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 from the Bath Road Car and Tramways Company 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 Bath Electric Tramways Limited, 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 Limited, which at this time, was 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&CCoLtd'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 book referenced below.

Tramcar crews were initially provided with double-breasted, navy-blue, serge jackets, piped in red; they bore four pairs of nickel buttons (see link), and lapels. Whilst the collars possibly bore embroidered company initials ('BETL'), this can as yet not be proven photographically. The caps were initially soft topped with a glossy peak, though they were relatively quickly superseded by tensioned-crown peaked caps; both types appear to have been unadorned, i.e., without a cap badge.

Early photographs show that an oval badge was worn on the left-hand breast of motormen's and conductors' jackets. The badge is believed to have been a standard numbered grade badge of the type also used by Falkirk and District Tramways (see link) and Sunderland District Electric Tramways (see link); the badges bore a number in the centre and the grade (either 'MOTORMAN' or 'CONDUCTOR'), and were probably made of nickel to match the buttons. These badges seem to have fallen out of use some time before the Great War.

At some point in the first decade of operation, but definitely prior to 1911, the style of jacket was changed to a single-breasted design with five buttons, two breast pockets (with button closures) and stand-up collars. Unfortunately, the photographic record for the 15-year period between 1911 and the mid-1920s is very poor indeed, so it is currently unclear what insignia, if any, the jackets and caps bore. A studio portrait of a Great War conductress, however, shows that a one-piece, nickel, script initials cap badge ('BETL') was being used by this time; although confirmatory photographic evidence is yet to surface, it is highly likely that this badge was used on the men's caps too.

A further change was made to the style of the uniform in the early 1930s, to a more modern cut of double-breasted jacket with four pairs buttons, and lapels. Further details are unknown.

Motormen and conductors were also provided with 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 initially carried embroidered script initials, 'BETL'; these were eventually superseded by nickel, script-initials badges, though possibly not until the 1930s.

Inspectors were provided with single-breasted jackets closed with hook and eye fasteners. They bore two breast pockets (with button closures) and stand-up collars, the latter carrying 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 collars. It is believed that the buttons on inspectors uniforms (pocket closures and overcoats) were brass rather than nickel. The tensioned-crown peaked caps bore the grade — 'Inspector' — embroidered in yellow script lettering on a brocade hat band.

Women were employed during the Great War — from October 1915 onwards — to replace male staff lost to the armed services, initially as conductresses , but later on as motorwomen too. These ladies wore make-shift uniforms until the official uniforms were delivered on the 1st December 1915. The new uniforms comprised single-breasted jackets with high, fold-over collars, along with matching skirts, all in navy blue serge, piped in red. Baggy motor caps were worn (with glossy peaks); these carried the standard nickel, script-initials cap badge, though they often seem to have been worn without any badge at all. Female crews were also issued with lancer-style greatcoats with high, fold-over collars, which though piped in red, bore no insignia.

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 peaked caps. Both men are also wearing an oval badge on their left-hand jacket lapels, which is believed to be of the pattern illustrated below. Photo courtesy of the National Tramway Museum.

Bath Electric Tramways Tram No 2 and circa 1904
Three BETL uniformed staff pose with what would appear to be a fairly new Tramcar No 2, dating the photograph to 1904 or 1905. Both the motorman and the conductor are wearing double-breasted jackets bearing an oval badge on the breast, very probably of the pattern shown below. The caps appear to be devoid of insignia. The man on the left may be a more senior member of staff, though this is far from clear.

Bath Electric Tramways conductor grade badge
Conductor employee number badge of the type used by Bath Electric Tramways Limited from 1904 through to around the time of the Great War — nickel. Author's Collection.

Bath Electric Tramways motorman grade badge
Motorman employee number badge of the type used by the Bath Electric Tramways Limited from 1904 through to around the time of the Great War — nickel. Author's Collection.

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 first style of double-breasted uniform, as well as an oval grade badge. 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 badge
Bath Electric Tramways cap and collar badge — nickel. This was worn from around the time of the Great War (at the latest), 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
An enlargement of the above photograph 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. Motorman Lye is wearing a long double-breasted, lancer-style greatcoat, whilst Conductor Tozer has the last style of uniform jacket, which was single breasted. 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), it was 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 of the above photo showing details of the insignia, as well as the intricate braid and brocade embellishments.

Female staff
Bath Electric Tramways Great war conductress
A Bath Electric Tramways Great War employee in double-breasted, lancer-style topcoat and baggy motor cap. Given that she is holding a pair of gloves, she was almost certainly a motorwoman. Author's Collection.

Bath Electric Tramways Great war conductress
An enlargement of the above photograph showing the motor cap and the 'BETL' script-lettering cap badge.