Blackpool’s English Electric Trams 70th Anniversary Part 1

2004 marks the 70th Anniversary of the operation of the distinctive streamlined English Electric trams in Blackpool. In Part One of a feature article British Trams Online Webmaster Gareth Prior looks at what the English Electric Trams are and the history of their building and introduction…

Just what are the English Electric Trams?

The English Electric Trams we are talking about are probably some of the most distinctive shaped trams not only in this country but also the world. If you say Blackpool trams to someone than it probably conjures up the image of the streamlined cars with their ‘pointy’ streamlined ends. Those trams which are considered to be celebrating their 70th Anniversary in 2004 start with the original First Series English Electric Railcoaches which were delivered in 1934 except for the prototype tram 200 which arrived in mid 1933. These trams were followed quickly by the Streamlined Open Top Modern Dreadnoughts and Streamlined Modern Toastracks, both for the busy summer traffic on the Prom and again after initial prototypes has been supplied. Then the following year these were joined by a Double Deck Fully Enclosed version, more English Electric Railcoaches (Second Series) and then in 1939 12 Sun Saloons which didn’t feature many of the modern ideas. Although the Brush Cars look nearly identical to the English Electric Railcoaches there are subtle differences (such as they were built by Brush not English Electric!) and as such they do not feature in this article.

Construction and Delivery of the English Electric Trams

The English Electric Company were based in nearby Preston and had a long history although under that name they had only been trading since the end of 1918. One of the forerunners of the company was the Dick, Kerr and Co Ltd, who along with English Electric are probably the most famous tram manufacturers from that time in the UK. There is no doubting that the company was big with 1919 alone seeing them supply 325 tram bodies to Corporations and Companies across the UK. Over the years the majority of the trams designed and built at Preston were of the traditional design, the type which has been seen nationwide almost since electric tram operation had begun many years previously. However the market was changing rapidly and if they were to continue supplying trams they knew they would have to produce revolutionary designs which would encourage towns and cities to keep with trams rather than buses. The full history of English Electric can be seen in Geoff Lumb’s 1998 Ian Allan book, English Electric Tramcar Album.

There are two key men involved in the streamlined trams, Walter Luff, the famous Transport Manager of Blackpool Corporation Transport from 1933 until his retirement in 1954, and more significantly William ‘Mac’ Marshall of English Electric. Luff has often been given the sole credit for the unique streamlined design (as well as the modernisation of the system) but this has been overstating his role as not only had the Corporation already decided that there should be modernisation, the revolutionary trams had already been designed. These modern looking trams had been thought of the year before when Marshall had sketched some plans whilst English Electric were trying to encourage new orders, possibly from outside of the UK. The idea was to use a lot of the features that had been seen in the new fangled motorbuses so that trams would no longer be seen as an uncomfortable, old fashioned and inflexible alternative. Among the features planned were comfortable seats, large windows and an opening roof to let the sun in during the summer. The designs ended up with Luff when Marshall visited him after he had commenced the job in Blackpool and was examining what needed to be done to modernise the system. Marshall presented him with more detailed designs (done by the Chief Designer at English Electric, R.J.Heathman) and Luff was instantly impressed, so much so he then and there asked for a quote to be provided on having one constructed as a prototype in time for the meeting he had in February with the Transport Committee. At this meeting not only did Luff give his 5 Year Plan (more details on this plan can be seen in Section 1 of the feature article on The Survival of Blackpool’s Trams) but he also presented a model of the streamlined railcoach along with a quote Marshall had provided of £2,000 to have a prototype tram built. The Committee were impressed with what they heard so they agreed to this proposal.

The tram was built at the Preston works of English Electric and was completed so that it arrived in the resort in time for the 1933 Annual Conference of Municipal Tramways and Transport Associations which was being held at the Imperial Hotel. The idea behind this was to show the other towns and cities in the UK that Blackpool was forward thinking and from English Electric’s point of view to try and get orders for the revolutionary tram, which was numbered 200. Before the conference began 200 undertook its first trial run on the Prom at 23.00 on 19 June and performed brilliantly and immediately impressed both Luff and the Transport Committee. The tram then entered public service on 24 June this time impressing the Blackpool public so much so that it is rumoured that people were letting the other ‘old’ trams pass by so they could get a ride on this new comfy tram. Just 2 days later Luff went back to the Transport Committee and presented them with another quotation from English Electric, this time it was £2,356 each for the construction of a further very similar 24 trams.

