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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Blackpool's Premier Coachbuilder - Once Upon A Time

The name HV Burlingham was forever associated with innovative styling and craftsmanship in UK bus and coachbuilding industry. Set up by a Norfolk cabinet maker who moved to Blackpool following the end of the First World War - the company he founded bearing his name went on to be a market leader and important employer in the town from the early 1930s up to takeover by Hendon-based Duple Coachbuilders in the early 1960s.

The company was favoured by Blackpool's municipal transport department from 1935 onwards - becoming almost exclusive supplier of new bus bodywork to the Corporation right up to the mid 1950s. However its customer base was extensive and included large operators such as Scottish Motor Traction (SMT), Ribble (of course) and a wide portfolio of coach operators in the north and Midlands; as well as diverse municipalities such as Darwen, Wallasey, Bournemouth, Manchester and Salford.

In postwar years Burlingham went on to build trolleybuses for four municipal operators still wedded to electric traction : Glasgow, Portsmouth, Reading and Manchester. The company's groundbreaking 'Seagull' coach design in the early 1950s was a trend setter that was eagerly adopted by operators large and small. It remains a classic marque popular in the bus enthusiast and coach heritage sector.

The company's initial production of one-off 'charabanc' types were built in Blackpool premises that seemed to move location with high frequency - due in part to the fast growth of the business from the mid 1920s onwards. Originally in a partnership, Burlingham registered his company in his own name and never looked back. Moving eventually to a purpose new build factory on then literally 'Preston New Road' its premises were a highly visible landmark for visitors arriving in the town, invariably on a Burlingham bodied bus or coach. Even the company logo proudly used a profile of the Tower against a pale blue background forever associating its business with the resort. Taken over by local investors, Burlingham retired from the business he had created to focus on caravan design and construction on a site off the A6 at Garstang. His cabinet making and joinery skills being particularly evident in this new endeavour. Several custom built 'Committee Coaches' were designed by the company including a particularly classic example for Blackpool Corporation in 1938. The same skills were applied to design of fire appliances for both Newton Le Willows and Blackpool's Fire Brigades in the days when this responsibility rested with local Councils. More utilitarian vehicle bodywork was extensively commissioned in the war years.

Of course Burlingham and Blackpool's Transport Department were forever embedded from the mid 1930s onwards; particularly due to the centre entrance streamline buses for which Blackpool was famous (in addition to its trams). Nearly 190 examples being built between 1936 and 1951 - to an originating concept design by the English Electric Company in Preston. A further forty single deck types, both open and enclosed were to similar centre entrance styling including rather exotic vehicles 'the Gondolas' appearing during 1935.

Much of this story will form a significant part of the planned title 'Blackpool's Bus Centenary 1921 - 2021'* being formatted to coincide with the hundred years of Blackpool's buses.

Lytham St Annes private coach operator S. Moore with their newly delivered coach posed in front of Stanley Park Gates in 1938

Newton Le Willows Fire Tender - a one off for this local council - note the wheel mouldings.

Below : Alexanders of Falkirk one of many orders from this Scottish operator. Note the styling finish and tiered high back seating.

Below : What better way to travel to your flight from Manchester Airport ? Ringway in those days. A special one and a half deck coach allowing large luggage space under the rear section of the vehicle. Operating from Deansgate with the author as a relatively frequent passenger on leave from BAOR postings in Germany.

All Images Copyright John Woodman Archive.

* this replaces the earlier provisional title 'Tilling Stevens to Alexander Dennis, Blackpool's Buses 1921 - 2017' originally planned and deferred to coincide with the town's bus centenary for 2021.

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