The Darwen Transport Museum Trust

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The Tramways of Blackburn and Darwen

by Jonathan Clay

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of this history (WORD 6)

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Dr. Arnold is attributed with coining the phrase "Gondolas of the people" when referring to trams. Whilst this history of but one system does not purport to challenge this assertion, it contains enough evidence to render it questionable.

This researcH started out of pure intErest in the early 1980s, since, at the time, no authoritative history of the trams of Blackburn had been written. True there had been articles in the specialist press, and celebratory pamphlets, but even publications after this date seem to lack a certain authority, whilst showing no lack of enthusiasm. In 1984, it became my degree dissertation, but in deference to the halls of academe, that presented here bears little resemblance to the original. The reader would otherwise die of boredom before the end of the first page! However, the research undertaken revealed a number of hitherto unknown or debatable facts and anecdotes about the system, and these have been readily included for the sake of completeness.

As the time of writing, in the spring of 1991, the tramway age seems a long time ago; indeed I can only just remember seeing trams in Leeds in the late 1950s, and I was one of the first visitors to the Crich Museum in 1960. But it now appears that we are at the dawn of a new tramway age. There are over 40 systems planned in Britain at the moment, either at preliminary or planning stages, and two, in Manchester and Sheffield, have already got construction work in evidence. Indeed the first new 'Supertrams' should be running through the streets of Manchester before the year is out. All these schemes, however, bear little relation to the systems of yesterday, owing a great deal more to systems on the continent for their inspiration.

It is customary to append a note of gratitude to all those who assisted in this work. To them all, and particularly to my wordprocessor, thank you!

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Anybody living in Blackburn a century ago would find much that is still familiar. True, large parts of the centre have been swept away in the fervour of 1960s development, but the basic layout of the streets, and many of the original buildings still remain. However, Blackburn's main industry, cotton, has all but died in the intervening century, to be replaced by the industries of the new age. Having said that, cotton is a good place to start this particular perspective of Blackburn.

Whilst the financial centre of the Lancashire cotton industry was based in Manchester, the town of Blackburn came to be regarded as the major rnanufacturing centre. In spite of the drab nature of a Northern textile town, Blackburn quickly inherited the notion of 'civic pride', which originated in Birmingham, and which appears to survive to this day.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the horse reigned supreme as a means of short-distance transport, having been rendered redundant for longer journeys by the rapidly expanding railway network. Railways, however, gave a welcome boost to horse transport in towns, by bringing a new influx of goods and passengers.

Stage coaches had plied between Blackburn and other towns throughout Lancashire for some time before the arrival of the railway in 1846, although such conveyances could not be regarded as urban transport. After this time, the town acquired a considerable fleet of horse-drawn hackney carriages, though, unsurprisingly, these became confined, almost exclusively, to the better-off, who could also afford to travel by train. As well as quasi-public vehicles, there were also private horse-drawn conveyances, which again were beyond the means of ordinary working people. They had to rely on travel by foot as a means of conducting their daily business. Initially, these distances would not have been too great in the majority of cases.

The geography of the town was effectively controlled by the cotton mills and the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, and working people generally lived close to their places of employment. From 1850, however, the town began to grow rapidly, and more than doubled in population between 1841 and 1871, as a consequence of which working men and women were compelled to live further away from their workplaces. The time and energy-consuming ritual of walking to and from work came to be recognised as a wasteful pursuit, and thought was given to alleviating the problem. Horse buses appeared in the l860s, by which time, the first experiments in railed transport, notably G.G.Train's pioneer line in Birkenhead, were beginning to show a measure of success.

After the passage of the 1870 Tramways Act, with its well-recorded strictures and faults, the way was paved for mass transport to be instigated. Blackburn was amongst the pioneer towns which attempted to avail themselves of this new form of transport, though the initial moves proved to be abortive.

The first application to build street tramways in the borough was made by the promoters of the Blackburn, Accrington and Over Darwen Tramways bill of 1878. Initial proposals for the connection of these three towns were placed before the Council in November 1877, and a subcommittee report, presented the following month, suggested that these proposals would be against the interests of the borough, and that all steps should he taken to oppose it. Following representations by the promoters, various amendments were adopted which seemed to pacify the Council. However, whilst it was stated at the time that Blackburn Council was generally in favour of trarnways, the matter was deferred for six months, during which time continued representations were made by the promoters. In June 1878 the Town Clerk reported that the bill had gone to Parliament, though nothing seems to have been done, andi it was withdrawn two months later. Since the tramways outlined within it were never built, and since it was followed very closely by another bill to link the towns of Blackburn and Darwen alone, it might be inferred that the promoters were one and the same. Perhaps they had a change of heart, feeling that the original scheme was too grandiose, or maybe the opposition of three town Councils was just too much to bear. The second scheme, however, was to bear fruit.

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Trams to Darwen

The townships of Blackburn and Over Darwen were the first in Lancashire to be connected by a street trarnway. Up until the turn of the century, the town of 0ver Darwen and the industrial village of Lower Darwen were always identified by their prefixes. Latterly, however, whilst Lower Darwen is still known as such, Over Darwen is now simply Darwen, and in the 1970s was incorporated into the Borough of Blackburn.

Within three months of the withdrawal of the previous bill, another was presented to Blackburn Council by a Mr F. Hiindle of Darwen on behalf of Messrs. Busby, Castle and Turton, the promoters. Following the posting of notices in the streets, plans, sections and a draft bill wero deposited with the Comrnittee in December 1878. For twelve months, deliberations were made about the extent of the responsibility of the promoters for the maintenance of the roadways, which would be a requirement of the bill, as detailed in the 1870 Tramways Act. Following the stated intention of the promoters to use steam power over the lines, a delegation of civic dignitaries visited the town of Dewsbury to view the workings there. Apparently they returned form Yorkshire much impressed. There remained, however, the Company's responsibility for the road surface, which was finally agreed, along with the track gauge of four feet, rather than the more usual standard railway gauge of 4ft 8.5in. Because of the burden of maintenance of roadways under the 1870 Act, it became common practice in later years to adopt track gauges less than standard. All the lines in East Lancashire were eventually built to this gauge. Other lines, notably the vast system in and around Birmingham, were built to the even narrower gauge of 3ft 6in.

After the passage of the bill, and for the start of construction, the Company asked the Corporation to execute the paving work while the tracks were being laid, and as a gesture of good faith, they deposited £1000 with the authority, by way of advance payment for the work.

A Mr. J.H.Lynde was appointed Engineer in charge of construction, and the lines were laid by Messrs. Turton and Company, of Leeds. The track and the self-acting points were designed to the patents of Mr. Benjamin Baker of Manchester. The route itself was authorised to be constructed from a point in Darwen Street, Blackburn, to Whitehall in Over Darwen. The depot and Company offices were built in Lorne Street in Over Darwen, by a local firm of builders, Messrs. Lloyd and Millward.

Construction of the line commenced during 1880 at the Angel Inn, Darwen, and proceeded northwards to Blackburn, for which purpose over 400 men were drafted into the area. In March 1881, the local press reported: "The men are busily employed putting in the fork at the 'Big Lamp', the commencement of the tramway". The "Big Lamp" was a colloquial reference to the Whitehall terminus, and the "fork" is presumably the reversing triangle, which is now preserved in its entirety for all to see. The task of "coupling up" the tramway was completed a few days later.

The first of the steam engines was delivered to Blackburn goods yard by rail, on the 8th April, but to avoid publicity was retained their until 4.30am the following day, when it was put onto the, rails, steamed, and driven under its own power to the depot.

On the l3th April, Major Hutchinson from the Board of Trade arrived to carry out the customary inspection of the line, and whilst he pronounced hirnself satisfied with the work he observed that, whilst passing places were adequate for two vehicles to pass each other, there was insufficient room for a person to be standing between them as they did so, as required by the regulations. With the proviso that this should be attended to, he passed the line fit for service. It was then noticed that the first trailer cars were four inches wider than they should have been, which accounted for the discrepancy!

The formal opening took place the following day, when the directors of the Company and local civic figures took a ceremonial ride from Darwen to Blackburn, where a civic luncheon was enjoyed at the Old Bull Hotel. One noteworthy feature of this function was that, while all and sundry took advantage of the occasion to make rousing speeches, the Mayor of Blackburn was conspicuous by his absence.

By this time, only two engines and trailers had been delivered, and services were run for three days before the trams were stopped to allow the work required by the Board of Trade to be carried out. It was hoped that this would take about a week, but services did not actually resume until May 14th. It was also evident that, during the time of the first services, the engines and cars 'gathered up a great deal of pitch from the road', and the opportunity was taken to clean both tile road surfaces and the rails, before services recommenced.

