Blackpool Tramway History 1885 - 1920

The Beginning 

On December 3rd 1884 Blackpool Corporation agreed to use Holroyd Smith's Plans for a tramway where the cars took their power from a slot in the ground.   It is known as a conduit system.

After much planning and preparation work, Construction work began on 24th February 1884 with the first rail being laid for the initial 2 mile long line in March 1885 at Cocker Street with work progressing quickly allowing the first test runs to take place on 29th June 1885.

The first public runs were on the 3rd August 1885, when the service operated by 2 trams being horse drawn began, however this was a false dawn as the trams hadn't actually been licensed and the service was withdrawn.   After this brief setback, the service resumed on 12th August with the trams all being horse drawn due to  problems with the electrical supply.

The tramway was officially opened on 29th September 1885 by Alderman Harwood, the Mayor of Manchester.   Alderman Harwood drove car 5 under electrical power to North Pier.   However the journey wasn't without its problems and the tramway resorted back to horse power with the trams not running under electrical power again until December 1885.    The Blackpool Corporation Tramway therefore became the first electric street tramway in Britain and although it was modernised in 2012, it is the last remaining traditional tramway in Britain.   By 1892, the line ran from Cocker Street (Near to the North Pier) to Victoria (South) Pier, the track was mainly single line except for a length of double track near to Central Pier,with many passing places.

The Original Trams

The original trams were varying sizes of 4 wheeled open topped double deckers.   4 of them were built by Lancaster Carriage and Wagon in 1885, with the other 4 built by Starbuck in the same year.  The trams built by Starbuck were higher capacity than those built by Lancaster.  

There were originally 8 trams (numbered 1 -8) and 2 crossbench trailers (numbered 9 and 10).    The trailers were not used very often and were replaced in 1891 by 2 new open topped double deckers (also numbered 9 and 10) built by GF Milnes.  

One of the original trams, (No 4) which actually ran on the day the system opened, survived scrapping through a series of coincidences and is now on display at the National Tramway Museum at Crich.

Number 4

The survival of tram number 4 is mainly due to a number of lucky decisions. After being withdrawn from service around 1914, the tram was earmarked as a works car but instead it was used as a bread transporter, bringing bread to the troops at the army barracks at Squires Gate during the First World War. A set of doors were cut into one side of the tram.   At the end of the war, it was converted to an overhead line car. After the tram was withdrawn in 1930, it was stored at the back of Bispham Depot and forgotten about for many years. Eventually, when the tramway was celebrating it's 75th anniversary in 1960, it was "rediscovered", driven back to Rigby Road under its own power and restored to near original condition disguised as number 1, the original tram.   Following a further restoration in the 1980's the trolley pole removed and batteries fitted, giving the impression of conduit running. When it returned to Blackpool for the Centenary of the tramway in 1985,  number 1 featured in the procession of trams and had regained it's correct number - number 4. 

Original Fleet for Blackpool Electric Tramway Company
11885Garden Seat48StarbuckDouble
21885Garden Seat48StarbuckDouble
91885Crossbench Trailer28LancasterSingle
101885Crossbench Trailer28LancasterSingle
9(2)1891Garden Seat48MilnesDouble
10(2)1891Garden Seat48MilnesDouble

Early Problems

Over the first few years of operation, the conduit system was the source of several major problems for the tramway, with the sea and the resulting high tide being the main cause as the Corporation had to use horses to pull the trams as the electrical supply wasn't available. Other problems included a reduction in voltage in the conduit slot as the trams travelled further from the power source (A Substation near the depot), meaning that the system wasn't energy and cost efficient and soon alternative power sources were investigated including overhead lines and Gas power.   

It was also discovered early on that the single track with passing loops severely limited the number of trams that could be used.   The service operated every 15 minutes at peak times and the journey time from Cocker Street to Victoria Pier was close to 30 minutes, which was slow for a line that was only 2 miles in length.  

Initially there was no official tram stops (except for North Pier and Victoria Pier) with passengers flagging down the trams at any point along the line, this was soon changed with stops placed at short distances apart along the line.

Blackpool expansion and changes

In 1895, the Lytham Road route was built and ran as far as Station Road.   The trams then ran along Station Road and then crossed over the prom road and terminated at Victoria Pier (now South Pier).   An additional 4 double decker trams (numbered 11-14) were built by Lancaster between 1894 and 1896 to operate this additional service.   These four deckers were fitted with 2 bogies, each with 4 wheels rather than the then normal  4 wheels per tram.   This improved the ride quality of the trams dramatically compared to the originals.   The 4 Lancasters  were initially open topped, however later in their lives they had their top decks enclosed.
By 1898, the conduit system was proving to be unreliable and uneconomical to run, this prompted Blackpool Corporation to convert the entire system to work from overhead lines, like the newly opened neighbouring system, the Blackpool and Fleetwood Tramroad.   The first two out of twenty High Capacity Dreadnought trams (numbers 15 and 16) that would grace the promenade for the next 35 years were also delivered and introduced into service during 1898, they were initially fitted for conduit running before being converted to work from the overhead line.  

