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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Missing : Blackpool's Museum of Transport - From the 1880s to the 2020s

John Woodman

Blackpool was the first English town to demonstrate faith in the future role of electric power when it commissioned a Halifax entrepreneur to install the country's very first street running tramway powered by electricity - in 1885. The remarkable demonstration of tramcars rumbling along the resort's promenade without horses or steam tram locomotives providing the motive power in September of that year underlined Blackpool's leaders determination in making the town at the forefront of new industrial age. The construction of two new seafront piers, followed by the emergence of a huge steel framework marking creation of the country's tallest manmade structure complete with performing circus, zoo, aquarium and grandiose ballroom literally cemented the town's place as the leading seaside resort catering to the masses in the north of England before the turn of the century.

Two further tramway companies completed their own ambitions by linking neighbouring towns to the south and north of Blackpool with extending lines - to the same track gauge but with vastly contrasting fleets. The Blackpool St Annes and Lytham company imported German technology to power its double deck trams with compressed gas. The new system was less successful compared to the revolutionary overhead trolleypole electric powered tramcars running into Blackpool's Talbot Road Railway Station from Fleetwood. Blackpool's pioneering conduit trams would quickly emulate the proven efficiency of the Fleetwood Tramroad's operation by converting to overhead power just as the town's initial tramway would grow with new lines to Layton and Marton in 1901 and 1902.

In South Shore on former sand dunes the popularity of seaside pleasure park grew exponentially aided by delivery of millions of visitors to its doors with massive new electric tramcars which quickly became known as the 'Dreadnoughts' - acknowledging the supremacy of the Royal Navy's revolutionary new battleships then transforming Britain's seapower. The Pleasure Beach went on from strength to strength in following decades aided by the town's tramway fleet. Electric power also impacted on the resort's calendar with erection of lighting displays along its promenade frontage - extending the length of seasonal visits into autumn months. The contrast with gas lit town centres being a marvel of the age. Blackpool's first illuminated tramcar specially decorated and lit up overall in 1911 being copied by other systems keen to demonstrate their own electric engineering proficiency when celebrating royal visits and coronations.

The 1920s' and display of fashions (and Blackpool Corporation foundry work) as a remodelled Marton 'Box Car' with its extended bodywork passes by (conveniently) in the background. John Woodman Archive

Truly an amazing era before Europe (and the World) plunged into a global conflict in 1914. Blackpool's tramway depot on Blundell Street playing its part in producing thousands of artillery shell casings during the urgent demand for expanded munitions supplies. Hundreds of long forgotten examples being unearthed during demolition of the depot in the previous decade.

Crowds lining the route of the 1923 Carnival procession more warmly dressed expectantly awaiting arrival of floats and displays - being passed by a top covered 'Motherwell'. This would be rebuilt or replaced by a new 'Standard' car later in the decade. John Woodman Archive

The war's end found the Corporation in need of its own expanded resources to rebuild worn out trams and create a new fleet of 'standard' double deck trams able to handle a further surge in demand in the peak holiday months. Open touring cars being produced to take visitors on extended 'Circular Tours' around the town's residential districts as well as along the Promenade.

Creative hands went to work in designing exotic illuminated 'floats' adding to the excitement of the illuminations display. The tramways workshops finding time to build 'Lifeboat' and 'Gondola' designs as well as a less successful 'cottage' whose thatched roof quickly became susceptible to the high winds off the Irish Sea. Further 'Standard' trams emerged to supplement the tram fleet whilst replacing worn out cars during the 1920s. Following on purchase of the Fleetwood Tramroad company and its depots in Bispham and Fleetwood, along with a Power Station and forty-one single deck trams the town's tramway system grew its reach northward by an additional eight miles of mostly reserved track gaining an integrated service along the north Fylde coastline. The southern system to Lytham and St Annes was taken over by that municipality with running rights into Blackpool as far as the Gynn where onward connections could be made with Blackpool's distinctive service onwards to Cleveleys and Fleetwood's docks. The latter providing steamer services to the Isle of Man, Barrow and the Lake District.

By the end of the 1920s the Tramway Workshops on Rigby Road had evolved its original 'Standard' design from open balcony style to all enclosed cars as seen below. An effort to 'modernise' the look of the 1920s 'standard' cars involved deep red colour bands between the decks and further 'tweaks' to the livery. Below : a side view of an example before green and cream took over the department's output from 1933. Image : John Woodman Archive - courtesy the Late Ian Stewart.

And all of these was before the transforming 1930s when a new Transport Manager set about changing the traditional look of the trams (and bus operation) through a decade long upgrade involving infusions of streamlined models - another part of an enduring story still to be told through the creation of a permanent display and exposition on how innovation made Blackpool's transport system a living memorial to the resort's growth from its origins in the long reign of another Queen. More anon.


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