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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Wigan - Sunderland - Blackpool - Sunderland

The odyssey of one leading English tramways manager during the 1920s and early 30s briefly impacted on the fate and future of Blackpool's transport operation. Charles Hopkins is most familiarly known in historical circles as the Manager of Sunderland's transport system and proponent of modern tram development. In fact his real start in tramway management was in Wigan during the 1920s when this unusual (for the UK) municipal system was torn between modernising its tram system and converting to bus operation. Under Hopkins a start had been made on upgrading the single deck tram fleet on routes limited to this type of car due to low bridges.

Below : period trade magazine profile of Wigan Corporation Tramways and its Manager, Charles Hopkins. Their upgraded single deck trams with padded reversible seats and patterned linoleum flooring are notable features.

Wigan was the rare example of a tramway with two different gauges and whilst some

effort had gone unto converting the narrow gauge lines to standard gauge, this invest- ment was summarily stopped when the Council perhaps wisely opted to convert their municipal trams over to municipal buses. The proximity of Leyland just a few miles to the north may have had some passing influence on that decision of course. Several of Wigan's double deck trams were finally sold on to South Shields Corporation where their open balcony and staid design was massively improved to fully enclosed dome roof styling in that tramway's very competent workshops during the mid 1930s. It is not outside the realms of local transport exchanges that Sunderland's manager (below) had 'tipped off' his South Shields counterpart on the bargain deal available from his former operation after Wigan determined to dispose of their tram fleet.

Hopkins had in the meantime moved over to Sunderland to take charge of that system which was badly in need of new management and leadership. His affinity with tram operation was speedily evident with a wholesale upgrading of the fleet (and purchase of a new single deck bogie car from Brush). By 1932 when Blackpool Council were similarly casting around for a suitable new and energetic manager to take over from Charles Furness who had been in the post since 1911, Hopkins opted to throw his hat in the ring and his application was quickly approved following a short list and interviews. Another applicant making it to the short list was Walter Luff, at the time Commercial Manager for West Yorkshire Tramways Company which was in the throes of discarding its remaining tram service to Leeds from Wakefield in favour of centre entrance buses bodied by Leeds based Roe, inevitably on the new Leyland Titan chassis.

Hopkins having been selected to head up Blackpool Corporation Transport, as it had become in 1932, Sunderland's transport committee took fright at the thought of losing so quickly their inspiring Manager, and as the saying goes, 'made him an offer he couldn't refuse'. The consequence of this fast moving saga meant that Blackpool's Chairman received a formal notice advising that their recently appointed manager had instead decided to stay on in the northeast. All of this was just before Christmas 1932 with the due date of the appointment commencing on January 1st, 1933. A chastened Blackpool Town Clerk promptly telegraphed Walter Luff in Wakefield informing him that as he had been viewed as the next candidate for the position in the Council's shortlist - and asked for his decision on whether he was willing to take up the post on terms offered to Hopkins. A telegraphed response after the holiday advised in the affirmative and the new Manager duly arrived on 1st January 1933 in Shannon Street, Blackpool where the Electricity Department had its headquarters from which Charles Furness would continue to manage this part of the town's municipal enterprise (for a while).

Of course both Hopkins and Luff pursued similar courses in tram development; with Sunderland actually building the last new tram extension in England after the war's end in 1945 (Durham Road Extension). English Electric assidiously pursued their marketing interests with both Managers, to an obviously greater benefit on the Lancashire coast. Wigan in the meantime went on to become a conservative but proud operator of distinctive buses, nearly all locally built it should be noted - having given up those remodelled single deck trams which Mr Hopkins had given so much attention to his earlier years. None have survived and Wigan's trams have thus wholly been consigned to the mists of transport history for only a few dedicated researchers to uncover.

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