Thursday, 14 May 2009

Electric Trams in Derby, 1904-1934

A Festival of Postcards

Evelyn Theriault, author of A Canadian Family: Acadian & French Canadian Genealogy, has started up a new blog carnival entitled A Festival of Postcards and very kindly emailed me to ask if I would like to take part by posting a postcard relating to the first carnival's theme, Wheels.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The photograph that I have chosen is one from my collection that is a print rather than a postcard, although it does appear to have been published as a postcard, as I will demonstrate. The photograph shows a procession of six decorated electric trams - known in North America as streetcars or trolleys - as well as a horse and cart being driven away from the photographer down the opposite side of the street and several individuals and groups of people, including the tram drivers - referred to as motormen - and conductors.

Image © and collection of Brett Payne

The reverse of the photographic print shows signs of having been removed from an album, but beneath the remains of album page still stuck to the print is a rectangular blue stamp filled in with a pencilled explanation of where and when the photograph was taken. The items that have been completed state:
System: Derby
Date: Opening Day
Taken at: 27.7.1904 London Rd
The empty boxes appear to relate to various aspects of the tram configuration, and for this reason I have wondered if the print originally formed part of a tram enthusiast's collection.

Image © and courtesy of Tramway Information
"The Cars" on London Rd. Opening Day July 27th 1904 Derby Electric Trams
Postcard published by Lever Bros., Derby
Image © and courtesy of Tramway Information

Further research revealed that the Derby Tramways Company opened the first electrified tram routes for service on 27 July 1904. The Tramway Information web site has reproduced the image above from a postcard in their collection, previously featured as a "Postcard of the Month." It is clearly a print of the same photo as my print, with a slightly enlarged view, revealing a couple of young lads loitering in front of the first tram, and some text which appears to have been written in ink onto the negative. The web site provides the following explanation of the scene:
[The] postcard shows a line of trams standing in London Road on 27th July 1904 awaiting the opening ceremony, headed by car 3 which is decorated for the occasion. This is card 113 in a series by Lever Bros., Fine Art Dealers who were a local firm in Derby.

[The operation] started life as a horse tramway opened by the Derby Tramways Co. in 1880. In 1899 the company was taken over by Derby Corporation who set about improving and then electrifying the tramway with the first electric routes opening on 27th July 1904 from The Spot to the Harrington Arms in Alvaston, a branch to the Midland Railway Station and from The Spot to Abingdon Street where the depot was located. There were various extensions until 1908 which then brought the system up to fourteen miles in length ultimately operating some 78 trams. The system was built to the unusual 4 foot gauge.

Car 3 in our view was one of the original batch of 25 open top cars built in 1904 by the Brush Electrical Engineering Co. Ltd., of Loughborough. They seated 22 inside and 26 on top. They were fitted with 5ft 6in wheelbase Brush AA type four-wheel trucks with two BTH GE52 25hp motors and General Electric K10 controllers. The livery was dark olive green and cream.

In the 1930s, in common with many other British tramways, it was decided to replace the trams by trolleybuses, with the last tram running on 2nd July 1934, the trolleybuses themselves being withdrawn on 9th September 1967.
According to Kelly (1912):
The tramways were taken over by the Corporation in 1899, and the system was then electrified and new offices erected in Victoria street in 1904.

813. "The Cars" on London Rd. Opening Day July 27th 1904 Derby Electric Trams.
Postcard published by J.S. Simnett, 2 Guild Street, Burton-on-Trent

Exactly the same photograph was also reproduced, with somewhat better results, and sold by J.S. Simnett of Burton-on-Trent.

Apart from Simnett's studio address and a Professional Photographers' Association (PPS) logo printed on the reverse, the text handwritten in blue ink appears to refer to details of the tram line:
4'0"9. cl. 2/7/34
1-25 Brush/04
In other words, the service provided by the 25 cars manufactured by the Brush firm to a 4'0"9 guage was inaugurated in 1904, and they were finally withdrawn from service on 2 July 1934. It appears, therefore, to be another item from a tram enthusiast's collection.

