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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Squires Gate and Airport

John Woodman

Sixty years ago in 1961 the last trams rumbled along Lytham Road to the terminus opposite Squires Gate Airport. With deteriorating tracks and inevitable complaints from residents living along this tree lined suburb, some with influential positions with the Council, it was inevitable that the tram service would be the first to be replaced by buses - following a policy laid down during the late 1950s. New rear entrance buses had already been ordered (311 - 330) built by MCW on Leyland chassis following the earlier trials at that time when ten new open platform rear entrance buses were tested in service with five each bodied by MCW (306 - 310) and HV Burlingham (301 - 305). The Burlingham company had however suffered from a legal dispute with the Corporation over additional costs incurred and charged on their last delivery in 1951.

The new management of Joe Franklin was in no mood to continue the almost exclusive relationship with Burlingham, despite its importance as a local employer and long standing supplier to the Transport Department (since 1933). Competitive quotes from Birmingham based Metro Cammell with their 'Orion' style double deck bus bodies outweighed the local links enjoyed by Burlingham with the consequence that further orders through the 1960s went exclusively to the Midlands firm.

The Lytham Road tram service itself was a poor cousin to other tramway operations with none of the 'silent running' Vambac equipped postwar cars being assigned to the service - in contrast to the popular Marton trams which also benefitted from relaid track and improved quiet running (for the most part). Instead the Squires Gate service made do with well worn English Electric railcoaches and a sprinkling of Brush cars based at Bispham Depot. The summer season saw innumerable 'Extras' and short workings of both 'Balloon' cars and 'Standards' using the crossover at Highfield Road as opposed to completion of the service to Squires Gate terminus, actually only a short distance further south on Lytham Road.

Below : A depot working from Rigby Road to Marton with this railcoach making the left hand turn off Lytham Road on to Waterloo Road at the Royal Oak junction. Photo : John Woodman

Whilst a reverse working, this time with Dreadnought 59 followed by B&F 2 coming off Waterloo Road on to Lytham Road en route from Marton Depot to Rigby Road. Photo : John Woodman

Several interesting features of the service included a summer season Circular Tour which used 'Boat Cars' operating across Squires Gate Lane railway bridge from Clifton Drive and then travelling north along Lytham Road as far as the Royal Oak three way junction where they turned sharp right onto Waterloo Road - traversing over a third railway bridge to continue on towards Marton and Whitegate Drive. The short stretch of Lytham Road tram track between Royal Oak and Station Road additionally saw a seasonal extension of the Marton tram service which brought every third Marton tram from Royal Oak to the Promenade facing South Pier. The track junction at Station Road was frequently the site of incidents caused by Conductors failing to return the south facing points to their normal position after their Station Road car had passed through. This required manual change with a point iron by the conductor charged with this duty - and on numerous occasions seasonal conductors forgot to return the points back to the Squires Gate direction with predictable results for the following Lytham Road service car. Deep grooves in the roadway tarmac gave testimony to past infractions. Below : An illuminated Standard car proceeding sedately along Lytham Road to take up service on the Promenade. Note the 'Senior Service' Players brand cigarette advertising and smartly clad visitors on the pavement. A Lytham St Annes bus heads south in the near distance, while traffic flow is minimal. Photo : John Woodman

Whilst Highfield Road crossover was in frequent use for short workings from the Promenade during the summer months (and illuminations), the crossovers at Station Road and Bloomfield Road were far less in use except for depot workings from Marton Depot to allow 'Extras' to access the Promenade tracks at Manchester Square. For some unexplained reason the connecting northbound curve at Royal Oak junction which had been completely relaid in the late 1950s was almost never used for its intended purpose, with drivers preferring (or being instructed) to reverse their cars on Lytham Road's crossover at Station Road instead. The only time I saw cars from Marton Depot using the northbound connection from Waterloo Road at Royal Oak junction was the memorable day when three restored cars for the 1960 (75th Anniversary) being transferred from Marton Depot to Rigby Road Depot arrived in procession at Royal Oak and carefully rode over the connecting track to gain Lytham Road tracks northbound. Fortunately I had my camera at hand to record the event - see above image on this blog.

Below : Always atmospheric - Skew Bridge over the railway tracks leading from Blackpool South Station along the Fylde coast, complete with impressive telegraph poles. Balloon car 253 is heading south to its Squires Gate and Airport terminus - with still a way to go from this ascent of the bridge. The junction for Station Road cars can just be seen where the points cleaner is at work between the tram tracks.

Photo : John Woodman

Of course Lytham Road's tramway had even more interesting and colourful origins in its initial role allowing the blue liveried Blackpool and St Annes Tramway cars to run into Blackpool using this 'back route'. In those days Central Drive had its own street tramway service - with a further three way connection at Waterloo Road and St Annes Road. This provided a convenient 'out of sight' means for the 'blue trams' to run into the centre of Blackpool terminating in front of Central Station. In later years changing management and ownership (of the Lytham operation) saw the Blue trams finally gaining respectability by operating in full public view along the Promenade as far north as the Gynn (and returning south the same way). But that's a whole other story.


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