The buses which shaped Blackpool's transport through a century

In the second of two features, Blackpool Transport archivist Alan Greenhalgh takes us through the later decades, looking at the Burlingtons, ticket machines and memorable, iconic colour schemes

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 3:45 pm

Although Walter Luff concentrated his efforts on modernising the trams, some of the track on the congested Layton and Central Drive tram routes needed renewal.

The decision was taken to convert both these routes to bus operation from October 1936.

Twenty-five streamlined Burlingham bodied, Leyland Titan full-fronted buses were purchased for the conversion. Blackpool buses - the early daysConsideration had been given at this time, and indeed later, to the substitution of trams by trolleybuses but this was never followed through even though authorisation had existed from 1935.

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Some of the early designs and bus colour schemes became iconic in Blackpool

In 1937 the tram route from St Annes to Blackpool, and operated by Lytham St. Annes Corporation, was withdrawn and the Lytham St. Annes tram system closed down. A new bus service, the 11A, followed the line of the discontinued tram service although this did not involve any track closure within the Borough of Blackpool.

Fifty more streamlined buses were delivered during 1937, partly as provision for the services to Lytham. During the same year, 12 single deck buses, new in 1928, were rebodied by C.H. Roe in Leeds as open top ‘runabouts’ for the Park service.

In the period leading up to the Second World War, additional bus routes were introduced to serve new housing developments, particularly in South Shore. By 1938, bus route mileage stood at 116 miles compared with around 50 miles five years earlier and there were 161 buses in the fleet.

An area of land off Talbot Road, known as Talbot Mews, had developed during the 1920s and 1930s into a bus station for both corporation bus services and independent operators. This was replaced by a brand new bus station, together with a multi-storey car park, in 1939.

This was Talbot Road bus station in 1932

During the war, many bus services were shortened or withdrawn altogether because of shortages of fuel and rubber for tyres. Five of the ‘runabouts’ were transferred to the Auxiliary Fire Service. Even more runabouts were converted as possible rescue vehicles and allocated to the ARP.

Conductresses were employed in 1940, the first time that female platform staff had been used since the end of the First World War. A small number of women became drivers of single deck buses.The bus garage at Rigby Road was used for military purposes and a large number of buses were parked in the Bus Station at night. A temporary bus garage was built at Bond Street to house spare buses. Special bus services were provided for the RAF and for workers at the Royal Ordnance Factory at Euxton near Chorley.

Six single deck and eight double deck buses were converted to run on gas. The single deckers carried a bag on the roof which could be filled from a gas stand pipe and the double deckers had a trailer affixed to them which contained a gas producing unit.

After the war, attention turned to the requirement for new buses as replacements for the pre-war fleet.

A 1960’s cream coloured Blackpool bus on the hospital route

Manager Walter Luff was a strong believer in the benefit of the centre entrance with doors as a means of minimising platform accidents. Consequently, a modern version of the pre-war streamliner was adopted for bus deliveries between 1949 and 1952 when 100 iconic Leyland double deck vehicles with Burlingham bodies entered service. For many years during the 1950s and early 1960s these vehicles epitomised bus transport in Blackpool and indeed they are fondly remembered by many, even today.

Upon Walter Luff’s retirement in 1954 Joe Franklin was appointed general manager. In many respects Franklin adopted different policies to Luff, one obvious one being a reversion to rear entrance open platform buses. The first of these were five Leyland Titan PD2s with Burlingham bodies which were delivered in 1957.

The design of a full fronted cab, introduced pre-war, was maintained on new vehicles up until the mid-1960s.

It was during the early years of Joe Franklin’s managership that the bus (and tram) livery was revised to one of predominantly cream with green relief. This facilitated the controversial decision in 1957 to allow advertising on buses and trams for the first time since 1919. From the early 1970s the bus livery was to become almost totally cream.

During the winter of 1963-64 buses took over from the trams on the Promenade as an economy measure although trams continued to provide a shuttle service between Cleveleys and Fleetwood due to the problems of licensing a bus service in what was then a Ribble Motor Services operating area.

Between 1958 and 1968, no fewer than 130 Leyland Titan PD2s and PD3s were put into service, most as replacements for the Burlingham buses, which were being withdrawn and others for the tram route conversions.

All were rear entrance buses to a similar design, seventy of them fitted with the traditional full fronted cabs that dated back to the 1930s. The last open platform bus to enter the fleet was bus number 540 in 1968 by which time Blackpool was one of the last few remaining operators to specify this design of bus. In the late 1960s, because of escalating costs in the bus industry generally, there was a significant move to introduce ‘pay-as-you-enter’ buses, which dispensed with the need for a conductor resulting in a new fleet of Swift single deck buses coming into operation.

Apart from a period during the second world war, it was not until 1974 that women were employed as bus drivers. The first female driver commenced duty on 15th January of that year following a lifting of a previous ban on women drivers by the trade union.

In 1974 Joe Franklin retired as general manager, Derek Hyde becoming his successor. It was in the same year that female drivers were employed on the single deckers for the first time since the war. A further innovation was the introduction of radio communication, with all single-deck vehicles being equipped from 1975.

In a complete break with tradition, Blackpool’s first rear-engined double deck buses with front entrance, the famous Leyland Atlanteans, were put into service in 1977. By 1983 there were 74 of these buses which carried a revised fleet livery, featuring more green than previously. Their front entrance permitted collection of fares by the driver and the buses were worked with or without a conductor. Also new to the fleet during the 1980s were a small number of Dennis Lancet and Leyland National single deck vehicles. In 1977, the first ‘Almex’ ticket machines started to replace the T.I.M.s (Ticket Issue Machines), which had originally been introduced in the 1930s.

For a few weeks In January 1979, during the infamous ‘Winter of Discontent’, shortages of fuel were so severe that all bus services were restricted to running during the morning and afternoon peak periods only. Mini buses followed in the 1980s and the Blackpool Transport logo was introduced.