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Old 'Heritage' Illuminated Trams

The famous Illuminated Trams have a long history that goes back well over a hundred years. Find out more...

While you’re in Blackpool looking at the Illuminations, you should get to see one of the famous Illuminated Heritage Trams.

What you might not know is just how far back in time this tradition dates…

Illuminated Trams lined up in the 1970's
Illuminated Trams lined up in the 1970's

Five cars were first decorated with patriotic slogans powered by onboard batteries to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria on 22 June 1897. This was the first time that illuminated trams had been seen on Blackpool Promenade and those early Victorians could have had no idea of what was to come!

The celebration of Royal occasions has been a catalyst for the brightly lit trams – the next event to be celebrated was the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, and this was marked with 25 brightly lit trams, lit with patriotic red, white and blue lamps.

The Coronation of King George V and Queen Mary followed, this time with three trams trimmed with flags and lights.

The opening of Princess Parade by Princess Louise in 1912 saw the magnificent display of a double decker tram lit with 3000 lamps and messages to welcome the Princess for the grand event. The following year, 1913, another Royal visit took place, and the message was changed to ‘Long Live our King and Queen in Happiness’. The same tram was back on the tracks again in 1914 – brightly lit once more – then the service was halted for the First World War.

In 1925 the Illuminations were back, and along with the first of the elaborately decorated trams - the Gondola (below) which also appeared in 1925. It wasn’t a public service tram but carried the crew and a small orchestra who rode up and down the tracks playing music – helped by a few specially invited guests.

The Gondola Illuminated Tram
The Gondola Illuminated Tram - Tuck Postcards

Hot on its heels the Lifeboat tram (below) was launched in 1926, which was also known as’ Jubilee’ because it was built to celebrate the anniversary of Blackpool’s 50th anniversary of incorporation as a Borough. It also carried only invited guests until it was converted to a fare-paying passenger carrying tram in 1959.

The Lifeboat Illuminated Tram
The Lifeboat Illuminated Tram - Tuck Postcards

The Progress tram (below) first made an appearance in 1937 – launched to help with fund-raising and the war effort in the Second World War. It was used as a mobile advertising hoarding, playing music as it travelled the tracks.

Progress Illuminated Tram
Progress Illuminated Tram - Tuck Postcards

The Blackpool Belle (below) replaced Progress, and its shape copied a Mississippi paddle steamer. It sailed along the promenade, playing music to the crowds, and carried adverts for the first time in 1967 – first promoting Premium Bonds which were of course drawn by Ernie which was housed just along the coast at nearby Lytham St Annes.

The Blackpool Belle illuminated tram
The Blackpool Belle Illuminated tram

The Rocket (below) was a pioneer of the earliest days of space travel – remember that man didn’t walk on the moon until 1969 – it came to the Blackpool tramway in 1961 and travelled the tramway until 1999 – a unique experience, riding in a tram elevated at almost 30 degrees, with King Peter of Yugoslavia and General Neguib of Egypt dressed as astronauts in the cock-pit – two redundant characters from Louis Tussauds Waxworks!

The Rocket, Illuminated Blackpool Tram
The Rocket Illuminated Tram

After leaving service in 1999, the Rocket had a reappearance in the Blackpool Illuminations. Not as a service car but as a display in the centre of Gynn Roundabout at North Shore.

Rocket Tram displayed on the Gynn Roundabout
Rocket Tram displayed on the Gynn Roundabout

Beyond the point of economic restoration, for ten years it gathered dust in the tram depot until a plan was devised to display it on the Gynn roundabout as part of the Illuminations Centenary display in 2012. It was removed in 2014 to make way for a refreshed display.

The Western Train (below) is the most popular of the illuminated trams, and had its first run in 1962. It’s the only twin-carriage illuminated tram, based on the design of a Santa Fe train, and could originally blow smoke – which often ended up in the faces of the queue of passengers!

The Western Train Illuminated Tram
The Western Train Illuminated Tram

The Western Train - Illuminated Blackpool Tram
The Western Train carrying early advertising

As also happened to the Rocket, the Western Train was withdrawn from service in 1999, to stand derelict in the old tram sheds at Rigby Road, but it’s now back on the rails again (below) after a lottery bid for its full restoration.

The Western Train Illuminated Tram

The Hovertram (below) which came into service in 1963 was and remains the one and only illuminated double-decker tram. It had the largest capacity of all the illuminated trams and could carry 99 seated passengers.

The Hovertram - Illuminated Blackpool Tram
The Hovertram Illuminated Tram

Frigate ‘HMS Blackpool’ (below) was built in 1965, based on the Royal Navy anti-submarine vessel of the same name. Because the driver was seated in a separate, high cab a loud air horn was fitted which made everyone jump!

Frigate HMS Blackpool Illuminated Tram
Frigate HMS Blackpool Illuminated Tram

The world famous Fisherman’s Friend lozenge is made up the road at Fleetwood and exported all over the world.
The Fisherman's Friend Trawler Tram was built in 2001 and is shaped to look like a fishing boat and illuminated with the famous branding of the throat sweet.

Unusually, this tram can travel in both directions as it has fully fitted cabs at either end, although it is shaped with a bow and stern. It was also designed to be used in regular service even when not illuminated. This of course was prior to the upgrading of the tram system and the introduction of the new sleek, modern trams.

Fisherman's Friend Trawler Illuminated Tram
Fisherman's Friend Trawler Illuminated Tram, seen at Rigby Road Tram Depot

Still on the Tracks

The Blackpool tramway was upgraded at huge cost and new modern, streamlined trams glide along the promenade, stopping at new platforms which present the open doors at the same height for the passenger. These old trams, illuminated or not, can't be used from the new slightly elevated tram stops, and so use their own heritage stops. 

Illuminated trams are still used for heritage tours, including the Western Train and the Frigate ‘HMS Blackpool’. You can find out more about them and promenade tram tours in the Illuminated Trams page here.

In a Nutshell...

Gondola 1925 - 1962 - scrapped
Lifeboat ‘Jubilee’ 1926 - 1961 - scrapped
Progress 1937 - 1958 - scrapped
Blackpool Belle 1959 - 1978 - preserved in USA, but later stripped down
Rocket Tram 1961 – 1999 - In store in Blackpool for eventual restoration
Hovertram 1963 – 2001 - preserved at Nelsam, Sunderland and being restored by North Eastern Electrical Traction Trust 
Frigate (HMS Blackpool) 1965 – 2001 and 2004 to date after rebuild
Fisherman’s Friend Trawler 2001 to date
Western Train 1962 – 1999 and 2008 to date

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