Book Review: ‘The Tower to Bispham – the Blackpool Tramway since 1960′

Last year, well-known Blackpool tramway historian Brian Turner released the first of a trilogy of books taking a detailed look at the changing face of this much-loved system in the period since 1960, focussing on the section from Starr Gate to Tower. This book was quite rightly regarded as an instant classic, and so the release of the second instalment has been much anticipated – and the wait was certainly worth it!

As with the first volume, this book takes a detailed look at the tramway itself, showing how it has changed between 1960 and the present day, rather than looking at the vehicles. However, the images have been carefully chosen to ensure that a wide range of trams are still featured, ranging from some classic scenes featuring Standard and Coronation cars to more recent views showing Balloons, Centenary cars and of course the Flexity 2 class. Although the main aim here is to show the tramway going about its daily business, a few oddities are included such as the ill-fated prototype Roadliner 611 (shown reversing at the long-gone crossover at Gynn Square), a farewell jaunt with Blackpool Belle 731 and visiting cars including Oporto 273 and the divine Liverpool 762, as well as single-line working in force during track renewal projects. There is plenty of colour too, with a feast of green and cream cars joined by Metro Coastlines liveries and various advert designs.

The book picks up with its predecessor left off; outside the Tower (with a large inflatable gorilla in situ!). Here the author shows how this prime location has been changed with various different shelters pictured, and of course the three-track passing loop which has now disappeared. This thorough coverage is repeated at all key stops, and remains interesting throughout. This amazing attention to detail is especially apparent in showing the incredible number of different tram shelters used between Tower and North Pier, as well as the many times that the northbound stop at North Pier has changed position! Equal prominence is rightly given to events that happened before many of us were born and more recent developments, such as the awful season of 2011 when the promenade resembled a building site and at Easter, trams passed through a fenced-off section here as the tramway upgrade, promenade road reconstruction and new sea wall all progressed simultaneously. It wasn’t pretty, but it is a part of the tramway’s history and so it is good that it is recorded in print here. Indeed, these pages are filled with the good, bad and downright ugly sides of the Blackpool tramway and its many quirks which all add to the unique charm of this system.

As with the first volume, there are many exceptional photographs in this book – however for your writer, one in particular stands out: that on page 40 of the illuminated Gondola at North Pier, with the Blackpool Belle and the Rocket also visible behind, with the latter apparently heading backwards up Talbot Road! A unique moment in history, and one I have found myself looking at over and over again. Other highlights include an impromptu wartime line-up at Bispham and various combinations of trams at North Pier.

Despite focussing on the period since 1960, some historical context is given where appropriate, giving useful background to once important locations such as Gynn Square which are now ‘just another tram stop’. A brief detour is also made to visit the short-lived tramway which ran along the North Pier itself. A route map shows comparison in track layout between 1960 and 2015, reminding us how much has disappeared in the name of progress.

At risk of repeating myself from the previous review, all lovers of the Blackpool tramway are strongly urged to invest in a copy of this book and if you enjoyed the first part, then this is an essential purchase. This is a book you’ll find yourself revisiting many times and even the greatest tram experts are bound to learn something, or see something for the first time amongst this pictorial feast. The book itself has been beautifully produced and will doubtless stand up well to many repeat readings. In years to come a new generation will doubtless view this book and its contents with wonder as its amazing to see just how much the tramway has changed, even in the last five years – but right now it serves as a wonderful trip down memory lane for enthusiasts of all ages. Bring on Part 3!

‘The Tower to Bispham – the Blackpool Tramway since 1960′ by Brian Turner is published by Rails Publishing (www.capitaltransport.com) and is available now from specialist stockists, priced at £30. It consists of 176 pages, and is fully illustrated, mostly in colour.

 

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