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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Blackpool's Missing Heritage Transport Centre

John Woodman

Despite the fixation on Blackpool's collection of vintage trams there remains a gaping void in the town's recognition of involvement in formative decades of transport developments. Whilst deserved recognition on most, if not all, of Blackpool's built heritage in the form of its three piers (unique in the country), the Tower and its impressive buildings: the Winter Gardens complex plus the marvellous Grand Theatre - there is a completely blank screen over transport accomplishments in the past century originating on the Fylde coast.

Firstly Blackpool's embrace of man powered flight with its hosting the first aviation official meeting in Britain October 19th to 23rd 1909 on the sandhills and flat land just south of the town boundary at what is now Squires Gate Airport. This is just a few years after the Wright Brothers first launched themselves on another coastal site three thousand miles due west, and the first manned flight across the English Channel by a certain Frenchman. Ever since Blackpool and the Fylde have maintained growing links with aviation design and development sectors, culminating with the state of the art operations at Warton by BAE Systems. Nearby English Electric in Preston initially developed Blackpool's iconic streamline tram fleet before moving on to aircraft construction just ahead of the outbreak of World War Two.

Britain's love affair with coach travel saw operators springing up in the town and shoals of 'charas' heading for the resort from Preston even before the outbreak of the Great War. A large number of family owned companies specialising in seasonal excursions and tours gravitated into long distance services providing a growing market for a new start coachbuilding firm - Burlingham and Richardson in the aftermath of the war. The name HV Burlingham very quickly emerged as a pre-eminent coach design firm providing style and comfort in their later models emerging by the 1930s. Built initially in Marton and then a large new factory on Preston New Road, the company's heyday extended into the 1950s building buses, coaches and trolleybuses for operators around the country as well as Blackpool Corporation's distinctive streamline fleet. Today The company's models forever feature in rallies and museum collections - all bearing Burlingham's trademark logo.

Below : Charas parked on Corporation land with Rigby Road in the background. Blackpool's Transport Department offices occupy the site to the right off camera. Copyright : John Woodman Archive

Below : An offside profile of 1940s built Blackpool Corporation bus bodied by Burlingham at their Preston New Road factory -one of 12 examples arriving at the outbreak of war. John Woodman Archive

The automotive sector owes a debt to Blackpool entrepreneurs responsible for the creation of two brands. Who would know that Jaguar Motors has its origins in Cocker Square in the 1920s. Starting as Swift Swallow Sidecars and morphing effortlessly into saloon car development. Larger premises and access to a larger pool of engineering skills saw the company move from the seaside to Coventry in the following decade. Another sought after brand originating in the tow emerged in Hoo Hill Brickworks in the aftermath of World War Two with custom designed two seat sports cars. Continuing success and widening demand for successive models in the 1950s saw TVR relocate to much larger premises on Bristol Avenue where new designs later attracted attention of a Russian investor. Sadly this brought relocation of the company's business and subsequent dimunition of its market, but TVR collectors forever associate Blackpool with its still desirable products.

And then there are of course the eternal horse-drawn landau forever associated with Blackpool's promenade. Here too individual styles of these 19th century carriages retain distinctive designs from the age of equine power. Even if dumbed down 21st century models now proliferate to the exclusion of an early era - noteworthy examples fortunately still remain on time-honoured pleasure trips between the Tower and Pleasure Beach on Blackpool's seafront.

For these and the many nautical and railway links to the resort's success, their story is yearning to be told under a single roof spanning three centuries of design, development and accomplishment. One which would assure year round attention marked by displays, events with audiences of all ages enthralled by the allure of yesteryear and simpler times. Glasgow's Museum of Transport within a dramatic newbuild structure facing on to the River Clyde is a regeneration anchor for Clydebank - a singular example for Blackpool with the Fylde to take lessons from.


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