No sooner had trams begun to run again, than the Company crossed swords with Blackburn Corporation. Under the terms of the 1879 Act, the tramway Company was obliged to provide a workmen's service in the early mornings and evenings, and these were included in the timetable. The service was, however, sporadic at best, since the Directors of the Company appeared unwilling to have the horny handed sons of toil riding in their nice new shiny tramcars. Under pressure from both Councils, the Company eventually relented, and provided four rather rudimentary trailers for the purpose. The suitability of these was, however, questionable in the climate of North-East Lancashire, and they appear only to have been used for a short time before the workmen were grudgingly allowed back onto normal service vehicles again. In August 1882, the Company again approached the Council, asking that this obligation on them be removed, since it was proving very difficult to have an engine in steam for the start of service at 5.30am. The Council were insistent, with the result that the Company took the unusual step of substituting a horse bus instead. It should be noted however, that for small engines like those on the Blackburn and Over Darwen system, steam could be raised from cold in a little over an hour. The evening service continued to use the steam trams and trailers, although each was affixed with a prominent notices exhorting workrnen to refrain from dirty habits whilst travelling in the cars. Many complaints were made against the tramway Company during its early existence, ranging from 'exorbitant' fares to infrequent service due to defective vehicles. The first serious accident also took place during this period, on 7th August 1832, when a trailer overturned at Aqueduct Bridge, Ewood, killing one passenger and injuring several others, for which the Company was obliged to pay damages amounting to £3000.

The Company generally seems to have been something of a law to itself, with constant grievances being aired about overcrowding on the cars. It was not unknown for one engine to pull (or try to pull) two trailers, in flagrant breach of the law. The police were kept constantly on their toes by the Company, and even as early as November 1881, the Chief Constable was moved to complain to the Watch Committee about the emission of excessive noise and steam from the engines, and of the uncivil conduct of the Company's employees.

With accidents on other systems, constant doubts were aired about the safety of steam trams, one local paper even going to the extent of suggesting that they should be completely replaced by horses. The trams had their supporters, however, as witness the following letter to the editor of the Blackburn Standard for the 1st September 1883. The enthusiasm and anonymity of the writer might suggest some connection with the Company, however:; "Sir, will you kindly allow me a little space in your valuable paper to make a few remarks on our tramways to Darwen. The route is a very pleasant one indeed, and the trams are also very comfortable inside, and would no doubt be equally so outside (especially during the summer months) were it not for the great amount of sulphur thrown out by the engines. I have frequently been outside, and should prefer it but for this evil, which is very objectionable. I trust therefore that our tram Company will encourage the public by contributing either a better class of fuel or a better mode of working the engines, and by doing so it cannot do other than make this ingenious scheme remunerative. Yours very truly, A FREQUENT TRAVELLER."

By the early 1890s, the state of the trackwork was beginning to give cause for concern, and in 1893, the Company, after reproaches by the Council, asked that the Highways department remake the roadway from the Blackburn terminus to the Borough boundary with granite paving. Since it appeared that the Company was less than diligent in its admittedly punitive maintenance obligations, the Council eventually agreed to carry out this work, provided that the Company re-lay the track, all the work to be carried out at the Company's expense. The Company agreed that it would make an annual payment of £175 per mile for the first ten years, and £220 per mile for the next ten. It is interesting to note that prior to the above dispute, the maintenance agreement had been diligently and regularly renewed every year.

Both Councils had become increasingly concerned over the performance of the Company in both its operating and maintenance requirements, and by the mid-1890s, the first steps towards takeover were made. What has been described as a devious plan was mooted, whereby Darwen Corporation would take up its option to purchase that part of the line within its boundaries, under the terrns of the 1879 Act. Since the Company would have difficulty rnaintaining services over half a system, Blackburn Corporation was able to purchase the remainder of the line under very favourable terms. The question of municipal takeover had indeed been current since about 1894, when the matter of the 21 year option was raised for confirmation in Council. By November 1898, negotiations had been completed, and the final purechase price established at £49,400, of which Blackburn's contribution was £23,327. A more idiosyncratic item of the takeover was that the Corporation should take over a long-standing obligation whereby the Company had made an annual grant or five guineas to the Blackburn and East Lancashire Infirmary, situated close by the line on Bolton Road.

From lst January 1899, the line was operated by Blackburn Corporation on behalf of both boroughs, and the revenue accruing was shared between the two authorities in proportion to their contributions towards its purchase. To run the services, the Blackburn and Over Darwen rolling stock was jointly owned, and leased to Blackburn for the operation. Due to deficiencies in this stock, probably due to poor maintenance previously, three engines and trailers from the Blackburn Corporation Tramways fleet were transferred to the Darwen section, a connection being made between the Corporation track in Jubilee Street and the former Company line in Darwen Street. Prior to this, the Company's line had always been physically isolated from the others in the town, although two lines did cross at right angles in Darwen Street. The regard in which the Company had been held might be reflected in a bye-law, in force since 1889, which required the Company's engines to come to a stop before passing over the Corporation's tracks. This physical isolation might have been shortlived, however, since while the Corporation was considering its own system in 1882 (see following chapter), the directors of the Blackburn and Over Darwen Company were offered the opportunity of operating the new routes contained in the 1882 Improvement Act. This they declined, on the basis that they were already running horse buses in the Borough, and did not consider that the tramways would be as lucrative.

Thus the Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways Company ceased to be. It is true that it had operated under a certain amount of controversy during its existence, though more has perhaps been made of this aspect by other commentators than that the Company managed to run a relatively efficient and popular service for some eighteen years. The ever present threat of municipal takeover, and the continuing burden of maintenance may have led to cost-cutting by the operators in an attempt to bolster their profits, though it may be asserted that the managers of the Blackburn and Over Darwen Company were unlikely to be alone it that respect, since all tramway companies had to work under such conditions.

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The Blackburn Corporation Tramways' Company

While the Blackburn and Over Darwen line was still being constructed, plans were deposited with Blackburn Council for a steam tramway between Accrington and Blackburn. Whilst general approval was given to this proposal, objections were raised about the layout of lines in Blackburn town centre. Objections were also raised by the Councils of Church and 0swaldtwistle, following which a suggestion was made that the four authorities concerned should promote the scheme jointly. Whilst this was not actually entertained, it did lead to a resolution on the part of Blackburn Corporation that, thereafter, all such schemes would be planned under the auspices of the Borough, though operation would still be left in the hands of contractors. Accordingly, a special sub-committee was formed in July 1881 to prepare plans for a system of tramways in Blackburn. Within a month, their report was ready, although it was proposed that a through line to Accrington should be postponed for the time being. By October, following a report by the Borough Engineer, several contractors had enquired about the possibility of leasing or operating the planned lines. Following a deputation from Accrington Corporation, who had decided to construct their own system independently, it was decided that whensoever a line was built to Church, an end-on connection would be affected with the lines of that borough, with consequent mutual running powers.

The details of the proposed Blackburn system were incorporated within the Blackburn Improvement Act of 1882, which covered a number of wholesale improvements to be carried out in the town. With the granting of the Royal Assent, the Council advertised for tenders fro the construction and operation of the tramways in both the local and national press. The routes authorised by the 1882 Act, and all within the town boundaries, were from the town centre to Witton Stocks, Church, Billinge and the Cemetery.

The contract for the construction and operation of the lines was awarded to Messrs. Cosh and Cramp, who by this time were operating the tramways in Accrington. Their Company, the Blackburn Corporation Trarnways Company, insisted that they be allowed to exercise their powers under the Act and use steam power throughout, although the Corporation, perhaps mindful of their recent experiences with the Blackburn and Over Darwen Company, would have preferred to see all the trams drawn by horses. There were many delays which meant that it was several years before construction commenced, largely because it was hoped to carry out other improvements at the same time, in particular, the wholesale paving of roads. Indeed it was not until June 1886 that the contract finally achieved the official seal, and the Company was registered. An initial deposit of £1000 was made to the Company, and building work began. Mr.C.C.Cramp negotiated a 21-year lease with the Corporation, whereby the Company would pay £21 per route mile per year for that period, and £40 per mile for the next twenty-one years, at the end of which time, all the lines would revert to the Corporation. It might be argued, therefore, that the Company would have little scope or inclination to extend or improve as time went on.

The first line to be opened, following Board of Trade approval, was that to Church, where services commenced in May 1887. There is some mystery as to where the engines and cars were initially stored and serviced, since plans for the depot at Intack were not finally approved until July of that year.

To add to the Company's complications, the five years allowed for construction by the 1882 Act was expiring fast, a fact recognised by the Town Clerk while the lines were being built. Accordingly the provisions were reenacted in the Blackburn Tramways Act of 1887, which extended the time allowed for construction by a further 12 months. The route along Whalley New Road to the Cemetery was opened in this time, although a further resubmission had to be made in order to complete the remaining two routes, and certain route amendments were authorised. Rails were in fact being laid in King William Street by the contract construction Company in March 1888, but it was not until August that the line to Billinge was formally opened, using horsedrawn cars only. By this time, construction work on the horse car depot and stables in Simmons Street was all but completed.

