DUPLE'S LEGACY IN MARTON
Tucked away off Vicarage Lane in Marton behind the former Duple Coachbuilders office block is a cluster of specialist coach and bus bodywork firms.
The entire site was originally the home of Blackpool's prestigious HV Burlingham company - supplier of the town's unique centre entrance bus fleet from the early 1930s until 1957. In a takeover in the early Sixties the Burlingham business was absorbed by Hendon-based Duple Motors who then based their northern operations in two Burlingham factories in Blackpool.
Burlingham were most famous for the excellent 'Seagull' coach design which appeared in time for Blackpool's FA Cup Win team to parade through the town with the FA Cup trophy. The 'Seagull' model went on to become the most popular coach design of the 1950s with subsequent redesigns based on the original of 1951. When Burlingham's business was taken over by Duple - the two factory sites continued to build coaches at Preston New Road and Vicarage Lane for a further twenty or so years.
The Preston New Road factory has been swept away by nondescript business park development but a residue of the original Vicarage Lane site continues to host a cluster of private companies with the skill base necessary for redesign and rebuilding of buses and coaches. This includes work for operators and corporate promoters who find coaches (and particularly double deck buses) highly effective mobile sponsorship platforms.
Jackson Coaches also have their operating base in the same location continuing a long family tradition which provided visitors with half day excursions to Fylde localities (and further afield) as part of their week or fortnight in Blackpool in former times. Now the company is a lead provider of coach hire services.
When Duple succumbed a good many of its workforce transferred to other local firms, and in particular the former Lytham St Annes (later Fylde) bus system at Squires Gate; and naturally to the then still extensive Rigby Road Workshops of Blackpool's municipal transport operation. This continuance and transfer of coachbuilding skills - which originated with wooden framed passenger vehicles (including trams) - has fortunately remained as a specialist industry, albeit in fragmented form - and importantly locally - for nearly a hundred years.
With UK Government finally focussing on a need for skills training, apprenticeships and manufacturing - Blackpool's cluster of coachbuilding and bodywork skills on Vicarage Lane could well benefit from new training programmes and grants. This would further strengthen private sector employment locally - and ensure that this is substantively expanded. Particularly important for a town among the lowest wage earning potential in England.
It is to be hoped that this residual specialist know-how will also be of future value in an ambitious transport heritage visitor attraction for Blackpool and the Fylde coast. This objective is now subject of a collective and joined-up collaboration by several groups, including BAE Systems, motor vehicles (TVR), the famous landau ; and of course trams. The Fylde coast is rich in transport history and its full story is yet to be told in a sustainable and purposeful visitor orientated display covering several diverse venues - and potentially anchored at Rigby Road.
Another of the diverse bus and coach firms clustered around Vicarage Road.