Bath Electric Tramways Limited

By 1898, Bath Corporation had decided that any electric tramway development within the city should be under municipal control, and to this end, it successfully applied for powers to construct a standard-gauge electric tramway system. As a precursor to conversion, the corporation purchased the existing 4ft 0ins-gauge horse tramway in July 1902, the last horse tram running on the 25th of that month, which was probably the date on which the assets were handed over to the corporation.

The corporation however, elected not to build and operate the system itself, but instead, chose to transfer its powers to the Bath Electric Tramways Ltd, which was formed on the 9th July 1902; work commenced on converting the system in November of that year, with the formal transfer of the corporation's tramway powers to the BETL taking place on the 3rd April 1903. Construction took over one year, the first electric services commencing on the 2nd January 1904. The system eventually totalled 14.78 miles, with lines out to Newton in the West, Weston in the North, Bathford in the East, Twerton and Oldfield Park in the South and Combe Down in the Southeast.

The company appears to have always struggled financially, and somehow managed not to pay a dividend to its shareholders from 1906 through to at least the 1920s. Although there were accusations of mismanagement, independent investigation showed them to be unfounded. Bus feeder services were introduced as early as 1905, but were transferred on the 1st January 1920 to a subsidiary company — the Bath Tramway Motor Company — as a means of raising the finance necessary for tramway renewal.

In December 1936, the BETL sold out to its near neighbour, the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company Ltd, which at this time, was aggressively expanding its operations, primarily through acquisition of local bus companies. As the Bath system was in need of significant investment (to renew life-expired infrastructure) it was fairly clear that its days were numbered, especially with bus replacement being high on the BT&CCo's agenda. Formal agreement — between the corporation and the company — to abandon the system, was reached on the 26th July 1937. The first abandonment took place on the 29th October 1938, with the last trams running on the 6th May 1939.

Good quality close-up photographs of Bath Electric Tramways staff are somewhat of a rarity, which is more than a little surprising given that the system served a major tourist town. The information below is therefore based on photographs taken from a distance, as well as details given in 'The Bath Tramways' by Colin C Maggs (The Oakwood Press, 1971).

Tramcar staff were initially issued with double-breasted, navy blue serge jackets with red piping, four pairs of nickel buttons (see link) and high fold-over collars. It is unclear whether the jackets carried any kind of insignia, but so far, evidence tends to suggest that they did not. The caps were in a 'soft-topped' military style with a glossy peak, and rather unusually, appear not to have carried a cap badge of any description.

Motormen and conductors frequently wore long, double-breasted, 'lancer-style' greatcoats with five pairs of buttons — narrowing from top to bottom — and high fold-over collars; the latter appear to have carried embroidered script initials, 'BETL'. A round municipal licence also appears to have been worn, details of which are currently unknown.

At some point in the first decade of operation, but definitely prior to 1911, the style of jacket was changed to a fairly standard single-breasted design with five buttons, two breast pockets (with button closures) and upright collars. Once again, no insignia — other than the buttons — appears to have been carried. A further change appears to have been made in the early 1930s to a more modern design of double-breasted jacket with four pairs buttons, and lapels. Around the same time, a one-piece, script initials nickel badge ('BETL') was introduced; this was used both as a cap badge and on the upper lapels of the overcoats (see below).

Inspectors wore single-breasted jackets with hook and eye fasteners, with two breast pockets (with button closures) and upright collars; the latter bore the company initials — 'BETL' — in embroidered script lettering. The jacket edges were finished in a fine corduroy-like material, with further embellishment provided in the form of braided epaulettes and corded flourishes around the collar. It is believed that the buttons on inspectors uniforms (pocket closures and overcoats) were brass rather than nickel. The military-style caps were the same as ordinary tramcar staff, but with the grade — Inspector — embroidered in yellow script-lettering on a brocade hat band.

Women were employed during the Great War — from October 1915 — initially as conductresses to replace male staff lost to the armed services, but later on as motorwomen too. The ladies were issued with three-quarter length jackets (probably single-breasted) with high fold-over collars, along with matching skirts, all in navy blue serge. Baggy caps were worn (with a shiny peak), and in keeping with the general policy, did not carry any insignia. Female staff wore make-shift uniforms until the official uniforms were delivered on the 1st December 1915.

Further reading
For a history of the tramway, see: 'Bath Tramways' (Locomotion Papers No 52) by Colin Magg; Oakwood Press (1971).


Motormen and conductors
Bath Electric Tramways Tram No 22 and crew 1904
The crew of Tramcar No 22 pose for the camera at Newbridge Hill in 1904. Although of very poor quality, it does show that both motormen and conductors wore double-breasted jackets with lapels and soft-topped, military-style caps. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Bath Electric Tramways Tram No 27
A motorman at the controls of Tramcar No 27 in the centre of Bath en route to Coombe Down — photo undated, but probably taken within the first decade of operation. The motorman is wearing the initial style of double-breasted uniform, and also has a round licence. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Bath Electric Tramways Tram No 50 and driver
A motorman at the controls of Tramcar No 50 on Old Bridge — photo undated, but probably taken in the mid-1930s. The motorman's cap and collars clearly bear reflective badges, almost certainly the script-lettering design shown below. Source unknown.

Bath Electric Tramways cap abdge
BETL initials cap and collar badge — nickel. This was worn from the early 1930s through to closure in 1939. Author's Collection.

Bath Electric Tramways Tram No 12
Tramcar No 12 stands at the terminus at Weston — photo undated, but probably taken in the early 1930s. Photo by Dr H Nicol, courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Bath Electric Tramways Tram No 12 tram driver
A blow-up of the above photo showing the motorman, once again with the BETL cap badge reflecting the light.

Bath Electric Tramways Tram No 12 and crew
Motorman C Lye and Conductor C Tozer pose with Tramcar No 12 outside the Globe Inn at the Newton St Loe tram terminus — photo taken in 1935. Although the image is of poor quality, the motorman is clearly wearing a long double-breasted, 'lancer style' greatcoat, whilst the conductor has the later style single-breasted jacket. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Bath Electric Tramways Tram No 16 and motorman Jack Snow
Motorman Jack Snow at the controls of Tramcar No 16 crossing the New Bridge on 18th April 1938. Photo by W A Camwell. Source unknown.

Bath Electric Tramways No 16
A sterling silver badge often mistakenly attributed to the BETL; it is actually from Bedford Physical Training College, now part of De Montford University.

Senior staff
Bath Electric Tramways inspector circa 1919
A finely executed portrait of a Bath Electric Tramways inspector — photo undated, but as he is wearing a Great War medal ribbon (Star Medal; British War Medal; Victory Medal), probably taken in 1919 or 1920. With thanks to Sarah Wilcox, courtesy of Martyn Smyth.

Bath Electric Tramways Limited tramway inspector circa 1919
An enlargement showing details of the insignia, as well as the intricate braid and brocade embellishments.