Information on Northampton’s tramways is very limited. There is little mention of either the horse tramway (the Northampton Street Tramway), or the electric tramway (Northampton Corporation Tramways) in the trade journals written at the time. Nor has very much been written in books. Usually this sparse amount of information gives us an indication that it is likely the records have been destroyed or lost.
But then we’ll be contacted by someone wanting to donate a collection to us, and suddenly that missing history thought to be lost, will be rediscovered, as was the case with the fantastic donation from Mrs Smith, whose father in law Mr Aubrey Smith was an employee of Northampton Corporation Transport and rescued a whole collection of materials relating to the undertaking.
Mr Smith, was an employee of Northampton Corporation Transport, beginning work in the 1920s – when the trams were still running and retiring in the 1970s. Mr Smith rescued the items when they were being thrown away in the 1930s, probably around the time the trams stopped operating. This has provided us with perhaps the most comprehensive collection of Northampton Tramways documents there can be.
There is a wide range of items in the collection, from tickets, glass plates, photos and Acts of Parliament to more unusual items, such as the note and receipts of the Tramway Football Club and Annual Dinner of the Transport Bowling Club. There are some street plans, showing the routes of the tramway and later the buses and plans of the depots.
Some of the more unusual items from the collection; the programme for the Corporation’s Annual Bowling Club Dinner, Tuesday 7th March 1939. This is five years after the tramway closed, but it shows the Corporation wasn’t all about working hard, but had a social side to it as well.
The photos above show some of the tickets issued by the Corporation, including rare examples of those first issued in 1904.
Mr. Smith later added to his collection after the Second World War, adding a few bus documents and ephemera. Most interesting are the signs for the windows urging passengers to take care in the blackout, reduce their traveling time and encourage them to use the Corporation’s Parcel Service.
Something that was of particular interest to us, when we first started looking at the collection, was how much material there was relating to the parcel services that Northampton Corporation Tramways ran. The timing of the donation was perfect as we were due to start work on the development of our new exhibition ‘The Mobile Post Box – Mail By Tram’ that can now be seen in our Assembly Rooms exhibition space.
We discovered the Corporation’s official Parcels Department Stamps and Parcels Service booklet, which explains how the Service worked and what could be sent. Some of the items connected to the Parcels Service will be on display for the duration of the exhibition.
One of the standout items that we came across, was a note book from 1904, used as a Staff register. The register lists the names of the men working in 1904, when the Northampton Corporation Tramways opened, and their occupations. A few years later the book was added to, to include the names of some of the Parcels Boys, who delivered the parcels around the town. Some of the names of the Drivers and Conductors appear again in the Parcels Boys list, so some of the boys were obviously following their fathers into a career on the tramways. This is a great addition to the Archive, as so few personnel records have survived.
The image above on the left shows the gentlemen listed in 1904, who first worked for the Corporation when the electric trams were introduced. Whilst the image on the right, from later in the register in 1919, lists some of parcel boys working for the Corporation. Some of them share names with the earlier listed drivers and conductors, perhaps they were their son’s following in their fathers footsteps working on the trams.
The collection is a great addition to our Library and Archive and will be kept as a single collection, rather than being integrated into the wider collection. We’re grateful to Mrs Smith, for thinking us worthy custodians to look after this rare archive of material, that has survived thanks to her late father in law’s dedication to saving it and then passing it to his son, Mrs Smith’s late husband.
Our exhibition The Mobile Post Box – Mail By Tram will be on display in our Assembly Rooms Exhibition until November 2020.