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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Blackpool's Trams Deserve a Pantheon

Open Balcony Standard Car 146 stands at the Layton terminus in the late 1920s.

Blackpool's national role in urban transport development started on its never ending journey in 1885 and has still to be fully recognised. Apart from sporadic tilts at acknowledging the evolution of the town's pioneering electric tramway; such as the impressive Centenary procession in 1985, not much else in the form of tangible recognition has arisen in past decades. It was left for the most part to museums and enthusiast support elsewhere for many of Blackpool's few historic trams to find a permanent refuge. The solitary remaining 'conduit car' from 1885 was first despatched to Clapham until it joined other tram 'relics' at the Crich museum after its brief reappearance by the seaside in 1985. The equally historic 'Dreadnought class' tram, a design unique to Blackpool from the turn of the 20th Century, is now esconced within a walled up mausoleum in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, whilst sundry other exiles from the Promenade trundle up and down a former quarry site in the Peak District.

Much like Blackpool's fame for aviation 'firsts' and association with aircraft pioneers; beginning in 1909 then moving onward to not one, but two airports, and one of Britain's largest bomber assembly plants - bits of which are still extant along Squires Gate Lane; the town's history (beyond the hard to ignore Tower) are clouded in opaque mists of time. Occasionally the local newssheet gives space (nostalgia sells more copy these days) to period then and now archive images, with little in the way of forthright in-depth coverage. The town's Art Gallery, once a time capsule of civic heritage, is now a London controlled platform for self-promoted displays showcasing wannabe creative talent parachuted here from down south, or indeed anywhere other than the Fylde coast. The museum's founding collection and artifacts of any to the town have been consigned to some anonymous shed or basement away from the public gaze.

Where once an original tram stop stood marking the spot where Mr Holroyd Smith (he of Halifax) together with the town's worthies officially laid that first tram rail in 1885 marking the commencement of the country's very first electric 'street' tramway - now nothing. Of course there is the benefit of transient travelling memorials emerging from the tram depot on Hopton Road - providing momentary testament to former times in the resort's transport history; but lamentably nothing whatsoever in the way of an educational or permanent interpretive display available to the wider public (and all those 19 million visitors).

From time to time glimmers of Council-think emerge from Bickerstaffe House on the merits (and demerits) of a broader exhibition on Blackpool's transport heritage; but these seemingly disappear in closed door conclaves from which decisions are notable by their absence. The financing implications surrounding new-build transport headquarters to be sited elsewhere for generations of new buses and the expanding tramway bedevil strategies which seemingly see the Council-owned 'arms-length' transport company (BTS) shifting from its almost century old premises on Rigby Road.

What then the future for the remaining tram heritage held there? Apart from the meritorious work of volunteers manning 'heritage tram tours' trundling up and down the seafront - emergence of a permanent exhibition and educational display that embraces well over the hundred years of municipal transport innovation is overdue - in Blackpool. A far more modest but exemplary initiative is now underway in Fleetwood favouring the seperate but parallel history of that town's own electric tram service linking it with Blackpool since 1898. In tandem with highlights of Fleetwood's engagement with the fishing industry and its famous trawler fleets, a year round heritage attraction is being closely examined by private sector interests.

All the more reason for any new strategies impacting on Blackpool's economic and visitor profile now give due consideration and credible attention into creating a vivid insight on how this town embraced electric power for lighting and trams from the late Victorian era into the current millenium. Digging up tramrail from another era when trams once ran up and down Talbot Road to Layton, is a pertinent reminder of chapters once closed, and which are now being reopened. There is much much more to be revealed and placed on permanent display within a panoply of road, rail, sea and air exhibits - starting with that missing Tramway Centenary tram stop unveiled near North Pier in 1985 and now hidden, or otherwise disposed of by ill-caring civic conservers.

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