The return of the Blackpool Belle and the story behind the song

Blackpool Town Crier Barry McQueen signals the start of the journey to Euston, London
Blackpool Town Crier Barry McQueen signals the start of the journey to Euston, London

Years ago, it used to bring Lancashire workers to the resort to dance the night away at the Tower Ballroom and Winter Gardens and was dubbed the “passion wagon”.

It was immortalised in a song by the Houghton Weavers and now the Blackpool Belle has returned to the railway lines.

The Houghton Weavers

The Houghton Weavers

A few weeks ago, to celebrate the arrival of faster, cleaner, more modern electric trains – as part of a massive upgrade project carried out by Network Rail, Gazette readers were invited to name one of the new Virgin Pendolino trains which will take passengers between Blackpool and London. And the clear winner was the Blackpool Belle.

But more mature readers of Memory Lane may well remember the train which inspired the song of the same name – written by Howard Broadbent and James Smith and performed by the Houghton Weavers.

Howard said: “It was composed in 1975 by myself and the late Jimmy Smith, who passed away nine years ago, and the first person to sing it was Jean Bennett. She was from Blackpool and she sang at clubs like the Brunswick.

“Then the Houghton Weavers picked it up and it really got a following. It’s their most-requested song.

Crowds admire the famous Flying Scotsman railway engine as it arrives at Blackpool North station in October 1966. It was decorated with the special nameplate ' Blackpool Belle

Crowds admire the famous Flying Scotsman railway engine as it arrives at Blackpool North station in October 1966. It was decorated with the special nameplate ' Blackpool Belle

“It’s a bit of a line dance favourite, with a special dance put to it.

“It’s had more than 100,000 downloads and it reached number three in the charts in New Zealand.

“It’s a song which is still relevant today.

“When we wrote it in 1975, the idea came from the train which used to bring people to Blackpool, from all over the north west.

Howard Broadbent

Howard Broadbent

“It was known by most people as the ‘Passion Wagon’.

“People would get the train to go dancing at the Tower Ballroom and the Winter Gardens and then go home on the train afterwards.

“Originally, it was going to be the Blackburn Belle, but then Jimmy said why we don’t we call it the Blackpool Belle – about the passion wagon.

“One of the best memories for me was being invited to sing it at the Tower’s 100th celebrations, with the Houghton Weavers.”

David Littler, founder member of the Houghton Weavers, said Blackpool Belle was a song which had really stood the test of time.

“It’s always requested wherever we go.

“I think it is so popular because it has such a great musical hook, people can sing along to it, and from a musician’s point-of-view, it’s easy to play.

“It’s a very cleverly-constructed piece of music.

“We always enjoy playing it, from the Weavers point-of-view.

“It’s a bit cheeky and it conjures up that story of people coming to Blackpool for a night out.

“And it’s great that the Blackpool Belle train is now in existence again.”

The Blackpool Belle was also the name of an illuminated tram in the shape of a Mississippi paddle steamer, which ran along the Promenade in the 1950s.

And the name once adorned the famous steam train, the Flying Scotsman, when it visited Blackpool North Station, in October 1966 – bearing a special nameplate.

Howard has recently written a new, final verse of the song – in honour of the new train:

“The Blackpool Belle now runs again, from London’s Euston Station,

Southern folk can travel north, to see the Illuminations,

“On a Pendolino Virgin train, to Lancashire in style,

Then up to the top of Blackpool Tower, to see the Golden Mile.”