top of page
  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

West Yorkshire's Influence

Lingering connections in Blackpool's transport history led to the West Riding of Yorkshire on several occasions. An early link arose through the desire of Bradford's citizens and its civic leaders to emulate the success of nearby Leeds and its new electric overhead tramway at Roundhay in 1891. Bradford was having to put up with smoke, noise and general discomfort of labouring steam tram engines pulling large trailers up and down the city's steep central districts. The positive contrast of electric powered trams then newly introduced in Britain was highly desirable and increasingly apparent following the opening of early lines from the Giants Causeway in Ireland to Blackpool's seafront tramway. The latter resulting from lengthy experimental work by a Halifax inventor - Holroyd Smith.

It was perhaps therefore no surprise that Holroyd Smith living a few miles from Bradford was approached to install a demonstration electric tram operation over a short distance (and incline) in the centre of Bradford in 1892. Unlike his work in Blackpool however, the Bradford demonstration took a leaf out of the recently opened Roundhay tramway in Leeds, which used overhead wire current collection and technology imported from the USA.

Bradford's demonstration required a sample electric tram. This duly appeared from the Lancaster Carriage and Wagon Company to the design of Holroyd Smith and similar in appearance to the larger examples built for the conduit tramway on Blackpool's promenade. Overhead poles were erected for a stretch of line from Forster Square to Manor Parade with varying gradients over a distance of 660 yards. The resulting trials with full loads of up to 44 passengers cemented favourable impressions needed to impel Bradford to proceed with its own journey into the age of electrical power and technology.

Moving forward some thirty years Bradford's then thriving tramways department sought to improve on capacity and style of its open balcony two axle fleet of double deck cars. A bold innovation by the Tramways Department's workshops saw emergence of a fully enclosed single deck car complete with central platforms in 1926. English Electric supplied special motors for the two bogies which ran fitted with external couplings to improve on the traction required but ending up creating excessive noise at street level. Driver controlled air powered centre doors were a further feature on this unique tram - numbered 1 in an all over teak livery with lining out. Used on a fairly straight route the 'Stanningly Flier' was for a brief time the fastest car in a fleet of over two hundred typical open balcony double deckers. It would have no doubt been seen (and possibly ridden on) by Walter Luff and colleagues from the West Riding Tramways which operated an extended interurban service from Wakefield to Leeds (as well as a open air fun park inbetween the two centres). However West Riding's trams were very much of the early generation style and were all destined for replacement by motor buses at the beginning of the 1930s.

The West Riding company was noteworthy for its purchase of a fleet of new centre entrance double deck buses on Leyland Titan chassis. These were a definite improvement on the wornout trams which were finally replaced in 1932. It was in this same timeframe that Walter Luff, who had graduated to become the Commercial Manager for the company, which saw corporate branding that included the emblem of a white rose on vehicle side panels of both buses and trams was selected - at the last minute - to become successor to Charles Furness as Blackpool's Transport Manager commencing on New Year's Day 1933.

Resplendent Coronation car built in Horbury, West Yorkshire.

Also in the West Riding (or possibly east Lancashire?) the mill town of Halifax developed its own distinctive design for its tramfleet - mostly built locally in the workshops. Wind conditions over exposed lines running through (and over) Pennine hills called for especial care operating high sided vehicles. Halifax was unique in the UK in having not one but two double deck trams successively blown over on the same route on the same occasion. One option considered for exceptionally exposed routes was use of single deck trams and a series of three new cars were constructed - to varying designs but all on two axle trucks. This helped matters but easier solutions were found by having open top cars available to deal with high wind gusts. Blackpool saw two of its double deck standard cars blown over by wind shears - once on the tramroad near to St Stephens Avenue and in 1940 when a gust of wind caught an enclosed Standard car as it emerged from behind the Metropole Hotel heading northwards.

A further connection with the West Riding was of course in postwar years when British tram development was at a very low ebb indeed. The West Riding firm of Charles Roberts at Horbury was one of a handful of bidders to build Blackpool's order for twenty five new single deck trams in 1952. A firm more familiar with constructing railway goods wagons - the resulting Coronation cars were impressive additions and highly comfortable to ride on - but their excessive weight (steel side panels), long trolley arms and high power consumption (among other minor details such as water ingress from ceiling lights) made them a problematic challenge for depot fitters and electricians over two decades. Staff heaved a sigh of relief when the last of the class was retired somewhat prematurely.

No doubt further West Riding links are tucked away in historic tomes - but these are the ones which spring most readily to mind.

Featured Posts
bottom of page