Cruden Bay Hotel Tramway

Although a railway enterprise — originally built and owned by the Great North of Scotland Railway Company — the Cruden Bay Hotel operated right at the top end of the market, with clientele to match. In order to transport hotel guests from the nearby station, some two-thirds of a mile away, the company constructed a short 3ft 6ins-gauge tramway, which was not only the UK's shortest electric tramway, but also its plushest. It opened for business in June 1899 and closed just over 33 years later (to passengers in October 1932), with goods traffic (laundry services) lasting a further nine years until 1941.

Despite being a holiday destination for the wealthy, photographs are unfortunately very sparse indeed. Those that have survived strongly suggest that for the vast majority of the tramway's existence, motormen wore informal attire, robust jackets, trousers and flat caps. In all likelihood they were maintenance staff or groundsmen (the hotel had a renowned golf course), as there were only ever four trains day on the branch line from 1906, so it was hardly a full time job. Indeed, a film made around the time of the Great War shows a driver wearing what appears to be a caddy's attire, and in the 1930s, by which time the tramway only carried laundry, one of the men who drove the tram (Bill Slessor) was actually a waiter at the hotel. Hotel wage records do, however, show that a driver was employed in the first year (1899), though probably not thereafter; he could well have been issued with a uniform, though we shall in all probability never know whether this was the case, and if it was, what form it took.

Hotel guests apparently travelled 'gratis', though other passengers — such as golfers — were charged; it is unclear whether a conductor was employed or whether fares would merely have been paid to the motorman. Although the first photograph below clearly shows a uniformed figure on the rear platform of a tram, the nature of his attire suggests that he is in fact a hotel employee, such as a porter, there to help with luggage etc. This photograph also shows a very smart, and proprietorial-looking individual, very probably the Head Porter or some other hotel official, who would have overseen proceedings, especially when a particularly important and potentially high-tipping guest was expected.

Further reading
My thanks go to Mike Mitchell for much of the background information given above. For a history of the tramway, see: 'Cruden Bay Hotel Tramway' by M Mitchell, in the Tramway Review No 122 (p51-54); Light Rail Transit Association (1985).


Motormen and conductors/guards
Cruden Bay Hotel tram and staff
An undated photo of one of the Cruden Bay Hotel tramcars outside the hotel, though probably taken around the turn of the century given the pristine condition of the vehicle.

Cruden Bay Hotel Head Porter and Tram driver
An enlargement of the above photograph showing the figures at the leading end of the tram. The man in the foreground is almost certainly the Head Porter or some other reasonably senior member of the hotel's uniformed staff — his cap has a hat band bearing 'CRUDEN BAY HOTEL'. The motorman is clearly wearing informal attire.

Cruden Bay Hotel tram porter
Another enlargement, this time showing the figure at the rear of the tram, who would also appears to be a uniformed member of the hotel staff, probably a porter, presumably there to help with the passengers luggage.

Cruden Bay Hotel tram and staff
An evocative group photo posed before one of the Cruden Bay Hotel trams — photo undated, but again probably turn of the century. The shot is thought to depict the boiler room and maintenance staff.

Cruden Bay Hotel tram staff
An enlargement of the above photograph, showing three of the men, all of whom are wearing workmanlike attire, suggesting that they were not customer facing. However, a reminiscence published in the GNSR Association magazine by the hotel night porter, Willie Philip, mentions that there were three boiler fireman/drivers, so perhaps they did indeed drive the trams, irrespective of their grubby attire (thanks to Mike Mitchell for this information).