South Metropolitan Electric Tramways



Owner South Metropolitan Electric Tramways and Lighting Company Ltd (a subsidiary of the British Electric Traction Company Ltd)
Opened
14th February 1906 (electric)
Operator South Metropolitan Electric Tramways and Lighting Company Ltd
Ownership transferred 14th June 1913 (London and Suburban Traction Company Ltd - a holding company jointly owned by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London Limited and the British Electric Traction Company Limited)
Taken over 1st July 1933 (London Transport)
Length 13.36 miles
Gauge 4ft 8½ins

Button description (Pattern 1) Wheel, magnet and electrical flashes
Materials known Brass
Button Line reference [113/16]

Button description (Pattern 2) 'TRAMWAYS' roundel
Materials known Brass
Button Line reference [114/72]

Comment Support for brass Pattern 1 buttons being issued to SMET staff can be found in 'The Tramways of Croydon', G E Baddeley; Light Rail Transport Association (1983), ISBN: 0 900433 90 6.

With respect to the Pattern 2 button, this would appear to have been issued to the 'South Metropolitan Electric Tramways' — along with 'London United Tramways' (LUT) and 'Metropolitan Electric Tramways' - some time between 1915 and the early 1920s. All three tramway companies had effectively been merged - under the umbrella of a holding company (the 'London & Suburban Traction Company Ltd') - over a six-month period from late 1912 (LUT and MET) to May 1913 (SMET). Although they continued to maintain their individual identities, from 1915 onwards they were actively administered as a single entity, with some attempts at standardization (eg, uniforms) being undertaken.

The 'London & Suburban Traction Company Ltd' was jointly owned by the 'Underground Electric Railways Company of London Ltd' (UERL) and British Electric Traction Company Ltd (BET), the latter having owned the SMET from its inception. The UERL had previously merged with the 'London General Omnibus Company' (15th January 1912), and had then gone on to acquire full control of two further underground railways (The City and South London Railway and The Central London Railway). This 'combine' came to be known as the 'Underground Group'. On 1st January 1913, the MET was formally transferred to the 'London & Suburban Traction Company Ltd', along with its BET-owned sister, the Tramways (M.E.T) Omnibus Company Ltd, and the UERL-owned London United Tramways (LUT); BET's remaining London tramway (the SMET) followed suit in May 1913. The L&STCo was initially controlled by the BET, however on 1st May 1915, administrative control was passed to the UERL, so all three tramways effectively now came under the sway of the Underground Group. BET finally sold their remaining 5% share in the MET to the UERL in November 1928.

The precise origins of the London Underground 'bullseye' logo used on the Pattern 2 button are still not entirely clear. The distinctive lettering (larger first and final letters) was a design promoted by the District Railway (a UERL company) in 1908 as a means of 'branding' London's underground railways (not just the District Railway). At the same time, the District Railway also began to introduce station signage which is clearly recognisable as the forerunner of the later 'bullseye' logo. This consisted of a blue horizontal bar with the station name in white lettering, overlain on a solid red circle - the design of which was said to have been greatly influenced by the London General Omnibus Company's emblem (a spoked wheel with the word 'GENERAL' displayed across it). Although the iconic 'UNDERGROUND' bar and circle roundel (with a ring as opposed to a solid circle) began to appear on publicity material from around 1912, it was not formally registered until 1917 and only after that did it start to appear on stations. It was subsequently used throughout the Underground Group's enterprises (railways, buses, tramways, electricity supply companies), and was subsequently adopted by London Transport following the take over in 1933.

I’ve also included a photograph of another ‘SMET’ button, but one I do not believe was issued by the tramway company, more probably an associated undertaking such as the South Metropolitan Electric Light & Power Company.