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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Blackpool Man Made Transport Manager

But not in Blackpool. In 1931 Leeds City Transport was seeking a Manager to replace Robert Horsfield (who had given his name to the large fleet of two axle all enclosed trams delivered during the previous decade). An extensive number of applications were received from around the UK, of which 60 came with professional cvs of merit. Amongst these four were shortlisted. Walter Luff, Commercial Manager of the West Riding Tramways Company (which operated a tram service into Leeds from Wakefield); William Forbes the General Manager of Cardiff's transport system, T. Sykes who was General Manager of the Rotherham municipal undertaking; and Vane Morland, the then Manager of Walsall's transport system. Vane Morland was born in Blackpool.

By 1931 Leeds had invested in improvement and extension to its tramway network and with its one hundred plus new 'Horsfields' had over 500 trams on its books, plus an increasing number of new buses, many bodied by the local firm - Roe. Vane Morland would go on to endorse further extensions to the tram network, as well as launch proposals for larger capacity four axle cars to operate on the reserved track sections. Taking over the reins of this large transport undertaking in mid 1932 it was not long before recommendations for a new more modern tram design were taken up with the first example arriving in May 1933 a few weeks before Blackpool's new Manager - Walter Luff (and English Electric) unveiled their revolutionary new 'rail coach'. Built by Brush Engineering the new double deck car of composite construction and numbered 255 would be the prototype of a series 255 - 263 to which a further batch built by English Electric 264 - 271 were delivered during 1935. It should be remembered that Walter Luff was not Blackpool's first choice for Transport Manager in late 1932. Charles Hopkins, then Manager of Sunderland's transport system was appointed to take over but turned the job down at the last minute (almost literally on Christmas Eve 1932!). Walter Luff's ambitions were ultimately rewarded in a flurry of telegrams with Blackpool Town Hall during that week.

The new Leeds cars with modernistic rounded profile and twin headlamps were known as the 'Middleton Bogies'. All withdrawn by 1957 sadly no examples were preserved. Vane Morland also went on to design and commission three two axle versions, known as the 'Lance Corporals' because of the prominent 'vee' pale stripe at each end of the tram. Also bodied by the Brush company entering service during 1935 intended for use on the Lawnswood and Roundhay services. Built in the Transport Department's own works at Kirkstall with components supplied by various vendors - they followed the specifications of the Manager with nearside straight stairways. Numbered 272 to 274 the trio were regarded at the time as the pride of the tram fleet. Again sadly none survived after withdrawal.

It is interesting to speculate how much attention Walter Luff gave to these developments in Leeds before and immediately after his own appointment to take over Blackpool's transport system in January 1933. Certainly he will have followed with interest the new trams being delivered in Leeds, as well as the changes of livery and 'rebranding' which was a feature of the Leeds buses and trams in this period. So a Lancashire 'sandgrown'n' took on the principal transport (and tram) system in Yorkshire, whilst a Yorkshireman similarly transformed the Blackpool transport operation during the same era . Vane Morland went on to commission studies for tram subways in Leeds city centre during the late 1930s with extensive testing of ground conditions and sampling of developments on the continent. One single deck tram was purchased from Sunderland to become the testbed for subway trials in Leeds. The tram would go on to be extensively rebuilt by Leeds engineers in the postwar years ending up as a centre entrance car (600) in 1954 - with short working life. At least this tram was preserved becoming a part of the National Tramway Museum collection at Crich, even though the tram subway proposals were stillborn.

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