Wallasey Council/Corporation Tramways

Wallasey Local Board (the local authority) effectively became a tramway owner on the 28th June 1879, when the Wallasey Tramways Company began horse-drawn operations over tracks laid and maintained by the company, but owned by the Local Board.

In 1894, the Local Board was abolished, its authority now vested in the newly formed Wallasey Urban District Council. Two years later, in 1896, the council decided to build a modern, municipally operated electric tramway system, and to trigger its right to compulsorily purchase the horse tramway, which since the 8th May 1891 had been operated by the Wallasey United Tramway and Omnibus Company Ltd. Unfortunately, the council's plans were significantly delayed, as the tramway company considered that the council had forfeited its right to buy the company (under their original agreement), and was thus not legally entitled to force through a compulsory purchase. However, after a long, drawn-out and acrimonious battle, which ended up in the House of Lords, the decision finally went the way of the council.

The council took over the tramway on the 1st April 1901, immediately investing in new horses and second-hand vehicles, and operating it very successfully pending conversion to electric traction. Although construction of new lines commenced in June 1901, the council, which always owned the horse tramway tracks, had actually begun the process of replacing them with newer and heavier rails some three years previously. The first overhead electric tramway service, which was standard gauge, ran on the 17th March 1902, the last council-operated horse tram running two days later on the 19th March 1902.

The tramway was very profitable, frequently making significant contributions to the rates, as well as to sinking and renewal funds. The only financial issues were self-induced, the corporation, which like Liverpool was a big proponent of one penny fare stages — and thus cheap travel — occasionally lengthening these stages (against the advice of the manager), only to have to reverse the decision following a significant and entirely predictable drop in takings.

In 1910, Wallasey was elevated to the status of a borough (and three years later a county borough), this being reflected in a change of name to Wallasey Corporation Tramways. At its maximum, the WCT operated 12.02 miles of tramway, comprising: three lines to New Brighton running broadly northwestwards from Seacombe, one via Seabank Rd, the second via Liscard and Upper Brighton, and the third via Liscard, Grove Rd and Warren Drive; a fourth line was later added which ran westwards from Seacombe to Poulton, then northwestwards to Wallasey Village, before tuning eastwards to meet the third line at Grove Rd.

The tramway was well maintained, something which stood it in good stead during the Great War, when maintenance suffered and new equipment was virtually unobtainable. Doubling of the heavily used Seabank Rd route was completed over the winter of 1914/15, with six new tramcars arriving in May of the latter year, improvements which were no doubt set in train before the outbreak of war, or at least before the economy was turned over to servicing the conflict. Whilst the system was very heavily used, it seems to have emerged from the Great War in much better shape than other systems, many of which were on their knees. The most pressing post-war issue was to raise prices, as the high inflation of the war and the period immediately afterwards, meant that takings were barely covering the operating costs. The track was also deteriorating following four years of minimal maintenance, its condition becoming a continual source of friction between the Tramways Department and the Borough Engineer, who was responsible for its upkeep.

The corporation quickly set about investing in its system, with various track replacements being undertaken, and more new cars arriving in 1920. Powers were also obtained to run buses within the borough — the first service running on the 3rd April 1920 — the tramways being protected through higher bus fares. The first buses were however, primitive solid-tyred affairs, and were not particularly popular; despite losses being incurred on these services, the corporation stuck with the buses, gradually introducing more modern vehicles, and expanding routes beyond the borough boundary, including running joint services with Birkenhead Corporation.

By the mid 1920s, the track, which was still under the control of the Borough Engineer, was in need of major investment. This, as well as plans for new tramway extensions, provoked considerable debate within the council over the future of the tramways, the proposed extensions being rejected in favour of buses. The cost of track replacement, and the increasingly successful bus services, inevitably led to a change of policy, with the buses carrying the day. This was despite powerful factions within the council advocating trolleybuses, so much so that powers were even obtained to operate them, which were then never used.

Meanwhile, the tramway track had been allowed to deteriorate further, particularly on the heavily used Seabank Rd route, which thus became the first to be abandoned, even though it carried a quite staggering 6,500,000 passengers during 1928, a number that the buses, with their lower capacity, could never hope to match. Needless to say, with the best route gone, it was only a matter of time before the others followed suit. Wallasey's last tram ran on the 30th November 1933, returning to the depot at 40 minutes past midnight.