In January 1839, the Witton route was brought into use, also worked exclusively by horse power. For these two latter routes, the Corporation seems to have got its own way as to the form of motive power, although observers since have debated whether steam locomotives were actually used on horse-drawn routes. While it is generally agreed that steam trams were used quite often on the Witton route, especially in later years, and particularly when horse cars were being repaired or painted, it seems there is no record of a steam engine ascending Preston New Road to Billinge. Some argue that steam engines must surely have been used from time to time, but photographic evidence does not substantiate this.

Only by perusing Council minutes does it become clear why steam engines were not used on this route. To travel between the town centre terminus and Preston New Road, trams had to pass along the narrow confines of Victoria Street, immediately adjacent to which, and often overhanging, were the stalls of the openair market. No doubt stall-holders would not have been best pleased by the deposit of soot and ash from the steam engines on their wares, a fact well-recognised by the Council!

Initially, a staff of fifty men was employed, and they worked long hours. They laboured for fourteen hours on weekdays, and twelve on a Sunday, and they were allowed one day off in ten. Steam tram drivers were paid 30 shillings a week, and conductors between 18 and 21 shillings. Horse tram drivers received 25 shillings and their conductors 17 shillings, presumably since their cars were smaller and had a less demanding form of motive power!

Early in 1889, it was suggested to the directors of the Company that they should honour their obligations under the various Acts, and provide workmen's services, a familiar subject in the corridors of the town hall. This was fixed so that two cars were provided on each route, except for Billinge, where little demand was anticipated - Billinge was, and still is, a "posh" area! - for inward and outward journeys commencing at 5.30am and 5.45am respectively. These services were duly instigated, although by 1891, the Company had made representations that the same be discontinued due to lack of demand, and consequent unprofitability. With evidence to back their case, the directors of the Company succeeded in having three services withdrawn from the Witton route, although the Corporation continued to insist that they be maintained on the other two routes. The reasons why such services were less than popular might be surmised. Even though concessionary fares were available, it seems that large numbers of people were unwilling or unable to take advantage of the services offered. It could also be that most people still lived within reasonable walking distance of their places of employment. So much for "Gondolas of the people"!

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Working Conditions and Safety

Certain bye-laws were enacted in respect of the tramways, notably that trams should observe speed limits, with a maxirnum of eight miles per hour (4 mph in Freckleton Street) and a minimum of three miles per hour. All this was no doubt to reduce the vagaries of the Over Darwen system where drivers had been accused of driving too fast or too slowly. Additionally, it was stipulated that no tram should follow another at a distance of less than thirty yards, even though, from a safety aspect, it is worth recording that steam trams could stop from their maximum speed in little more than their own length. On a lighter note, these regulations also governed the behaviour of the travelling public, and not only were they asked to refrain from the usual habits of smoking and spitting, but also that they should desist from playing musical instruments when riding on the trams!

Tramway operation had its darker moments though. An accident in Bradford in 1890 had repercussions elsewhere. It was immediately accepted that in hilly towns like Blackburn, tramcars, and particularly horse cars, should be fitted with slipper braces to prevent them from rolling backwards. The first serious accident on the Blackburn system happened in Penny Street in March 1893, with fatal results, and following a petition from the residents of that thoroughfare, consideration was given to the antiquated idea of each vehicle being preceded by a man with a red flag. In the event, a stricter adherence to speed limits was enforced, but no additional safety guards appear to have been fitted to the exposed wheels of the horse trailer cars.

Certain track alterations were carried out in the town centre during 1890 and 1891, along Water, Holme, Ainsworth and Regent Streets, although the Company were continually badgered about delays in completing this work, which was disrupting not only the tramway services, but also other road users. A line was also built along Larkhill Street, so that cars running to and from the the depot on the Cemetery route could gain access to Intack without having to run through tne congested town centre. At the instigation of Accrington Corporation, a loop line was also laid at Church to facilitate easier through running.

There was also agitation at this time from certain of the town's residents who were not served by the tramway system, notably from the Audley area up to Queen's Park. This scheme, however was not proceeded with until after municipalisation. Ironically. the proprietors of tile Blackburn and Over Darwen system had been approached to investigate this proposal, though they declined to take up tne Council's offer, after brief consideration.

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First Proposals for Electrification

The question of electrification was first raised in 1896, though it is generally assumed that such proposals ware only made after municipalisation. A report was prepared by Mr. E.M.Lay AM Inst CE, which set out proposals whereby the Corporation would be willing to provide the necessary generating plant, overhead lines and posts for the electrification of the Billinge and Witton routes, and the Company would be obliged to provide the necessary vehicles. This was initially declined by the Company who submitted amended proposals, whilst visits were made by interested parties to view the working of systems elsewhere. For the purposes of the work needed, an initial loan of £8000 was sanctioned by the Local Government Board. Tenders were issued for the work entailed in the scheme, and a bill was prepared for presentation to Parliament. concurrent with this. However, further moves were afoot. Due to the Company's initial reluctance to accede to the scheme, there was growing agitation for wholesale municipalisation of the undertaking, and following a sub-committee report, the bill was presented to this effect. After a relatively trouble-free passage through Parliament, the new Act paved the way for the cornpletion of the purchase and the awarding of contracts for the work. It was agreed that the Company would be purchased for £77,210 and that the five directors of the Company would be retained to work the new undertaking for a short period. The purchase price was, however, rather high, and the Corporation were criticised for granting such a long lease in the first place. Loan payments for the first few years became a heavy burden, and can be held to be almost wholly responsible for the initial losses, the cost of electrification notwithstanding. If the Corporation had waited until the expiry of the lease in 1908, the burden would have been much less, but then the distinction of being the first electric tramway in East Lancashire would not have been Blackburn's.

The Blackburn Corporation Tramways Company, in its relatively short span of operation had succeeded in providing a welcome improvement to the town's transport system. The Company did have its problems, although it does not seem to have been held in the same low regard as the Blackburn and Over Darwen Company. Residents did complain as the steam trams got older, since they failed to consume their own smoke in accordance with the regulations, again probably due to poor maintenance. This is well summed up by one gentleman passenger; "I duly entered the spitting and dirty road conveyance, and was accosted by a grimy and greasy person with the traditional 'fares please'. We duly clanked our dirty and noisy way to Accrington, since when I have never travelled on a steam tram.

The employees did indeed present a very sorry sight, since they were never provided with uniforms, although conductors did tend to wear the customary shallow bowler hats or 'billycocks'. Drivers, however, by the very nature of their function, wore overalls and engineers' hats, which quickly became very dirty, since as well as having to drive, clean and maintain the engines, they had to fire the boilers as well. Towards the end of the Company's existence, it was apparent that the permanent way was showing considerable signs of wear, and in view of the state of the track and equipment, whicn would have required considerable investment, it is hardly surprising that the Company agreed to the takeover.

Whilst the steam trams had their critics, the horse cars appear to have been well-liked and well patronised, although as will be seen, these conveyances also had their detractors.

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The Corporation takes over - from electrification to abandonment

Although the municipality was empowered under the 1870 Tramways Act to take over and operate tramways in the Borough after a 21 year period, the 1898 Act was necessary to change the mode of motive power. While the takeover of the Blackburn and Over Darwen Company was done by rather devious means, that of the Corporation Tramways Company was straightforward, although the Corporation seems to have paid a high price to fulfil its plans, particularly if the case of Accrington Corporation is compared. They waited until 1907 (ie. the expiry of the lease period) and paid only £2000.

Interestingly, the responsibility for all electric works was initially placed with the Corporation Gas Department, from where contracts were made with Siemens and Company (a German firm, whose engagement aroused some emotion at the time) for the supply of a steam engine, dynamo and alternator for use in the Corporation electricity works, which were constructed in Jubilee Street, near to what became the recently-demolished Palace Cinema. Visits were made by officials to the works of G.F.Milnes and Company in Birkenhead, to negotiate the purchase of tramcars, and to Leeds, to view the workings of the system there. After the Act was passed, a separate Electricity and Tramways Department was created to facilitate the working of these undertakings and a Mr.Giles was appointed manager in July 1898. The Act enabled many trackwork alterations and improvements to be made, notably that a line should be laid along Richmond Terrace for use by incoming cars from Preston New Road, thereby forming what must have been one of the first one-way traffic systems in the country. It should be noted that the original proposal was for a double track to be laid, but the narrowness of the street mitigated against it. Opportunity was also taken to double the existing single lines wherever possible, although the nature of Blackburn's streets and roads meant that there was a considerable interlacing of tracks.

Workmen had begun laying electric cables as early as March 1898, and it was initially hoped that cars would be running by July, in time for the annual Agricultural Show. Such work was, however, subject to many complaints, particularly about the lower part of Preston New Road, since after the workmen had laid the cables, the flagstones were relaid in a rather slipshod fashion.

Although the work was put in hand quickly, the project was subject to many delays, notably due to the late delivery of the electrical equipment, but more seriously of the cars, which arrived, nine months late, in 1899. Because of this and of the continual track improvements which were made, services continued to be provided by the erstwhile Company's steam and horse-drawn cars, and whilst steam trams were not without their critics, the horse cars began to give rise to more frequent complaints, as witness the following impassioned plea from the editorial page of a local newspaper of the time:

"Oh, save us from the Bacillus Enteriditus Sprogens. The sooner we get electrification in going order in Blackburn, the better!"

