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Blackpool's 'Belfast Truss'

January 3, 2018

2017 commemorates the centenary and founding of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) predecessor of the Royal Air Force.   World War One saw the emergence of aircraft as an important arm of military strategy - in particular in observation of ground positions on the Western Front and the effects of artillery bombardment on enemy trenches. The need to protect observation from balloons and low flying aircraft led to the formation of 'fighter' squadrons for defensive (and subsequently offensive) roles.   

 

As the numbers of aircraft grew so did the need for enclosed structures to house and repair them on an ever increasing basis.  Large wingspan of biplanes of the day meant a requirement for similarly large buildings or hangars with few or no structural support pillars.   In this frenetic period needing urgent action a ready made solution was at hand in the form of the 'Belfast Truss' developed in that British city with its diverse industries of the time.   A bow arched frame with lattice strengthening struts using light wooden material allowed wide covered space free of supporting pillars and ideal for use in aircraft hangars and large vehicle storage space became the norm.

 

At war's end in 1919 the War Department needed to dispose of much of its material (and men).  This included structures which had been erected here there and everywhere.   Available at nominal cost vehicles, machinery and equipment allowed mechanics, drivers and pilots to start up family businesses of all kinds.  Most relevant was the explosion of 'charabanc' and haulage companies, often with  vehicles that could be used for both purposes.  Flying schools and aerial photography provided outlets for RFC staff seeking practical application of their hastily learned knowledge.   

 

Large structures were acquired for similar purposes, aircraft and vehicle hangars and workshops.   Bond Street, Blackpool has a classic example of an early 20th century building erected with a 'Belfast Truss'  - originally acquired for the family firm operating 'Seagull Coaches' and later used by Blackpool Corporation Transport for storage of old buses in the 1940s and 1950s.   Another example familiar to residents is Abingdon Street Market, which originally was a car showroom and garage - with its low height 'Belfast Truss' roof clearly evident throughout the structure.    

 

When Blackpool Corporation Tramways was authorised to erect a series of structures on the southern side of Rigby Road (on Corporation owned land) from 1921 - it opted to utilise second hand structures acquired from the War Department, creating an 'avenue' of 'Work Shops' serviced by a moving 'traverser' which allowed tramcars to be transferred sideways inbetween the different 'Shops' :  Engineering, Body, Electrical, Paint, etc.  Some of these structures remain in place - silent sentinels of a once vibrant age in the history of the town's transport system.  

 

 Rigby Road Works - the avenue of 'Shops' serving the tram fleet needs from the early 1920s' with the 'traverser' in view left of the 'Cheetah' open bus.  Photo John Woodman  Below :   Bond Street, Blackpool - a classic 'Belfast Truss' structure still in place nearly 100 years from original construction.  Now used by a national auto services firm it was originally built for a Blackpool coach company operator - and later by the Transport Department to store withdrawn vehicles.   Worthy of a blue plaque.

 

 

 

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