Image © and courtesy of Picture the Past
"The Decorated Car" Opening Day 27th July 1904 Derby Electric Trams
Postcard published by Lever Bros., Derby
Image © and courtesy of Picture the Past

The caption to an image of another postcard published by Lever Brothers which is reproduced on Picture the Past reveals that the photographs were actually taken by the firm of Richard Keene Ltd. Although the reverse of the postcard is not reproduced, a handwritten date at the bottom of the front of the card ("15/11/04") is possibly the date that it was posted. It depicts the same Derby Corporation electric tram number 3, festooned with decorations and a sign denoting it as a "special car," with another tram (perhaps number 2) in partial view behind it, and the motorman and conductor in clear view. Picture the Past's caption states:
Car 3 at the front of a 6 car cavalcade on the first day of Derby Corporation Electric Tramways operation, wednesday, 27 July 1904. The cars were decorated and led a procession along the newly opened route. Richard Keene Limited were commissioned as the official photographers for the event (though this card is published by Lever Brothers). The cavalcade route was London Road, Osmaston Road, Alvaston and Abingdon Street. Tram no 3 was one of the initial batch of 25 cars supplied by Brush in 1904. It remained in service until 1933, the final parts of the tramway system being abandoned in the following year. The conductor (left) is Harrison Fletcher and the original postcard is addressed to him at 30 Pelham Street, Derby with the message "Dont you think this is a VERY PRETTY postcard."
It is clear, therefore, that the firm of R. Keene Ltd. (Richard Keene himself had died a decade earlier) licensed the image to other postcard publishers in order to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the event.

Image © and courtesy of Picture the Past

A further image from the same group reproduced by Picture the Past shows a large unidentified group of company staff, a couple of mounted policemen and possibly some onlookers, standing in front of Tram No. 3 outside the Derby Tramways Company Depot in Osmaston Road on the first day of operation.

This event was the obviously the occasion for much celebration. Electrification, one of the most important industrial developments of the late 19th Century, resulted in great technological advancements throughout the world, and it did not take long for new uses to be found for this commodity. In Derby, after first being proposed in 1889, the Electric Light Station was built in 1893 on Sowter Road - next to the Old Silk Mill and very close to the town centre - and opened on 10 October 1893 [Source: The Derby Mercury, 16 May 1894]. Initially used only for the lighting of streets, shops and private houses, it was subsequently expanded several times to cater for the high demand created by developments such as the electric tram system.

Image © and courtesy of The National Tramway Museum
In Affectionate Remembrance of the Derby Horse Cars
Postcard published by Charles H. Foster of 21 St James' Street, Derby
Image © and courtesy of The National Tramway Museum

Along with a celebration of the exciting new technology, there was some nostalgia for what was being replaced.

Image © and courtesy of The National Tramway Museum
In Memory of the Derby Horse Cars
Postcard published by Mrs Ann Roberts of The Spot, 4 Osmaston Road, Derby
Image © and courtesy of The National Tramway Museum

The horse trams had been servicing Derby's streets for almost 25 years, and publishers such as Foster of St James' Street and Roberts of The Spot produced commemmorative mementoes of the event.

Image © and courtesy of The National Tramway Museum
717. The Old & the New Cars, Victoria St, Derby
Postcard published by unknown photographer/publisher
Image © and courtesy of The National Tramway Museum

This postcard issued as number 717 in a series by an unidentified photographer/publisher has been reproduced by The National Tramway Museum in the Photograph Library on their Crich Tramway Village web site. It shows both horse-drawn and electric tram cars - "the old and the new" - in use on Victoria Street, Derby. The older cars continued to be used on certain routes for a few years until being completely replaced with the new ones. This view is of particular interest because on the left is the Derby Tramways Office at 4 Victoria Street, a building which was erected in 1904, and which has been featured in a previous Photo-Sleuth article because of its siting on the location of Derby's earliest photographic studio.

Image © and courtesy of Ann Hunt
Victoria Street, Derby
Postcard published by J. Valentine
Image © and courtesy of Ann Hunt

This 1907 colourised "Souvenir Post Card," showing a very similar view to the black-and-white version, is one of many that was published over the next decade or two depicting views of Derby streets and including the ubiquitous trams. The distinctive Derby Tramways Office red-brick building is again at left, the grand, classic facade of the Athenaeum next door, with several forms of transport active in Victoria Street, including two of the electric trams, horse-drawn carts and carriages, and a motor car.

Image © and courtesy of Ann Hunt
Reverse of postcard of Victoria Street, Derby (Valentine's Series)
Written and posted to Miss Smith, The Coombs, Glossop,
6.15 p.m. 17 April 1907 at Derby
Image © and courtesy of Ann Hunt

Last Car - Derby Trams
Postcard by J. Harwood, Printer & Publisher, Derby

The demise of the electric trams in 1934 was, once again, a golden opportunity for Derby postcard publishers, as shown by this undated example from J. Harwood of Derby, who also republished an old image, as shown below.