The Dreadnoughts were a design unique to Blackpool.   Built by G.F. Milnes the Dreadnoughts were High Capacity and had double staircases at either end to reach the open top deck.  The driving compartment was located in between the staircase with entrances to the lower deck to the left of the cab.  The remainder of the dreadnoughts were delivered in 2 batches, with 17-26 being delivered in 1900 and 54-61 being delivered in 1902. 

By 1905 when the prom was widened, the tramway was relocated to its own section of prom, taking it off the road away from the traffic.   The tramway was also extended northwards towards Gynn Square, however it would be a few years later that the prom was widened north of the Metropole Hotel through to Gynn Square when the sea wall and Middle Walk was built and the tramway was relocated onto the widened stretch.   This piece of foresight probably ensured that the tramway continued operating whilst all the others in the UK closed.   The only section of tramway along the front that ran on street was around the back of the Metropole Hotel, this pinch point would cause many altercations between trams and road traffic over many years until 2010 when it was finally segregated from the road traffic.  

The Marton Route

In 1901 another inland route opened when a new route was built from Talbot Square, round what at this time was farm land to Marton, where the depot for this route was based.   The semi circular line, which was a mixture of double track and single track with passing loops,  returned into town via Waterloo Road with the southern end joining the Lytham Road Route at Royal Oak on the corner of Waterloo Road.   Some trams from Marton were extended to work to South Pier over the summer months.   From the Marton route, the trams turned left onto Lytham Road them right onto Station Road, terminating across from South Pier.   A further branch of the Marton Route was opened, from a junction on Waterloo Road, along Central Drive to a Terminus outside Central Station (near to the Tower).   The route along Central drive was mainly a single line with passing loops.   The Central Station terminus was very close to the Northern Terminus of the Marton Route at Talbot Square, which was only 500 yards away.   The timetable for the Marton Route must have been a intensive and complex affair with the following services running along this line:

  • Talbot Square to Royal Oak via Marton
  • Talbot Square to Central Station via Marton and Central Drive
  • Talbot Square to South Pier via Marton and Royal Oak

Added to these services would have been school specials, ordinary specials and  circular tours.

15 double deckers (numbered 27-41) were built by Midland Carriage Works and became known as the Marton Box trams. Originally built as 4 wheeler trams, they were later fitted converted to bogie trams after some really rough riding caused passengers and crew to complain of feeling sick!

The opening of the Marton route brought controversy. A number of cyclists blocked the tracks at the official opening of the new route in protest that the grooved rail was a death trap for them and would cause many accidents. As if the protest wasn't enough negative publicity, it was soon discovered that the depot fan at the newly built Marton Depot would have to be rebuilt and modified as none of the trams could fit into the sheds due to tight clearances! Marton depot was later expanded and was used right up until the route's closure in 1962.

More Routes built

The already intensive tram service running from Talbot Square was further complicated by the addition of another route with a terminus in the square.
Layton was the next destination to be served by tram, with a mile long line, consisting of single track with passing loops running from Talbot Square to the gates of Layton's cemetery.    The Layton route had a separate terminus on the north side of the Square, while the Marton Route's terminus was at the south end.  

The track on Lytham Road was extended along Lytham Road to Squires Gate by 1903, however initially this new stretch of tramway was not served by the Corporation but by the Lytham St.Annes tramway company, who secured running rights into Blackpool, but initially not on the promenade, only running on the Lytham Road route as far as Station Road. Eventually they were granted running rights on the promenade allowing them to extend their services as far as Gynn Square.

As well as the Marton Box cars, a further 12 double decked trams were delivered (with enclosed top decks except for the balcony ends fitted by 1915). They were numbered 42- 53 and were known as 'Motherwells' as they were built by Hurst Nelson in Motherwell. They were mostly withdrawn by 1925 and when scrapped, donated their top covers to the Standard trams.

In 1911, a further 7 double decked trams were delivered.   Known as the De Luxe trams, there was 2 separate variations, number 62 - 64 were built as 4 wheeled trams, however it was discovered that when number 62 was taken for a test run that the 4 wheel bogie was making the ride quality extremely poor as the tram pitched and rolled along the prom.   63 and 64 had already been delivered by this point, so the order was changed and numbers 65-68 were built as bogie trams.    62-64 would receive bogies by 1923 and the trams survived into the 1930's with the last of the type being withdrawn in 1938. 

The fleet was further expanded between 1911 and 1914 with the delivery of 24 Toastrack trams (numbered 69 - 92).   The Toastracks were completely open with 14 swing over seats and open driving positions.   At either end, there was a reversible destination board with Promenade on one side and Circular Tour on the other, held up by 2 poles.   In the centre of the car was the trolley pole and mount with a destination box on the centre.   Eventually the trams were altered to allow for a centre aisle to allow the conductor to safely collect fares.

Following the First World war, a further 6 trams were acquired, this time, they were second hand double decked trams from London United tramways.   Numbered 93 -98, they were put into service, originally with a 4 wheel truck and from 1921, they were fitted with bogies.   All 6 trams were withdrawn from service during 1933.