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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Our Transport Historians Recording The Passage of Time

John Woodman

Blackpool and the Fylde coast are fortunate in the level of research and time devoted to recording evolving chapters in our local transport history by a handful of knowledgeable enthusiasts. Foremost among the 'names' associated with coverage of transport development through articles and published records are those of Steve Palmer, Brian Turner and Philip Higgs. Most enthusiast bookshelves contain the output of these eminent writers, supplemented by titles of this author and the many specialist publications appearing through the previous seventy odd years.

Donald Philips was possibly the pioneer in recording Blackpool's tramway history during the 'Fifties' with a treatise on the early years of the town's system. I well remember a sole meeting with him before his untimely death at his home on Warbreck Hill Road in the early 1960s. Whilst Blackpool's trams were the understandable focus of many articles, the bus side of the transport system has attracted far less coverage. The first serious book to appear on the town's buses - and still a definitive volume today was through the research of David Dougill then living in London. Blackpool's Buses appeared in 1982 with an ample record of Corporation vehicles operating from 1921 up to the 1980s.

Publishing cooperation between Steve Palmer and Brian Turner during the 1960s saw a series of groundbreaking titles dealing with the tram system finally accorded Blackpool's tramway global acclaim. Thereafter these two authors pursued independent paths, with Steve publishing further titles under his own imprint continuing up until recent years. Brian also continued his own research and ongoing photographic record of the system as it evolved into the upgraded light rail operation of today. His diligence has culminated in focussed coverage of the three independent tramways which emerged from the dawn of electric power in the late 19th century. Two of these titles published thus far focus on the Fleetwood to Blackpool connection, and latterly in an eminent tome (2020) dealing with the Lytham and St Annes tramway up to its demise in 1937. Brian's next title promises equally enthralling coverage of Blackpool Corporation Tramways and its predecessor pioneering company - Blackpool Electric Tramways in 1885.

Blackpool Corporation Tramways northern terminus at 'the Gynn Inn' with an imposing 'Dreadnought' type tram waiting for the 'off' to South Shore.

This author (John Woodman) embarked on his own endeavour with a two part series covering the role and output of Rigby Road Works which became the fulcrum for the town's transport development from inception in 1921. A promised third volume has instead morphed into a series of titles examining the town's municipal transport system on the Fylde coast decade by decade - a work still in progress. So far the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s and 1960s have been seperately dealt with. This acknowledges overlapping research of fellow authors but there is so still much ground to cover and record as we move into a further century. The work of Ian Macloughlin and fellow researcher Paul Abell in their splendid published record of Blackpool's early electric tram fleet up until the advent of Walter Luff's management in 1933 - also remains a splendid standalone reference book 'Blackpool Trams - The First Half Century 1885 - 1932' and is highly commended.

I am reminded of these extraordinary efforts of fellow authors when rereading the excellent detailed article by Steve Palmer 'Blackpool goes one-man' published in two parts in 'Modern Tramway' in March 1978. This provides insight into the radical changes wrought by Blackpool's municipal transport department to instil operating economies on the town's coastal tram service with move to 'one man operation' using remaining survivors from the 1930s 'rail coach' fleet. The reduction of staffing costs being a prime objective, alongside introduction of one man operation in the bus fleet. Its a great pity that this monthly magazine is now oriented away from historical material and insightful features.

1940 Titan remodelled with a single staircase posed at Rigby Road in 1947

A further article in the same magazine by Brian Turner dealt with the original tram fleet of the Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad Company - later incorporated in a softback book on the Fleetwood to Blackpool tram service from 1898. This subsequently became Service '1' on the Blackpool Corporation tramway - lasting until closure of the Blackpool street running section that brought the service up to Blackpool's 'North' station on Dickson Road - in 1963. Today it is ironic that tram rail has again appeared (almost) to the portals of the same railway terminal for a new service expected to open by 2023.

These superlative records independently researched written accounts of the Fylde coast's tramway operation - provide invaluable material for new generations. Such a great pity that this cummulative effort from (mostly) Fylde coast enthusiasts has so far lacked a permanent exhibition featuring both buses, trams and artifacts of past operation. So far this oft heralded display has yet to be realised as a landmark heritage visitor attraction alongside Blackpool's 'Tower', the Piers, Pleasure Beach and Winter Gardens. Our remarkable electric tramway which has survived into a third century from being 'the first in the kingdom' when it opened in 1885 is yet to be enhanced through a permanent educating exhibition somewhere along the coast from Lytham to Fleetwood.


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