By this time, there seems also to have been a serious shortage of motive power, since four further steam locomotives were purchased second-hand in 1899 from the North Staffordshire Tramways.

Other improvements were mooted, not the least of which was that drivers and conductors would be provided with serviceable uniforms, although the local press warned that such provision should be made carefully so that passengers should not be startled when faced with men who looked like policemen or prison officers! Bye-laws were also later passed which further governed the behaviour of employees. Perhaps the most significant improvement was the decision that all tramway routes in the town (except the Cemetery route) would terminate at the 'Boulevard', a large expanse of land immediately in front of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway station - and thus forming an early example of an integrated transport system. Tne "Boulevard" is still in use as the bus station, though plans are afoot to develop the site.

Petitions continued to be received from residents without a tramway service, from both the Audley and Revidge areas. The latter was actually planned, and certain road improvements were carried out in anticipation, but the lines were never laid, in spite of continuing urging from the local press. There was concern too, that the provision of overhead lines would prove to be an eyesore, a debate which bedevilled many tramway systems across the world, and Blackburn took some comfort in the aesthetic qualities of those erected, although for some reason, the Church route was initially provided with plain wooden poles.

In December 1898, a junction was put in to the Darwen line from Jubilee Street, so that, for the first time, all routes within the borough were interconnected. In March the following year, Major Cardew paid the customary Board of Trade inspection visit, and following certain assurances from the Corporation that they would attend to certain safety aspects, the new electric lines to Billinge and Witton were passed for service, which duly commences on March 29th 1899. For these services, the eight cars ordered from Milnes had finally arrived and were immediately put to work. These cars had initially been provided with attachments to allow them to pull trailers, if necessary, but this seems not to have been used in practice.

Now it was possible to see three forms of motive power on the streets of Blackburn. Horses, steam engines and electric cars mingled together on the Boulevard as the conversion work continued. Some of the steam locomotives from the Darwen line had previously been disposed of to a Mr. Joseph Long, presumably for scrap, whilst the Corporation received an offer from the Blackpool and St.Annes Tramways for the redundant trailer cars.

Along with the continued agitation from the residents of Audley, those at Guide began to press for a tram line, although it is not difficult to see why such a request was declined. Blackburn is not noted for its flatness, and that part of the town is approached by some of the steepest gradients in the Borough, and it could be argued that ascent by trams would be all but impossible, not to say exceedingly dangerous.

As the electric cars began to settle down to a reliable service, demands were made by drivers that their hours of work be reduced, a request which was granted, so that henceforth they should only be expected to work 70 hours a week!

At this point, a mystery arises. While electrification was still in hand, cars continued to be stored and serviced at both Simmons Street and Intack garages, which on reflection seemed to be quite adequate for this purpose. It is with some surprise, tinerefore, that a proposal of July 1899 was discovered, not only for an extension of the Simmons Street depot, but also for the erection of a new depot in Regent Street. While no mention of this structure can be found in any account of Blackburn's trarnways, it apparently was built, and may have been used as a depot, since it was only taken over by the waterworks department in 1903. All traces of this building have long since vanished, so it is now impossihle to determine wnether it was used by the tramways.

It was obvious that as electrification proceeded apace, further electric cars would be needed, and, bearing in mind the delivery problems with the first batch of cars, it was proposed that a new batch of 40 vehicles be split between two suppliers. For a time it was also suggested that second-hand cars might be purchased. The contract for the new cars was initially placed with Dick Kerr and Company, to be built at the UEC Works - now BAe, Strand Road - in Preston, but because firm delivery guarantees were not forthcoming this was quickly cancelled and re-placed with Milnes, a somewhat strange occurrence in the circumstances. As this order was being put in hand, the last of the horse trams was withdrawn, and the horses sold, possibly for further service. It is to be hoped they suffered a kinder fate than the trailer cars, which were broken up by the Corporation.

By the turn of the century, work was well under way to completing the necessary work on converting the Church, Cemetery and Darwen lines to electric power, this work being carried out by the Corporation Electricity Department rather than outside contractors. Further engines and cars from the Darwen lines were disposed of as the work was completed and the new cars started to arrive. It is interesting to ponder the fate of the steam engines of both companies as they were taken out of service, since it appears that not all were sold for scrap, as was the customary procedure at the time. (There was little call for used steam tram locos at this time.) However, some were practically brand new at the time of the Corporation takeover, and from the available evidence, it appears that five, and possibly six, survived to work again. In 1901, four were sold to the Accrington Tramways, and one was bought by the Rossendale concern. There have been reports in the tramway press recently that one may even be languishing in a South African museum.

The official farewell to the steam trams had actually taken place some time earlier, when an engine and trailer made the marathon run from Darwen to Bacup, along the interconnected system, reputedly the first time this had happened. On the 5th July 1900, a car-load of civic officials and local dignitaries set out from the Whitehall terminus and made ceremonial stops along the way. In Accrington, speeches were made and an official dinner enjoyed at the Commercial Hotel, after which photographs were taken. They then proceeded through Haslingden, Rawtenstall and Waterfoot, finally arriving in Bacup after a journey of some 25 miles and 4.5 hours, of which 2 hours was running time. The return journey was much quicker, only brief stops being made.

It has been suggested that this exercise was a subtle hint by Blackburn Corporation that through running over the various systems might be arranged, though apart from Accrington, this never came to pass. The journey was still possible, however, until the closure of the Accrington system in 1932, although it meant several changes of cars, as the various borough boundaries were reached.

The early part of 1901 was beset by accidents for the Corporation Tramways. A fire at the Simmons Street depot was followed by a fatal accident in Bolton Road in Darwen. Concern was also expressed shortly afterwards when a tramcar travelling along Ainsworth Street was in collision with a horse-drawn vehicle "loaded with enough nitroglycerine, dynamite and detonators to blow up a considerable portion of the town centre." The law at the time concerning the transport of explosives by road was nowhere near as strict as that applied to rail transport.

Great mirth was aroused in April 1901 when a steam tram engine actually fell into the River Blakewater! Apparently the driver was making adjustments to the brakes on the trailer, when the engine took off on its own and ploughed through the buffer stops in Water Street. Its recovery was watched by a large and rather bemused crowd.

For some time it had been known that certain extensions would be made to the Borough boundary, and, in order to facilitate this, a further Act of Parliament was passed in 1901. In the meantime, the tramways came in for some criticism. The residents of Whalley Banks petitioned that doubling of the tracks in the road would prove detrimental, and the discovery was made, as in Company times, that workmen's services were less than well-patronised. Since the latter is a fairly persistent theme, it raises doubts about the advantages of tramways for the mass mobility of working people. Again it seems that ordinary folk were unable or unwilling to use the services to the extent which has previously been supposed. This is well illustrated in a book by Elizabeth Blackburn ("In and out the windows"). In the book she compares steam and electric trams, and records that rides on a tramcar were a special treat, the normal mode of working people being "Shank's pony".

The Blackburn Corporation Bill 1901 received the Royal Assent in August, and the way was clear for a number of wholesale improvements. Wherever possible, all routes, new and old, would be double-tracked, and interlaced where necessary. All plant and equipment, including the depots would be rebuilt and re-equipped to suit. Authority was given for extensions to Wilpshire and Cherry Tree, and the Audley line was put in hand as a matter of urgency.

There were problems, however. In July, it had been revealed that there were some inaccuracies in the Transport Manager's annual report, probably to disguise the extent of the losses the tramways were suffering. Subsequently there was much discussion about raising and lowering fares, and one correspondent to the local paper suggested that advertising might be a way of obviating some of the loss. One person even suggested selling all the trams, and buying municipal motor cars with the proceeds. What happened to the Transport Manager is not recorded.

The Wilpshire and Cherry Tree extensions were opened in 1902 and 1903 respectively, and the other routes had had the track relaid, with the consequent disruption to services. In 1903, the Audley line was also finally commenced, although all hopes of a tramway along Revidge Road had long since been abandoned.

For the Audley route, 12 single deck combination cars were supplied by the United Electric Company of Preston between 1903 and 1908, and whilst they were used mainly on this one route, they were also used on others in busy periods. Improvements were also made to the existing cars. Previously they had been externally unlit, and wholesale provision was made so that they could be fitted with dash headlamps. They were also fitted with clocks in the lower saloons, although these were all out of order or removed by 1906.

The question of accurate timekeeping of the services is noteworthy. From the inception of the electric services, an agreement had been rnade with the keepers of the Parish Church (later the Cathedral, adjacent to the Boulevard), that a clock would be provided in the church tower which would be visible to tram drivers on the Boulevard, so that services might run to time. This was duly installed and kept in good order by the Corporation, but, whilst it gave good service for a number of years, by the late 1920s complaints about the trams' unreliability led to the installation of electric clocks on several tram poles at the terminus.