Inauguration of the Electric Trams at Derby, July 27th, 1904
Postcard by J. Harwood, Printer, Derby

Image © P L Chadwick and courtesy of
Derby Corporation tram No.1, Crich Tramway Village
Image © Copyright P. L. Chadwick, courtesy and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Finally, tram car No. 1 is the only one of The Derby Corporation's electric trams to have survived, and is a permanent exhibit at the Crich Tramway Village. Although it has been fully restored, it is a stationary exhibit because of its unusual guage, which does not permit it to run with the many other surviving trams from all over the United Kingdom on the Tramway village's standard guage rails.

Thank you, Evelyn, for the opportunity to join in the fun and I wish you all the best for a long and fruitful run of what promises to be a fascinating carnival.

Post Script

John Prentice, who is webmaster of the Tramway Information web site, Manager of the Festival of Model Tramways, and Chairman of the Tramway & Light Railway Society, kindly sent me the following interesting information on the origins of my photograph of trams featured as the first image in this article:
I can tell you a little about the origin of your own photograph with the " rectangular blue stamp filled in with a pencilled explanation" on the reverse. These were photograph copies of the postcard done by the late Bob Parr and were sold to collectors in the 60s and 70s to help raise funds for tram preservation. He did hundreds of views. Some of the photos were from his own negatives of trams or those of other tram fans. Some were copies of postcards like this one. Others were copies of photos that had been in "Tramway & Railway World," a magazine published in the late 19th and early 20th century. They used to cost 6d (that is six old pence – 2.5p in new money). I have quite a few in my collection, bought at the time when I was just a kid. All had this rubber stamp so you could fill in details. Those from his own negs also were stamped "copyright R.B.Parr." Although postcard size they are not real postcards, only photos for enthusiasts.

Anon (n.d.) Derby Power Station - Then and Now, on Bygone Derbyshire
Thomas, Hugh (1879) An Unfinished History of the World, Pan Books Ltd., ISBN 0330264583
Anon (1893) Local News: The Electric Lighting of the Borough, in The Derby Mercury, 26 July 1893
Anon (1894) Electric Exhibition in Derby, in The Derby Mercury, 16 May 1894; Issue 9358
The Derby Mercury, in 19th Century British Library Newspapers, Digital images online from GALE Cengage Learning
Kelly & Co. (1912) Directory of Derbyshire, from the University of Leicester's Historical Directories


  1. What a fascinating journey, Brett. Thanks so much for all your work in putting this post together. The history of the electric trams has given me a new appreciation for the little mode of transportation. It also ties in very well with my "Wheels" post, I think. See you next time.

  2. Of course, now that most of the tram tracks have been torn up, they have decided that they were a good form of transport and are coming back into fashion.

  3. Brett, thanks so much for your comments about my "Road to Brest" postcard. I really did enjoy reading your post in this Festival. I thought all of the history you have about your card and the group of trams/streetcars/trolleys is fascinating.

    I'm glad you enlarged the photo to see the ships in the harbor at Brest! I imagined I could see Reginald's U.S.S. Vermont there. Can't wait til we see the variety of postcards submitted at the next festival with emphasis on "main street".

    I'd love to see that Museum!

  4. There seems to be some confusion between the terms 'Derby Tramways Company' and 'Derby Corporation Tramways Department'. The privately owned tramways company was taken over by the Corporation as you say in 1899, vehicles thereafter being signed 'Derby Corporation Tramways'(on horse trams) and 'Derby Corporation' (electric trams from 1904). The municipal system also owned the depot mentioned in your presentation. The blue stamp on the reverse of the first photo showing the opening of the electric system was used by Crich Tramway museum to provide details on their photographic sales, and never comprehensively filled in. Full details of the period can be found in my book 'The Story of Transport in Derby' (Breedon Books 1993). Barry Edwards

  5. Thank you for the clarification, Barry. I presume from what you and a previous poster have written that Bob Parr had an association with, or produced the photographs for, the Crich Tramways Museum?

    Regards, Brett

  6. Thank you very much for your interesting web site which I have just stumbled upon after researching some R B Parr postcards of Norwich Trams - the information you have was very interesting. My photos also have the green boxed stamp on the back and some read copyright M K O'Connor and also Copyright R B Parr. I bought these off ebay hoping that i could incorporate them into a dementia booklet I am writing but I wonder if I will be infringing copyright if I publish in my booklet? I wonder if anyone could give any suggestions

    Kind regards Linda McAllister

  7. Nice to hear from you Linda. It is possible that your photographs were taken by the respective stated copyright holders, and in that case it is quite possible that they are still covered by copyright law. I suggest that you get in touch with John prentice, webmaster of the Tramway Informtation web site, who may be able to advise further.

    Regards, Brett

  8. I have an original R.B Parr photograph along with an original F.E.J Ward photo on E-Bay,Auction item number 180599589127


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