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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Blackpool in my youth

Given that it is my birthday today and I'm spending it in Manchester - a performance of 'A Streetcar named Desire' draws me there and a celebratory meal afterwards - I reflect on my home town's better days in this blog. Blackpool in the late 1950s and early 60s when I was even then a keen observer of the transport scene - held a huge amount of interest for enthusiasts, whether they were fascinated by buses, trams or trains (or even planes). It was yet another period of transition for the bus side of Blackpool's operation with tranches of MCW Orion bodied vehicles arriving to take over from the unique and somewhat eccentric centre entrance Burlingham products which were ending their days.

Open top buses still trundled to Stanley Park and on 'Extra' workings, usually the 24 service to Layton from South Pier or Halfway House. A handful of 1940s Titans joined them, having had their top decks truncated to open top condition and another example (complete with green painted roof) providing Trainee Bus Drivers with challenges to overcome. In 1957 Burlingham had delivered their last contract to Blackpool with five rear entrance bus, as their long (and rewarding) relationship with the Council had soured over additional costs claimed by the company in the one hundred strong delivery of 201 - 300 in 1949/1951. Equally sour was the aftermath of the twenty five Coronation cars from Charles Roberts in 1952. These heavy power consuming trams whilst imposing, and very comfortable to ride on for passengers, were a constant nightmare for the Department Fitters and Electricians throughout their entire operating life (which was considerably reduced to cut costs). Below : That Trainee Vehicle 1940 delivery TD5 Number 25 in the bus yard.

A nice combo - 1939 Leyland 'Cheetah' 19 on an 'Extra' to Layton outside the Central Station bus stop leading on to the promenade. A new PD2 follows close behind also heading to Layton and then 'Hospital'. I know which bus I would have ridden on given the choice at the time...

The three street tram services along Lytham Road, around Marton and on Dickson Road to North Station were all living on borrowed time as road traffic volumes increased and track relaying imperatives (on Lytham Road) meant conversion to buses was automatic (in 1961). Marton tramway had been relaid in the late 1940s after quite a robust debate in Council when proponents of trolleybuses almost got their way. The twelve strong Marton Vambac fleet (plus hybrid Vambac equipped railcoach 208) were amazing performers gaining considerable public support for this service. North Station still attracted a mixed bag of Pantograph cars (in summer) as well as both Brush and English Electric railcoaches. Balloons had tentatively been trialled on Fleetwood Market Days but never really caught on. Even so the North Station service was well patronised and clearly appreciated by users living north of Bispham. The trams deftly wended their way through to the busy terminus track which was moved back from its convenient (and original) siting immediately outside the train station forecourt, to a less troublesome position a hundred yards due north. To aid conductors having to turn the trolleypole on a busy road by that time - an automatic trolley reverser was installed in the new arrangements. This could quite easily have been introduced years previously. Below : A Balloon to 'Cabin' in those days could mean travelling along Lytham Road with frequent stops and a long tail of traffic behind. This is Highfield Road stop with passengers seemingly unloading from Squires Gate.

Church Street was enhanced by the frequent passage of the smooth running and quiet 'Vambacs'. Here one heads into the town centre on a sunny warm day and not a charity shop in sight. Both photos : Copyright John Woodman

The Transport Department was forever cutting costs with the continuing reduction in green paint on vehicles, in favour of vast expanses of cream, particularly on the bus fleet. The Management were going against the national trend however by a ordering a series of rear entrance open platform high capacity double deck buses needing two man crews. Nationally one man operated front entrance buses had demonstrated the large economies in staffing which resulted. Not so in Blackpool. How this was allowed to perpetuate through the 1960s' I do not know.

With five tram depots and a 'siding' to monitor (by bike) and of course the large cavernous bus garage (not much changed today) at Rigby Road - there was plenty of 'action' to record. This doesn't even take into account the masses of buses and coaches flooding into the town during summer months, jostling for parking space at coach parks and in the Talbot Road and Colisseum Coach Stations. And then there were steam hauled excursions wholesale into Blackpool Central and Blackpool North. Tracks filled with carriages awaited the returning visitors, their queues cascading out onto Central Drive and around the North Station Excursion platforms - hustled by youngsters with handcarts and old prams touting for luggage laden visitors wishing to avoid taxis and unaware of local bus or tram routes passing their 'digs'.

Two enthusiasts enjoying a depot visit. In this case at Bispham with a chance 'selfie' on the platform of Brush car 287. The handsome guy is me. The other one hanging on to the centre pole is a visitor from Lancaster - later to become a worthy at Crich Museum.

Finally of course Blackpool Corporation's omnipresent green and cream buses and trams had to contend with Ribble, Scout and Lytham St Annes Corporation adding their own distinctive fleet colours into this swirling mix of town centre traffic. With over three hundred trams and buses Blackpool was a sizeable municipal operator at a national level. It was of course the only town (by the late 1950s) where trams were still regarded favourably and had a future, albeit not with street running services. All of this can be found in my coverage of former times in the 'Tribute to Rigby Road' titles and 'Municipal Transport' books covering successive decades. Having dealt with the Thirties and Forties attention is being given to the Fifties in the next book of this series. The Shop page gives advance information and news of publication dates.

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