corporation Tramways inspector, conductor and motorman
A blow-up of the above photo showing the tramway staff. The conductor and the motorman are both wearing double-breasted greatcoats, along with military-style caps bearing script-lettering grade badges; the caps also bear a small badge of unknown pattern, almost certainly some form of municipal device.

Luton Corporation Tramways cap badges
Standard 'off-the-shelf' script-lettering cap badges — nickel. It is unclear whether Luton's badges and buttons were nickel or brass. Author's Collection.

Luton Corporation Tramways staff photo 1908 Park Street depot
A staff photo taken at Park Street depot to commemorate the opening in 1908. Photo courtesy of Colin Brown.

Luton Corporation Tramways staff photo 1908 Park Street depot
A blow-up of the above photo showing motormen (in double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics), conductors (in single-breasted jackets) and an inspector (bottom right in single-breasted jacket with edging).

Luton Corporation Tramways Tram No 8 Round Green
An inspector and the crew of Tramcar No 8 pose for the camera at Round Green — photo undated, but probably taken during the late-Edwardian era. Author's Collection

Luton Corporation Tramways Tram No 8 Round Green
A blow-up of the above photo showing the tramway staff. The conductor and the motorman are both wearing double-breasted greatcoats with badges on both collars.

Luton Corporation Tramways Tram No 11 and crew
LCT conductor and motorman with Tramcar No 11 — photo undated, but possibly taken shortly after the Great War. Source unknown.

Luton Corporation Tramways depot staff photo c1920
A staff photo taken at Park Street depot, possibly around 1920. There are 12 motormen, six conductors, an inspector, a chief inspector and several individuals of indeterminate grade. Some of the conductors are wearing 'lancer-style' tunics and some of the motormen single-breasted jackets. Author's Collection.

Luton Corporation Tramways motormen and conductors circa 1920
A blow-up of the above photo showing four motormen, two conductors and a flat-capped individual who may also be a conductor. Some of those depicted in this and the larger image are wearing badges above their script-lettering grade badges; there are of a variety of shapes and sizes, strongly suggesting that they were regimental badges, the wearing of which was common practice amongst post-Great War tramwaymen the length and breadth of the country.

Luton Corporation Tramways 10
A distinctly hog-backed Tramcar No 10 in George Street — photo undated, but definitely taken after the corporation take-over of 1923. The motorman is wearing a double-breasted jacket with lapels, along with a shirt and a tie. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.A

Senior staff
Luton Corporation Tramways inspector 1920
A blow-up of the 1920's depot photo above showing the inspector. His cap clearly bears an embroidered grade badge on a hat band bordered with light-coloured piping. Whilst his upright collars appear to bear no insignia, this is more than likely a function of the poor quality of the photograph.

Luton Corporation Tramways Chief Inspector circa 1920
Another blow-up of the 1920's staff photo, this time showing an individual who, from the length of his grade badge, is almost certainly the chief inspector.

Luton Corporation Tramways inspectors and Tram No 13
One-man operated Tramcar No 13 photographed at the depot, along with what would appear to be three inspectors — photo undated, but almost certainly taken shortly after 21st May 1923, when No 13 was purchased from Glasgow. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Luton Corporation Tramways inspectors
A blow-up of the above photo showing the inspectors, one in a single-breasted overcoat and the other two in fairly standard 'tramway' inspector jackets.

Luton Corporation Transport cap badge
Nickel cap/lapel badge used in the days of Luton Corporation Transport. It is unclear whether this was ever worn by tramway staff. With thanks to John Burford.

Female staff
Studio portrait of a Great War Luton Corporation Tramways conductress. Although there are no identifying features on either the photograph or the uniform, the latter does in fact exactly match those seen in other photographs that are unequivocally of Luton conductresses, whilst the mark on the rear — 'Black & White Studios' — is from a studio that is known to have been in business in Luton in that period. Author's Collection.