Airdrie and Coatbridge Tramways

Airdrie and Coatbridge Tramways were owned and operated by the Airdrie and Coatbridge Tramways Company, which was a subsidiary of the much larger British Electric Traction Company Ltd (BETCo), a concern which at its zenith either owned, part-owned or leased almost fifty tramway concerns across the British Isles.

In the late 1890s, the BETCo was aggressively purchasing horse and steam-operated tramways across the British Isles with the intention of converting them to electric traction, as well as promoting schemes for completely new electric tramways. The BETCo gave notice as early as 1897 that it intended to seek powers to construct a short, standard-gauge electric tramway between the burghs of Airdrie and Coatbridge, though it was to be over six years before it was opened, on the 8th February 1904. The tramway ran roughly east to west from Airdrie to Coatbridge, and though various extensions were either planned or mooted, none was built, the system at its maximum only extending to 3.36 miles. The situation at the western extremity of the line became particularly enticing on the 3rd March 1906, when Glasgow Corporation Tramways extended their system to Ballieston, only about 4 miles distant. The two systems were in fact destined to be joined up, though not under the jurisdiction of the A&CTCo.

The system was well used, and was to lead a relatively uneventful life, the only change of note being its transfer to the Scottish General Transport Company on the 24th September 1913, a company which was expressly set up by the BETCo to manage its tramway undertakings in Scotland, namely, the A&CT, Rothesay Tramways and Greenock and Port Glasgow Tramways.

In early 1920, Airdrie and Coatbridge burghs approached the A&CTCo with a view to purchasing the undertaking, and a price was subsequently agreed. The councils — in the form of the Airdrie and Coatbridge Tramways Trust — took formal possession on the 1st October 1920, though the A&CTCo continued to work the tramway until the council could make other plans, a date in December of the following year being mutually agreed. The councils meanwhile approached Glasgow Corporation, to see whether they would be interested in taking over the tramway and operating it as part of the larger GCT system, a request that was positively received. Following negotiation, the tramway was formally transferred to Glasgow's ownership on the 19th December 1921, though it did not take over operation until the 1st January 1922. At the same time, the GCT also pushed forward plans to extend its Ballieston tramway to meet up with the A&CT at Langloan, the new section being opened on the 28th December 1923.

The last tram service on the former A&CT — operated by the GCT — ran in the early hours of Sunday morning, the 4th November 1956.

Early photos show Airdrie and Coatbridge Tramways staff wearing the familiar and largely regulation BETCo uniform. Although uniform jackets varied somewhat between BETCo systems, as well as across the decades, the cap badges, collar designations and buttons invariably followed a standard pattern.

The early jackets were double breasted with five pairs of buttons (bearing the standard BETCo 'Magnet and Wheel' device — see link) and lapels; the collars carried embroidered, block-capital system initials ('A & C T') on both sides. The tensioned-crown peaked caps bore the standard brass BETCo 'Magnet and Wheel' device badge, along with an employee number in individual brass numerals, which was positioned below.

At some point, possibly in the mid-to-late Edwardian era, a change was made to double-breasted, lancer-style tunics; these bore five pairs of buttons (narrowing from top to bottom) and stand-up collars. Unlike the older style of jackets, the collars bore system initials ('A & C T') on the bearer's right-hand side and an employee number on the left, all in brass.

Tramcar crews were also provided with double-breasted greatcoats with five pairs of buttons and high fold-over collars; no insignia whatsoever appears to have adorned these garments.

Inspectors wore typical 'tramway inspector' apparel, comprising single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or more likely hook and eye fasteners) and stand-up collars; the jackets were edged in a finer material than the main body, with the collars bearing Inspector in embroidered script lettering. The tensioned-crown peaked caps bore the grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering on a hat band; this was initially worn with the standard BETCo cap badge (above), but later without.

Like most systems across Britain, Airdrie and Coatbridge Tramways employed women during the Great War to replace male staff lost to the armed services, initially as conductresses, but later on as motorwomen too. Photographs depicting these ladies are yet to come to light, so details of the uniforms that they were undoubtedly provided with remain unclear.

Further reading
For a history of the system, see: 'Lanarkshire's Trams' by A W Brotchie (Ed); N B Traction (1993).


Motormen and conductors
Airdrie and Coatbridge tram staff Edwaredain taken at Main St depot
A staff photograph taken at the depot at Main Street — photo undated, but judging by the condition of the tramcars, probably taken shortly after opening in 1904. Author's Collection.

Airdrie and Coatbridge tramways motorman conductor
An enlargement of the above photograph showing two of the tramcar staff, Employees 21 and 15. The caps bear the standard BETCo 'Magnet & Wheel' cap badge, along with an employee number, whilst the collars bear 'A & C T' in embroidered block capitals.

British Electric Traction cap badge
Standard British Electric Traction Company ‘Magnet & Wheel’ cap badge of the type worn by Airdrie and Coatbridge Tramways staff — brass. Author's Collection.

Airdrie and Coatbridge Tramways Tram No 8 and crew
Two A&CT employees, a motorman (on the platform) and an individual of uncertain grade (in gaiters), with Tramcar No 8 at the Langloan terminus in Coatbridge — photo undated, but probably taken just prior to the Great War. Although slightly blurred, the man in gaiters is clearly wearing a lancer-style tunic with stand-up collars.

Airdrie and Coatbridge staff photo Great War
Another staff photograph taken at the depot, but this time from around the time of the Great War.

Airdrie and Coatbridge tramwaymen circa Great War
An enlargement of the above photograph showing four of the tramcar staff, probably two motormen (Employee Nos 4 and 22) and two conductors (Employee Nos 47 and 45). All are wearing double-breasted, lancer-style tunics with stand-up collars bearing individual 'A & C T' letters on the right-hand side and an employee number on the left-hand side.

Senior staff
Airdrie and Coatbridge inspector Edwardian
An enlargement of the Edwardian staff photograph above, showing a rather stern looking inspector. Both his cap and his jacket collars bear his grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering, the cap additionally carrying the standard BETCo 'Magnet & Wheel' device badge.

Airdrie and Coatbridge inspector Great War
An enlargement of the Great War staff photo above showing an inspector. The only difference in the uniform from the earlier photo would appear to be the cap, which appears not to carry a BETCo 'Magnet and Wheel' device badge.