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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Illuminations special

Above : a sorry looking remnant of the 'Blackpool Belle' awaits its final demise somewhere in the Pacific Northwest of the USA. Underneath is the frame and bogies of 1926 Rigby Road built open toastrack car 163. Image : John Woodman Archive.

Blackpool's Electricity and Tramways Departments were originally joined at the hip and came under a single Manager up to 1933. The town's electricity and gas supplies were both in municipal ownership, with the gas power station on the outskirts of the town and having its own railway for many years - very little has been reported on this topic. The former gas holders on Rigby Road being the most vivid reminder of those times until their demolition (for housing) quite recently.

Even after seperation of the Electricity and Tramways (later Transport) Departments, there was an annual joined up effort at the Tramways Workshops to create the amazing autumn spectacle. This peaked in the early 1960s with the introduction of a mini-fleet of themed illuminated trams, many of which remain today. The early generation of illuminated trams were scrapped without sentiment; although one (the Blackpool Belle launched by Jayne Mansfield) amazingly made it to the west coast of the United States to provide further thrills until its final demise some time ago. (Above Image).

The Rocket, Western Train and Frigate (in refashioned format) remain at Rigby Road whilst it is reported that the 'Hovertram' is to join them with an intention to return it to its former glory 'Go with Shell?' condition. A much later member of this select fleet of Blackpool trams is the 'Trawler' which owes its existence to the sponsorship of the Owners of 'Fishermans Friend' in Fleetwood. This particular car was a less triumphant job, assuming the bodywork and running equipment of Brush Car 633. Its bus seat interior lacked charm and the 'illuminated' exterior was very much below par compared to the Transport Department's earlier creations. Nonetheless it added variety to the autumn display. Today it is undergoing a serious transformation in Rigby Road Works, in a further salutory partnership between the tramway engineering staff and 'Lightworks' - the new name for the Illuminations depot, which transferred its own operation from a red brick former stables block on Rigby Road to a purpose built large structure and facility abutting Squires Gate Airport. The Trawler will soon be 'launched' for its second role; this time with an amazing display of lighting technology bound to attract attention whenever it appears. The former screwed in lightbulb format has been replaced by a whole new lighting medium capable of unlimited (and continuing) variants in appearance and designs on the tram's exterior. In fact the revitalised 'Trawler' may well outshine its counterparts - in lighting display terms. Certainly it continues a very long tradition running back to 1911 when a double deck balcony car (68) appeared with external lighting features to commemorate a Coronation.

A rare image catches the 'Lifeboat' illuminated feature tram negotiating Royal Oak junction en route from Marton Tram Depot to Rigby Road Depot in 1960. It would reverse direction (sail being turned to face north !) at Station Road crossover. For some reason the cloth capped Marton depot driver was averse to taking the north bound curve on the triangular junction at this point. For the management at BTS the Guns of Navarone are the season's feature film playing that year at the 'Palladium' in the background. Photo Copyright : John Woodman who chanced upon this unusual journey on his bike whilst photographing trams on Lytham Road.

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