The thorny question of economics was raised in 1904, when it was suggested that the trams were not being driven in the most economical fashion, as a consequence of which a bonus scheme was introduced for drivers as an incentive to save power. The success of this is debatable, since it depended more on the nature and condition of the vehicles, although styles of driving can affect electricity consumption. There had previously been suggestions that smaller and lighter cars be provided, and it can be argued that the later Milnes' cars were much larger - and certainly heavier - than might have been desirable for a town the size of Blackburn. It should be said however, that these latter trams gained a nationwide reputation for their riding qualities.

While the tramway system in its final form was now all but complete, a cloud appeared on the horizon. In September 1905 the question of operation of motor buses was raised, though happily for the trams this proposal was deferred for the next twenty years or so, giving the trams a virtual monopoly of the town's transport.

Although Blackburn had been provided with a fleet of modern and relatively efficient trams, the double deck cars left something to be desired by the public, since they were all open-topped. As a result, it was proposed early in 1906, that one car should be fitted experimentally with a top cover, although there were arguments that entirely new cars should be bought. Herein lay a problem though. Blackburn's trams were limited in height because of low bridges at Church and in Darwen Street. Any top cover thus fitted would have been so low as to make standing up on the top deck very difficult. One car was initially fitted with a top cover, and although several others followed suit with tops of reduced heights, they could not travel on the Darwen, Audley or Church routes. The problem remained into the 1920s, when someone had the bright, obvious and overlooked idea of fitting the cars with smaller wheels. By positioning the overhead wire to one side under bridges too, the problem was solved.

Extensions to Intack Depot meant that the Simmons Street premises were no longer required, and in 1906 it was leased off to a firm of road hauliers. It saw several tenants until the Second World War, when it was requisitioned for the dispersal of omnibuses. After the war it passed into the hands of the local police department who use it to this day, complete with tram tracks and points in the yard.

The old steam trams were notable for the large number of advertisements they carried, and following the need to increase revenue to recoup their investment the Corporation began to treat the electric cars similarly after 1907. The initial contract was let to a Mr.A.C.Burnley for the right to procure advertisers. However, this seems to have been less than successful, since the vast majority of photographs since First War and up to the closure of the system show cars notably devoid of adverts. Perhaps the revenue was not as important as originally stated, though it is more likely that the Corporation was unwilling to see defacement of its "Civic pride".

In 1901, a non-passenger tram had been constructed by Hurst Nelson Ltd., in the form of a water sprinkler car. This was initially deemed necessary due to the very dusty conditions which prevailed in dry weather, with the result that the tram rails very soon became choked with detritus, with the consequent poor adhesion and risk of derailment. But minds in Blackburn have always worked quickly, and by 1907, it had been realised that such weather conditions were not indigenous to the region, and disposal of the car was discussed. Rather than disposal, this resulted in the apparent conversion of this vehicle into a 'toastrack' (ie. open-sided) car. Apparently, because photographs of the two lying derelict at Intack in the 1930s have been located. Perhaps the toastrack was constructed out of the remains of the mysterious 'haulage car', but what is known is that the toastrack car was not bought new. In any case, such a car must have proved even more unsuitable to the Blackburn climate than the open-top cars, and it quickly became disused.

A further bill was put to Parliament in 1907 to allow for other modifications to the tramway system, notably the doubling of the existing line to Darwen. At the same time, it was proposed that the Wilpshire route be further extended to Red House, but this was quickly abandoned. Between 1903 and 1910 the rest of the proposals were implemented culminating in the relaying of rails in Accrington Road and in Preston Old Road, at Griffin.

The years leading up to the First World War were relatively uneventful. The main preoccupation was protection from the climate. In addition to the fitting of top covers to the double-deck cars, which was by then in abeyance, much was made of a suggestion to cover in the platforms of the early cars and the single deckers, to protect the drivers. Indeed more urgency was attached to the protection of the employees than passengers in this respect, and all such cars were thus modified in fairly short order. Tram shelters were also erected, six being constructed throughout the system up to 1914, and many others were built between the wars.

In spite of events elsewhere, the war years proved to be uneventful for Blackburn's trams. To cover for wartime contingencies, the Corporation took the wise step of negotiating a comprehensive insurance contract, and instigated a contingency fund, just in case. Several neighbouring authorities suggested that resources should be pooled into a central scheme, though since Blackburn was already well covered the scheme fell through. Closer co-operation was achieved in another respect, though. Through running was negotiatad between Accrington and Blackburn, whereas previously separate bookings had to be made on each section. This came into force in March 1916.

Just before the war, it had been noticed that the paving between the rails in Preston New Road required attention, which was carried out in the next few years. The surprising feature of the original paving was that it was made from Australian Jarrah wood, although this was common practice in a number of other systems. Its disadvantages were revealed when exposed to large quantities of water, as happened in the floods of November 1901, with the result that the pieces of timber would swell and become dislocated, which proved hazardous to passing tramcars. Eventually, all such surfaces were replaced with granite setts, and later tarmac.

It was also evident that the existing generating plant was becoming inadequate for the demands placed on it, and plans were laid to construct a much larger plant at Whitebirk. The outbreak of war, however, put these plans back several years.

The lack of maintenance due to wartime strictures revealed itself in 1917, by which time the rails in Preston New Road had become unsafe. It was suggested that services be stopped between Witton Stocks and Cherry Tree and the rails lifted and used on a Billinge section. This permission was refused, however, although the Transport department had jumped the gun somewhat, and begun to lift the lines. At this juncture, a large stock of second-hand rails was purchased jointly by Accrington, Blackburn, Darwen, Haslingden and Rawtenstall Corporations from the Birmingham tramways, and put into a central store. This meant that track could be reinstated at Witton and any defective rails replaced from this store.

The war had one obvious effect for the tramways as it did in other industries, namely the employment of women for the first time. During the war, women were employed as conductresses giving rise to tne famous nickname of 'clippies'. At the end of the war, however, the status quo was restored, although it is worth noting the Transport Manager's words in a 1916 report: "Female labour has been introduced and will be extended as the necessity arises. The venture in this direction has so far been very successful." By 1917, there were 12 women drivers, 42 conductresses, 2 ticket inspectors, and 6 others, and all were given equal pay from the outset.

With the cessation of hostilities, the Corporation could take stock, and the tramway lines and vehicles were soon brought up to scratch. Indeed Intack Depot was kept busy overhauling and repainting cars from neighbouring systems as well. Trouble with the unions arose during 1918-1919, when drivers insisted that their working week be reduced to a maximum of 70 hours, and the strength of working organisations constantly asserted itself between the wars, most frequently over the Corporation's use of non-skilled and non-union labour for such tasks as painting tram posts.

In October 1913, the Tramway Department indicated that, due to lack of traffic, Sunday services would henceforth not start until 1 pm, a policy which continued to the end of the system, although special religious services - no pun intended! - were provided from time to time. By 1919, Whitebirk power station had been completed and brought into use for the town's amenities, and in 1920 the tram posts in the lower part of Preston New Road, which had hitherto been placed in between the tracks, were moved onto the pavements, for the benefit of other road users.

Prior to the 1920s, it had always been the Corporation's policy not to grant concessions to the physically disadvantaged, in spite of frequent exhortations, but in the aftermath of war, blind people were finally allowed to ride free on the trams.

Through running had not generally been the order of the day, apart frorn Accrington and Darwen cars, so it came as something of a surprise when a Rawtenstall tram ventured onto Blackburn metals in 1922. This however was unintentional, since the driver had apparently become disorientated in thick fog in Accrington - an easy feat! - and, instead of terminating in Accrington, the vehicle actually got as far as Church before the driver realised the error of his ways. Having passed over the automatic point switch, the car was forced to continue onto Blackburn tracks for 30 yards before it could reverse.

The programme for modifying cars to run on the Church route, and the fitting of top covers, was implemented in earnest in 1923, while one of the single-deckers was modified for one-man operation. This experiment seems not to have succeeded, since it was destined to remain unique and for but a short time. Improvements were also put in hand to the track layout on the Boulevard, to relieve congestion of traffic, which had tended to build up after the war.

The Corporation's fare' policy up to the mid-1920s had always been a bit questionable, since it offered few concessions, if any. With the turning of the financial tide in 1927-1928, general reductions were implemented, and led to a substantial increase in passengers carried. 1927 also saw the first fatal accident since electrification, when a tramcar collided with a horse and cart in Whalley New Road, at Bastwell, and the ramifications of this rebounded off the Council chamber walls for some time afterwards. Since the cars were already liberally endowed with safety features, the only noticeable outcome of this occurrence was that the already considerable stretch of interlaced track in that area was lengthened still further.

While the Corporation was not generally noted for its benevolence, there is an instance at this time which shows that the municipal heart might not have been quite as hard as imagined. The matter was raised in Committee of providing financial assistance to a Mr Jeremiah Dee, an ex-employee, who, it was said, had come into "straightened circumstances".

