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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Tram Museum Anyone ?

It was a further forty-odd years after the aborted scheme to create a tram museum using the former Copse Road Tram Depot site before a further initiative to provide a heritage centre for Blackpool trams surfaced. This time the focus of interest was on the relatively dormant weed covered sidings and property at Thornton Gate still in ownership of Blackpool Council. Above : Thornton Gate Sidings are perhaps best known for the lineup of redundant Standard cars in 1958 despatched from Blundell Street and Marton Depots for scrapping. This venerable assembly included open balcony 145 at the southern end of the lineup and enclosed Standard 177 at the northern end. Number 177 was in fact the very last Standard Car to be constructed - in 1929 and should have been rightly preserved - but that's far too much water under the bridge in 2017. Note the glazing (and much else removed from the trams prior to the scrapman's attentions. Some local enthusiasts understandably made off with fittings destined for burning to be preserved privately - but not the Author. Both Images : John Woodman Archive

The Lancastrian Transport Trust (LTT) had emerged as the leading conservor of both vintage buses from the Fylde area as well as Blackpool trams. In the run up to the tramway upgrade scheme with Blackpool Transport announcing its intention to dispose of a hefty number of the existing fleet, the LTT (and others) moved to ensure a future for many of the unwanted classics. A breakdown of trams for disposal had been provided to those with interest and prepared offers submitted to BTS offices from a number of sources, understandably including the Crich Museum, the LTT and the nascent FHLT in the form of 'Friends of Fleetwood Trams'.

Thornton Gate lay outwith Blackpool Council's boundary and within that of Wyre Borough. Thornton Gate Sidings had been used as a covenient open storage site by the Council's Permanent Way team for new tram rail and other materials required to maintain the running line. Copse Road Depot had traditionally provided this role up to 1963 complete with a direct connection on to the main railway line running into Fleetwood behind the depot structure. The railway right of way and its multiple goods sidings subsequently became an extension of the A585 and Amounderness Way in later years.

The LTT prepared plans and a dramatic concept scheme for a newbuild structure in which many, if not all, of their expanded tram collection would be displayed. on the Thornton Gate sidings location. The site retained its own track connection to the tramway thus allowing for operating tours and other transfers into and out of the proposed museum location. Council Officers examined the proposals and some encouraging signs (green shoots) appeared that this objective might just eventualise.

However the requirement of the lead light rail contractor, BAM Nuttall, responsible for the implementation of a complete renewal programme for track, power and related infrastructure, meant this company needed an onsite resource from which to operate over a two to three year timeframe. Apart from Starr Gate car park, the Thornton Gate Sidings property was the only suitable site for this purpose. Starr Gate had effectively been assigned for the new-build tram depot being also under Council ownership. Original intentions had been to utilise the former Blundell Street depot land for stabling the light rail fleet with running connections from the Foxhall along Princess Street and Blundell Street itself to Hopton Road. Alas this regeneration of the original tramway depot property and existing track links was spurned and instead the exposed Starr Gate site seafront site was approved. However not before he installation of pointwork from the Promenade leading on to the Princess Street tramline was approved and completed - remaining in place for all to see as a constant reminder of what might have been.

With the obvious adjusted priority given to contractor requirements this meant the LTT's vision for Thornton Gate was sidelined and effectively closed down but the track junction into the property from the southbound running line was retained and reinstated in the upgraded light rail layout at this point.

Having purchased a sizeable number of redundant Blackpool trams the LTT then became faced with the onerous (and expensive) task of where to put them; forced forward by instructions issued by BTS at the time for all of the sold cars to be removed from Rigby Road by an arbitrary deadline; after which storage charges would be rendered to the purchasers. The FHLT being in the same boat as the LTT had its own challenges, although possibly not as numerous in total. Friendly proactive support was instigated in this case from some helpful Principals, both in Fleetwood and HMP Kirkham. These became home to the FHLT's cars. The LTT, with a much bigger task at hand, managed to secure alternative premises, as well as utilising their existing bus storage facility at Brinwell Road. Of course all of this twisting and turning became fodder for uninvolved enthusiasts avidly pondering tea leaves for signs of future life

for the varied displaced/sold cars from Rigby Road's Tram Depot.

The challenges facing the LTT with limited resources (like the subsequently formed FHLT) were considerable thereafter given the costs of moving large numbers of trams locally. At some point understandings were reached allowing the LTT's collection (or much of it) to return to Rigby Road thus ensuring and adding to the emergent heritage interest within Blackpool Transport - which has subsequently gone from strength to strength through determined efforts of Bryan Lindop and others. At the Fleetwood end of the Fylde coast the FHLT had their own challenges to attend to about which a sequel will deal with.

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