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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Hard To Believe

John Woodman

For those of us still able to recall the days when tram services ran to Squires Gate Lane, around Whitegate Drive and along Dickson Road to terminate directly in front of the old North Station - it is now over sixty years ago for such memories to arise. Blackpool Corporation Transport Department maintained (as it does today) its bus depot and workshops complex on Council land adjoining Rigby Road. The bus fleet by the early 1960s totalled almost 160 vehicles of which over a hundred were of the centre entrance streamlined design favoured by an earlier General Manager. His successor being not so well inclined to centre entrances nor streamline styles had opted to begin a bus fleet renewal with open rear platform models, albeit still retaining Blackpool's full front drivers cabs.

The tram side of the undertaking however was anchored by 1930s Preston built centre entrance models with a postwar 'embellishment' of twenty-five wide front (8 feet) examples built by Charles Roberts. 1920s single and double deck traditional end loading trams still lingered on (just) for summer season workings together with a flotilla of illuminated 'floats' to augment the autumn illuminations display. The tram fleet also totalled around 160 cars of varied types housed both at Rigby Road and adjacent Blundell Street depots, as well as supplementary structures on Whitegate Drive, Red Bank Road, Bispham and Copse Road in Fleetwood. Additionally a large siding at Thornton Gate allowed withdrawn cars to be pensioned off and scrapped. The costs of operating trams with two man crews not to mention the funding of street tram track and related power distribution infrastructure meant elimination of the town's tram service other than the promenade reserved track line between Starr Gate and Fleetwood and by 1960 the decision to replace street running services was a given. A three year programme to deal with Lytham Road (and Station Road) in 1961, the Marton service in 1962 and the street running section along Dickson Road from the Gynn to North Station was decided upon. Successive tranches of new MCW bodied double deck rear loading buses (crew operated of course) were approved to handle the former tram services; numbered 12 for Lytham Road, 26 for Marton and 25A for the North Station service.

A busy scene on Lytham Road with a Brush car unloading Blackpool football supporters for a home game at Bloomfield Road.

On a miserable day former Conduit car 4 renumbered 1 for the 1985 Centenary Year followed very closely by a rail coach (with repaired side panel) and a MCW Corporation bus on its way to St Annes at the Squires Gate terminus on Lytham Road.

This three year hiatus came with massive augmentation of the bus fleet and paralleled downsizing of the trams including closure of all of the outlying depots and elimination of a large section of the 'Car Work Shops' at Rigby Road. To complicate matters further, the Department had gone ahead with its love affair for trailer tram operation, following a test conversion of two rail coach units in 1957 and consequent order for ten new trailers (awarded to Metro Cammell). An ill advised decision to operate a limited stop service along the entire seafront line to Fleetwood involved the extension of selected stops with longer paving to deal with two units loading and unloading, adding orange and black roundels to the traditional 'polo' tram stops as well as similar colour bands on the relevant overhead poles. All of this was for nought as it quickly became evident that passengers were confused at not being able to get off at their expected stop; whilst twin set units were just as slow as service cars immediately in front. The 'Limited Stop' experience thus became a short-lived exercise (not to mention expense) during the first half of the 'Sixties.

More sustained were the successive tram route conversions in Blackpool - lasting to the present day. I managed to ride on the last service tram along Lytham Road - a desultory affair with no acknowledgement by the Transport Department or the Town Council. Only some modest placards placed in the rear cab window of the rail coach performing the last departure from Squires Gate was evidence of the occasion. The General Manager was not pleased by this modest tribute provided by local enthusiasts. The last tram to Royal Oak in the following year (1962) was a very different affair given the considerable outpouring of public support for the Marton tram service and its fast and very frequent (4 minutes) operation much of the day. The superb 'Marton Vambac' cars being quiet, smooth running and fast acceleration due to their new control technology. Sadly only one example was preserved (and this by pure chance) with the rest of the class being broken up inside Marton Depot after closure. The last tram to Royal Oak on the final night was selected as Standard Car 48 by the Marton Depot staff and favoured with a modest wreath and signage by the writer and his fellow enthusiast Colin MacLeod. The last trams from Talbot Square to Marton Depot were assigned to two illuminated Standards for Council Members, staff and invited guests.

Below : more wet weather as Colin MacLeod captures this Marton Vambac car heading away from Devonshire Square towards Hornby Road in the final year of the Marton tram service.

I was in West Germany with HM Forces the following year and so missed the final night of the Dickson Road tram service. My consolation prize was being able to ride into Paderborn in those final months of the remnants of the local tramway (PESAG) in two axle wooden framed cars complete with trolleypoles and pale cream and light green colours. Many years (and decades) later I did however take the initiative (again with Colin MacLeod) and Steve Palmer to acquire the last tram from North Station (in 1963) number 290. After prolonged uncertainty over its future our small band finally arranged the car's transfer to the excellent working museum at Carlton Colville in East Anglia. Here 290 will take up an operating role on the newly extended running line, joining Marton Vambac 11 and Marton Standard car 159, both kept in good condition inside and out by the EATM.

A reminder of the Dickson Road trams at Gynn Square (pre-roundabout). Rail coach 200 heads towards the promenade junction as a Brush car approaches en route to North Station. The pavement shows the shopfronts with plenty of onlookers (unlike today's bare scene). Photo : John Woodman


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