All aboard: 125 years of corporation trams

A procession of 10 historical trams on central promenade, led by the first ever Blackpool tram ( No 1 ),  to mark the tramway's 75th anniversary in 1960
A procession of 10 historical trams on central promenade, led by the first ever Blackpool tram ( No 1 ), to mark the tramway's 75th anniversary in 1960

They are a sight synonymous with Blackpool and its history.

And last week, Blackpool Transport trams (formerly Blackpool Corporation), celebrated their 125th anniversary.

Trams on Blackpool promenade, in 1926

Trams on Blackpool promenade, in 1926

The resort has the oldest electric street tramway in the world, with records dating back from 1884.

It was at this time plans were produced for an electric tramway which would connect north and south shore.

Blackpool Corporation paid for and maintained the infrastructure, while the Blackpool Electric Tramway Company, formed in January 1885, provided the electrical equipment, depot and tramcars. The tramway opened in September 1885.

But the seaside location played havoc with the trams’ operation in the early years.

Historical 60 year old Blackpool Tram, in 1966

Historical 60 year old Blackpool Tram, in 1966

The system originally operated by picking up its electrical current from a grooved slot in the centre of the track.

But as salt water and sand regularly filled the slot, it was a pretty haphazard operation. On regular occasions, the trams even had to be pulled by horses.

The trams were however a commercial success and in 1892, Blackpool Corporation took over the running of the tramway.

The first of many extensions began in 1895. By the late 1890s the difficulties with the conduit system led to the conversion of the tramway to the overhead wire system.

The conductor, Harold Gee, takes fares from tram enthusiasts on the last  tram to travel on the Lytham Road route in Blackpool, in 1961

The conductor, Harold Gee, takes fares from tram enthusiasts on the last tram to travel on the Lytham Road route in Blackpool, in 1961

In 1899, 550V overhead wiring was installed and the conduit removed.

A rival tram line was opened, by Blackpool and Fleetwood Tramroad Company – running between Gynn Square and Fleetwood Ferry, in 1989. The two tramways were not connected.

In 1920, the Fleetwood line was taken over by Blackpool Corporation.

For the first time, trams ran all the way from South Shore to Fleetwood.

All aboard for a tour of the Promenade by toastrack tram. Passengers, in best coats and hats, clamber to take their seats

All aboard for a tour of the Promenade by toastrack tram. Passengers, in best coats and hats, clamber to take their seats

By this time, Blackpool already enjoyed an extensive network of street tramways to Layton, to Squires Gate, along Central Drive and round Marton, as well as along the Promenade. In the 1920s Blackpool also began the first of its bus operations.

The original Blundell Street Depot was replaced by a larger depot on Rigby Road, in 1920.

It was when new general manager Walter Luff arrived in 1933, the golden age of transport in Blackpool was ushered in.

He brought about the introduction of a luxury tram fleet – including the English Electric double-deck Luxury Dreadnoughts (later known as ‘Balloons’) and single-deck open-topped Open Boats and enclosed Railcoaches.

He also introduced matching fleet of streamlined buses, and during this decade, some tram routes were replaced by buses.

After the Second World War, there was gradual consolidation and by 1962, the trams were confined to the 11 mile route from Starr Gate to Fleetwood which still operates today. Routes around Layton, Central Drive and Marton – some of which can be seen in our archive photographs – ceased to operate.

Clifton Street , Blackpool, with trams visible in the town centre, in the  late 1800s

Clifton Street , Blackpool, with trams visible in the town centre, in the late 1800s

The bus services expanded, along with the town, throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s.

Since bus deregulation in 1986, trams and buses have been operated by Blackpool Transport Services Ltd, a Blackpool Council Company.

While the trams themselves are owned and run by Blackpool Transport, the tramway infrastructure is owned by Blackpool Council and leased to the company, which pays an annual track rental fee.

Between 1962 and 1992, Blackpool had the only urban tramway in the UK, although other towns have since reintroduced tram systems.