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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Lost Tram Depots On The Fylde's Coast - 1

Sticking with the transport museum theme for a moment (see previous Blogs this month) - the omission of a public display of vintage trams (and buses) depicting the transitory story of urban transport over three centuries along the Fylde coast - is a grotesque example of benign neglect by local authorities. Local Authorities now signing up to proposals for a enhanced electric powered light rail system embracing communities from Fleetwood to Kirkham and Lytham (and of course Blackpool). What goes around comes around.

Three electric tram systems once provided services connecting the Fylde coast towns with interrunning across all three. To house and maintain rolling stock of three very different fleets of trams, with Blackpool Corporation Tramways being the largest, depots were maintained seperately staffed but all to the same standard track gauge. Sadly all but one have been demolished.

Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad Company built three depots for its fleet totalling 41 single deck trams. Starting with a diminutive brick structure at the very northern end of the 8 mile line running to Blackpool sited off Bold Street next to the North Euston Hotel, the building was erected to serve as an overnight stabling shed for up to four cars operating the early morning runs south to Bispham and Blackpool. Little used, this Depot was sold off after takeover of the Company by Blackpool Corporation in 1919. Its site is now occupied by a block of flats. Also in Fleetwood land was acquired for a more substantive depot, complete with track connection leading on to the railway sidings of the Lancashire and Yorkshire company. Copse Road Depot was also little used as a 'running shed'. Instead it provided a convenient site for storing track and ballast as well as providing cover for various irregular vehicles used by the Permanent Way crew based there over the years. Copse Road Depot was a convenient site to put aside withdrawn cars and became the 'home' of the purpose built steeple cab locomotive acquired as motive power for 'coal trains' which were shunted up and down the line from the railway connection behind the depot to the special sidings created at Thornton Gate by Blackpool Corporation in the 1920s. Here transference of coal from railway wagons to coal merchant lorries was handled up until the 1940s.

Copse Road Depot nearly became a tram museum on two occasions. Once when Blackpool was closing its street tram routes in the early 1960s and a museum scheme almost emerged with several restored cars being delivered there for future display. This fell apart due to withdrawal of support by another road vehicle collection. The Fleetwood Heritage Leisure Trust made attempts to similarly acquire the site and depot structure (with substation) for its planned tourist venue in Fleetwood - but failed to secure funds to purchase the buildings from the owners - a second hand car dealership who went on to demolish the depot.

Bispham Depot was a substantial building to similar style as Copse Road erected by the Tramroad Company at inception of the Fleetwood Tramroad operation in 1898. Complete with Power Station and office structure (and General Manager's residence) the complex lasted until closure of the tram service to North Station which used street running from Gynn Square up Dickson Road. The reduced need for a still substantial fleet of trams based at Bispham meant closure of this depot as a running shed and transfer of staff to Rigby Road after 1963. The depot continued in a half life role to store withdrawn trams until the mid 1960s after which it was briefly used as a 'cash and carry' business still with tracks in place (but trams and overhead wiring removed of course). The Sainsbury company saw value in acquiring the entire site to include an adjoining petrol station facing on to Red Bank Road for a purpose designed store. Only the former Manager's residence and its adjoining garden area (later turned into a Bowling Green in the 1920s) remains to mark the tramcar link. The Manager's former home still stands now providing the local Conservative Party branch with a suitable venue.

Blackpool's first tram depot from the 1880s'; originally a rudimentary structure, was erected just off the Promenade near to Central Pier. Connected to the early conduit system line by a short street track on Princess Street, the site morphed by 1910 into a substantial red brick depot building complete with offices, staff facilities and a constrained series of work areas running along the western edge of the building interior. Known as Blundell Street depot it was very much the main operating site for a fast expanding tram network which emerged after the Corporation takeover of the founding Blackpool Electric Tramway Company by 1898. Expanded several times by extensions to the building structure - the depot was accessed by a single track leading into the building from Princess Street. The modernisation of the tram fleet (and buses) during the 1930s as well as requirement for an integrated tramway workshop - saw construction of the workshops complete with traverser after the First World War. Sell off by the War Department of surplus or redundant assets on a massive scale from 1920 resulted in several former aircraft hanger structures purchased to create enclosed workshop space (with necessary internal height). These were assembled on Corporation owned land which also enjoyed railway access from the main line running east of the site and into Blackpool's very busy Central Station facing on to Hounds Hill. During the World War of 1914 - 1919 a sizeable section of Blundell Street Depot was given over to the production of artillery shell casings. Compensation from the Government after the war's end was used to pay the costs of the impressive war memorial built in front of the Metropole Hotel on what was 'Princess Gardens' and now familiarly referred to as the 'Cenotaph'.

A wholly new depot structure was built in the mid 1930s to augment Blundell Street (and the Corporation's other depots at Marton (see below) and Bispham (see above). This impressive new complex with exterior track fan accessed both from an extension from Blundell Street and a single line connecting with Lytham Road's tramway - then became the main running shed for Blackpool's tram fleet. Blundell Street Depot was relegated thereafter to storage of surplus and seasonal cars as well as miscellaneous special purpose trams. Half of the structure was given over to the town's then municipal ambulance fleet (for which the Transport Department had overall responsibility for maintenance and servicing). The northern section of the depot interior was assigned wholly for this purpose, whilst the southern half of the building was kept in use for trams. New track was laid with a line running into the depot across Rigby Road and pointwork allowing trams to gain the several tracks still in use. All of this took place in the 1960s as the transport department took stock of its downsized tram operation and reduced workshop requirements.

During the 1970s a storm caused weakening of the roof structure in Blundell Street Depot. After inspection it was judged unsafe to continue in its amended role and the gradual removal of trams and equipment (and ambulances) took place. The empty building was later completely demolished but with tracks remaining very much as before. A new car park was created on the footprint of the former depot site lasting into the beginning of the 2000's when redevelopment of the entire area for housing was approved by the Council. Sadly the potential for creating the town's transport heritage centre was lost - one which would have benefitted the neighbouring (and historic) Foxhall district which still kept its original depot access tramline from the Promenade. Serious consideration by the Leyland museum to move into the Depot site with a newbuild exhibition space was also the subject of a funded study at the time.

Two further tram depot losses will be accounted for in Part Two.

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