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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Pretentious - Moi ?

From the many thousands of trams which once rumbled through Britain's towns, cities and smaller communities - preserved survivors total less than two hundred in the entire country. By far and away the largest number are kept by the TMS in their depots at Crich and offsite store at Clay Cross. Blackpool Transport is holding on to some thirty traditional cars held at Rigby Road Depot. The FHLT hold a further thirteen examples. Museums up and down the country (some operating short lines) have the rest; with individual cars being tended to from Southampton to Falkirk by local groups working on individual trams (cars) in their ownership.

The general tendency to return preserved trams to a showcase state with glistening paint and shining metal understandably reflects the desire to show these veterans in their very best 'as new' condition both inside and out.

However for those of us fortunate enough to have memories of Britain's trams (albeit in their final years) the retained image is of run down scruffy workhorses (for that is what they are) doing sterling service day in and day out through all weather. Apart from Blackpool's unique seaside needs - the only trams showing pristine paint jobs were a fortunate few done up for 'Last Tram' processions. Liverpool, Glasgow, Edinburgh spring to mind. For a brief nostalgic moment the glorious appearance of the heyday of trams was captured amid the many scuffed and dented survivors seeing out their final years during the 1950s up to closure of Glasgow's system in 1962.

A few systems managed to maintain a decent appearance for their trams in the postwar era - but these were a minority. Sheffield stands out. Only basic repairs and essential maintenance were the order of the day for depot hands; whilst the paintshops gave up on full repaints way before final closures (in some cases decades). All of this is unsurprising, given need to show off shiny new buses (and trolleybuses) by way of comparison to tired and mostly worn out trams clanking over noisy points and junctions.

So the picture of newly painted trams displayed by museum lines are something of a mirage and offer up false sentiment. Blackpool, given its longevity and seasonal tourism economy, managed to ensure its surviving trams were looked after and benefitted from an active Paint Shop team almost up to the end. Since the 1970s much needed revenue from advertisers saw most being turned into mobile advertising billboards. It is now the turn of Blackpool's buses to undergo that indignity.

Attractive as it is to witness now resplendent survivors going through their paces, albeit at a slower and constrained style; the reality is that Britain's last traditional tram operation ended in 2011 - with a flourish. Reflecting on the realities of the previous century - this was a far different world when trams did what they were built to do, without cossetting, polish and any admiring attention from the public.

Oh for a few dents, dropped joints, smoke filled top decks and not a whiff of H&S.

Photos : John Woodman and John Woodman Archive (Glasgow 1088)

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