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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Made in Blackpool

Blackpool's popular image is of a town noted for its Tower, piers, Pleasure Beach and a day out by the seaside. All of this is true. Much else however has changed in the past decades. A decline in standards and an influx of transient benefit dependents has blighted many parts of Blackpool away from the promenade. The rot started to set in when Central Station was closed leaving a great void in the middle of the town which has still not been satisfactorily filled in 2016, despite incessant hot air from successive Councils and administrations. The last big chance to bring about major change was lost in the politically fixed 'Super Casino' bid that in the end favoured that renowned resort - East Manchester of all places. Public money squandered. Above : Blackpool built bus for Argentina in a postwar order seen here parked outside the former Vickers Armstrong Wellington Bomber plant at Squires Gate pending export. Photo : Copyright BCVM, Leyland excerpted from the forthcoming Rigby Road Publications title 'Municipal Transport Heyday - Blackpool's buses and trams in the 1950s'.

However Blackpool's economic fortunes have, at least in the past, been founded on manufacturing over a diverse range of products. Pockets of light manufacturing and development fortunately continue to exist and prosper away from the town centre. Earlier companies such as Waller and Hartley (confectionery), Peeneys (ice cream and rock candy), Catterall & Swarbrick (brewery), Kays Carpets, Nutbrown (domestic appliances) and many more now forgotten names - provided worthwhile employment in addition to the transplanted government offices which relocated lock stock and filing cabinet from London to the Fylde coast on outbreak of war in 1939 - and never returned. The war years also saw aircraft production on a massive scale along Squires Gate Lane, with Wellington bombers aiding RAF strategic missions across Europe - mostly built by Vickers Armstrong in Blackpool. Even Marton tram depot was requisitioned to produce component parts for the Wellington factory.

The founding principals of what would become Jaguar Motors started off in Blackpool firstly with motorbike sidecars and early vehicles, until transferring to Coventry where the automotive industry had a concentrated skill base. Foden Motors similarly had origins in the town - again relocating for no doubt similar reasons to industrial Lancashire and Warrington. One company which stuck with Blackpool was HV Burlingham. A Norfolk cabinet maker Herbert Victor Burlingham moved here in the aftermath of World War One - started off with a partner building small vans and graduating to 'charas' in modest premises near Bloomfield Road. A surge in demand for coach travel during the 1920s saw the company take off with local capital and new partners. HV Burlingham went on to design and build a succession of buses and coaches into the 1960s - with factories on Preston New Road and at Marton. Blackpool's own bus fleet was solely supplied by Burlingham for over twenty years - all with distinctive styling. The company went on to be taken over by Hendon-based Duple Motors in 1961 which in turn moved most of its production north to Blackpool until it too ran into financial difficulties and closed.

Above : Built in Blackpool. Scout Motors bus en route to Talbot Road Bus Station in the late 1950s. Example of a classic Burlingham coach design - the 'Seagull' seen parked here at the old Coliseum Coach Station facing Blackpool Transport's offices. Photos : John Woodman Archive - also from the forthcoming title of Blackpool's transport during the 1950s.

Even Blackpool Corporation Tramways from its Rigby Road workshops managed to enter the tram building business in 1922 - turning out a fleet of new double deck trams to a traditional design (for those days), as well as some open single deck trams and a flotilla of special trams for the autumn illuminations. This required a diversity of engineering and bodybuilding skills both for wood, and much later, metal framed trams. A lingering part of that workshop remains in situ today - with a small team of specialists to keep the town's old trams 'on the road' for seasonal visitors. Likewise on the site of the former Burlingham factory in Marton - are a cluster of specialist bus and coach bodybuilders retaining the same skills handed down from the 1930s - to rebuild buses and coaches on a bespoke basis. In fact when Duple Motors finally closed their factory on the same site - many of the workforce found themselves at Rigby Road working on Blackpool's buses and trams - or at the former Fylde bus garage on Squires Gate Lane.

With the launch of the Squires Gate Enterprise Zone this month - there exists a potential for reinvigorating the Fylde coast's manufacturing and product design sector - to provide future worthwhile employment for younger generations. The Hillhouses EZ and a sister project at Warton aim to retain college and school leavers seeking good jobs locally. Who knows? Maybe the wheel could turn a full circle and the embedded links with vehicle design and manufacture on the Fylde coast return with a new flourish in the years ahead. The HV Burlingham logo featured the Tower - then symbol of progress and modernity. Nothing has changed.

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