Ask the Archivist - Glasgow trams

Posted on 09 November 2020

Our next topic was a very noteworthy one for Glasgow: trams! The Q&A is below. You can also read a feature about these records in the Glasgow Times​​.

Q1: What were the Tramways?

Glasgow Corporation (GC) Tramways began in 1894. The system comprised non-standard gauge tramlines (the Permanent Way) and horse-drawn tramcars. Overhead electric traction was trialled in 1897 and replaced the old system by 1902. The overhaul saw metal tram rosettes (for the overhead wires) being fixed to buildings along tram routes. Pinkston Power Station generated the required electricity. GC also had depots (like the one at Coplawhill Works) where trams were housed, cleaned and inspected.

Q2: What tramcars did the Tramways use?

Known in Glasgow as the caurs, there were various types used over the years. The double-decker Standard became iconic and its multiple re-designs enclosed the previously open top deck, stair and motorman’s cab – much better for protecting against Glasgow’s inclement weather! The short-lived single-decker Room & Kitchen car was designed to pass under low railway bridges.

GC refreshed its fleet when it launched the Coronation car (named for King George VI’s coronation) in the late 1930s. It became well known for ferrying visitors to and from the 1938 Empire Exhibition at Bellahouston Park.

Q3: How many trams were on the city streets?

In 1894, there were almost four hundred horse-drawn tramcars. By 1948, there were around a thousand electric cars in use.

Q4: Did the Tramways raise a WWI battalion?

Yes. In September 1914, over a thousand volunteers were recruited to serve together in the 15th Highland Light Infantry (Tramways Battalion). The General Manager, James Dalrymple, spearheaded the recruitment drive. Since so many enlisted, the service was severely short-staffed. As a result, women were trained as conductors and given new uniforms: jackets and long tartan skirts in Corporation green with matching straw hats. By 1916, there were 1180 conductresses and 25 female tram drivers.

Q5: How do I research Tramways employees?

The Tramways employed large numbers in various roles: drivers (motormen), conductors, instructors, mechanics, inspectors and managers.

While we don’t hold many Tramways employee records, we do have the Transport Department superannuation volumes (1923 – 1983). These give details of employees, their work location and their pension contributions. Please note that access to post-1945 staff records is restricted for data protection reasons although you can request a brief search for a deceased post-1945 employee.

Q6: When was the last day of the trams?

Many associate the last day with the procession held in their honour on 4 September 1962. However, the final day of the last operational tram service (the No. 9 Auchenshuggle to Dalmuir West) was actually three days before.

The day of the procession was very rainy! But the downpour didn’t stop around 250,000 people from lining the route (Dalmarnock Rd to Albert Dr via the city centre). Twenty of Glasgow’s historic and contemporary trams proceeded on their ultimate journey on the city’s tramlines. Many spectators ran ahead to place a penny on the rails to be retrieved when the trams had trundled past: these flattened coins became souvenirs of the day. There are several excellent films of the last day and its aftermath on the Moving Image Archive website.

Q7: How can I learn more about the Tramways?

Start with us! Among the Tramways archives in our Glasgow Corporation Transport Department (D-TR) records are reports, accounts, maps and papers on the Last Tram Procession. Additional maps of the network and D-TR annual reports are in our Town Clerk Dept records (D-TC). Many of our city street photos feature trams and are available to view on the Virtual Mitchell. We also have some guides about travelling by tram in our Information Bureau records (D-IB) and Pamphlet series (PA).

But if you’re in Glasgow and keen for a view of the vestiges of the trams – look up! Many pre-1962 buildings still have their metal tram rosettes. Unlike many cars and lines, these weren’t destroyed and serve as a reminder that trams were once the dominant mode of public transport on Glasgow’s streets.

Glasgow trams

A black and white photograph of trams in a depot with ladders at each side and space underneath for maintenance checks.
Glasgow trams
A large crowd of people well dressed in suits and uniforms including top hats with large buildings in the background.
Glasgow trams