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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

More on the Great Blackpool Transport Exhibition 2024?

John Woodman

Blackpool Council and its wholly owned transport operating company has the chance to create a world class display of evolving tram and bus development since the advent of electric power. As the earliest town in Europe to inaugurate electric tram service on public roads Blackpool holds a world class reputation in harnessing the new energy source. Its Council Members spurned steam, horse, cable for the very first proven trials of electric power. Brought to the seafront promenade by the innovative work of a Halifax entrepreneur - Holroyd Smith whose pioneering work in the early 1880s began with a garden test track, then demonstration lines in the new Raikes theme gardens and a Manchester venture. Below : Holroyd Smith's passenger carrying electric tram at the Raikes Pleasure Gardens with the motor unit and a trailer. This preceded the promenade electric conduit tramway by two years. Image : John Woodman Archive

Granted the licence to design, build and operate the very first electric street tramway on a section of Blackpool promenade, his design invoived an underground power supply for the ten strong fleet of diminutive two axle double deck cars - all open top and seemingly moving without evidence of steam, cable or equine power means, a miracle of the age in the 1880s. Amazingly one of that pioneering fleet survives today - returned from its subsequent works car condition to a close rendition of its appearance in 1885. How ironic that two centuries later Blackpool has the foresight to harness electric power for a new bus fleet replacing the diesel engine era we have been used to since the 1940s. Not only that, but electric trams continue to traverse the very same promenade route of those first conduit cars, running for a short section along the street behind the Metropole Hotel from Cocker Square to North Pier as part of the Promenade service. Certainly a time capsule well worth celebrating.

Below : Blackpool lifeboat, Samuel Fletcher of Manchester with its crew stand outside the original Lifeboat House on Lytham Road. Tram tracks pass along wet cobbles. Image : John Woodman Archive

Lifeboat House and tram tracks remain in 2022.

Blackpool's first lifeboat was launched during the 1885 September weekend when the Lord Mayor of Manchester travelled north to help in the formal launch of the 'Samuel Fletcher of Manchester' which coincided with the inauguration of Blackpool Electric Tramways new seafront service from Cocker Square to Manchester Square. The 'Samuel Fletcher' was given a new lease of life in the 1920s when it was transferred to the newly opened Stanley Park to provide pleasure cruises on the Lake. My grandfather was recruited to be the coxswain on the new Park cruise having earlier been in the Royal Navy Reserve during the Great War and taken part in the Raid of Zeebrugge where he was captured. Now as Corporation 'Boatman' he gained a new role in life. Again amazingly both the original Lifeboat 'House' off Lytham Road near to Manchester Square and the 'Samuel Fletcher' still survive.


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