Unfortunately, no photos are know to have survived which unequivocally show the horse tramway during its council days, so it is currently unclear what uniforms, if any, were worn.

Early photos show that staff were issued with smart double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics with upright collars and five pairs of buttons (narrowing from top to bottom) carrying the full system title, 'Wallasey Council Tramways' around a monogram of the system initials, 'WCT' (see link). The upright collars carried individual system initials — 'W C T' — on the bearer's right-hand side, and an employee number on the left-hand side. The caps were of the drooping-peak type with steeply inclined glossy peaks; they bore script-lettering grade badges, either Motorman or Conductor. The early insignia were probably brass.

Several examples of nickel cap badges have survived; these take the form of an eight-pointed star with a monogram of the system initials — 'WCT' — and the grade, either 'DRIVER' or 'CONDUCTOR' in a scroll below. This style of cap badge probably replaced the script-lettering variety relatively early on, but was itself superseded around 1910, when the council was granted 'Borough' status (later County Borough). The replacement badges bore the new corporation coat of arms, above scrolls containing the corporation motto ('Audemus Dum Cavemus') and the full system title: 'Wallasey Corporation Tramways' (see below). Although these badges exist in nickel and chrome, all surviving Corporation-era buttons are nickel (see link). The chrome cap badge is however almost certainly a later chromium-plating by an employee or collector, as the lugs are also chromed; furthermore, this material did not gain widespread use for badges until after the demise of the Wallasey system (see link).

The use of the old fashioned kepi-style caps appears to have persisted through to 1926 (certainly photos exist from 1923 that clearly show staff wearing these) when they were replaced by military-style caps with tensioned crowns (tops); the cap badge remained unchanged. The switch to military-style caps appears to have been the only change made to the general style of the uniform over the entire lifespan of the tramway (1902 to 1933).

Tramcar staff were also issued with long, double-breasted greatcoats with five pairs of buttons and high, fold-over collars; the latter very probably bore the same insignia as the tunics worn underneath.

Photos of inspectors are also rare, but enough have survived to give a good indication of the style of uniform worn, at least up until 1910. Jackets were single-breasted with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye arrangement) and upright collars; the latter probably carried the designation Inspector in embroidered script lettering, though the use of system initials cannot be excluded, as surviving photos do not allow the precise form to be discerned. The jacket and pockets were both edged in a finer material than the main body. Headgear comprised the same style of drooping-peak cap worn by tramcar crews, but carrying a script-lettering grade badge — Inspector — though whether this was embroidered or metal is currently unclear. System initials — 'W C T' — were carried above the grade badge, in individual letters, possibly brass. Following the change to the new star-shaped badges (in the mid-Edwardian era), inspectors also wore this new pattern of cap badge, but with the grade 'INSPECTOR' within the ribbon. A switch was almost certainly made to the new corporation cap badge in 1910, and to military-style caps in 1926, however, photographic evidence that would either prove or disprove this has so far proved elusive. The new badge was identical to those issued to tramcar staff, but is believed to have been gilded brass rather than nickel; examples have survived in both a voided form (i.e., open-backed) and an unvoided form.

As with many tramway systems, women were employed in significant numbers during the Great War to make good the loss of male staff to the armed forces, though in the case of Wallasey, only as conductresses. Although precise details of the uniforms are unclear, long, single-breasted, tailored tunics were certainly worn, together with an Australian-style bush hat.

Records from 1917 indicate that that there were 63 motormen (all male), 81 conductors (76 female), 3 ticket inspectors, 4 timekeepers, 1 depot inspector and 1 assistant depot inspector.

Further reading
For a history of Wallasey's tramways, see: 'The Tramways of Birkenhead and Wallasey' by T B Maund and M Jenkins; LRTA (1987).


Motormen and conductors
allasey Council Tramways staff photo 1902
A staff photo taken at Seaview Rd depot in 1902. Photo courtesy of Rob Jones.

Wallasey Council Tramways staff photo 1902
A blow-up of the above photo showing two conductors and a motorman (the latter in the middle). They are all wearing kepi-style caps with script-lettering grade badges; the collars of their 'lancer-style' tunics bear system initials — 'W C T' — on one side and an employee number on the other.

Wallasey Council Tramways cap badges brass
Script-lettering cap badges of the pattern used by Wallasey Council Tramways during the first few years of operation — brass. Author's Collection.

