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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Tram museum aspirations - 2

Former Conduit Car 4 - transformed into 'Number One' for the 1960 Anniversary seen here about to take an enthusiast party on tour from Hopton Road. Coliseum Coach Station was very much in business as can be seen by the background vehicles. Contrast this image with the view of the same car in the 1st section on this blog.

Blackpool & Fleetwood Box Car 40 seen getting final attention from the Painters prior to the Anniversary procession. Ex Conduit Car 4 stands alongside without the mid deck panels text which was added for public attention. Both Images :

Copyright John Woodman

Britain's last trams were quickly disappearing by the end of the 1950s. Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen left just Glasgow's declining system in Scotland. Liverpool, the Grimsby and Immingham industrial line, the touristic Llandudno & Colwyn Bay operation in north Wales, Swansea & Mumbles in south Wales, and the once great Leeds City Transport system closed in 1959. This left just Sheffield which lingered on to 1960 whilst Glasgow finally said goodbye to its trams in 1962. Only Blackpool would remain as the sole operator of electric trams after 1962 (excepting of course the marvellous Manx Electric Railway just across the Irish Sea). The rapid pace of tram closures meant that the nascent Tramway Museum Society and its members were hard pressed to raise funds sufficient to save the many diverse examples of trams summarily being scrapped. The recently created tram museum, specifically sited well away from any urban conurbation to avoid vandalism of stored vehicles, would quickly fill up with those cars which managed to avoid the scrapyard.

As Blackpool was the least likely system to close priorities of enthusiasts were focussed on the others. Even so the costs of moving trams around the country were a major challenge, even if the trams themselves were available at nominal or modest amounts. Leeds, Sheffield and Glasgow were the final systems to close and thus benefitted from the attention of hard pressed enthusiasts willing to get involved with saving this or that particular car. The three Scottish systems and Liverpool, Sunderland, Llandudno and Swansea were not so fortunate despite brave attempts at preservation at the time - crowd funding had yet to become a solution. Glasgow sensing public desire to see the 'caurs' immortalised found the space and the funds to create its own transport museum using part of the famous Coplawhill Works - the Paint Shop, in which some five differing types were initially installed along with buses, cars, ship models, and memorabilia.

The creation of an enthusiast owned and managed tram museum in the Peak District of Derbyshire meant at least there was one safe haven to which rescued trams could be directed, albeit with conditions. But at least it offered the chance to eventually create a working electric tramway on which to bring some examples back to life. The first such initiative in the UK. Suffice to say it attracted meaning- ful support and working volounteers laying track, erecting covered storage sheds, providing a spirited environment which caught the spirit of the time.

Blackpool meanwhile suddenly caught on to the fact that its trams would celebrate their 75th Anniversary in 1960. The Transport Department hurriedly scoured its holdings and identified the 'hidden' historic gems which had quietly languished in relative obscurity (except for those in the know) in various depots. One example had already been drafted to provide the basis for a new illuminated car in 1959 - the famous 'Blackpool Belle'. Open toastrack 163 was found at Copse Road Depot (where else?) and immediately identified for a complete transformation. The illuminated featue car it replaced - the 'Progress' Car of 1949 had in fact first appeared in 1937. Its genesis was another toastrack - this time former Company 'Rack' 141 in the Blackpool fleet, so there was an immediate precedent to cite.

The Department determined on a modest budget it must be said, but with a lot of inhouse tlc and enthusiastic contributions from older staff in the Tramway Workshops - to restore four representative trams from the formative years of the system : Conduit Car 4, Dreadnought 59, Company rack 2 and Box Car 40. A remarkable effort was compressed into limited time to bring all four trams into an impressive representation of their early appearance - albeit with some licence insofar as authenticity was concerned. Thus the town became the proud owner of a small museum collection - and one which actually was able to operate on a working tramway.

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