Picture in Time: Blackpool Open Top Balloon 706 – Princess Alice

As Princess Alice ran her last planned passenger journeys before withdrawal last weekend there seems no better tram to feature in Picture in Time than the popular open topper. Since conversion back to open top status in time for the 1985 centenary 706 has had several different looks and in this installment of Picture in Time we take a look at three of them.

The story of 706 has been well documented over the years, built in 1934 as an open topper it was enclosed in 1942 and was just another member of the Balloon car fleet until 22nd July 1980. This was when it was involved in a collision at Pleasure Beach with sister 705 with both trams suffering severe damage. For 705 this was the end with scrapping following a couple of years later but eventually 706 was admitted to the workshops and was reconverted into an open topper being completed by April 1985. During Centenary year it was named Princess Alice and ever since it has been a very popular member of the fleet.

The second all over advert to be carried by Alice was this pastel design for Gala Bingo which was applied in May 1992 just a few months before this photo was taken. As with the previous advertising livery (a much brighter version for Coral Social Clubs) the choice of this tram for an all over advert was a controversial one – especially as in 1985 it had become the very first Blackpool tram to be officially named by a member of the Royal family – but at least we should be grateful it was before contravision has been thought of! In this photo – which seems to have taken from several miles away! – we see 706 heading south through Tower with an unidentified Balloon car heading in the opposite direction.

The Gala Bingo advert remained in place for two years until in June 1994 Alice was moved into the Paint Shop for a new livery to be applied. Fortunately after five years of all over adverts Alice was to be treated to a coat of green and cream. Whereas up to 1989 it has been in a version of original green and cream this time it was the standard fleet livery of the time that was applied. In this photo we see 706 heading south through Bispham on its way back to depot on 11th September 2002.

The livery that Princess Alice is probably best known for is this version of 1930s Green and Cream which was reapplied in July 2003 along with the wooden nameplates which have become the standard for naming in recent years. Alice has only ever left Blackpool once and that was in November 2010 when it was the star of an event at the Heaton Park Tramway in Manchester. In this view we see 706 heading towards the Middleton Road depot (which at the time was the only depot) with fellow loanee Blackpool Marton Box 31 in the background at the Middleton Road gates. Was this really five years ago?

All Photographs by Gareth Prior

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4 Responses to Picture in Time: Blackpool Open Top Balloon 706 – Princess Alice

  1. Anonymous says:

    Let’s hope that a return to service is not long delayed. The popularity of the open cars is unchallenged on any sunny day and the open top double decker is a special example. Given the number of balloons now looking for work and the reduced number of boats now in the UK is it time for a sister car for Alice. Surely this would be a profitable venture!

    • Andrew Waddington says:

      I don’t think it is any secret that a long-term goal is to create a second open-top Balloon car, probably restored to original condition (or as close as possible) as a contrast to 706. Like most things though, workshop capacity and money are needed to make it happen!

  2. John says:

    YES! It really is 5 years ago. I think that for me will be difficult for Heaton Park to beat (though am slightly biased!). No one else has taken a Tram on a Friday, run it Saturday and Sunday and taken it home on Monday. Long may Alice reign once she is back with us and 704 as an original would be stunning. I just hope that Alice doesn’t receieve twin indicators as has been mooted as the Tram is, in my opinion, a class in its own right and needs to stay that way. Though the sun visors are a moot point as they aren’t original to 1984, but its had them for so long no one notices.

    • Franklyn says:

      I totally agree, twin indicators should not be fitted. That is unless a complete restoration to original condition is on the cards. And to do that properly they would also need to fit new canopy supports (the current ones are not original 1930s design), a proper shorter canopy, change all the downstairs windows to half-drop, re-profile top deck railings and remove windscreens at ends, re-panel with split side panelling and re-fit scoop ventilators, reinstate frosted glass panel on staircases, change doors, re-line interior to get rid of textured aluminium panelling, refit alhambra ceiling downstairs, refit roll top covers to staircases, retrim downstairs seating and refit side destination boxes.

      And that’s just the things I can think of off the top of my head!

      So you can see, returning Alice to original condition would take a lot more than fitting twin indicators! personally I don’t think it should be done as Alice is something of a celebrity and is well known in her current form. Either keep her as she is, or do the simple restoration back to 1985 condition. What we DON’T want is a half-done project as was the case with 648, which is now in a form it never was when in regular service. Either do one thing or another, but don’t leave things half finished.

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