Accidents continued to make the news in these depressed times. In November 1929, two cars collided on the single line near the 'Old Mother Redcap' public house, between Intack and Church, and in 1930, there was a fatal accident to a conductor of one of the Blackburn cars, in Darwen, though the circumstances of this are not well recorded.

The arrival of the Corporation motor buses in 1929 raised a question mark over the future of the trarnways, though improvements continued to be made during the early 1930s. Accrington Corporation abandoned its trams in favour of buses in April 1932, though the connection with Blackburn had been severed the previous August. Henceforth, Blackburn services terminated once again at Church.

It is interesting to note that the mutual running powers which Blackburn and Accrington trams enjoyed had initially highlighted certain differences in operating procedures by the two authorities, again due to the low bridge at Church. The Blackburn trams were equipped with a long bamboo pole, with which the conductor could reverse the trolley at the end of each journey. Accrington trams were, however, fitted with ropes for this purpose, and certain cars had to be modified specially for through running, since it was realised that these ropes would have fouled against oncoming cars whilst running under Blackburn's side-mounted overhead lines. Like the Blackburn trams, these too were provided with bamboo poles.

During the 1930s, cars continued to have top covers fitted, and several were reupholstered by Messrs. Siddall and Hilton of Sowerby Bridge. In 1932, several of the previously modified cars were fitted with second-hand 'high speed' motors from the Lanarkshire Tramways Company. These gave the trams an impressive turn of speed on the Church route, and a number of complaints were received from other road users, having been overtaken by excessively speeding the trams. Alas for the employees, however, since at this time they were obliged to take a reduction in wages, and whilst the Corporation hoped that it would be just a ternporary measure, the situation seems to have persisted for some time.

Because of increasingly poor returns, it was planned that buses would replace the trams on the Audley route, and this was effected in 1935, the track being lifted shortly afterwards. After the closure of this line, the single deck cars were little-used, and all of these had disappeared by 1939. Although at least some of these were broken up at Intack depot, there is a note in Council minutes that all twelve had been sold for the princely sum of £320. By this time, the Tramways Department had ominously become the Tramways and Omnibus Department, a portent for the future. In 1938, a plan was formulated whereby the whole of the tramway system would be replaced by buses within 5 years, the first move of which took place in March 1939, when the Cherry Tree route was closed. The next route to be withdrawn was scheduled to be that to Wilpshire, but that was commuted owing to the outbreak of war. Indeed, as hostilities took their toll on vital fuel supplies, consideration was given to re-opening the route to Cherry Tree, where the track was by then still in situ. In the event, however, the cost of re-erecting the overhead power line would have been too great, and since materials were also scarce, the plan was quietly dropped and the rails removed in 1943.

The war again saw the introduction of women employees on the trams, and the situation continued in the more enlightened years of peace which followed. Black-out conditions caused problems, which led amongst other things to the resiting of the Church terminus away from the crossroads for safety reasons. The hitherto excellent safety record of the tramways took something of a tumble in the early years of the war, when another fatal accident occurred. A Darwen Corporation car, returning to its home town along Bolton Road, near to the Blackburn Rovers' football ground, suddenly became diverted at high speed by the points into Kidder Street siding, leaving the rails as it did so, and crashing into the gable wall of a house. Unfortunately, the driver and three of the passengers suffered fatal injuries as a result, and a large number of other passengers were treated for their injuries.

After the war, with increasing motor traffic on the roads, the trams were increasingly singled out as the cause of a new problem on the roads: traffic congestion. It was more difficult for tram drivers to control their vehicles in such circumstances, since they could not accelerate or brake as quickly as motor vehicles, nor could they steer round obstacles. Market days came to be regarded as a nigphpare for tram drivers. The relaxation of wartime restrictions on fuel supplies meant that buses could finally replace the trams. Further abandonments were planned, culminating in the closure of the Billinge service in January 1946. The official reason for abandonment was now given as 'difficulty of maintenance', the track and rolling stock having been treated to the bare minimum of maintenance during the war. Darwen Corporation closed their system entirely later in 1946, and from then on Blackburn's service merely ran to the boundary on Cravens Brow. The Wilpshire route saw its last trams in December 1947, and the service from Intack to Church was withdrawn in January 1949. Six months later, the Darwen service was closed, and for two perilous months, the only trams left running in Blackburn were those from the town centre to Intack. By this time, it was the only remaining tramway service in East Lancashire.

All the previous closures had passed largely without notice or ceremony, but the final abandonment was recognised in style. On 3rd September 1949, large crowds gathered on Blackburn Boulevard to wish a fond farewell to their trams. One of the last cars had been newly repainted and was bedecked with flags and lights and carried prominent notices proclaiming it to be 'Blackburn's Last Tram'. In the late evening of the day, civic dignitaries and sundry guests climbed aboard the two final tramcars, and the procession made its way slowly to Intack depot, where the doors were ceremoniously closed behind them, and the power was switched off for the last time. Many towns on such occasions reviled their trams, but Blackburn was different. A souvenir brochure was produced which told of the dignity of appearance, the smooth running and the cleanliness of the cars, even calling them 'those rnagnificent trams'. For the outsider, enthusiast or layman, this means of transport was equally highly regarded, for just those reasons, and most commentaries were couched in complimentary terms. The local press, however, spoke for the people of Blackburn, saying that old folk would miss the trams, and quoted the words of one elderly lady: "Trams were all right; tha' has to hurry up too much geddin' on to buses."

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Other abortive schemes

The tramway network of North-East Lancashire had, by the turn of the century, grown into a large interconnected system between several of the major towns in the area. Since these lines were all constructed to the same gauge, it was possible to travel for some distance on these lines, though in practice it was necessary to change cars at most borough boundaries. By consulting the overall map, it is possible to see these systems in relation to one another. This network might have been even larger, though. There were three other schemes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries which would have made further urban connections possible.

In February 1887, Blackburn Council's Parliamentary Committee was presented with proposals outlined in the Haslingden and Oswaldtwistle Tramways Bill, where permission was sought to lay in a connection from Oswaldtwistle to the Blackburn terminus at Church, which was being constructed at the time. Negotiation was also sought for mutual running powers. Having investigated the scheme, the Corporation initially suggested that the proposal should be adopted, but this was later withdrawn, and the Haslingden and 0swaldtwistle line was never built.

Early in 1900, suggestions were rnade by an outside Company, that a line should be built from a junction with the Church route and run as far as Rishton. This was later expanded and incorporated within a rather rnore grandiose scheme promoted by the Blackburn, Whalley and Burnley District Light Railway Company, although this was initially opposed. Interestingly, this scheme was intended to be authorised under the terrns of the Light Railway Act, rather than the more stringent 1870 Tramways Act. Amended plans were later approved, and the scheme became the Blackburn, Rishton, Whalley and Burnley Light Railway, Blackburn Corporation having been quick to make an offer to supply electricity for the line. Even though the planned tramway never materialised, the promoters managed to achieve full parliamentary authorisation, to the extent that the Bill was fully empowered until 1906, and was even revived for a short while in 1908.

A third scheme emerged in 1903, when a Company was created to build a 4ft gauge line from the terminus of Blackburn's Billinge route, to Farington Park in Preston, but again the line was not built. It would have faced certain difficulties in any case, since through running on to Preston Corporation tracks would have been somewhat difficult, since these were built to standard gauge. It would not have been impossible, however, since it was well-known that cars ran regularly between the different gauges of the Leeds and Bradford systems, their cars being provided with wheels and motors which slid along the axles to accommodate the change in gauge.

The value of these two latter schemes was always rather dubious, since apart from the change in gauge which would have been involved on the Preston line, they would both have involved considerable lengths of rural trackage in sparsely populated areas, and even if they had passed through all the villages, hamlets and small townships en route, their remunerative value would have been substantially less than purely urban systems. Municipal operation would also have been difficult, since both lines would have involved the co-operation of several different authorities, each with their own attitudes and requirements.

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Visible remains

It might be expected that, 50 years after the abandonment of Blackburn's trams, there would be little trace of the system still remaining. Surprisingly, there is still quite a lot to be seen.

At the Intack depot, which is still used as the only bus garage and workshop for Blackburn Transport, in spite of a good deal of rebuilding and extension, there is still evidence of the tramways. The original depot buildings still survive, and inside can still be seen tracks and inspection pits from the days of the trams. This means that buses have to be assembled in parallel lines in this part of the depot, rather than the rather more convenient echelon formation seen elsewhere. Until quite recently, the impressive fan of tracks in what was the front of the depot remained in situ, and may indeed be still lurking under the tarmac. Buses now enter through what was the rear of the buildings. Some of the overhead system for working machinery by belts and pulleys is also still in evidence, though long disused.

The former steam tram depot in Lorne Street, Darwen still exists, though it was extended greatly to become the Darwen Corporation Bus depot in later years. When the Darwen and Blackburn bus fleets were merged, it was used less and less. The entrance in Lorne Street has long since been bricked up. The building is now used by a plastic bag manufacturer.

