OUR ICONIC BUSES DESERVE THEIR SHARE OF THE LIMELIGHT TOO
While Blackpool’s trams have attracted overwhelming attention from transport enthusiasts over the years - and deservedly so: the town’s bus fleet also had its fair share of attention as well. As one of a handful of urban transport systems still under public ownership; Blackpool Council are to be congratulated on retaining control of this unique municipal operation over the years since de-regulation arrived in 1986. Most of Britain’s towns and cities have lost the distinctive colours and pride associated with their municipal transport. The contrasting liveries forever associated with Sheffield, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Rochdale, Bolton, Birkenhead, Bournemouth - to name a modest few, brought home to residents and visitors alike the feeling local ownership and influence.
Corporate branding of the major groups lack any local involvement or flavour - removing community interest and pride at a single privatised stroke. Like High Street shop fronts - the same bland names and brands now dominate every town centre reducing it to a computerised footfall and economic calculations of large conglomerates, hedge funds and investment banks wholly divorced from the communities they seek to plunder (sorry - I mean ‘serve’). In the bad old days of municipal ownership however: read on
On the Fylde coast both Lytham St Annes Corporation and Blackpool Corporation maintained contrasting fleets each with their very different colours and image. In Lytham St Annes this involved a continuance of original blue and white throughout their existence; Blackpool opted to change from earlier red & white, to green & pale cream in 1933.
One of Blackpool’s idiosyncracies was retaining centre entrance vehicles, buses and trams, a style which had few other takers in the UK. Blackpool’s buses were mostly home grown with the Burlingham company (Marton / Preston New Road) being favoured pre-war and post-war with contracts totalling over 200 vehicles up to 1957.
These locally built buses were noted for their interior comfort and external styling which came with chrome trim and plenty of distinctive green on cream flourishes. Sliding air powered centre doors split the lower deck into two halves always with a conductor ready to take your fare on his rotary dial TIM machine. Upstairs deep cushioned art deco moquette seating came with wind-down half opening windows and the usual aroma of Woodbines, Players or Capstan cigarettes.
Two of these wonderful evocative vehicles survive - unique to Blackpool; for no other operator had the same level of affection for centre entrance buses. Number 246 built on Preston New Road in 1949 and used as an office in a scrap yard for many years after withdrawal - rests quietly at the rear of industrial premises in Mereside still in the care of the Lancastrian Transport Trust and for ever waiting the attention of a benefactor to bring it back to life resplendent in its Blackpool Corporation Transport livery. Sister bus 300, used latterly as a Permanent Way bus for the travelling Corporation track gang, was finally sold into preservation and has survived under private ownership to the present day. But it too is in need of extensive tender loving care which can only be secured in arrangements which sees it returned to display in Blackpool with agreement of its owner.
While the surviving trams from pre-light rail years, attract both interest and funds, Blackpool’s two iconic buses are equally deserving of their place in the Fylde’s transport history - in public view. The costs of restoring wooden framed double deck buses are substantial. Only a concerted effort and joined up supporters will be able to fulfill restoration of 246 and 300; but as long as they survive intact (more or less) - such effort is necessary.
Two wonderful pre-war Lytham St Annes buses have been restored to display condition at the Ribble Vehicle Preservation Group’s premises in Freckleton through funding of their private Owner. Similar vehicle restoration projects quietly completed around the UK show that such benefactors do exist. Is it not too much to hope that these two classic Burlingham built Blackpool Corporation buses meet up with their funder sooner or later?
Images above courtesy BCVM: (top) Don Crossley 209 departing Talbot Road Bus Station for Norcross in 1960. This bus was notable for having overturned hence its experimental hopper windows. (bottom) Leyland 254 at Revoe Library c1952.