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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

The Standards Live On

Blackpool among its many historical milestones was the last British tram system to operate what were (are) considered to be the typical tramcar design familiar in many towns and cities up to the 1930s. The end loading double deck wooden framed 'standard' design came with many variants, not the least of which was the differential between four axle (bogie) cars and their shorter two axle sisters the latter being the more numerous.

Blackpool perversely did try out the two axle design in 1911 with three models arriving for an initial launch along the promenade carrying Council Members and officials. The bucking and swaying of the top covered open balcony design caused great distress to the official party (no doubt after a self congratulatory meal). The consequence of this was an immediate halt to further deliveries from Preston which were hurriedly amended to the calmer ride on four axles. All of the class were of the open balcony style - with a neatly designed top deck saloon that would form the basis of the subsequent Blackpool built 'standard' model which appeared from 1922 onwards. The lower deck saloon reflecting the 'Tudor style' window frame of the early 'Motherwell' built trams. Blackpool's 'Standard' cars served on all routes except north of Bispham on the 'interurban' line to Cleveleys and Fleetwood which had been acquired by the Corporation in 1919 from the Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad Company. The Company's entire fleet was of the single deck variety both enclosed and open, (and semi open) taking into account the high winds which blew onto the exposed coastal line especially between Cleveleys and the Gynn Inn.

The line up of condemned Standard cars at Thornton Gate in 1958.

The Blackpool Standards soldiered on in diminishing numbers into the 1960s. Seventeen of them gaining enclosed end balconies in a neatly done upgrade at Rigby Road Works with several being dealt with during the Second World War. By the end of the 1950s - the survivors were to be seen stored in Marton Depot emerging each Spring for the onset of visitors and need for 'Extras' on the Promenade. Their numbers were further whittled down in 1958 with six being summarily scrapped at Thornton Gate Sidings in full public gaze and the attention of local souvenir hunters. Number 143 was modified to become the 'new' Engineering Car and repainted in a rendition of Standard Car livery before being assigned to Bispham Depot in 1958. Number 41 unhappily split the points at Manchester Square and was condemned after a lengthy storage term. Number 158 and 159 more happily were adorned with external lighting to add to the Illuminations Specials fleet (then a remunerative part of the seasonal earnings for the Transport Department). This left 40, 48, 49, 147, and 160 of which 40 was the very last open balcony example and reserved for the National Tram Museum collection. Number 144 the only other open balcony car extant by then had already made its way across the Atlantic after being gifted to the Seashore Trolley Museum in 1955 - removed from the dark confines of Blundell Street were it awaited its fate.

Sister Open Balcony Survivor in its late 1920s fleet colours - on duty at Crich Museum preceded by an open 'boat' car in the subsequent Blackpool Corporation Transport colours introduced from 1933 under new management. Image : John Woodman

Above : And 144 about to embark on its sea crossing to Boston - with special posters added to its saloon windows by a proud Council. This is 1955 in Rigby Road Depot. Image : John Woodman Archive

Both 40, 49 and 158 would travel south to Crich, with 158 regrettably being dismantled there (for parts). 159 however survived in the care of the East Anglia Transport Museum where it remains a firm favourite with visitors and enthusiasts. Number 48 was also saved to make a longer sea journey - this time to the Pacific coast to join the Oregon Electric Railway Museum and subsequent visitor service for several years. We all know 147 similarly travelled to the US to be stored in a purpose built shed at the Gerald Brookins Trolley Museum (now sadly only a memory). But thanks to an energetic BTS MD of the time (Tony Depledge) it would return to Blackpool for a complete reconstruction to delight fans and visitors to the present day - in its traditional green and cream livery similar to that worn by 48, 159, and now open balcony 144 at Seashore. In a retro rebuild project Number 143 is destined to re-emerge in its open balcony and open platform state having been saved by the LTT some years ago following a fire on board the tram. Work on its rebuilding had started before it eventually returned to Rigby Road Works to join Blackpool's heritage tram fleet. When it reappears it will provide a working example of just how these classic trams first appeared in the early 1920s - complimenting its enclosed counterpart 147.

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