The former horse tram depot and stables on Simmons Street are also still in existence, and largely unaltered, though trams have not been stored there since the beginning of the century. Some modifications have been made to the doors at the entrance, but the track and pointwork is still much in evidence in the front yard, in spite of attempts to disguise it. Indeed the trackwork in Simmons Street itself has only been covered over in the past 15 years or so. During the 1980s, debate was entered into in the local press about the eventual fate of the building once the police had no further use for it, and it looks as though other uses may eventually be found for it, rather than its being demolished in years to come. For such a historic and largely original building, it would be fitting if it became a transport museum!

Mention has already been made of the turning triangle at Whitehall in Darwen. It is quite tastefully preserved. Set into a short cobbled cul-de-sac is a length of track with a Y-point at one end, apparently leading out into the main road. The whole is surrounded by kerbing and flower gardens, and a mural on the end wall of an adjacent building has been painted to show various types of trams running on the Blackburn and Darwen systems. Well worth a visit!

Although most of the street track was lifted and sold for scrap as the routes were closed, a surprisingly large amount still survives under the tarmac, notably on the Boulevard, where lines and points are occasionally uncovered during road works or rebuilding. More recently, work on the new inner ring road has revealed trackwork set into the cobbles underneath the tarmac of Regent Street, though this will soon be obliterated once the road works are complete. All of the former routes can still be traversed with ease, although the nature of the rebuilding in the town centre has meant that the original layout in the area of Ainsworth Street is hard to determine. In addition the progressive culverting of the River Blakewater has removed some of the terminal stopping places.

Of the tramcars themselves nothing now remains, most, if not all having been broken up at Intack depot. If any were sold for use as outbuildings or hen huts, surely they would have surfaced by now! However, there does remain the tantalising possibility of that steam engine in a South African museum!

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The Routes in Detail

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Rolling Stock

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17th November 1898

The General Purposes and Paid Officers Sub-committee brought up the following report in answer to reference No. 84 Resolved-That the report now submitted be adopted and entered on the minutes.


The General Purposes, &c. Sub-Committee beg to report in answer to reference No. 84 as follows;- That they, together with the representatives of the Borough of Darwen, have entered into negotiations with the Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways Company for the purchase of that undertaking, and that the representations of the two Corporations have retained Mr. H. Graham Harris (of the firm of Sir Fredarick Bramwell and Harris) as their expert, to advise them as to the value of the undertaking, and to assist in negotiations and to act as a referee between the two Corporations to deal with such matters as may from time to time arise and be referred to him.

The representatives of the two Corporations have had several interviews with the representatives of the Tramway Company and have, after much negotiation, come to a provisional arrangement with the Directors of the company to purchase the whole of the Tramway Undertaking (not including cash in bank or in hand, book debts, or unused stores) for the surn of 48,500, subject to the approval of both Corporations and the Shareholders of the Company. The Corporations to be entitled to purchase the unused stores at a price to be agreed upon on giving previous notice of such desire.

The Corporations to take over the depots and land of the Company, and the tenancy of the Company's office in Queen Avenue, Liverpool (which latter is, however, only a three-month tenancy, and can be determined by three month's notice at any time). The Sub-Committee have had under their consideration a complete report from Mr. Harris as to the value of the Company's Undertaking, and after consultation with Mr. Harris they recommend that the purchase be confirmed by the Corporation, and that the Town Clerk be instructed to apply to the Board of Trade for the necessary borrowing powers and to give legal effect to the purchase by the preparation or approval of such deeds or documents as may be necessary; the seal of the Corporation to be affixed to the legal transfer of this undertaking.

The tramway line frorn Blackburn to Darwen has a total length of 11,000 yds, or 61/4 miles. Of that distance, 6,074 yards are within the Borough of Darwen and 4,926 yards are within the borough of Blackburn, which, in round figures, is as 5 to 6.

Mr. Harris reports that the line throughout is fit for electric traction, but as regards construction, some portions in Darwen are not as valuable as other portions, while the line in Blackburn is of practically uniform value. This latter is laid on concrete throughout with heavy girder rails, and is in good order and repair.

The Share Capital of the Company is 50,000 fully paid up, and the accounts up to Christmas 1897 show that the gross receipts for that year were over 11,500.

The accounts of the Company show that from time to time large amounts have been applied out of revenue to the purchase of plant and other items of maintenance, and the Company has regularly paid a dividend of five per cent.

Under Section 61 of the Blackburn and Over Darwen Tramways Act, 1879, after the purchase of the tramways has been completed the Company is entitled to a lease to expire on the 15th August 1900, at a rental equivalent to five per cent of the amount of the purchase money; assuming the purchase to be completed on the 31st December next, which is the proposal which has been tentatively agreed to between the parties, the Company are thus entitled to a lease for about a year and eight months.

Mr. Harris estimates the value of this option at from 6,000 to 8,000.

The price of 48,500 agreed upon is to include this option.

The purchase is to be completed on the 31st December next, and from that date the Corporations are to receive the revenue and be responsible for the working of the tramways.

The Sub-Committee recommend that it should be referred to them to make and complete the necessary arrangements between this Corporation and the Corporation of Darwen as to the apportionment of the purchase money and for the joint working of the tramsways, and if there should be any difference of opinion between the representatives of the two Corporations to accept the decision of Mr. Graham Harris as final.

Dated l7th November 1898 - Wm. THOMPSON, Chairman.



Minutes of the Gas Committee, Monday 21st December 1896

Electric Traction for Tramways - Report of special Sub-Committees

The Gas Special Sub-Committee re Electric Traction for Tramways, brought up the following report.

Resolved - That the report of the Special Sub-Committee now submitted be adopted and entered on the minutes.

The Gas Special Sub-Committpe beg to report as follows: That they have visited Bristol, Coventry and Walsall, and inspected the Electric Tramways at those places which are worked on the overhead system.


At Bristol the whole of the system is worked by single poles, or brackets (not cross wire), up one side of the road, with an arm sticking out, except where the road is very wide (similar to places like in front of the Town Hall or market here). In such places they put the poles in the centre, with an arm each way, and they have an electric light in the centre.

This system is the same as that proposed for Blackburn.


The system starts off with the single pole for a distance from the station the same as Bristol, till the centre of the town is reached, where the wires are suspended across the street, from house to house.

The Company give the property owners the alternative either of having a pole in front of their premises, or having the wire fastened to the houses, and they find, from experience, that the property owners willingly grant permission for wires to be fixed, rather than have poles.

The wires are so insulated that there is no sound or noise in the house. Away from the centre of the town, where there is a long road, there are poles on either side of the road and no projecting arm, but simply wires hung across from one pole to the other. This is very unsightly.


This system is practically the same as Bristol, on one side of the road, but there is a much shorter bracket fixed to the poles, and a longer trolley rod from the car.

The Sub-Committee are of the opinion that the short bracket from the pillar with the long trolley from the car presents the best appearance.

The long trolley from the car does not look well by itself, but the Sub-Cornmittee think that as the car is practically always in motion, it is less unsightly to have short brackets on the poles, which are fixtures.

The arms at all the places were of the same description, except that some were longer and others shorter.

The Sub-Committee regard the Bristol system with the most favour, except that they prefer a short arm from the pillar and a long trolley rod from the car.


With regard to the overhead wire system generally, the Sub-Committee find that there is no noise nor flashing to speak of, and the cars run better than with either horse or steam traction. The Sub-Committee particularly noticed and were informed that these cars do not frighten horses, and they can be pulled up and started much sooner than in other forms of traction. For instance they can be pulled up within a distance of a yard or two when going at at a rate of twelve miles an hour even on gradients of 1 in 14.

Some of them, particularly at Coventry, have to ascend and descend very sudden and sharp gradients, much worse than any gradients on the Blackburn Tramway lines; that is to say, the gradients at Coventry are not gradual gradients but are sharp and sudden rises.

When extraordinary traffic requires it, trailer cars are attached to the ordinary cars, but the trailer car and the ordinary car combined are not longer than an ordinary steam tramcar.

With regard to accidents, the Sub-Committee were informed by the Chairman of the Walsall line that they were charged for insurance against third-party risks, a greater premium than in the case of steam when the tramways first commenced working, but experience has so satisfied the Cornpanies now that the premiums have been reduced about 60 per cent. Less than is charged when the motive power is steam.

The Sub-Committee do not go so far as to say that these poles and wires add to the beauty of the street but they are strongly of the opinion that the advantages of the system far more than counterbalance any drawback from this point of view.

The poles could be used for the lighting of the streets by arc or incandescent lights, and the Sub-Committee recommend that a comparative statement of the cost of lighting the routes by gas and electricity respectively be obtained and considered by the Committee.

The Sub-Committee consider that careful arrangement of the posts and wires is required, and recommend that it be referred to the Sub-Committee at the proper time to examine the plans of the proposed arrangement of the overhead wires, and inspect the route along with the Engineers.

The Sub-Committee also recommend that it should he made one of the terms of the arrangement that the electric cars to be provided by the Cornpany must not hold more than 43 passengers (18 inside), without a second storey under cover.

Dated l7th December 1896.

