Saving 300 (and 246)
Whilst there are oodles of Blackpool's traditional trams both preserved and stored to keep alive memories of the first generation system originating in 1885 - Blackpool's bus history has fared less well. This is despite the unusual centre loading designs which dominated the bus fleet from the early 1930s through to the 1960s as a result of the especial preference of the Transport Manager, Walter Luff. All of the trams and buses purchased for Blackpool between 1933 and 1956 were of this format, with the same trams continuing in service right up to the 2012 light rail upgrade.
This watershed moment saw delivery of low floor articulated trams replacing the former fleet, many of which being stored or disposed of to museums and enthusiast groups thereafter. Blackpool's unique centre entrance buses were not so fortunate - almost all being scrapped with little regard for their historical reference. In fact only three of over 250 double and single deck buses built for the town incorporating centre entrance loading, have in fact been saved. One of these is a solitary single deck bus of 1937 which latterly had been used as a 'salt spreader' with the rear section of its bodywork cut away to allow manual distribution from an open platform. It is fortunate in being preserved by a private owner in the south of England.
While the pre-war examples of streamline double deck buses with their trademark centre entrances have sadly all been scrapped, two of their postwar replacements (246 and 300) eked out survival through individual efforts after withdrawal from service in the 1960s. Number 246 became a site 'office' in a scrap dealer's yard for several years before it was 'rescued' by the Lancastrian Transport Trust and returned to Blackpool where it has been safely 'cocooned' within the Trust's premises. Renamed 'Fylde Transport Trust' the group has been diligent in saving examples from other area bus fleets once familiar sights on the Fylde coast; namely Ribble Motor Services and Lytham St Annes Corporation, as well as later classic buses of Blackpool's Corporation Transport Department (and its successor Blackpool Transport Services). Burlingham bodied Leyland PD2 number 246 is from the initial tranche (1949) of the 50 strong postwar bus fleet.
The other survivor is number 300, appropriately the final example of the same design but delivered in 1951 (251 - 300). The bus gained a second lease of life by becoming a 'Permanent Way' vehicle transporting work crews up and down the eleven mile seafront tramway to undertake repairs on the tram track and infrastructure. It was joined by sister bus 298 in these duties, both buses being given an all over dull green livery and renumbered in the Works Vehicle fleet. Fortunately on their final withdrawal and prior to just being scrapped at a dealer in West Yorkshire - both buses were saved. Number 298 went on to undertake an amazing journey from England to the Middle East and as far as Pakistan - (and back) in an initiative by two students needing a secure double deck bus allowing safe storage and accommodation for its crew and passengers. Regrettably 298 ended up being scrapped after its return to England.
An imposing offside view of 1951 Leyland PD2 Number 300 standing on the tram track outside the former bus body shop at Rigby Road (now the tram engineering shop). Image Courtesy Blackpool Library
Number 300 gained a personal rescuer in the form of Peter Hinchcliffe, who is now something of an expert on Britain's centre entrance double deck buses having written articles and a detailed book on the onetime numerous examples in prewar years. Blackpool Corporation's fleet of course featuring prominently in these records. Number 300 returned to Blackpool repainted in its 1950s green and cream styling to join the celebrations of the 1985 Tramway Centenary and the Fleetwood Tram Sunday Festival where it was photographed extensively. Thereafter it has been in strorage in a railway arch in Huddersfield, and latterly within a larger vehicle storage and restoration hangar.
Through persistent doggedness Peter and his small group have managed to overhaul and rebuild the vehicle's wood framed body, and are now close to completing its restoration to display condition. This contrasts with the surviving 246 which remains very much in its as acquired condition. but at least structurally complete and as a future objective for local display in Blackpool. When Blackpool finally gets its tram 'museum' up and running it would be pertinent to have a period centre entrance bus for display with trams also beholden to Walter Luff's management era.