Imperial Tramways Company Limited

History The rather grandly titled Imperial Tramways Co Ltd (ITCoLtd) began life on the 30th September 1878 — as a London-based company — with the purchase of several tramway systems (in places as diverse as Dublin and Middlesbrough) and eventually had a railway interest as well (Corris Railway). The key event in the life of this small company took place in 1892 when George White (later Sir), a Bristol-based entrepreneur and leading light in Bristol Tramways, gained control of the struggling company. The history of the ITCo thus became intimately bound up with the Bristol Tramways and with the 'White' family. Sir George White subsequently founded London United Tramways (1894) — opening London's first overhead electric route — before going on to launch the Bristol Aeroplane Company in 1910 and Bristol Motors (cars, lorries and buses) two years later. Sir George's nephew also played a key role, initially by representing the family on the LUT board, and later as Chairman of both Bristol Tramways and the ITCo. The family sold their controlling interest in the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company Ltd in 1929, and the ITCo was officially liquidated the following year.

Button description Elaborate script initials 'ITCL'
Materials known Brass; nickel
Button Line reference [116/83]

Comment The first button opposite was originally ascribed (in Button Lines) to the 'Ipswich Tramway Company Limited'; however, this company did not issue its staff with uniforms (see link), so the attribution is almost certainly incorrect. A much stronger possibility, though still to be conclusively proven, is that it is an issue of the Middlesbrough, Stockton and Thornaby Electric Tramways, a system that was wholly owned and directly worked by the Imperial Tramways Company.

The second button illustrated opposite is often wrongly attributed to the 'Imperial Tramways Co Ltd', but is in fact an issue of the Imperial Tobacco Company Limited (Nottingham). My thanks to David Long for pointing out the correct attribution, which is documented in the International Button Collectors Club Docu-File as 'British Livery No. 215'.

Tramway interests
The following list details — to the best of my knowledge — those concerns in which the Imperial Tramways Company Limited had an interest (either as the owner, the operator or as a major shareholder) at some time during the tramway's life. The dates represent the approximate span of ITCo interest (from opening/purchase to closure/sale), not the life of the tramway system itself. So far, marked buttons are known for the Bristol and London systems, both of which were specific to those tramways. The relationship between the ITCo and the Bristol and London United companies is a complex one. All three were controlled by George White (he was also chairman of all three), his wider family and his business associates; these interests often held shares in the individual companies, but also exerted control over the LUTCo via the ITCo, which was a major shareholder in the LUTCo in its own right.

Blackrock and Kingstown Tramway Company Limited (1893-1896)
Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company Limited (1892-1930; strictly speaking this was a 'White' family interest))
Gloucester Tramways Company (1879-1881)
City of York Tramways Company (1886-1909)
Dublin Southern District Tramways Company (1878-1896)
London United Tramways Company Limited (1894-1902; strictly speaking this was a 'White' family interest)
Middlesbrough and Stockton Tramways (1878-1897)
Middlesbrough, Stockton and Thornaby Electric Tramways (1898-1921)
Reading Tramways Company (1879-1901)
Stockton and Darlington Steam Tramways Company Limited - Darlington lines (1896-1902)
Stockton and Darlington Steam Tramways Company Limited - Stockton lines (1896-1897)
West Metropolitan Tramways Company (1894)