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 at Cocker Street, at the then northern terminus of the line on 13th March 1885 by Alderman MacNaughtan, the Chairman of the Tramways Committee. Work progressed quickly and the trackwork was completed in less that 3 months, allowing the first test runs to take place on 29th June 1885.
The first public runs took place on the 3rd August 1885, when a service operated by 2 trams being horse drawn began, however this was a false dawn as the trams had not actually been licensed and the service was withdrawn.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 heavily modernised in 2012, it is the last remaining traditional tramway in Britain.
The initial service ran from Cocker Street (Near to the North Pier) to South Pier (which was known as Victoria Pier at the time), the track was mainly single line except for a length of double track near to the Central Pier (which was known as South Pier at the time),with many passing places. The original depot was located on Blundell Street and was accessed via Foxhall Square.
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 of a 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 rarely used and were replaced in 1891 by 2 new open topped Garden Seat 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.
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.
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. Two major reconstructions of the conduit system took place in the early years of the system, with major repairs during the 1887 season meaning the tramway reverting to horse power for a time and later in 1894 a further major rebuild was required, which took 3 months to complete.
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 means that the trams operated at an average speed of 4 miles per hour, which was very slow for a line that was only 2 miles in length. Despite having a generous 30 minute end to end timetable, the trams often ran late. The trams initally ran from 9am to 10pm with a 15 minute service until 8pm and every 30 minutes until 10pm (with extra trams running to 10.30pm on Saturdays).
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
Following the 1894 reconstruction of the conduit system, more electrical power was available and this allowed for the introduction of a further two trams. The new trams were built by Lancaster and had a capacity of 82, the largest trams in the country at the time. These additional deckers, numbered 11 and 12, were fitted with 2 bogies, each with 4 wheels, giving a much smoother ride than the 4 wheeler trams. The ride quality of these trams was dramatically improved compared to the originals. A further pair of Lancasters (13 and 14) were ordered in 1896 and like 11 and 12, were initially open topped, however later in their lives they had their top decks enclosed.
Part of the reason for the arrival of the additional trams was the building of a new route in 1895. This new route left the promenade at Manchester Square and ran along Lytham Road as far as Station Road, the route the turned into Station Road before crossing over the promenade road and terminating at Victoria Pier (now South Pier).
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 overhead lines were brought into use in June 1899 and after a period of 10 days of dual running, the conduit system was switched off and decomissioned with the remaining cars converted to work off the overhead line. 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.
The tramway was extended northwards in 1900 from Cocker Street to Gynn Square, initially along the roadway but later being relocated onto a cantilevered section, seperate from the road when the new sea wall and the middle walk were built in 1923 from the Metropole Hotel through to Gynn Square. by 1923, the only section of tramway along the promenade 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.
Meanwhile on the promenade, a programme costing £350,000 to widen the promenade began during 1903. This ambitious programme, which was completed by 1905 and covered the area from South Pier to North Pier, allowed a wider area for pedestrians to walk on and seperate roadways for the road traffic and the tramway. This piece of foresight probably ensured that the tramway continued operating whilst all the others in the UK closed.
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 Marton Route was originally built with a mixture of double track and single track with passing loops that began at Talbot Square 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. Leaving Royal Oak, the trams turned left onto Lytham Road then an almost immediate right onto Station Road, terminating across from South Pier. South Pier was only service during the Summer Season with every third or fourth car from the Marton Route being extended there.
At the same time a branch of the Marton Route was opened. This route left Waterloo Road and travelled along Central Drive to a Terminus outside Central Station (near to the Tower). This route along Central Drive mainly consisted of single track 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, football 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 was controversial. 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 actually enter the sheds due to tight clearances! Marton depot was later expanded and was used right up until the route’s closure in 1962.
Returning to the tramway it’s self and in 1911, the fleet was further expanded with the delivery of a further 7 double deck trams. Known as the De Luxe trams, there was 2 separate variations, the four wheel variety made up of numbers 62 – 64 and the bogie variety, numbered 65-68. Initially the full batch of De Luxe trams were to be built as four wheelers, however it was discovered once 62-64 were delivered and number 62 was taken for a test run on 23rd March that the 4 wheel bogie was making the ride quality extremely poor as the tram pitched and rolled along the prom and even made some of the tramway committee feel sick! Following the test run, the order was changed and numbers 65-68 were built as bogie trams. Numbers 62-64 would be modernised to be fitted with bogies by 1923 and the trams survived into the 1930’s with the last of the type being withdrawn in 1938. Following the experience with De Luxe 62, no other orders for 4 wheeler trams have ever been placed again in the history of the tramway!
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.