Blackpool Corporation No. 249
As part of its ambitious modernisation programme of the early 1930s, Blackpool Corporation introduced three new classes of modern streamlined tramcars to replace earlier vehicles that were felt to be showing their age. Hot on the heels of the single-deck railcoaches (represented at Crich by a later version, 298) and the “luxury toast racks” (represented by ‘boat tram’ 236) came a streamlined double deck tram that was envisaged as a replacement for the turn-of-the-century ‘Dreadnoughts’ (represented at the tramway museum by 59). Like its predecessor, the new tram had a legendary seating capacity (initially 90 passengers, though this was later extended to 94).
The first of this “luxury dreadnought” class of double-decked trams was introduced as an open-topped prototype in 1934 and 24 9 was the last of a dozen additional similar vehicles that were built to this design before being top-covered in 1941/2. A further fourteen fully enclosed tramcars of similar design were ordered at the same time and their rather rounded streamlined appearance prompted the alternative nickname of “Balloons.”
The double decked fleet shared many of the hall-marked styling features associated with the original single-decked railcoaches including central entrances, art deco styling features which included curved glass light fittings and (in the case of fully enclosed trams) sliding roof windows and thermostatically-controlled radiators.
One of the problems with “style icons”, however, is that they can quickly appear dated as fashions change, and so it proved with the balloon class of trams, which endured a spell in the doldrums during the early post-war period. Even Walter Luff, the tramways manager who had introduced them, considered them somewhat old-fashioned by this stage (an image that was reinforced by their rather drab green war-time livery which they still carried).
An even bigger handicap, however, is that as double-deckers they were considered slow to load and therefore less efficient as ‘people movers’ than the more recently introduced single-deck ‘Coronation’ cars, whose ability to operate a frequent service was for a time thought to represent the way forward for the tramway.
Fortunately for the balloon trams, however, fashion can also prove fickle at times and with the appointment of a new manager (Joseph Franklin) in 1954 they were given a new lease of life. At a time of soaring operating costs and falling revenues, he saw that the large capacity Balloon trams could have a valuable role to play in his strategy of utilising the tramway as an attraction in its own right by introducing illuminated tours, reviving the circular tour and using new feature cars to attract commercial sponsorship.
This revival in their fortunes was accompanied by the addition of extra seating, which increased their capacity to a remarkable 94 and also the application of fresh paintwork, which helped to rejuvenate their image. Gradually these changes contributed to a more extensive role for 249 and its fellow balloons.
As an open-topped car, number 249 spent much of its early life performing promenade services until its war-time conversion into a fully enclosed car. Thereafter, in common with the rest of the class, it was mainly confined to the Squires Gate service but this restriction was removed in 1958, which enabled the balloon cars to be deployed on specials to Fleetwood and also on the North Station route, where their crowd-moving capacity could be fully utilised on market days.
In 1960 the tramcar was equipped with a single destination indicator, which replaced the original difficult-to-read double indicators. The entire balloon class of trams was renumbered in 1968, whereupon number 249 became 712. As workhorses of the fleet for nearly 50 years, the trams provided largely reliable and trouble-free service before many (including 249/712) were rejuvenated in 1982, which involved a thorough overhaul in which the tram was stripped down to the bare frames, repanelling, rewiring, interior refurbishment and the application of a new livery. During the 2003-4 season 712 was repainted in 1960s green and cream livery and sponsored by Trams magazine.
Following its withdrawal from operational service in Blackpool in 2010, number 249 was refurbished and repainted in preparation for its new role as a static exhibit in the main exhibition hall. In terms of livery, the tramcar now depicts a classic 1930s-style art deco design and visitors can access the lower deck to see what the interior fittings were like during its operational heyday. In other respects, however, the tramcar is still in 1970s condition and has not been fully restored to an authentic 1930s-era appearance.
- Type of tram
- Type of tram Electric double deck streamlined passenger tram originally built as an ‘open-topper’ but provided with a top cover in 1941/2
- Livery Green and cream
- Seating capacity
- Seating capacity 94 (originally 90); 40 downstairs, 54 upstairs
- Date built
- Date entered service
- April 1935
- Manufacturer of body
- English Electric
- Manufacturer of truck
- English Electric
- 4’ 8½”
- EE 305 type, 2 × 57 hp
- EE DB1 Z4
- Current collector
1941-2 – top cover fitted and wooden seats on the upper deck replaced by upholstered ones. During the war the green and cream livery was replaced with a mainly green one to reduce visibility, which lasted till the late 1950s.. The installation of additional bench seating on the upper deck at around this time increased the capacity to 94. 1960 single destination indicator fitted in place of the original somewhat illegible double indicators.
1968 renumbered as 712; overhauled and given a new livery in 1982.
- Withdrawn from service
Withdrawn from service Withdrawal from passenger service in 2010.
- Subsequent history
Subsequent history Refurbished and repainted in pre-war livery by Blackpool Transport Services in 2010 prior to its acquisition by the National Tramway Museum at Crich.
- Restoration history
- Current status
- Restored as a static exhibit in 1930s green and cream livery.
- Current location
- Exhibition Hall
- Future plans
Future plans/prospects Acquired primarily as a static exhibit. A full restoration to operational condition would be a major – and expensive – undertaking.
- 1935 – 2010Fully operational on original tramway
- 2010 – 2011In storage
- 2011 –On display