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Let's hear it for Charles Furness

March 15, 2016

The recent naming of yet a further Nottingham tram - seemingly a never ending desire to give this fleet personalised identities brings a whiff of wartime bravado with it.   The wonderfully evocative names assigned to bombers by their crews - together with an even more alluring design is perhaps best captured in the film - 'Memphis Belle'.   The practise began in the mud of Flanders with the first British tanks being 'named' by their crews.  A particularly famous example being 'D 51 - Deborah' which was unearthed from its entombment in a French village after eighty years.   Now forming part of a museum to the battle of Cambrai - D for Deborah was commanded by a Blackpool born officer who won the Military Cross for the tank's advance to the village.  D for Deborah was eventually found under a farmhouse garden where it had been interred after capture by the Germans.     

 

Whilst Blackpool's trams have of late become the recipients of several 'names' starting with 'Princess Alice' on 706 in 1985 - the real Princess Alice being in attendance at the time - there are some noteworthy omissions.  The omnipresent Walter Luff has appeared on a Balloon car (717) adding a second name to the more prominent and deserving donor 'Phillip Thorpe' whose personal bequest funded this tram's magnificent restoration during Steve Burd's years of managemen. There are two people of equal if not more importance in Blackpool's transport history, who have so far been snubbed in a 'naming game'.  

 

Prominent and first in line has to be Holroyd Smith - who started the show rolling with his personal endeavour and technological innovation way back in 1885.  Where is a tram bearing his name in all of the UK I wonder?    Equally important is the Tramways (and Electricity) Department's long serving Manager, Charles Furness, whose responsibilities included the  town's municipal electricity power station, the illuminations and development of Rigby Road transport workshops, bus garage and much more.   His management years also included absorption and integration of the Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad Co. assets in 1919, with the Corporation's tram system of the time.   Furness was also responsible for initiating the town's first bus service and its consequent expansion.  He gave up the reins at the end of 1932 to the Yorkshire appointee who wasn't even the Council's first choice for the Transport Manager's position.   Charles Hopkins (first choice) had opted to stick with Sunderland's transport set up, enabling that town to continue with progressive tram development which also included a nod to English Electric's designs of the 1930s.

 

One might also consider  Albert Lindsay Parkinson, Mayor of Blackpool in the Great War who personally purchased the assets of the Tramroad Company in a coup de main to prevent the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway getting their hands on it.  He then turned over his ownership to the Corporation;  thus adding 41 trams, three depots, a power generating station and just over 8 miles of mostly reserved tramroad track to Mr Furness's care. 

 

Delving past the immediacy of the English Electric products which so captivate today's enthusiasts and are forever associated with Walter Luff - there are well deserving individuals who merit having their role and endeavours recognised in future 'naming' rights.   With so many charities around these days - the entire fleet of heritage trams could be quickly covered with all manner of well meaning causes and it seems singularly slighting to highlight one above all others.  I knew the late Mike Airey and conversed with him on several occasions before his retirement from Rigby Road's Body Shop Manager role.   Standard 147 certainly deserves association with his involvement in the recovery and full restoration of that magnificent heritage piece. One hopes that 143 may equally deservedly carry the name of Charles Furness on its panels - given his oversight of the same workshops in the construction of thirty four similar trams during the 1920s.   Holroyd Smith of Halifax certainly merits tribute at some location in Blackpool -  but alas the Civic ...ust are asleep at the wheel on this one.   In 1985 there was formal acknowledgement of the 1885 opening of Britain's first electric street tramway in the form of an old tram stop pillar and special plaque unveiled at the North Pier tram stop (the original northbound one). Both pillar and plaque were swept away in the great light rail rebuild - possibly never to be seen again.   If ever the town's principal civic space at Talbot Square regains a semblance of its social value (massive question mark on this one) - perhaps Mr Smith, Mr Parkinson and Mr Furness (and others such as Mr Lumb) could be given appropriate recognition.  With all the paid 'heritage' professionals now 'beavering away' in the town centre, it shouldn't be much to ask.   Below :    The lost plaque.   Who knows what happened to the 1985 commemorative plaque and original tram stop pillar placed at North Pier tram stop as part of the that year's famous Tram Centenary celebrations?  A free 2017 Tram Calendar to successful entries. On a Postcard please to John Woodman, PO Box 208, St Annes, Blackpool FY8 9AL.   PS a bonus - prototype open double deck tram 225 of 1934 - later renumbered 237 and then enclosed in the war.   Later rebuilt to an approximation of its wartime style and livery by Steve Burd's BTS Rigby Road team.

  

Photo : John Woodman

 

 

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