Book Review: ‘Starr Gate to the Tower – the Blackpool Tramway since 1960’ by Brian Turner

With so many books having been published over the years on the subject of the Blackpool tramway, finding new ways to cover this much-loved system in print is no easy task. However, Brian Turner has achieved it in his latest book which is now on sale. Instead of focussing on the actual trams, this title aims to take a detailed look at the tramway itself, with this, the first of an intended three volumes, featuring the section from Starr Gate to the Tower.

Starting at the southern terminus, the author provides an historical guided tour of the Blackpool tramway, providing photographs (almost all in colour) showing how the line has changed in the period since 1960, when he first began photographing the trams. This highlights an incredible amount of changes, many of which are normally neglected in print, and it is particularly pleasing to see such a large amount of pages devoted to the line south of Pleasure Beach which often gets overlooked. This is primarily a picture book with entertaining but very informative captions explaining the many changes illustrated. These not only cover the obvious, such as the transformation of the Starr Gate terminus with the construction of the new LRT depot, but also many less well-documented developments. I was personally astonished at how many times over the past fifty years the various tram stops have been re-sited (sometimes for a single season or even less), had shelters replaced and had new stop signs added, and these changes are covered in some detail without ever becoming boring. For fans of the town itself with a more passing interest in the tramway, there is also plenty of interest here with plenty of views showing the changing backdrop, with some archaic and long-lost features of the ‘old’ South Promenade being of particular interest, whilst a superb image of car 680 is completely dominated by the Big One rollercoaster at an advanced stage of being built.

Although as stated already, the focus of the book is the tramway itself, it also showcases the amazing variety of trams to have operated on the promenade ranging from some black and white views of rather weather-worn Standard cars, via red OMO cars and the ever-popular streamlined fleet, to the modified ‘B Fleet’ Balloons and of course the Flexities. Also included are various visiting tramcars, with the appearance of Cardiff 131 and Oporto 273 being especially welcome as both cars only operated in Blackpool on a tiny number of occasions. A gorgeous night shot of Stockport 5 on an illumination evening is also worthy of mention.

The book does an excellent job of showing the trams going about their daily business over the years and through the seasons, with some lovely snowy scenes contrasting with the more familiar summer sights. However, more unusual workings do add additional interest. Some of my personal highlights (and there are many to choose from!) include a photo shoot for the ‘Hot Ice’ show with Balloon 721 in appropriate advertising livery, a newly restored Dreadnought 59 exiting the promenade at Foxhall, and the Trampower prototype 611 using the Harrowside crossover. Perhaps the rarest of all is a Pantograph car occupying a long-gone siding at Pleasure Beach, a move thought to have only occurred once in the history of this class which of course rarely ventured onto the promenade. There are also plenty of views showing single-line working and other unusual operating practices, including the loading of intermediate Bispham service cars on the Pleasure Beach inner loop in 1992 which was apparently discontinued after only one day! Such is the wealth of detail to be found within these pages.

A few small errors do creep in but these certainly do not detract greatly from what is overall, an absolutely superb book and a must-have item for all lovers of the Blackpool tramway. However many Blackpool tram books you own, this one will offer something you haven’t seen before and the quality of the photographs throughout is superb. I now look forward with interest to seeing what Mr. Turner has in store with Volume 2 and the journey north of Tower!

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2 Responses to Book Review: ‘Starr Gate to the Tower – the Blackpool Tramway since 1960’ by Brian Turner

  1. stuart cooke says:

    Probably the best Blackpool tram book ever . couldn`t put it down .

  2. James Palma says:

    my book arrived yesterday, really good quality very enjoyable read.

    Thanks for writing about it, I wouldnt have known about it otherwise

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