Blackpool Heritage Trust response to comments on Coronation 663

Following recent comments on this website relating to the situation surrounding the donation, by a private sponsor, towards restoration work on Blackpool Coronation car 663, and indeed the level of restoration undertaken on this tram (using these funds) prior to its departure from the LTT’s former Brinwell Road depot, the Blackpool Heritage Trust have provided the following statement to British Trams Online. It is hoped that this information will be of interest to all, and demonstrate the level of openness and honesty by which the BHT operates, to achieve total clarity.

“The work undertaken to date on Coronation 663 is not obvious, especially in pictures taken from a distance, because it has so far involved parts of the tram that, once completed, will be covered by floor coverings or external panels. Some understanding of the restoration process must be shown by those levelling criticism as, presumably had it just been re-panelled and therefore looked as if it had been restored, the detractors would have been satisfied? The work undertaken so far actually includes:

The stripping out of wooden inserts in u-channel steel framework and their replacement with specially machined new hardwood. It is into these that the external panels are screwed on. Over the years the wood becomes riddled with holes following various panel replacements and for a proper restoration therefore needs to be replaced. Sounds simple put like that, but is in fact very time consuming because it involves removal of original seized up screws, following which the wood has to be carefully prised out of the u-channel which must not be damaged. The new inserts were machined by a specialist joinery firm to fit the u-channel. However imperfections in the cross section mean that much fine tuning is necessary to ensure the necessary snug fit. Then they are secured with new screws. Hopefully this demonstrates how long such seemingly simple jobs can take even in the hands of skilled craftsmen – or perhaps one should say “particularly” in the hands of skilled craftsmen. Anyone could bodge the job more quickly and simply but what good would that be? In addition to the u-channelling, all other wood batons and framework have been replaced on the sides including all curved wooden lower sections around the centre doorways.

Similarly the removal of panels round the standee and curved roof windows cannot be approached with gusto because the underlying wood framework, generally in good condition, must not be damaged, so again what seems a simple job is in fact very time consuming. The shaped replacement panels are made and held in stock, if not all are yet fitted.

One of the weak points of a Coronation tram is the recess into which each of the doors slide (the door pockets). Water ingress over the years gives serious rusting of the inner panel of the recess which means that any restoration worthy of the name has to see to its replacement. It must be emphasised that this is not the internal bodywork panel but a separate intermediate affair. All four of these were replaced but unfortunately not with a magic wand. Again just to give an idea of what is actually involved, four times over of course, here are some details. The door, heavy and difficult to handle, must be removed without damaging the sliding mechanisms, connecting rams, air pipes etc. Having said that, these items need removing for their own restoration, so perhaps we shouldn’t include them as part of the recess replacement job! The rusted panel and associated reinforcing framework then has to be removed without damage to the internal panelling or the external framework or the subsidiary frame onto which the new panel has to be welded. The confines of the space to work in are almost unbelievable. The old panel and associated strapping was far too rusted to use as a template so the new had to be made by measuring and then simple trial and error adjustment to make a snug fit, and then, again within very tight confines, welded into place.

Significantly, and unseen to most, the seat frames and sand boxes were carefully removed and sent to a specialist firm to be stripped and powder coated in the appropriate colour. The seat frames and associated swing over mechanism are of mixed cast aluminium and steel construction. This meant that shot blasting could not be used to strip them and the alternative process was twice the price. However, the alternative – to dismantle and reassemble all 28 sets would have been an even more astronomical cost in labour. When 663 was transferred to Rigby Road the finished seat frames were transported separately in a van.

And so it goes on ….! All the shaped wood required for round the headlights and for the end mouldings has been manufactured, most of the more intricate aluminium panelling exists in kit form …. The Vambac housing has been re-panelled including the refurbishment of the grills …. and much more!

Not long after 663 had arrived at Rigby Road a meeting was held to inspect the tram with the benefactor and his friend. Also present was Bryan Lindop of BTS, John Houghton, works superintendent of the heritage tram fleet and Eric Berry of the LTT. It was unanimously concluded that the work carried out represented value for money and that it had been done to an extremely high standard. This really says it all!

As well as the expenditure and work on the tram to date, 663 has a dowry of over £6000 most of which is from Gift Aid. This does not show at the 31 October cut off for the submission of LTT accounts, because although much of it had been claimed it had not been paid by HMRC by that date, as stated in the notes to the accounts.

To answer other points raised, Blackpool Transport are the current custodians of the LTT tramcar collection. This is a situation that both parties are happy with. The trams can transfer to BHT once charitable status has been secured (assuming LTT is satisfied that we will not be putting the future preservation of the trams at risk). This can be done by an Agreement of Transfer, and no money need change hands. In such cases it sometimes does however, for example when LTT recently transferred Lancashire United Transport bus no.97 to the Greater Manchester Transport Society they paid £1, but this is only to create an alternative “paper trail invoice and receipt” to the transaction.

Monies accrued through the sale of Boat car 605 to San Francisco were, as detailed in the LTT accounts, unfortunately used to pay storage costs accrued as a result of a period in dispute with Blackpool Transport. Following an amicable resolution there is no dispute between the two organisations, and this was borne out by the move of the LTT trams to bolster Blackpool Transport’s heritage tram fleet during 2013 – a move which benefited Blackpool’s tramway heritage and which led to the formation of the Blackpool Heritage Trust. Standard car 143, you may remember, benefited from a £25k grant from the Local Heritage Initiative (a branch of lottery funding), which was matched by LTT funds and paid for the construction of a brand new underframe, brand new top deck cover and the full installation (to BTS standards) of all traction and auxiliary wiring. The total spend on 143, to date, is close to £80,000.

