Blackpool has dillied dallied over the past fifty years with idle thoughts of creating a permanent venue to display its old trams. The first seed was planted in 1935 when the last remaining 'Dreadnought' type car (59) was kept from dismantling at Copse Road Depot by a last minute phone call from the Manager's office. The tram was then shunted into a corner of what would become an embryonic tram museum. It would be joined by further remnants from earlier fleets making up a haphazard collage of tramcar history. Copse Road was fortunate in 'being out sight and out of mind' as far as Rigby Road management were concerned, with the Permanent Way crew assigned there very much left to their own devices; or so it seemed. Another Tram Depot which was relatively independent of the Department heirarchy was located just off Red Bank Road in Bispham. Reached by a single track down the middle of the sometimes busy shopping street (complete with Dominion Cinema) Bispham Depot was home to the classic 'Pantograph' cars and most of the 'Brush' railcoaches which were assigned either to the North Station or Lytham Road services. The Depot also housed a diminutive two axle open top car tucked away at the very back gathering layers of dust over its dull all dark green livery. In fact this was the original Overhead Car converted from Conduit Car 4; pensioned off when it was replaced by its successor, former Marton Box Car 31 in 1935. Someone must have determined to save this important relic as it was quietly kept out of sight at Bispham Depot right through the war years and up to 1960.
Former Conduit Car in its smartly painted new role as 'Engineering Car' seen here in Blundell Street Depot fitted with an overhead gantry and centre opening doors to facilitate access of materials and components for the crew. It would linger on in a modified form (with enclosed driver platforms and extended top deck canopy) at the back of Bispham Depot far less attractive as the version seen here. Image :
John Woodman Archive. A Lancaster car and Motherwelll stand on the adjoining track.
Thus the early fortunes of what one day may become a superlative tram heritage display in Blackpool originated at Copse Road, Fleetwood with a supporting cast member in the original main depot of the Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad Company at Bispham. A further remarkable survivor from those Tramroad Company days was the last example of the Company's enclosed 'Box' cars. Number 114 (formerly Company 40) had been one of four examples kept in service until withdrawal in 1936. They must have looked wholly out of place surrounded by shoals of new green and cream 'rail coaches'. Number 114 was the only one of the four to gain a version of the Departmental new green and cream fleet livery - the rest retaining the red and white ornate lined out styling of the late 1920s. Perhaps this prompted its further survival, providing transport for the permanent way staff on their many journeys around the extensive tram network at that time. Eventually these duties would be taken over by Pantograph Car 167 in the 1950s and 114 (now Engineering Car 5) was shunted into an almost permanent stationary role on the western most track inside Rigby Road Depot. Here it provided a comfortable 'den' for Depot staff - venturing out briefly for the benefit of visiting enthusiast to allow the all- important photographs at the start of tours.
By the late 1950s Copse Road Depot housed a fascinating collection of old trams. In addition to Dreadnought 59, open 'rack' 163, Company 'rack' 2, the 1927 electric locomotive, and current Permanent Way car 167 made an impressive line-up. In Blackpool the 1950s saw the dimunition of the traditional 'Standard' trams, many being dismantled by Department staff in Blundell Street, while six examples were driven or shunted up to Thornton Gate Siding to be give over to a scrap dealer. In 1955 however one Standard gained a reprieve due to the intervention of the President of the Seashore Trolley Museum in Maine. On a visit to Blackpool he made a personal plea to the then new General Manager, Joe Franklin, for an example of this classic British tram design, and specifically an open balcony version. Number 144 was selected by staff as the 'best of the bunch' and became the first Blackpool tram to be placed officially into preservation - albeit in an American 'trolley'museum where it remains to this day. Its condition is excellent and now resplendent in its final green and ivory/cream fleet colour of the postwar period. Conversely the Transport Department was obliged to seek removal of a 'foreign' tram which had slipped in to Marton Depot through the good offices of Mr Franklin's predecessor earlier in the decade - having no home to go to at the time.
Below : Standard 144 being prepared for its long journey to Maine with posters in the windows - Rigby Road Depot 1955. The first of many Blackpool trams to exit from the depot over successive decades - fortunately most to preservation and new extended lives. Photo : Copyright : John Woodman