Leicester Preston Car

Leicester Corporation Tramways, "Preston" car by Dick, Kerr.

This postcard is interesting as the photograph used is an official works view of Leicester car 1. The card caption says "One of Leicester's New Electric Cars" and "Built by Dick, Kerr & Co. Ltd., London and Preston". It was published by T.Houghton & Son of Leicester and our copy was posted on 4th May 1904 from Leicester to Rockland, Mass., USA (south of Boston). It says on the back of the card "Write here for Inland Postage only", so the writer has put his message on the front, a sarcasm "These cars are expected to be running sometime before the century goes out." alluding to the fact that the corporation had taken over two years to relay the track and electrify the horse tramway. In reality the electric lines opened two weeks later on 18th May. (see Leicester opening postcard).

The photograph would have been supplied by the Electric Railway & Tramway Carriage Works Ltd. of Preston (ER&TCW), part of the Dick, Kerr Group whose head office was in London. It would have been issued for publicity purposes in advance of the Leicester opening. Similar views appeared in Dick, Kerr's catalogues. It was probably taken by Edward Hoole, the official photographer at that date.

The small view below is the paint shop of ER&TCW's works in 1899 from a photograph by Arthur Winter, who had a photographic business in Preston. From 1885 Arthur Winter took the official views of trams and a series of the works itself. He was succeeded as official photographer by his son Arthur J. Winter, who probably issued this postcard, and then with a small overlap in 1902-3 by Edward Hoole, who had a stationers business close to the works. In this small view, the trams on the left being painted are horse cars for London's North Metropolitan company. George Richardson was a founder shareholder of ER&TCW and was also a director of North Metropolitan. Trams under construction on the far right are electric cars for Liverpool.

The story of Dick, Kerr & Co. Ltd is a complex one. From around 1875 William Bruce Dick's oil merchant business shared premises in Glasgow with brothers John and James Kerr, iron merchants. Elder brother James went on to co-found Kerr, Stuart & Co., the locomotive builders. Younger brother John in 1881 joined W.B.Dick's company as manager of its railway interests and from 1883 this was set up as a separate company Dick, Kerr & Co. Ltd., although Dick took little active part in the business after about 1890. In 1884 Dick, Kerr moved to the Britannia works in Kilmarnock, where horse and steam tramways were constructed.

Towards the end of the 19th century Kerr, together with a number of other interested tramway men, realised that most equipment for the new electric tramways was having to be imported from the USA. To combat this, two new companies were set up in 1898 (with Dick and Kerr as major shareholders), the Electric Railway & Tramway Carriage Works Ltd. and the Equipment Syndicate Ltd., Dick, Kerr themselves dealing with the construction of the trackwork and the tramway systems.

Preston Works ER&TCW bought an existing wagon works in West Strand Street, Preston as an ideal location for the manufacture of tramcar and other railway vehicle bodies. Called the East Works or just the car works, it was here that E.A.Stanley, a former employee of General Electric in the US, developed a standard type of tram, the "Preston" car. It was a four-wheel double-deck tram, usually with three windows each side, initially open top, but later partly or fully enclosed. This became the most common type of tram for the systems being newly opened in Britain and was sold to some 55 companies. Cars of a similar design were copied by other manufacturers, so this type of car ran almost everywhere in the UK. Initially the trucks for Preston built trams were US imports from Brill, Baltimore and Peckham, or elsewhere as per the customer's requirements, but soon they standardised on the Brill 21E, either imported from the US or constructed at Preston under licence. In 1905 the ER&TCW was renamed the United Electric Car Co. and absorbed the British Electric Car Co.

The West Works on the other side of Strand Street West was a new building erected by the Equipment Syndicate Ltd. for the manufacture of motors, controllers, generators and other electrical equipment and was set up by Professor Stanley Howe Short, another American, famous as the designer of Short's "Series System" as installed in Northfleet, Kent. Again initially American imports were used, but soon home produced items were manufactured. It was in this works that the range of Dick, Kerr controllers and motors were made. From 1900 the name was changed to the English Electric Manufacturing Company, stressing the origin of the products.

After the Dick, Kerr group of companies involvement in 1914-18 war work, a new company, The English Electric Co. Ltd. was set up in December 1918 to combine together various electrical and allied trades that had been similarly involved, of which Dick, Kerr was the largest component. Ninety percent of Dick, Kerr shareholders swapped their holdings for shares in English Electric, the reminder being bought out. From then on trams from Preston were known as English Electric cars, although the name "Dick, Kerr System" continued on controller top plates and circuit breakers for many years.

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