The Trustees of the BHT hope that the above information will clarify the points raised. As an honest and transparent Trust, requests for information will be met with answers – but hopefully our supporters will come to see that efforts are made to ensure that information is freely available before the questions need to be asked!

One final point, to the outspoken critic who does not wish to give his real name: If he would like to get in touch (and reveal who he is!), he would be more than welcome to come and inspect the work undertaken on tram 663 to date. And this is a genuine offer!”

Thanks are due to the BHT for the above statement, which we hope will go some way to answering the concerns of all supporters of the new Trust. It is now time to draw a line under past developments and move forward together so that the Blackpool Heritage Trust can grow strong and continue to keep alive Blackpool’s strong tramway tradition.


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6 Responses to Blackpool Heritage Trust response to comments on Coronation 663

  1. Ken Walker says:

    I agree with you Andrew, thanks are indeed due. Personally. I have not been surprised at people wondering about the situation regarding LTT vehicles considering the degree of distrust that has been generated over the last few years by LTT themselves, whether due to lack of response to reasonable concerns or sometimes distinctly hostile responses, just to sum up the past in as few words as I can! On the other hand this response by BHT means we have gone from a situation of being kept in the dark to one of almost too much information (NOT COMPLAINING HONEST!). I think that on more than one occasion a single response of this sort would have gone a long way to reassure at least some of the doubters (as they say there will always be one!). At BHT, Heaton Park and Beamish at least we have people in charge who know the value of keeping supporters on side and have realised how far a simple explanation can go to nip misunderstandings in the bud and put minds at rest. I for one have every confidence for the future.

  2. Ralph Oakes-Garnett says:

    Sounds good a thorough restoration. I would not worry about the negative comments. I have been in the restoration club for 43 years and again many of the jobs that have been done are unseen. However you take a vehicle to a show hundreds of miles away and get silly comments like “It is not in the right shade” or “It never ran on that route” etc. Most who moan or are pedantic have never owned an old vehicle or ever helped preserve one. You will never please everyone and would not worry trying. The tram is safe now and undercover and good luck to all concerned, very much appreciated by myself.

  3. Frank Gradwell says:

    Yes – Ralph – been there, done that and got the t-shirt.

    My standard response is to ask how many vehicles they have owned or worked on, and have they tried lying under a chassis in an unheated shed doing something or other?

  4. Greg Mason says:


    Following the response by BHT, I would like to express my appreciation to the new organisation for the full and detailed explanation regarding the work on 663. I hope this is the benchmark for the future. As Frank says, if this open and transparent approach had been adopted in the past by the LTT, the organisation would have I’m sure have encountered less negative comment, and may have attracted much more support in their difficult times. This is not to rake up old grievances against LTT; as you say it’s time to move on. However the past does provide valuable learnings!

    To set the record straight, I have been active in bus preservation for a number of years, so contrary to Ralph’s belief (and possibly hinted at in the BHT response!), comments on 663 were not made by an armchair enthusiast that does little more than observe from a distance and criticise. Leyland and Roe bus bodies for example used composite construction i.e. wood inserts in u-channel section. I have first hand experience of removing rotten and time expired wood insert prior to fitting new wood. I do understand it is a time consuming process, and when being contracted out commercially will be costly. However by any standards £21k is a lot of money, and it should not surprise to either the BHT (soon to become a charity) or LTT (a registered charity) that questions are asked about how the money has been spent. Given we now know the sponsor and Heritage Workshop management are agreed the work carried out is to a high standard (and presumably value for money?) then there matter should rest.

    One aspect of the BHT response on 663 confirmed that the LTT trams are in the care of the Blackpool Transport but remain in the ownership of LTT until BHT obtains charity status. Ralph believes the LTT trams are now “safe”, but from a legal or financial perspective this may well not be the case. The latest LTT accounts posted on the Charity Commission website for financial year ending 31st October 2013 highlight a number of areas of concern e.g. significant drop in donations, high asset value for both buses and trams that do not seem realistic in today’s market etc. The BTO site is not the place for a detailed analysis of the LTT accounts. However what is relevant is the LTT is dependent on its “commercial partner” Oakwood Travel for accommodating its preserved bus fleet. Hypothetically if LTT and/or Oakwood should fail (remember Oakwood’s predecessor Classic Bus North West spectacular failure less than a year ago!) it is not a foregone conclusion an administrator would agree to the LTT tram ownership passing to the BHT. Nightmare scenario I know and hopefully will not happen. But in my view assumptions of LTT trams being safe are premature at this point in time. One of the many challenges for BHT!!

  5. roger woodhead says:

    I can relate to all comments in this post. Restoration starts underneath panelling, on chassis engine or motors and 90% of the work will not be seen by observers of the completed vehicle I do not now how many jeans and overalls I have thrown out because they have been so soaked in oil and grease they could no longer be washed.
    My knees got so cold that I still have problems with them! There is nothing more annoying than putting your efforts on display and someone comes and tells you that you have not lined a screw head up properly. Trust me it happens. It happened to me on the Lakeside & haverthaite rly with the class 20 diesel, I got really cross .so before you criticise be thankful that some people put a lot of their time and most times their own cash into a project so that others can see and perhaps ride on or behind the restored vehicle.

  6. JOHN says:

    Agreed! make them lie on a cobbled (now thankfully concrete – not much better) floor painting lifeguards in the middle of winter!

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