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  • Writer's pictureJohn Woodman

Tramtown - The Exhibition

John Woodman

Following on publication of Brian Turner's definitive book on Blackpool's early electric tramway (the Conduit Years) the powers that be at Rigby Road and within the town's executive and management team will be prompted to take on decisions for exhibits at the forthcoming 'Tram Town' display.

Most importantly the origins of Blackpool's early takeup of electric power for its seafront line in the mid 1880s need emphasis which is best underlined by inclusion of conduit car number 4 and 'Dreadnought' 59 presently held at the National Tramway Museum. Gifted to the Tramway Museum Society by Blackpool Council in part to relieve pressure on depot storage space - these two cars merit inclusion in any formal display of Blackpool's tramway history, even if only on a long term loan basis. The loan might be reciprocated through exchange of a Blackpool 'Centenary' car (a missing piece in the NTM story of UK tramcar development) or possibly a 'Progress Twin-Car' set.

Given that the Crich museum itself has to resort to offsite storage for several trams in its collection with no public access - returning Dreadnought 59 to Blackpool for conservation and wider display is a no-brainer. Conduit car 4 inevitably is the 'jewel in the crown' deserving inclusion in the town's new transport exhibition, with of course ability for selective operating anniversaries on its original route (as outlined in Brian Turner's excellent history of the conduit years from 1885). Of course the conduit tramway was just part of a much wider story on innovation along the Fylde coast. Two classic examples of the Blackpool & Fleetwood Tramroad Company highly successful interurban line opened in 1898 also form part of the Crich museum collection. Tramroad 'Rack' Number 2 of 1898 and enclosed 'Box Car' 40 of 1914 also gifted to the TMS by Blackpool Corporation are eminent survivors from the beginning of the tramway service connecting the two towns. Either or both cars equally deserve a role in the planned tram museum to fit within Rigby Road depot (or is it 'Hopton Road' according to pundits)? Pantograph car 170 on an enthusiasts tour braves the incline over Skew Bridge on Lytham Road - a young cyclist attempts to win the race to the top. Photo : John Woodman

Inevitably space will be at a premium in the Tram Town exhibition given expectations for works area, shop and public circulation. Many of the present residents will need to relocate which present sensitive choices to be made by BTS and volunteer team. A selective display of Balloon cars and Brush rail coaches to illustrate different epochs of these long lasting designs would illustrate their metamorphisis over eighty years. Bearing in mind that Jubilee car 761 and an example from the Millenium quartet need to be part of such a collegiate showcase: plus of course one of the widened examples rebuilt for service in the light rail era. We are fortunate in having two of the once prolific 'Standard' fleet in the form of 143 and 147, whilst two more exist at Crich and another working example at Carlton Colville. It would not be too difficult to replicate an open 'toastrack' using the frame and equipment of a duplicate car - in green and cream? colours - with the FHLT rail coach 678 now being available for such work. Even if not authentic, it would at least fill in a large gap in the fulsome story and exhibit display. Pantograph cars are sadly thin on the ground. Prime example 167 is well cared for at Crich while 174 is conserved (presently) as the coach in the 'Western Train'. It retains most of its saloon bodywork and bogies and could well feature in restoration of its postwar appearance, being replaced by an ersatz version derived from yet a further surplus railcoach (in future decades).

Blackpool Standard car 49 pauses at Raikes Parade on an enthusiasts tour in 1961 - Photo John Woodman

All in all Blackpool's retention of many of its first generation tramcars bodes well for the future of a Tram Town display. Far sighted (visionary?) conservers have the means to bring this about - over time. A combination of selective government grants to northwest initiatives and private sector sponsors for individual restorations will be necessary to realise these bold endeavours. Brian Turner's epic story of the challenges overcome in the 1880s to realise the potential of electric power in urban transport demonstrates that almost all things are possible - even in Blackpool.


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