Illuminated trams are a popular feature of today’s Blackpool Illuminations.

You might not know how far back in time the illuminated tram tradition goes. Find out more about the old illuminated heritage trams. They’ve got a history of over a hundred years.

old illuminated heritage trams in the 1970's
Old illuminated heritage trams in the 1970’s

The Old Illuminated Heritage Trams

Five tram cars were first decorated with patriotic slogans on 22 June 1897 to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. They were powered by onboard batteries.

This was the first time that illuminated trams had been seen on Blackpool Promenade and those early Victorians had no idea of what was to come!

Celebrating Royal occasions has always sparked brightly lit trams. The next event was the Coronation of King Edward VII in 1902 and was marked with 25 brightly lit trams. They were lit with patriotic red, white and blue lamps.

The Coronations of King George V and Queen Mary followed next. This time three trams were trimmed with flags and lights.

Princess Louise opened Princess Parade in 1912. This event saw the magnificent sight of a double decker tram lit with 3000 lamps and welcome messages for the Princess.

In the following year, 1913, another Royal visit took place. The message was changed to ‘Long Live our King and Queen in Happiness’.

Still brightly lit, the same tram was back on the tracks in 1914, then the service was halted for the First World War.

Elaborate, Old Illuminated Heritage Trams

After the First World War, in 1925 the Illuminations were back.

The Gondola (below) was the first of the elaborately decorated illuminated trams, 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.

Gondola Tram, Tuck Postcards, old illuminated heritage trams
Gondola Tram, Tuck Postcards, old illuminated heritage trams

The Lifeboat tram (below) was launched the year after in 1926. It was also known as ’Jubilee’ as it was built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the incorporation of Blackpool as a Borough. It also carried only invited guests until it was converted to a fare-paying passenger tram in 1959.

The Lifeboat, one of the old illuminated heritage trams, Tuck Postcards
The Lifeboat one of the old illuminated heritage trams, Tuck Postcards

The Progress tram (below) first made an appearance in 1937. It was launched to help with fundraising 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, one of the old illuminated heritage trams, Tuck Postcards
Progress, one of the old illuminated heritage trams, Tuck Postcards

The Blackpool Belle (below) replaced Progress. It’s 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, promoting Premium Bonds. They were of course drawn by Ernie, which was housed just along the coast at nearby Lytham St Annes.

Blackpool Belle, one of the old illuminated heritage trams, Tuck Postcards
Blackpool Belle, one of the old illuminated heritage trams, Tuck Postcards

Illuminated Trams – Still on the Tracks

The Blackpool tramway has been upgraded in recent years at a huge cost. New modern, streamlined trams glide along the promenade, stopping at new platforms at the right height for the passenger. You can read about the tramway upgrade here.

Not one of the old Illuminated Heritage Trams, the newly restored Fisherman's Friend Trawler
Not one of the old Illuminated Heritage Trams, the newly restored Fisherman’s Friend Trawler

The old heritage trams, illuminated or not, can’t be used from the new slightly elevated tram stops, and so have their own heritage stops.

Illuminated trams are still used for heritage tours, including the Western Train, the Frigate ‘HMS Blackpool’ and the Fisherman’s Friend Trawler.

You can find out more about them and promenade tram tours in the Illuminated Trams page here.

Old Illuminated Heritage Trams in a Nutshell…

Gondola 1925 – 1962 – scrapped
Lifeboat ‘Jubilee’ 1926 – 1961 – scrapped
Progress 1937 – 1958 – scrapped
Blackpool Belle 1959 – 1978 – preserved in the USA, but later stripped down
Rocket Tram 1961 – 1999 – in storage 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


Find out More

If you love Blackpool and the Illuminations you ought to sign up for our weekly email newsletter. It’s packed full of interesting things and will arrive in your inbox all 52 weeks of the year.

Sign up for the Visit Fylde Coast enews here

You’ll find lots of photos on our Live Blackpool Facebook page why don’t you share yours!

Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter @visitFyldeCoast