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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Twenty-five years in solitary confinement

I was reminded recently of the fact that the surviving 'Dreadnought' tram was kept out of sight at the very back of the old Copse Road Tram Depot from late 1934 until it was transferred in the dead of night to Rigby Road Works in 1960. This enforced confinement out of public gaze spanned just over twenty five years before Number 59 emerged to great acclaim, together with three other remarkable survivors from the earliest years of electric tram operation on the Fylde coast. The reason being a decision by Transport management to recognise the 75th Anniversary of electric trams in Blackpool with a parade of venerable survivors on the appointed day.

Dreadnought 59 and Standard 40 in 1985 at Fleetwood Ferry. Standard 40 has been more fortunate in its care by the National Tramway Museum.

In a new millenium this same cycle of enforced solitary confinement is repeating itself with one of Blackpool's most valuable tramcar 'relics' still incarcerated (for there is no lesser term) in a bricked up shed for twenty five years and counting.

That this unconscionable sentence has been at the hands of Britain's self annointed 'National Tramway Museum' and its Members gives pause for thought to those who have over the years given freely of their time and energy to the Crich museum, and others who have generously endowed it with bequests and grants.

Not that Dreadnought 59 is the only important tramcar to be arbitrarily consigned to a lightless existence in the depths of Derbyshire. It has plenty of company. Whilst there is indeed a justifiable claim that to bring number 59 back into running order for public benefit requires exceptional costs that the Museum cannot afford: and would appear not to have afforded over twenty five years, then if not now; then when ? There is a further option, but equally achievable goal and one with far less capital cost. For thid unique example of early British tram design and construction be instead placed on static display at the Museum - even on a semi permanent basis. Or, as many well minded people might seek - to have the tram returned to Blackpool where suitable accommodation could be made available.

Examples of trams found wanting at Crich and being placed on loan (permanent or otherwise) to caring 'homes' do have precedents. The more obvious case being that of Fleetwood 'Box Car 40' still owned by the TMS but being well cared for, and most importantly - available for heritage service and tours year round in Blackpool. Hull car 132 was transferred to an appropriate display in its home town amid heritage of that city - to become UK City of Culture two years hence. Less fortunate has been the example of the narrow gauge Cheltenham car which never quite fitted in with the Crich portfolio even though it was a second generation open top tram of which few survive. Even the wonderful and equally unique 'California' car 765 of the Manchester system was removed as a 'blot on the Crich landscape' and is now flagship for the matured Heaton Park tram operation.

It is apparent under the Society's current tutelage that several trams esconced at Clay Cross may never see the light of day again. let alone the attention of restorers. Constraints on budgets, staff and more limited voluntary effort in a changed era have made economics and sustainability of maintaining this huge collection of railed vehicles in the Derbyshire Peak District- a questionable business model. Releasing Dreadnought 59, and other sequestered trams, even on probation and under necessary covenants, would be a far more understanding goal for this day and this age. The growth and public appreciation of vintage tram displays and operation are sustainable in small and diverse packages - witness the marvellous achievements at Carlton Colville, Birkenhead and of course Beamish, Summerlee and Heaton Park. Blackpool has its own raison d'etre as a leading leisure destination with an eleven mile working line (albeit with light rail restrictions). The inability of the TMS to ensure appropriate display (static or otherwise) of classic British trams through lack of space, funds or simply motivation - throw up these points for a wider debate. The success of focussed efforts by local groups in achieving expensive but attainable goals - viz LCC 1 and predecessor London tram recreations at Crich, point to a similar approach for Blackpool's classic trams such as 59 and 298, given the enormous interest in the town's tram heritage.

59 in happier times amid admiring crowds - in Fleetwood.


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