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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Centre Entrances are in (1930s style)

As previously referenced in an earlier blog Blackpool's fixation from 1933 up to the 1950s on centre entrance vehicles (both buses and trams) - followed an existing trend not only in the UK, but equally elsewhere in Europe and the USA.

Walter Luff, whilst Commercial Manager at West Riding Tramways company in Wakefield in the early 1930s would have been well aware and informed on bus operators opting for centre entrance bodywork. This trend was actually launched by Charles Roe company in Leeds who patented a dual staircase double deck design from which English Electric Company were required to pay license royalties for their own bodywork contracts for several operators, including of course Blackpool (initially from 1933 - 1936).

Blackpool was so proud of its centre entrance buses - the height of vehicle styling even in the postwar era that it would feature them on the Transport Guide cover for successive years up to 1958. This is the 1952 version in royal blue for the Coronation.

In fact Yorkshire's bus operators were particularly enamoured of centre entrance buses in the 1930s with West Riding, Yorkshire Woollen District, Grimsby Corporation and West Hartlepool taking examples. Burnley Corporation, Wallasey Corporation, Bury Corporation, and Sunderland's municipal operation also opting for the new passenger flow layout. Initial centre entrance double deck buses were operated by Nottingham's transport fleet with five new English Electric models on AEC chassis but with 'camel backed' roofs providing more headroom for the top deck passengers - delivered in 1929. London's United Tramways company commissioned (with Metropolitan Tramways) a single centre entrance double deck tram as part of the prototype trio from 1929 - but this did not find favour and was sold on to Sunderland's tram system in the late 1930s by which time this operator had bought or assembled a core fleet of centre entrance trams very similar to the English Electric styling for Blackpool. Bradford Corporation had of course trialled its own home-built single deck centre entrance tram in the same period - but without meaningful results.

The largest centre entrance operator in the UK outside of Blackpool was in fact West Riding Tramways - Luff's employer before he moved (as second choice of the Council) to Blackpool at the start of 1933. It was therefore a logical expectation in transport circles, and certainly on the part of English Electric (at the time building buses, trams and trolleybuses in Preston) that the centre entrance 'fad' would be transferred to the seaside. What perhaps was not anticipated was the extent to which Blackpool's transport fleet would accrue such a sizeable volume of new buses and trams with this bodywork format. The residues of this era still exist by the seaside in the shape of the quite sizeable fleet of 'heritage' trams now operating tours and special hires. Even the last examples of centre entrance trams being built in the UK - in 1961/62 in the form of the Metro Cammell trailer cars T1 - T10 carried forward Mr Luff's expressed preference.

Centre entrance trams were far more common on the Continent of Europe in the 1930s with Copenhagen, Zurich, Paris, Berlin, Danzig (Gdansk), Milan, Cologne being among many operators introducing this type in service as the latest in tramcar design. In the US the increasing prevalence of one man operated streetcars soon precluded viability of conductors and systems such as West Penn and Cleveland were among others who either rebuilt or withdrew their centre entrance fleet. Cleveland and its suburban line to Shaker Heights was one of the last sizeable operators of centre entrance trolleycars in the United. Many examples surviving in diverse museums. In the UK only Blackpool persevered with centre entrance vehicles on a large scale which made its system such a fascinating draw for enthusiasts up until the present day. Probably the finest such examples were the 'Marton Vambac' class of upgraded 1939 trams (10 -21) of which number 11 is very much alive and operating at the Carlton Colville museum. Elsewhere Bombay's transport company - then under British management influence with both double deck buses and trams became enamoured of centre entrance trams for a while with some twenty odd new double deck versions appearing from 1935.

However the economics of staffing meant this form of oassenger flow would quickly revert to front entrance driver controlled vehicles from the 1950s. Centre entrance buses and trams being quickly phased out except of course for Blackpool's tram fleet more or less 'frozen in time' until radical rebuilding of a core single deck fleet from 1972. One idiosyncracy was a latecomer to the centre entrance bus operation in the form of SHMD which opted to acquire a small fleet of double deck vehicles - of which one survives in preservation.

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