Lowestoft Corporation Tramways

Lowestoft's 3ft 6in-gauge electric tramway, which opened on the 22nd July 1903, was owned and operated by Lowestoft Corporation. The electric tramway had had a relatively long gestation, the corporation originally supporting a scheme by the East Anglian Light Railway Company that was rejected by the Light Railway Commissioners, then promoting its own scheme, powers for which were obtained in 1901, with the intention of leasing operation of the new tramway to the EARCo. Although agreement was initially reached between the two parties, the company appears to have had second thoughts, so the corporation ended up operating the system itself.

The tramway was 4.08 miles long, and though the corporation had plans to extend it, they never came to fruition. The system essentially comprised a long line running northeastwards along the coast from the Tramway Hotel in Pakefield, along London Road South — crossing the entrance to the inner harbour via a swing bridge — before turning northwards along the High St and northwestwards along Yarmouth Rd to a terminus near the Norfolk and Suffolk Joint Railway's Lowestoft North Station, though for most of the life of the tramway, the terminus was short of this at Marine Parade. There was also a branch running past the Great Eastern Railway's Central Station along Denmark Rd, and then down Rotterdam Rd, where the depot and power station were situated.

The tramway was well-patronised, but had cost a lot to build (including significant road widening), so it was saddled with quite a lot of debt from the outset. On top of this came regular expenditure on the trackbed — in 1909, 1910 and 1911 — which appears to have been constructed with materials that did not stand the test of time, culminating in 1912 in a major and expensive renewal. Although this stood the tramway in good stead for the coming war, the debt was now at a level that the undertaking could never hope to pay off, which seems to have raised enough concerns in the council to have an independent consultant brought in. His report resulted in fares being raised by 50%, the previous low levels having presumably also played a role in the enterprise's indebtedness, though the fact no services were provided over a quarter of the system (along Denmark Rd) can hardly have helped matters.

Like most tramway systems, Lowestoft's suffered during the Great War from a loss of staff (and skills), restrictions on purchasing spares or new tramcars, and an inability to do anything other than the minimum of maintenance. Matters were exacerbated by the intermittent hazards of German naval shelling and Zeppelin bombardment, experiences shared with a few other east coast tramway towns such as Sunderland and Hartlepool. As a result, the system emerged from the conflict with a large backlog of repairs, which were gradually made good, despite the system's indebtedness and the challenges of post-war inflation. The corporation certainly looked at what could be done to improve the transport situation, obtaining powers (in 1920) to operate trolleybuses, a not uncommon step where a tramway, be it municipally or company-owned, also owned the power generation and supply. These powers were however subject to a clause around the adequacy of United Automobile Services (a Lowestoft company) motorbus services, which would no doubt have proven very costly to overturn, so consequently, no action was taken. Although the tramway was meanwhile kept in good order, it was only a matter of time before major and costly renewals would be needed.

The corporation eventually branched out into motorbus operation in 1927, obtaining powers that year and introducing the new vehicles on 'summer only' services; services were however soon expanded, being interspersed with tramway services along the main line during 1929. By this time, it was clear that the tramway would need major investment if it was to continue, so the following year, it was perhaps no surprise to anyone when the corporation decided to abandon the system and replace the services with corporation motorbuses. Although a timeframe of 5 years was envisaged, the availability of government unemployment grants brought this forward, the section north of the swing bridge closing on the 10th April 1931, the last tram of all running just a few weeks later on the 8th May 1931.

Early photographs clearly show that tramcar staff were issued with double-breasted, 'lancer-style' tunics with five pairs of brass buttons — narrowing from top to bottom — and bearing the full system title around a representation of St Margaret (see link); the tunics had upright collars that seem to have borne employee numbers, though these cannot be made out with certainty on surviving photographs. Caps were soft-topped with a glossy peak, and bore a small brass badge comprising St Margaret holding a shield, above the full system title — 'LOWESTOFT CORPORATION TRAMWAYS' — within a ribbon/scroll (see below). Caps, tunics and trousers were all piped, though the colour remains, for the moment, unclear.

At some point during the early days of the system, probably in 1904, a switch was made away from soft-topped caps to kepis, though the photographic evidence suggests that a small number of men continued to wear the older style of cap. A standard, brass, script-lettering grade badge — either Motorman or Conductor — was now worn beneath the main cap badge. A further switch was made — possibly as early as 1906 — to more modern military-style caps with tensioned crowns (tops); these continued to be worn right through to closure.

Some time in the late Edwardian era, and certainly by 1910, a subtle change had been made to the tunics to incorporate epaulettes; these appear to have been devoid of insignia, as were the collars, though by the 1920s, they were carrying employee numbers. Photographs taken on the last day show crewmen wearing what appear to be the standard cap badges on their collars; however, this was more than likely an affection of the two individuals depicted — possibly to mark the last day — rather than being departmental policy.

