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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Bluebell, Poppy, Cissy and Spivs

Cissy shows off its classic lines - National Tramway Museum

Trams in former times were usually everyday objects of affection by the regular travellers using them to and from their homes and workplaces. In part this had much to do with the crews and their banter which made them a welcoming predictable environment. All that has gone now. Driver only units with the driver safely esconced behind strengthened partition glass and locked door in what have become soulless modes of transport - solely focussed on scheduled movements between A and B.

Consequently today's multiple or articulated bland units emit nothing like the character of trams (or for that matter buses) of previous generations. Certain trams or types even acquired nicknames from both staff and passengers due to their eccentricity or individual style. Notably in the late 1920s and early 30s' three London trams had labels attached to them by crews of the Metropolitan Tramways which operated them. All were experimental paving the way to improved series of new cars - the famous 'Felthams' so named because of their place of construction.

Bluebell was a fully enclosed elegant car with deep windows gaining its nickname from its pale blue and white livery which understandably stood out from the reds, and deep lakes, creams and browns of other London area operators. In fact it was the only blue tram to operate in London thus giving it even more distinction. An experimental car it gained notoriety on its initial trial service when its brakes failed or otherwise were unable to prevent it running into the back of a lorry on Barnet Hill. The consequent collision resulted in the death of the tram driver crushed in the impact. Rebuilt and with repositioned stairs and revised braking, plus a domed silver painted roof, but still in pale blue and white - Bluebell reentered service but its working life was foreshortened following the amalgamation of independent, municipal and LCC fleets into the newly created London Transport organisation in 1933.

Poppy was another experimental car built in the then prevalent style of London's latest buses with canopies over open driver platforms at both ends and flat roofs. It was likened to a bus but with obvious glaring differences. It too provided useful knowledge to transport engineers formulating the new class of tram for London's private operators, LUT and MET. Three prototypes duly emerging in 1929 and 1931 - forerunners of one hundred strong 'Felthams', The third member of the trio tested centre entrance bodywork and a host of new equipment - becoming in the process the less flattering 'Cissie' to crews. Despite being a one-off - the only centre entrance tram to operate in the capital - it would find a welcome after premature withdrawal under new owners in Sunderland whose tram system favoured centre entrance operation in the 1930s. On closure in 1954 'Cissie' would ironically become the only Sunderland tram to enter preservation thanks to a London businessman and firm tram enthusiast - Jay Fowler. It now resides fully restored to its as built condition at the Crich Museum.

A 'Spiv' in action with its flashy chrome embellishments and fully opened drivers cab windscreen passing the clean exterior of the Clifton Hotel.

Blackpool was less inclined to find names for individual trams. One class which did manage to achieve an early nickname however was the postwar delivery 304 - 328 in 1952. Whilst more familiarly known as the 'Coronation' cars - they very quickly acquired the unflattering title of 'Spivs' by crews. A 'Spiv' was a term used for a 'Flash Harry' or unlicensed trader in the 1940s - able to conjure up (for a price) difficult to find consumer items, food, cigarettes, whiskey and the like. This was a period of rationing when everything from sweets to clothing required proportionate coupons from an individual 'ration book' issued by the Government. Spivs were always on the move, with an eye out for approaching arm of the law - and ready for a quick getaway at the appearance of a police constable. The Coronation cars were fast off the mark from stops (very fast) and boasted chrome flashes on the front and sides - suggesting speed and excess (both being true in this case). So when someone mentions a 'Spiv' to you in conversation - at least in tram circles - its these postwar types which are being referred to. They were also the least successful class of tram operated in Blackpool from new.

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