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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Top Deck Reproduction

One of the prevailing problems confronting tram restoration schemes which involved 'rescued' lower deck saloons of trams which formerly ran with balcony or enclosed top decks - is finding the top deck. The challenges of restoring a vintage double deck tram are far far simpler when the tram body involved is of an open top design. Finding a top deck enclosed tram which still retains its upper deck saloon and awaiting a rescue is a rarity indeed. There have been cases in the past, the Leicester car at Crich being one. I believe a second example of similar design is also in preservationist hands in that city. Southampton 11 - one of the famous low height enclosed double deck trams peculiar to that system was acquired with its dome roof and top deck in place - but in a somewhat parlous condition. It has taken several decades of perserverance by the group working on this tram and two open top examples - to bring them close to their former condition.

Chesterfield 7 at Crich was another example, but in this case, the two halves of the tram sat side by side each other on a hillside to provide living quarters over many years. Finally the owner passed on and the TMS speedily arranged purchase, transport with resulting marvellous restoration of this typical British two axle open balcony design. Similarly Sheffield 74 came back to life through detective work in the 1970s which brought together two completely seperate lower saloon and upper saloon relics which had independently been used in gardens from different examples of this early top deck design in that city.

Conversely there are cases of enclosed top deck trams reverting to open top condition during restoration - with the top decks discarded. Paisley 68 being a classic example with its typical 'Glasgow style' enclosed upper deck features lopped off to recreate the early Paisley Tramways open top design. Beamish had to do the reverse when they acquired Sheffield 264 from the British Transport Commission collection on closure of the wonderful Clapham Transport Museum. Damaged en route north the top deck of this enclosed tram resulted in its initial operation at Beamish being in open top condition. A new balcony saloon being manufactured to return it to its original state when it entered service in Sheffield. This tram is soon to reappear further restored to operating condition in 2016. Sunderland 16 emerged as a fully enclosed double deck tram of the 1920s period with replica top deck (and much else) in a further workshop endeavour at Beamish.

The amazing efforts of the Bolton 66 Group brought back to life the sole example of this famous Lancashire system with a rescued open platform lower deck and recreated top deck enclosed saloon. Their efforts have been well rewarded - with the tram's extended operation in Blackpool since 1984. What Bolton can do, Liverpool can do better? The emergence of Liverpool 762 owes quite a lot to Blackpool's tramway but again features a recreated top deck saloon married to the restored lower saloon which had managed to survive through a second life use as a Bowling Pavilion in that city. Wallasey 'Bellamy' car 52 also at Birkenhead Museum needed a 'new' Bellamy top deck saloon, although I may be right in thinking one such relic was used in recreating this marvellous exhibit. A battle has been going on (now resolved) among the supporters of the restoration of Warrington double deck tram 7 which was to have gained a top deck saloon in its ongoing restoration at Birkenhead - with diverging views on the final condition of this important scheme.

The Lanarkshire Tramways are represented by an open top example restored at the Summerlee Museum - who for height reasons determined to keep Number 53 in its open top condition rather than adding a balcony top deck saloon. Against this is the ongoing restoration of Glasgow 488 to its final appearance of the late 1950s - after a lengthy sojourn in Paris courtesy of the St Mande Museum. Retaining its top deck saloon, interior fittings, truck and controllers - this tram is sure to be a 'hit' with Scottish enthusiasts when it takes to the rails at Carlton Colville Museum this year.

Another reproduction top deck completed the restoration of the lower saloon of London Transport 1622 to a condition the original had not aspired. It nonetheless fills a gap in London's tram heritage - at Crich. A further open top tram restoration to the same high standard has been London United Tramways 158 - in this case just the seating and elaborate ironmongery scrollwork was required for the top deck. Fortunately all Blackpool's trams restored or otherwise, have been more or less complete - and need for recreated top decks has (so far) only occurred in the retro restoration of Standard Car 143 which lost its top deck saloon in its later role as Engineering Car 3. The resulting restoration will return the tram to its original appearance when new - open balcony, open platform design. A further initiative will (we hope) see an equally elaborate restoration of Lytham St Annes 41 which again requires a reproduction top deck (open balcony) plus a whole lot more. The reproduction business is taking an even bigger step with the apparent financing offer to the Crich Museum to recreate (from scratch) a typical Manchester double deck bogie car - of which none survived, nor parts thereof. Ironically Manchester's massive system was originally represented solely by an untypical single deck tram of a design more commonly found in the United States. It has since been joined by an open top double deck tram - but the more familiar (to oldest enthusiasts) Manchester tram has been dead as the dodo since 1949. I may have missed some other restoration schemes lurking in the shadows - Dublin perhaps? but British passion for double deck trams apparently remains unabated at least in the niche world of enthusiasts.

A closeup view of the new dome roof fitted to the Southampton 'Bargate' dome roof car taken some years ago.

A marvellous restoration by a small group of people who have two other Southampton trams 'in care' - 38 and 57. Both fortunately are open top trams not dissimilar to the sister car 45 at Crich. Of course Number 45 has an especial place in Blackpool and heritage tram history being the first British tram acquired for preservation by enthusiasts and subsequently stored at Marton depot.

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