Staff also frequently wore heavy, double-breasted, 'lancer-style' greatcoats with high, fold-over collars and epaulettes; both were devoid of insignia.

Inspectors wore single-breasted jackets with hidden buttons (or more likely a hook and eye affair), edged in a finer material than the main jacket, and with upright collars; the latter carried the bearer's grade — Inspector — in embroidered script lettering. Caps were the same style as worn by tramcar staff, i.e., initially soft-topped, then kepis, then military-style caps; they carried the standard 'Lowestoft Corporation Tramways' cap badge, and for a short period around the mid-Edwardian era, a metal (probably brass) grade badge, though this appears to have quickly fallen out of use.

In common with many tramway systems across the British Isles, women were employed during the Great War to replace men lost to the armed services, first as conductresses (from 1915) and later on as motorwomen (from 1916) and inspectresses. The tramcar ladies were initially issued with long, tailored, double-breasted, 'lancer-style' coats with five pairs of buttons (narrowing from top to bottom), along with a waist belt and high, fold-over collars; the latter carried 'L C T' initials on both sides, probably embroidered. The first garments had unmarked vulcanite or horn buttons, but these were superseded by very similar garments that bore metallic buttons; the new style of coat was still double-breasted, but now had waist level pockets (with flap closures), but lacked a belt. There is no photographic evidence to suggest that shorter jackets were worn underneath, which probably explains why several photos show these ladies wearing the coats with the top two buttons undone and the top worn open. Headgear consisted of a shiny waterproof bonnet with wide brim, which bore the standard 'Lowestoft Corporation Tramways' badge, sometimes with a script-lettering grade badge. Various other hats were also worn, suggesting that many of ladies preferred to wear something more fashionable or practical (for tram driving), either that, or the standard headgear was in short supply. Information on the uniform worn by the inspectresses is unavailable.

I am indebted to David Mackley for background information, and for providing many of the photos shown below.

Further reading
For a pictorial history of the system, see 'Lowestoft Tramways' by David Mackley; Middleton Press (2010).


Motormen and conductors
Lowestoft Corporation Tramways Tram No 6 at Belle Vue Park in 1903
A rather pristine-looking Tramcar No 6 stands at the temporary terminus at Belle Vue Park, a fact which enables the image to be dated to 1903. Photo courtesy of David Mackley.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways Tram conductor and driver
A blow-up of the above photo, which clearly shows that both men are wearing soft-topped caps that appear, at least from this photo, to carry the standard Lowestoft Corporation Tramways cap badge (see below), but without a script-lettering grade badge.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways conductor and motorman 1904
The crew of a fairly new Tramcar No 14 (delivered in 1904) captured at Lowestoft North Station — photo undated, but probably taken in 1904 or 1905. Both men are wearing 'lancer-style' tunics with collar insignia, and kepi-style caps with the standard cap badge above a grade badge; the conductor's cap has a white rain cover. Photo courtesy of David Mackley.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways badge
Lowestoft Corporation Tramways cap badge — brass. This was worn throughout the entire life of the tramway, 1903-1931. Author's Collection.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways badges
Standard ‘off the shelf’ script-lettering grade badges of the type used by Lowestoft — brass. Author's Collection.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways tram staff c1904
A group of tramcar staff, two inspectors and sundry depot staff with one of the new 1904 tramcars, probably taken shortly after its delivery. Photo courtesy of David Mackley.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways tram staff c1904
A blow-up of the above photo showing seven motormen and conductors, all wearing kepi-style caps bearing the standard Lowestoft Corporation Tramways cap badge above a script-lettering grade badge. The man at the extreme right of the back row is however still wearing a soft-topped cap without a grade badge.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways staff photo Rotterdam Road
A staff photo taken in front of Rotterdam Road depot — photo undated, but as the trams are festooned with advertising, probably mid-Edwardian, i.e., 1905 or 1906. Once again, a couple of individuals (back row, extreme left; middle row, third from left) are wearing soft-topped caps. Photo courtesy of David Mackley.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways trams and crew
Several tramwaymen, all wearing military-style caps with tensioned crowns (tops), pose for posterity with what would appear to be a school or church outing. The photo is thought to date to around 1906, which suggests that this style of cap was introduced around that time. Photo courtesy of David Mackley.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways crew
A unknown conductor and Motorman George Warnes pose with a tramcar in London Road South, decorated to mark the coronation of King George V in 1911. By this time, epaulettes had been added to the 'lancer-style' tunics.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways Tram No 9 Great War
It seems likely that this photograph was specially taken to commemorate the three members of the operating staff who were awarded the Military Medal during the Great War. The inspector is W Bemment and the motorman is J Crickmore, which if the supposition is correct, would mean that the conductor is H Clarke. Although the photograph is undated, the medal ribbon, and the fact that the destination box has been replaced by boards underneath the window, suggest that it was taken during or shortly after the Great War. Author's Collection.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways conductor and tram driver
A blow-up of the above photo showing the conductor (probably H Clarke) and motorman (J Crickmore). Both men appear to be wearing button holes, so apart from the 'Military Medal' hypothesis, it was probably also a special occasion. The collars and epaulettes on both men appear to be devoid of insignia.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways Crew
Conductor Freddie Reynolds and Motorman Harvey Crawford with Tramcar No 10 — photo undated, but probably taken in the 1920s. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways tram No 6 and crew
Two conductors and a motorman aboard Tramcar No 6 — photo undated, but probably taken in the late 1920s or around the time of closure. Source unknown.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways
Motorman Sidney Poole and a conductor pose besides Lowestoft's official last tramcar in Station Square on 8th May 1931. The employee numbers (on their epaulettes) can just be made out, along with collar badges that are very similar in shape to those worn on the caps. Given that no other photos show badges being worn on the uniform collars, this may have been a personal touch of the men depicted, adopted for the last day of services. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways
Conductor Charles Boon and a motorman, both in greatcoats, stand alongside Tramcar 14 at Belle Vue Park on the last day of operation, 8th May 1931. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways tram driver Fred Dunham
Fred Dunham — photo undated, but believed to have been taken around the time of the Second World War, i.e., long after the demise of the tramway. Apparently, Lowestoft did not bother to change the 'Tramway' name on uniform badges and buttons for at least two decades after closure! Photo courtesy of the Malcolm Andrews Collection, with thanks to David Mackley.