Wallasey Corporation Tramways
A conductor and motorman pose for the camera with Tramcar No 48 on Rowan Street at the end of Field Road on the 8th July 1910, the opening day of the Poulton route. This was the year that Wallasey became a borough, the word 'Council' on the tramcar rocker panel gradually being replaced with the word 'Corporation'. The tram still carries the word 'Council', and the tramcar staff appear to have round cap badges, almost certainly the 8-pointed 'council' star below. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Wallasey Council Tramways cap badge
Wallasey Council Tramways 'Driver' cap badge, of the type worn from the mid-Edwardian era to around 1910 — nickel. Author's Collection

Wallasey Council Tramways conductor cap badge
Wallasey Council Tramways 'Conductor' cap badge, of the type worn from the mid-Edwardian era to around 1910 — nickel. Author's Collection.

Wallasey Corporation Tramways tram 51 conductor and motorman
A conductor and motorman pose on the platform of Tramcar No 51, pictured on the turning circle at the junction of Warren Drive and Grove Road — photo undated, but probably taken around 1913 when route letters were first introduced. Photo courtesy of Barry Ijewsky.

Wallasey - tram conductor Wiliam Henry Davis
A blow up of the above photo showing the conductor and motorman. The conductor is William Henry Davis, who was born in County Fermanagh in 1879, later tried his luck in America (in 1904), returned to Ireland and eventually moved to Wallasey. He started on the trams around 1908 as a conductor, moving onto driving, and later transferring to the council's refuse department, finally ending his days in New Brighton in 1951. Thanks to his grandson, Barry Ijewsky, for this information. Note the continued use of kepi-style caps, which by this time (circa 1913), were distinctly old fashioned. The later 'corporation' cap badge, and the collar insignia are clearly seen.

Wallasey Corporation Tramways Cap badge
Wallasey Corporation Tramways cap badge, of the type worn from around 1910 to closure — nickel. Author's Collection.

Wallasey Corporation Tramways Cap badge
Wallasey Corporation Tramways cap badge, — chrome (probably chromium-plated by a collector as the lugs are plated as well the main badge). Author's Collection.

Wallasey Corporation Tramways kepi cap and cap badge
Wallasey Corporation Tramways kepi style cap with later period cap badge. This combination would have been worn between around 1910 and 1926. Photo courtesy of Rob Jones.

Wallasey Corporation Tramways tramwaymen pre Great War
A line up of Wallasey Corporation Tramways tramcar staff — photo undated, but probably taken between 1910 and the start of the Great War. All are wearing double-breasted greatcoats and kepi-style caps, but with the latter clearly bearing the new style of Corporation cap badge. Photo courtesy of Rob Jones.

Wallasey Corporation Tramways Tram driver 'E T Davies
Motorman Edwin Thomas Davies, who worked on the tramway from 1902 until 1933, pictured in military-style cap, so sometime after 1926. Photo courtesy of Rob Jones.

Wallasey Corporation Tramways
A motorman at the controls of Tramcar No 40 in Seacombe in the summer of 1932. Note the new military-style cap, but with the tunic unchanged, stylistically, from the opening day. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Senior staff
Wallsaey Council Tramways tram inspector 1902
A blow-up of the 1902 depot photo above showing an inspector. He appears to have a script-lettering grade badge — Inspector — on his cap, above which are system initials (probably). The grade badge was probably embroidered (on a hat band), whilst the system initials may have been metal.

Wallasey Council Tramways Tram inspector 1910
WCT inspector pictured in 1910 (from the photograph of No 48 above, taken on the opening day of the Poulton route). The kepi-style cap almost certainly bears the same pattern of star-shaped badge shown below. Photo courtesy of Rob Jones.

Wallasey Council Tramways inspector cap badge
Wallasey Council Tramways 'Inspector' cap badge, of the type worn from the mid-Edwardian era to around 1910 — nickel. With thanks to Dave and Helen Lewis.

Wallasey Corporation Tramways inspector cap badge
Wallasey Corporation Tramways cap badge worn from circa 1910 onwards — gilt. It is believed that senior staff wore badges in this material. Unlike the badges worn by tramcar staff, the badge is voided (i.e., open-backed). Courtesy of the David Wilkinson Collection.

Wallasey Corporation Tramways Cap badge
Wallasey Corporation Tramways cap badge, of the type probably worn by inspectors from around 1910 through to closure — brass or possibly worn gilt. Unlike the example above, this badge is not voided. Author's Collection.