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James Humphreys, Belfast Tram Driver

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I recently met with Jim Humphreys who has donated his grandfather’s Motormen’s and Conductors’ Rules and Regulations book and National Registration Identity Card. From our conversation and the donated papers we know the following history of James Humphreys’ life and the strict rules and regulations he worked under during his time driving trams in Belfast.

James Humphreys was born into a farming family on 16th July 1879 in Killylea, County Armagh. James didn’t fancy farming so he joined the British Army and went off to fight in the Boer War (1899-1902).

Returning home to Ireland he found he couldn’t settle so emigrated to Canada where he worked as a security guard during the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. The Native Americans were not pleased that the track was being constructed across their land and tried to disrupt the work. It was James’ job to keep them at bay whilst work proceeded.

James married a County Armagh girl called Sophia Russell from the little village of Glenanne. When he came back to take her to Canada she didn’t want to go, so they stayed in Ireland, living in Napier Street, off the Donegall Road, Belfast.

On 11th September 1911 James started a new job with Belfast City Tramways. He was issued with a copy of the rule book, in which he wrote his name and the date he started in the job. The tramways head office was in Sandy Row, just a minute’s walk from James’ home. They were still living in Napier St at the time of the 1921 Census.


James drove a tram on the Ormeau Road route during the troubles of the early 1920s. On one occasion, passing the gasworks and going along Cromac Street, there was a gun battle being fought across the tram’s path. James told passengers to lie down on the floor and drove safely through and out of danger.

James stayed with Belfast City Tramways (later Belfast Corporation Tramways) during both the First and Second World Wars until his retirement in the October 1945 having risen to the rank of Deputy Traffic Superintendent.

During World War II in January 1941 he was issued with a National Registration Identity Card by his employer. By this time James and Sophia were living at 15 Hartington Street, Belfast off the Dublin Road and still within easy walking distance of Sandy Row tram depot. The identity card contains a nice photo of James in his tram uniform.


James died during the Big Freeze of February 1963. The deep snow on the road to his home had to be especially cleared to allow the hearse to get through.

Entry number 5529 in October 2018.

Accession numbers

Motormen’s and Conductors’ Rules and Regulations book Acc No HOYFM.2018.73

National Registration Identity Card Acc No HOYFM.2018.74