Senior staff
Lowestoft Corporation Tramways tram inspectors c1904
A blow-up of the 1904 depot photo above, showing the two inspectors, both wearing typical tramway inspector jackets, along with kepi-style caps bearing what is probably the standard Lowestoft Corporation Tramways cap badge, but no grade badge.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways inspectors
A blow-up of the mid-Edwardian depot photo above, which although of poor quality, does suggest that the inspectors are wearing brass, script-lettering grade badges (middle row, extreme left and right).

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways Inspector cap badge
Inspector's 'grade' cap badge, seemingly only worn for a short time in the mid-Edwardian era. Author's Collection.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways Inspector
A Lowestoft inspector in 1911 on the occasion of King George V's coronation, by this time, in a military-style cap with a tensioned crown (top).

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways Inspector W Bemment
Inspector W Bemment, sporting his medal ribbon, including Military Medal — photo probably taken shortly after the Great War.

Female staff
Lowestoft Corporation Tramways Great War conductresses 1915
A photo taken in 1915, seemingly to mark the first tranche of female employees, at this time all conductresses, though later on (from 1916) they were also employed as motorwomen. The lady on the extreme right is a Miss Charlish (later Wernham), whilst the man in the boater is the General Manager, Herbert Saunders. The two uniformed male figures are Inspectors Peck (left) and Strowger (right); Inspector Peck is however wearing a standard uniform, so it seems likely that he had only recently been appointed, and that his uniform had yet to be issued. Photo courtesy of David Mackley.

Lowestoft Great War tram conductresses 1915
A blow-up of the above photo showing two of the ladies. The heavy 'lancer-style' coats, which have composite unmarked buttons, must have been somewhat challenging to wear in the warmer months. The coat collars bear individual 'L C T' system initials, whilst the waterproof bonnets bear the standard Lowestoft Corporation Tramways cap badge.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways Great War tram conductresses
Another staff photograph taken in the Great War, but probably towards the end of the conflict. The ladies still have long, double-breasted coats, but now with standard tramway-pattern buttons (see link) rather than the unmarked composite buttons used earlier. Source unknown.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways Great War tram conductresses
A blow-up of the above photo showing two of the ladies, the first wearing a straw bonnet with the standard 'tramway' cap badge, a script-lettering Conductor badge, along with various embellishments, the second in a dark-coloured waterproof bonnet with the standard cap badge. In contrast to the earlier coats, these garments have waist pockets (with flap closures) and are without a waist belt.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways Great War conductress Olive Bately and tram driver Louise Shipp
Conductress (Olive Bately; later Utting) and motorwoman (Louise Shipp; later Gowing) pose with a rather dilapidated looking Tramcar No 22 at Pakefield — photo undated, but probably taken during or shortly after the Great War. Both women are wearing their coats unbuttoned at the top, which gives the false impression of wide lapels. Miss Shipp has her own tight-fitting waterproof hat, possibly because the large brims of the standard bonnets would have made them susceptible to blowing off at speed. Author's Collection.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways conductress Olive Bately
Conductress Bately at Pakefield once again, but this time with a somewhat less-battered vehicle (Tramcar No 1) and a motorman. Photo courtesy of the Tramways and Light Railway Society, with thanks to David Voice.

Lowestoft Corporation Tramways conductress
Lowestoft Great War motorwoman at the controls of Tramcar No 5. She is wearing the later style of coat with metallic buttons, as well as her own hat rather than one of the corporation issues. Photo courtesy of the Stephen Howarth Collection.