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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Buses, trams (& ambulances)

Rigby Road Works is naturally associated with Blackpool's former tram fleet which was sustained over decades by skilled craftsment and engineers. Since the 1960s this a period when Blackpool was THE only UK tram operator (outside of museums and the Isle of Man's quasi heritage operation).

Not only did trams undergo periodical rebuilding and in many cases complete redesign; but also the same workshops dealt with the much larger bus fleet. Up to the 1970s Rigby Road was also responsible for servicing the municipal ambulances. Their maintenance (and painting) came under the purview of the Transport Department so one could see buses, trams and ambulances in proximity undergoing work in the same BodyShop or Paintshop.

Blackpool was not unique in combining engineering and repairs to trams and buses within a central workshop. A notable example was Sheffield which combined work on its tram fleet and buses alongside each other at Queens Road. Liverpool may have been another case (but I am open to correction on this point). Most large (and many small) UK tram operators tended to have seperate workshops for trams and buses. Some, like Halifax, also used what were primitive facilities to both design and build their own trams. (Blackpool built its own ambulance on the chassis and frame of an open Guy bus of 1927 - for wartime emergency use). And of course Blackpool's famous 'Standard' cars and Illuminated trams were designed and built (in a bespoke manner) at Rigby Road.

Eventually with the expansion of the NHS and consolidation of municipal hospitals into what is now a vast healthcare organisation - the role and need for municipal ambulance services became redundant (very similar to those of the fire brigades of former times). The shrill clanging of silvered bells and uniformed ambulance men in peak caps and dark blue serge uniforms has faded away to be replaced by green and yellow fleets with sirens constantly blaring through urban centres.

Above a sampling of images of Sheffield City Transport's Queens Road Works in an era when wooden framed buses and trams demanded carpentry and related skills. A wonderful assembly of machine tools and specialist equipment evokes the postwar period - with trams still requiring overhauls during the 1950s. For the purists reading this blog one can see both Sheffield 'dome roof cars' and postwar 'Roberts' cars. Photos courtesy of the BCVM Archive, Leyland

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