Many of these trams are still in the Rigby Road depot waiting for restoration
In 1879 £5000 was set aside by Blackpool Council to experiment with the new concept of electric street lighting.
The ‘artificial sunshine’ of 140 years ago was seen as a novelty because it wasn’t generated by oil lamps and candles.
The concept of “Blackpool Lights” began with merely eight arc lamps on top of 60ft poles along the seafront.
In 1897 however, things started to get more elaborate and the first ever five tram cars were decorated with light up patriotic slogans to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria – with their power coming from onboard batteries.
In 1912 Princess Louise came to open a section of the promenade by the Metropole Hotel, appropriately naming it Princess Parade and 10,000 lights were erected to celebrate Blackpool’s first ever visit.
It was such a success that the council wished to do it again the following September, however the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 meant “lights out” for the town.
When it was time for them to return, Blackpool celebrated in style with the first ever elaborately illuminated tram, the Gondola, in 1925 which is where we start our list.
After realising that people not only enjoyed seeing the lights but also moving through them on one of the oldest electric tramways in the world, the concept of the illuminated tram was born.
Many of these trams are still in the Rigby Road depot waiting for restoration. The future of the current tram sheds hinges on the successful restoration of the building and roof, but it is the intention of Blackpool Heritage Team to successfully open a Heritage Visitor Centre in the current space.
Fylde Transport Trust is a registered charity also with the goal of restoring buses and trams from the Fylde coast.
To find out more, please visit Blackpool Heritage Tram Tours and Fylde Transport Trust.
In 1925, none of the illuminated trams carried passengers but some special guests could be invited on with an orchestra that played as the Gondola made its way down the promenade.
Over the decades, the elegant tram did begin to receive a regular influx of passengers however, but since it was not designed for this purpose, its bodywork began to sag.
Its fate was sealed in 1962 when it collided with another tram, bending its large prow and causing further damage to the structural integrity.
After a quick repair was made to take it to the end of the season, it was sadly taken off the tracks in late 1962.
In 1926, The Lifeboat, also known as ‘the Jubilee’, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of Blackpool as a borough.
Following the success of the Gondola, it was also built on the remains of a four-wheel Marton Box Car.
At first, guests could only board via invitation however it was then converted to a passenger tram in 1959 which accepted fares.
It met its fate in the same year as it’s predecessor however and was sadly scrapped in 1962.
Let us know which trams you remember in the comments below.
In 1937, The Progress debuted on the tracks – the result of fundraising and efforts during the Second World War.
It was essentially a moving billboard, displaying advertising and playing music as it moved up and down the prom.
The vehicle was designed to allow frequent alterations to be made to the exterior, along with the slogans running along the side, to ensure that it was never the same two seasons running.
Changing designs over the years, it displayed a large clock, a town crier, a large reproduction of the Tower and an elaborate crown in 1953 Commemorating the accession of Queen Elizabeth.
Its ambition proved to be its downfall however when an overly elaborate design resulted in its withdrawal in 1958.
The Blackpool Belle
Built in 1959, the Blackpool Belle was constructed from a Toastrack car 163 in 1959 and modelled on a Mississippi paddle steamer.
It appeared as if it was double decker however inside it was only a single and a very low passenger capacity.
The Blackpool Belle displayed adverts for the first time in 1967 in order to promote Premium Bonds.
It was preserved for a time in the Oregon Electric Railway Museum when it came off the tracks in 1978.
Bizarrely, it was later sold to a research facility to test alternative power sources before being scrapped.
“Life Without Limits”, the Battleship HMS Blackpool
Originally built as an ordinary tram in 1928 it was rebuilt into the original Mk1 HMS Blackpool design in 1965.
It ran all the way until until 2001 before it underwent a full strip down to its underframe and rebuilt into the current Mk2 HMS Blackpool/Frigate design.
It was then put back into service in autumn 2004.
The space race came to Blackpool in the form of the much-loved Rocket Tram.
Also used to advertise, the vehicle was known for its famous Burnley Building Society advert underneath.
The tram provided a unique experience for thousands of passengers from the 1980s to 1999, since it travelled at an elevation of almost 30 degrees.
Two redundant waxworks from the old Louis Tussauds museum – King Peter of Yugoslavia and General Neguib of Egypt – were dressed as astronauts to ‘pilot’ the cockpit.
The sloping floor combined with a high passenger load meant that there were concerns raised of running it safely. It served until 1999 and became a static feature on the Glynn Rounabout for a couple of years in 2012.
Despite its health and safety challenges, the public want the rocket to return.
The tram is no longer owned by Blackpool Transport/Blackpool Heritage Trams but is privately owned by the Fylde Transport Trust and stored awaiting restoration in the Rigby Road depot.
Fylde Transport Trust is a registered charity with the goal of restoring buses and trams from the Fylde coast.
The Hovertram is another vehicle that is back at the Rigby Road depot after it debuted in 1963.
It was the only double decker built in the 1960s and was based on the design of a hovercraft which saw “engines” included on the roof.
It remained operational until 2001 and needed maintenance before it could be returned to service again.
Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough funds to do this and it was sold, resulting in it being placed in Beith, Scotland in 2007 where it was displayed until 2014.
In 2016 it was returned home to Blackpool again after being purchased by Blackpool Heritage Tram Tours for future restoration.
The vintage vehicle is surprisingly good condition.
The Western Train
Modelled on a train from a western film, it transported passengers until 1999 when it was under threat of being scrapped.
Thanks to the Lottery Heritage Fund, between 2007 and 2009, this national icon was completely rebuilt and fully restored to its authentic 1962 condition.
The vehicle needs maintenance every 10 years however and it was in the middle of being given a full external re-wire, body overhaul and re-paint when the UK government announced the first national lockdown in March of last year.
During the Coronavirus pandemic, the future of one of the most famous illuminated trams of the track was in jeopardy after it was stuck in the Rigby Road workshop.
Staff and engineers had to be furloughed whilst the parts the tram badly needed were unavailable due to Covid restrictions interrupting the supply chain.
A Go Fund Me page was set up with a target of £2,500 to purchase the outstanding wire and electrical fittings.
Hundreds of local people threw their support behind the restoration project with some donations reaching three figures and the page hit target within a month – proving the 5,583 bulb illumination’s popularity.
The Western Train returned on September 10, 2021 and will run through the season until January 3, 2022.
Fisherman’s Friend Trawler Tram
A complete refurbishment of the Fisherman’s Friend Trawler Tram saw it back on the tracks in 2016.
It was created from the frame of a 1937 Brush Railcoach back in 2001 and named in honour of Fisherman’s Friend tycoon Doreen Lofthouse.
The business woman sadly died this year (2021) and the vehicle is a lasting legacy to the family that created the world famous lozenge, not too far away in Fleetwood.
The tram was designed for regular use before it was adapted with a bow and stern to look like a fishing boat.
It can travel in both directions because it has a cab on either side.
In 2014 the popular tram was retired however returned following a refurbishment in which its lamps were replaced with 24,500 LEDs.
The trawler was unveiled at a special ceremony in Fleetwood.
The battleship HMS Blackpool, the Fisherman’s Friend Trawler and the lottery funded Great Western Train will feature in an illuminated tram parade this month to celebrate Blackpool’s rich heritage and unique tramway history.