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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

A Tale Of Two 53s

Reflecting on my recent visit down south to meet with the Brighton 53 Group and finally see their work in restoring the last example of a passenger car of that resort system closed in 1939 it dawned that in fact in previous decades I had also encountered yet another tram numbered 53 this time restored and operating.

There is some symmetry between the story of Lanarkshire Tramways Company car 53 and its cousin several hundred miles away in the south of England. Both projects involve the restoration of the remains of lower saloon bodies found in fields. Both involve open top double deck cars and both are sole remaining examples of their former systems.

Lanarkshire Tramways operated a lengthy semi rural system to the south east of the all important Glasgow Corporation Tramways, but with no interrunning or indeed track connection even though services of the two operators met in close proximity at Uddingston and also at Cambuslang. The Company had a progressive management in the 1920s which set about designing (and rebuilding from existing cars) improved top covered versions very closely akin to the similar improvements by GCT at their Coplawhill Works. Number 53 being one such tram in the Lanarkshire early fleet (1906) which received this treatment. The car's much deteriorated saloon was eventually rescued by Scottish enthusiasts and found its way into an emergent industrial heritage museum scheme at Coatbridge in the 1990s. Here it was reconstructed acquiring truck, controls and other essential fittings enabling the tram to become the centre piece of a short operating line within the Summerlee Museum grounds. It was decided to retain the tram in an open top condition which it retains today.

Lanarkshire Tramways Company Number 53 restored and operating at Summerlee seen here in the late 1990s with my son Andrew and daughter Jessica providing the obligatory family photo. The Tudor arch windows are reminiscent of Blackpool's Standard cars- whose own origins derive from the Hurst Nelson company in Motherwell.

Our other 53 was home grown inasmuch as it was built by Brighton Corporation's own tramway workshops (along with most of the later fleet) in 1921. Again a two axle open top tram on narrow gauge tracks it would be successively rebuilt and upgraded to improved bodywork styling which gradually evolved through two decades of the tram system. Gaining platform vestibules in the process but retaining its open top deck (required by Board of Trade restrictions on narrow gauge trams) complete with wooden seats.

Unlike the Lanarkshire car Brighton 53 is very much a work in progress in the hands of a small group of local volunteers - and its eventual destination when completed is very much uncertain given the seeming lack of interest of local authorities in the area. There is no regional or county wide body ready to engage with the Brighton 53 Group so its restoration is solely down to this small team of dedicated heritage enthusiasts. The TMS has generously provided a truck with motor (ex LIsbon) and other components from its Clay Cross Store so there is ample reason to believe that Brighton 53 could well run again in the splendid brick red and cream livery of that system which closed finally on September 1, 1939. Restoring an electric tramcar is no easy challenge - especially in a rural site well away from urban resources and easy access. Brighton 53 and its supporters however had benefitted from the indulgence of a landowner willing to allow use of a barn area to become a modest tramway workshop. Long may this last. Having visited the site and the tram last month I can attest to the immense hard work which has been done - and continues. The tram became one of the system's Class D when built in 1921, subsequently going through the Lewes Road Workshop and upgraded in Class F in subsequent years (along with 30 other examples). Below : Brighton 53 well on its way to former glory thanks to some very dedicated enthusiasts down south.

And inside the lower deck - a work in progress :

Images : John Woodman

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