In 1933 when Walter Luff took over as Manager of Blackpool Corporation Transport, he found that he had a fleet of outdated trams so set about modernising his fleet. Firstly he ordered some samples of new trams, one being a ‘luxury dreadnought’ numbered 226, an open-topped double decker seating for over 90 people, and featuring centre entrances with folding doors.
The tram was so well received that a further 12 were ordered (237-249) as well as 14 similar enclosed cars (250-263). These trams became fondly known as ‘Balloons’ because of their streamlined bloated appearance. The second world war saw a decline in the use of the open-topped Balloons and a need for more closed-topped cars, so during 1942 the open-topped cars were given closed upper decks to match their sisters. One of this batch, 240, is the subject of this description sheet.
After the war the Balloons became neglected, as Walter Luff saw them as being old-fashioned and too slow to load; he saw the way forward as a frequent service using new Coronation single deckers. However, when Joseph Franklin took over as Manager, he saw the potential of the Balloon cars, which therefore started to receive repaints and extra seating capacity, with bench seats being fitted to each end of the upper deck on most of the trams, bringing their seating capacity to an astounding 94.
With hindsight, it is lucky that the Balloons were not withdrawn and scrapped, in view of the problems with the Coronations, causing them to be prematurely scrapped. There were also some minor changes made to the Balloons around this time to modernise them, with most receiving single destination displays at both ends, new rubber mounted roof windows. In 1968 all trams were renumbered, Balloons 237-263 becoming 700-726. 240 became 703.
Car 703 was painted into wartime livery in 1995 to Celebrate 50 years since VE Day and also received a trolley for a short time as it retained (and still does) most of the original Balloon features, including curved roof windows. Winter 2003 saw 703 repainted in 1980′s livery and it took part in a cavalcade with four others in 2004 to mark the 70th anniversary of the English Electric trams being built. However in 2009 703 was withdrawn from service and transferred to the Lancastrian Transport Trust.
Inspired by its similarity to English Electric tram 99 purchased by Sunderland, 703 was repainted into Sunderland red and cream livery and transferred to Beamish Museum on 15 September 2010 on a five year loan as a working exhibit, masquerading as ‘Sunderland 101’. After an overhaul, remedial work and the reinstatement of trolley current collection, 101 was launched into service at Beamish on 18 October 2011.
Click here to visit the Lancastrian Transport Trust’s webpage for this tram.