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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Historic Blackpool ? Historic Rigby Road Transport Depot

John Woodman

News today of the multiplicity of grants being awarded to diverse communities in England include a grant towards recognition of working class people of African and Caribbean descent in Blackpool. I don't know just how large a population they represent in the town - but obviously there has to be merit in recording their history. Which begs the question why haven't those responsible for submitting bids on behalf of the resort's heritage also given attention to the generations of Council workers at Rigby Road responsible for both building and maintaining the resort's municipal transport assets through a century of skilled labour covering diverse trades? The absence of any such recognition far outweighs the apparent importance of Caribbean and African heritage (working class) contributions to Blackpool's growth - or am I missing something here?

That Blackpool alone among all British transport systems maintained faith in sustaining its electric trams, latterly through its own resources and skill base - when all other operators scrapped their tram systems entirely by the early 1960s is of considerable significance. The ability of the town's municipally controlled trams and buses to sustain a sizeable network through innovation and long lasting skills locally over several generations is a marvel in and of itself. Trailer trams, one man trams, illuminated trams, modernised trams and more, have all emerged from the efforts of staff and workers at Rigby Road bereft of any national tramway industry since English Electric Company gave up involvement in tram design and manufacture in 1940 - over eighty years ago.

The story of this stand alone endeavour and the people responsible still remains a blank in the town's historical record. Other than ever frequent (and justified) reference to Walter Luff, the Yorkshire born transport manager who signed on to reinvigorate the transport department in 1933 - there is a large void in public record of the generation of professionals who worked to ensure the resort's famous trams were kept running in the postwar era - up to the present day. Fortunately a cluster of talents still remain on hand in 2022, It is about time recognition is given to this unique resource - with a designated Council Executive officer made responsible alongside the MD of BTS, Jane Cole. Particularly so in coming months, as a radical physical restructuring of what is a historic transport site now looms, with century old workshop buildings and assets targetted for demolition.

Blackpool's mother lode of heritage is a kaleidoscope of firsts, with aviation being prominent alongside electric street tram operation, electric street lighting as foremost examples of Victorian innovation. The town's lengthening history of illumination displays is well known, albeit badly in need of 21st century rejuvenation. Whilst automotive industry has passed us by, the Cocker Street origins of Jaguar Motors in the early 1920s will forever be a notable UK milestone. Three piers, the Tower, the Winter Gardens, Grand Theatre, Opera House fortunately remind us of Blackpool's remarkable entertainment and leisure history. Stanley Park continues to be in the care of dedicated Council employees and remains one of the largest (and well tended) urban municipal parks in the country.

The absence of grants towards the history of Rigby,Road's achievements through local labour and skills is a shameful indictment of the indifferent attitude shown by successive Councils in recognising Blackpool's singular role in British transport history. This extends to the superlative output of H,V, Burlingham and its quality bus and coach bodywork designs from the 1920s to the 1960s - with construction in the company's factories at Marton and on Preston New Road. Simply prodding out an indiscriminate handful of old trams on poorly patronised 'heritage tours' does not make up for the absence of a world class exhibition available to all year round.

Below : How a city in the US does heritage. Scranton, Pennsylvania, birthplace of President Biden.


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