The first of the production First Series Railcoaches were built and in Blackpool by 23 December of the same year with the other 22 being delivered gradually over the opening months of 1934. The deliveries were so fast that Luff managed to introduce a new and improved timetable on the Fleetwood route with trams every 5 minutes by the middle of February. There were, as is often the case, subtle differences with the production trams the main difference being that there was an extra 2 foot on the ends to accommodate both larger passenger saloons and driver cabs, this also meant that the fronts were slightly flatter.

Almost as soon as the order had been placed for the Railcoaches Luff went back to English Electric to see if they could adapt the design for other trams. He was keen to replace both the Dreadnoughts (a tram Luff never really liked) and the Toastracks with more modern and quicker loading trams, something more fitting of a modern tramway. Designs were soon produced for a Luxury Dreadnought (Open Top Balloon) and a Luxury Toastrack (Boat) and these were presented to the Transport Committee for their approval on 25 September 1933. This time the Committee were not so keen to accept Luff’s word and they decided they would only approve the construction of a prototype of each tram, rather than the prototypes and then bulk orders proposed. The cost of these two trams was to be £4,170 and they were again built at Preston and delivered for arrival in Blackpool at the end of January 1934. Once again there was a general positive impression of the two trams and the Committee almost immediately decided that they would order a further 11 Luxury Toastracks, 12 Open Top Balloons and also 14 fully enclosed Balloons. The two prototypes were then displayed for the general public to inspect at North Pier and yet again there were only positive things coming from people’s lips about the new luxury trams.

The first trams to arrive from this order in Blackpool were the Boats, all of which were built and delivered in time for at least some of the summer season in 1934. The prototype tram (numbered 225) entered service on the Prom on 19 May and then the remainder of the 12 strong class came into use between 25 July and 12 August. The production trams again, as for the Railcoaches, had minor differences the main one being higher sides to reduce draughts for passengers. As for the Open Top Balloons the prototype (originally numbered 226 but then renumbered 237 when the production Boats were ordered) was in service by the end of February. The production series trams were not delivered to Blackpool until after the Boats with the first batch of 7 arriving in time for service in September, then another 3 entering service during the following month. Curiously the final open top tram was not delivered to the town until April of the following year and when this arrived Luff could think about starting to withdraw all of the turn of the century Dreadnoughts. The 12 production trams again had slight differences to the prototype, this time the front has more of a marked slope as the cab is slightly longer. The enclosed Balloons, the first type ordered without first receiving a prototype, started to be delivered in the final month of 1934 when 3 arrived and deliveries continued during the opening months of 1935 with January and February being particularly busy months. Again the final tram of the batch did not arrive until the April, along with the final Open Top Balloon.

Whilst the final double deck trams were being sent to Blackpool in the early months of 1935 Walter Luff was sending another order to Preston for a further batch of Railcoaches, which became known as the Second Series cars. There were barely from the original Railcoaches with the only one being that they were fitted with the more advanced Z6 controller, as opposed to the original batch having Z4s. 20 of these Second Series Railcoaches were delivered to Blackpool throughout 1935. At the end of 1935 the tram fleet had been revolutionised with 84 brand new streamlined trams introduced into service in a little over 2 years. When in 1937, after the abandonment of the Lytham St Annes tramway, Luff wanted more single deck railcoaches he didn’t go back to English Electric but accepted a tender from the Brush Company of Loughborough where the design of the trams, although looking incredibly similar, was different in every single respect (due to patents taken out by English Electric).

The final batch of English Electric trams were ordered in 1939 and were not part of the Five Year Plan and were a curious class of vehicles. The order was put to English Electric in the first month of 1939 and the specification was to see them not receiving all the mod cons that Blackpool had come to expect on its trams. The idea behind these Sun Saloons was to replace the final 13 ex Fleetwood summer cars and so they were fitted with wooden seats, permanently half open windows, half height doors and there was no partition between the driver and passenger saloon. 12 of the class were ordered and they arrived at possibly the worst time in September 1939 just as World War Two broke out which meant people would not be making use of them as the holiday pattern in the UK drastically changed.

In the Part Two of this article we look at the major changes to the trams over the years and the current status of them.

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