BLACKPOOL’s seafront is in upheaval. Workmen everywhere and an anticipation of a new-look Prom to be proud of...
Sounds familiar? Maybe. Take Princess Parade that skirts around the Metropole Hotel – the only Blackpool accommodation to be found on the “sea” side of the tramtracks.
Today it is a building site, yet there was also a similar scene exactly 100 years ago this week as the resort, having widened the main Promenade in 1905, was now well on the way to building the extension from North Pier around the Metropole through to Cocker Square.
Blackpool Civic Trust president Barry Shaw, who has been researching that major project, says: “One of the most intriguing events in Blackpool’s history saw a steam train, known as The Sands Express, running alongside the famous tramway in 1911.
After building a concrete wall 18ft high and 400 yards along the beach, the gap between it and the former sea wall required a quarter of a million tons of sand for infill.
“The tidal flow had left huge deposits two miles down the coast by South Pier and it was decided to transport this sand by a standard gauge light industrial railway.
“Sleepers were laid directly on to the Prom and two saddle tank engines and 40 wagons hired from a Manchester company.
“Inferior quality coal caused delays in getting a decent head of steam and, as the completion deadline drew closer, two more engines were added with instructions to work around the clock.”
Wagons, loaded by a gang of 80 men with shovels, were shunted along temporary tracks on the beach to the slade by Waterloo Road – then known as Waterloo Junction – where there was an exchange with an engine that took them northwards to discharge their load.
Barry says: “The novelty and popularity of The Sands Express were soon diminished by coal and cinders being scattered along the Promenade, with seafront landladies trying in vain to remove the accumulation of soot and grime from their premises.”
The whole of the reclaimed area is still known as Princess Parade after being officially opened by Princess Louise, Duchess of Argyll, on May Day 1912, watched by a crowd of more than 100,000.