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  • John Woodman

A Touch of Heather

Given the amount of media focus on Aberdeen and Edinburgh this past week it is perhaps only fair that Scotland gets some mention in these pages. I haven't sampled the capital's tram service so far, but am sure it will follow the same antiseptic style of the rest of the UK's second generation tram development, with over engineered infrastructure and foreign imported modular design units. Understandably in 2017 one cannot expect varnished creaking wooden framed open platform double deck trams to be on the streets of British cities (or Scottish ones). Such is the pity.

So my personal memories of Scottish trams will be forever frozen in time through multiple pilgrimages to the city on the Clyde - Glasgow. I regret not having similarly endeavoured to travel north to the Granite City before its own centre door bogie streamliners were all consigned to flames in 1958; nor to Dundee with its wonderfully traditional approach to tram operation up to 1956, and neither to Edinburgh to sample the proudly maintained madder and white cars which were a hallmark of Princes Street up to 1956. Only Glasgow kept trams very much on the road into the Sixties - and only just; but long enough for myself along with other enthusiasts to trek north of the border to sample the very last industrial stronghold of urban railed transport in the UK.

The lack of interest or indeed respect, shown to trams in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh is evident in the lack of preserved trams from any of these systems. Only Edinburgh deigned to keep a sample car for future generations to marvel at; whilst Aberdeen felt obliged to withold scrapping its former horse car which survived through having become a works car in later life (a familiar tale elsewhere). Whereas in Glasgow the City's leaders were minded both to give the trams a memorable send off and to ensure a sampling of the fleet was preserved in display condition, as well as signing off on the creation of a transport museum to house both trams, trains, buses, Clyde built ship models and much else besides. After two changes of venue the collection has morphed into a landmark must visit attraction in Clydebank with an amazing display of great character. What is lacking of course is a working heritage line to go alongside, but who knows perhaps this may emerge in time. Two Glasgow trams made it to foreign parts (I exclude England in this remark). Standard Car 488 travelled to Paris for installation in the long closed St Mande Museum, whilst one Coronation headed to Boston to join three other UK exiles at the Seashore Trolley Museum in Kennebunkport. I managed to see both exiles in their then new settings. By a twist of fortune 488 has returned to the UK - to Wales where it is being renovated for operation at the excellent East Anglia Transport Museum near to Lowestoft - complete in final Glasgow Corporation Transport colours.

An urban landscape now consigned to fading memories. Complete with creaking wooden framed trams and far simpler pleasures.

Hidden away in the countryside surrounding Swindon is another Glasgow Standard - Number 585 which was evicted from the Science Museum many years ago. But it is well cared for in quiet solitude (as a tram) among many diverse road transport exhibits stored as part of that National Museum's Reserve Collection - a sort of giant Clay Cross. Naturally the Crich Museum has an impressive array of Glasgow 'caurs' unfortunately many being now purely static and awaiting attention. Most were acquired through the fund raising efforts of Scottish enthusiasts, but one was the subject of a Blackpool enthusiast's initiative. Blackpool has seen two Glasgow trams on its tracks - Coronation Mk II 1297 which arrived for the 1985 Centenary and stayed awhile courtesy of the Crich Museum, and Coronation Mark I 1274 which broke its journey north from the EATMS collection at Carlton Colville where it had been stored for a private owner, to its eventual destination north of the border at Summerlee Museum in Lanarkshire. Here it is being patiently worked on to regain a working role in that industrial heritage centre. Blackpool also is now host to the lower deck of a former Paisley District Tramways car latterly Glasgow 1016, complete with parts and truck. Sister car 1017 operates at Summerlee in glorious Glasgow CT colours. A little north in Fleetwood the FHLT have ownership of the top deck of a former Edinburgh tram - donated some years back, there being no willing takers at the time.

Glasgow's commercial centre with the western facade of Central Station hotel looming

on the left of the two trams on Services 18 and 29 amid busy traffic (for those times).

No one who rode on Glasgow's 'caurs' in those final years will ever forget the experience. Sett paved streets, myriad junctions and crossings, several depots and a still impressive workshop (and permanent way yard) all amid soot begrimed tenements and heavy industrial clamour, cloth caps, corner bars on every street and a rough but friendly style to 'foreign' visitors with strange pastimes! Great days.

Health and Safety be damned. Riding the steps on the approach to your stop and slick setts surfacing the roads with very little in the way of passenger comfort at the stop - at least in this location. All images : John Woodman

Of course there are further traditional trams in care of caring owners representing a small flavour of once familiar urban travel in Scotland. Not too many, but they all carry the saltire banner as it were. Even Blackpool's 147 can claim Scottish ancestry having originated in the Motherwell factory of Hurst Nelson company in the 1920s - one of seven such 'Blackpool Standards' to augment the products of Rigby Road Works.

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