Tram Museums Par Excellence
Proposals now taking solid form to realise a definitive tramway/tram collection using the 1930s built tram depot at Hopton Road; more commonly referred to as 'Rigby Road Depot' hold out promise of a world class exhibition - and visitor attraction. It has been many years in the making and follows on epic failure of earlier schemes utilising tram depot structures at Blundell Street and Copse Road, Fleetwood. The earlier loss of other tramway buildings on Squires Gate Lane, Whitegate Drive and Red Bank Road in Bispham - all put to the sword as it were, make the present plan more or less the last chance saloon.
Quite a collection of Blackpool's more traditional trams has been assembled, one might say 'squirreled away' inside the capacious (but leaky) depot structure. It continues to serve as a running shed for the still operational heritage fleet as well as illuminated feature cars. Blackpool's iconic double deck trams, or at least many of them, also find refuge within the building; including examples modified to run alongside the replacing low floor single deck fleet. These can now all be viewed 'as is' by guided tours newly instigated in what has been branded 'Tram Town'. This is a commendable first step in realising an eventual world class venue and tourism anchor for an area of Blackpool in need of economic stimulus.
No other UK town or city can similarly offer compatible urban transport display - possibly with the sole exception of Glasgow which was forever proud of its 'caurs' until their demise in 1962. London's transport heritage whilst sizeable in the number and scope of vehicles of all shapes and sizes sadly has been crammed within a rump display unbefitting the capital, Fortunately for the UK a volounteer effort of determined enthusiasts came together during the 1950s to establish an independent tramway museum free from political or government oversight. The National Tranway Museum at Crich is the salvation of tram heritage in the UK bringing together examples of once familiar shapes and sounds thronging town centres around the country. Most being lovingly restored to former glory with rampant colours and the proud coats of arms of their host operators. In 2022 the apex of London County Council tram design unveiled ninety years before will reach completion of a lengthy restoration in the museum's compact workshop. Its place will be taken by an equally superlative Blackpool tram from 1937 in the form of 'Brush' railcar 298. This will also be returned to its outstanding art deco style following extended effort by a volunteer group led by the Late Keith Terry, Number 298 will thus become the flagship for an iconic tramcar design unique to the resort. A remarkable number of the same twenty strong class still survive, many at Rigby Road Depot - although they have lost most of their earlier streamline features. Fittingly Number 298 - a cherished restoration of Keith and his small team of specialist workers, will finally emerge as a permanent memorial to this highpoint in Blackpool's tram designs of the 1930s.
Below : English Electric prototype rail coach 200 of 1933 seen here at the Cabin terminus in the early 1950s with its postwar green sweeps and frontal vee treatment. John Woodman Archive
Below : Brush car 290 seen here in its Diamond Jubilee treatment while displayed on the Promenade.
Below : Two of the 1939 Sun Saloon cars in their later modified condition operating as
'Vambac' cars on the service between Talbot Square (seen here) and Royal Oak terminus.
The tram will form part of a trio of similarly styled cars of that period. English Electric Company, Preston built 45 'rail coaches' starting with prototype 200 in 1933, and a later twelve 'sun saloon' models numbered 10 to 21 which arrived in Blackpool in late 1939., Fittingly one example of the latter model has been preserved and operates at the East Anglia Transport Museum near to Lowestoft, while an English Electric version is being returned to its 1930's condition for the Blackpool heritage display. And this is just a small part of the grand sweep of tramway history which will eventually be revealed in cohesive display inside the tram depot on Hopton Road.
Elsewhere in Europe several towns and cities have similarly assembled comprehensive collections of trams (and other vehicles) for public awareness. Foremost among these are the cities of Vienna, Prague, Zurich, Liege, Lisbon, Oporto, Antwerp, Brussels, The Hague, Stuttgart, Belgium's national tram operator - Vicinal, Stockholm, Oslo and so on. Examples of older trams are operated on special tourist and heritage routes - while Milan has opted to maintain a fleet of 1920s built trams on regular services, much like San Francisco and New Orleans in the USA. Blackpool of course joins that illustrious 'club'; taking full advantage of the lure of oldtime trams (and buses) for tourism purposes. London's exceptional use of classic Routemaster buses on selective routes being a further example of why nostalgia 'sells'. The success of the Beamish Museum in Co. Durham being yet another proof - this time with trams, buses (and soon perhaps - trolleybuses) bring to life urban travel of simpler times. Comparative museum stuff follows.