Terms with Tramway Company

The Committee considered the amended terms tentatively arranged with the Chairman and Directors of tne Blackburn Corporation Tramways Company Ltd., for the substitution of electric traction for animal power on the Preston New Road and the Witton routes of the Tramways, namely:- The Corporation to provide the necessary generating plant and overhead wires and posts (The Company providing the electric cars and motors) and to supply the Company with current at the following prices, namely:- For every BT unit not exceeding 144,000 units per annum 21/2d per unit, and for every unit over 144,000 units per annum 2d per unit. That is to say 21/2d per BT unit on the first 144,000 and 2d per BT unit on every unit above that number. The Company to pay for a minimum of 120,000 units per annum at 21/2d per unit or 1,250. The Company to maintain their own motors and electrical plant. The Corporation to maintain and keep in repair the overhead line at an annual charge of 100 per annum to be paid by the Company by four equal instalments on the same date as the rent is paid. The Corporation to renew the Company's lease for a further term of 21 years on the expiration of the present term in accordance with the covenant in that behalf contained in the present lease from the Corporation to the Company.

Resolved - That the arrangement be confirmed and that it be an instruction to the Town Clerk to prepare a formal agreement to be entered into between the Company and the Corporation to carry out this arrangement including all necessary details.




Monday 12th July 1897


The General Purposes Sub-Committee brought up the following report.

Resolved - That the report of the Sub-Committee now submitted be adopted and entered on the minutes and that the Corporation agree to purchase the undertaking of the Blackburn Corporation Tramways Co. Ltd., on the terms and conditions set forth in the report of the Sub-Committee.


The General Purposes Special Sub-Committee beg to report that they have in accordance with the instructions of the General Purposes Committee, had an interview with the Directors of the Blackburn Corporation Tramways Company Ltd., in reference to the proposal for the Company to sell, and the Corporation to purchase, the whole of the Tramways undertaking belonging to that Company.

The Sub-Committee have also obtained the fullest reports and information from the Town Clerk in reference to the legal position as between the Corporation and the Company, and on other matters affecting the question.

They have also obtained a report from the Borough Treasurer as to the financial position of the Tramway Comparny, and a report from the Borough Engineer as to the actual value of the plant and undertaking belonging to the Company, and they now beg to set out in detail the information which they have received from the information of the General Purposes Committee.

In the year 1882, Parliamentary power was conferred upon the Corporation to construct the present tramways in the borough, and a borrowing power was conferred upon the Corporation amounting to 50,000 for carrying out this work.

In the year 1886, a Syndicate approached the Corporation with the request that they should exercise their Parliamentary powers and construct the tramways, and grant them a lease of the same for a period of 42 years.

After much negotiation between the Syndicate and the Corporation it was finally arranged that the tramways should be constructed by the Corporation, but that the cost of such construction should he paid by the tramway undertakers, and that in consideration of such payment the Corporation should charge a smaller rent than otherwise would have been the case, such rent being fixed at 25 per mile.

The Syndicate then formed a Company, and ultimately in the year 1891 a lease, which is now in force under consideration, was granted by the Corporation to the Tramways Company for a term of 21 years from the 24th day of June 1887, at a rent of 197 0s 0d., being at the rate of 25 per mile of single line track.

The lease also contains the following special provisions, namely: (1) A covenant on the part of the Corporation, so far as they have the power to bind their successors, to grant to the Company a further lease of 21 years at the end of the existing lease at an increased rent of 315 or 45 per mile. (2) That at the end of the leasehold interest of the Company, that is to say, at the end of 21 years, the Corporation in the event of their not renewing the lease in accordance with the covenant are to pay the Company such sum of money as will represent the then value of the Tramway lines, and are to purchase from the Company any land or buildings in the Borough belonging to the Company and then used by them for the purpose of their Tramway undertaking, but in deterrnining the amount of any monies to be paid by the Corporation to the Company, nothing should be included and no considerations should be given for goodwill, prospective profits, or the value of the lessees Tramway undertaking as a going concern.

Any dispute as to the amount to be paid is to be settled by arbitration. The Town Clerk advises that the covenant to renew the lease is in all probability void as, under the Tramsways Act of 1870, the Corporation or other Local Authority can only grant a lease for a term of 21 years.

The Sub-Committee, however, are of the opinion that it was undoubtedly the intention of the Corporation, at the time the lease was entered into, to grant the Company a lease of the undertaking for a term of 42 years, and they recommend that the consideration of the Company's terms of purchase should be conducted on that basis. In negotiating with the Tramway Directors the question for the Sub-Committee to consider was, at what price, having regard to the Company's prospect for the next 32 years, the undertaking of the Company and its net income which it was producing, would be worth purchasing by the Corporation.

The capital of the Company at the present time consists of:

6000 Ordinary Shares @ 10 each60,000 0 0
2100 Preference Shares @ 10 each21,000 0 0
Subject to debentures, amounting to 6,550 0 0
87,750 0 0

The annexed table, compiled from the returns of the Company, shews the revenue of the Company for the last three years, from which it will be seen that the gross profits for the year ending 31st December 1896 amount to 5,565 and that the average profits for the last three years amount to 5,015 per annum.

The Company paid no dividend during the first two and a half years referred to in the table, applying all their gross profits to the reduction of capital.

During the half-year ending 30th June 1895, the Company paid a dividend at the rate of three per cent upon their Ordinary Stock, and six per cent upon their Preference Stock, and during the other halfyears referred to have paid a dividend upon Ordinary stock of 4 per cent per annum, and upon the Preference Stock six per cent per annum, and in addition, during each half-year have carried considerable sums to depreciation in reduction of capital, the result of their depreciation being that the Debentures, which stood at 20,000 in 1889 have been reduced to 6,650.

It seems to the Sub-Committee that the undertaking might be considered as capable of earning, under existing conditions, an average minimum profit of at least 5,000 per annum.

The Sub-Committee have ascertained from the Directors that the lowest price, at which they could recommend their shareholders to sell the undertaking, is 85,610 0s 0d. made up as follows:

6,000 Ordinary Shares at 9 per share54,000 0 0
2,100 Preference Shares at 11 per share23,210 0 0
Debentures 6,650 0 0
Directors' salary- five years 1,750 0 0
85,610 0 0

The services of tne Tramway Directors to be retained by the Corporation so far as they require them, for a term of five years.

The period within which in all probability the Corporation would be required to repay the amount of money, say 87,000 (which sum ought to include law costs, stamp duty, and the costs of promoting the necessary Bill in Parliament next year), will probably be 25 years, and the annual charge for interest and Sinking Fund on that amount is approximately estimated at 4,857, after which it is expected that the increased revenue which will be produced by adopting the Preston New Road and Witton sections for electric traction will be approximately 1,400 per annum, based on a 15 minutes service on these routes. That service would however in the opinion of the Sub-Committee, be increased to a ten minute service which it may be aseumed would produce a still further increased revenue.

Comparing the estimated revenue with the before-mentioned annual interest and Sinking Fund payments, the Sub-Committee consider that a sufficient margin will remain for depreciation, and they consider that the result ought to be that at the end of the period of 25 years the Corporation will have the management of the undertaking and will be in possession of annual profits amounting to at least 5,000 or 6,000, which can be applied in reduction of rates, and that in the meantime the undertaking will have been little, if any, charge on the ratepayers during that period.

The Sub-Committee, after having had two meetings, and giving the matter very careful consideration, consider that the terms are such as the General Purposes Committee would he justified in accepting. - Dated 19th July 1897. FRED BAYNES Chairman.

Promotion of Bill

Resolved - That in the event of a purchase of the undertaking of the Blackburn Corporation Tramways Company Ltd., being effected the Parliamentary Committee be instructed to take all necessary steps to apply to Parliament for private Bill next session conferring upon the Corporation powers to work tramways and all other necessary powers.

Report on Tramways

Resolved - That it be referred to the Committee to consider and report to the General Purposes Special Sub-Committee of the desirability or otherwise of extending the present tramway routes so that if necessary the Corporation could apply to Parliament for further powers in that direction by the same Bill.

Agreement of purchase

Resolved - That the Mayor be and he is hereby authorised to seal the necessary agreements containing the terms of purchase.


Table 1 Blackburn Corporation Tramways traffic returns 1900-1949

yr ended 31st Marchpassengers carried (millions)total mileage (thousands)
1940-46no figures available
1949 (up to 31st Aug)8.229512.2


Acts of Parliament and Parliamentary Bills

Archive material held in Blackburn Library

Council Reports and Minutes

Publications and articles

C.KlapperThe Golden Age of TramwaysR.K.P1962
J . P. McKayTramways and TrolleysPrinceton UP1976
R.Catlow & T.CollingeOver the SettsCountryside1978
J.JoyceThe British Tramway SceneLRTL1961
F.E.WilsonThe British TramsP.Marshall1961
H.E.CasserlyPreserved LocomotivesIan Allen1968
R.P.FergussonThe First in the KingdomDTG1981
G.Holden & S.C. ReillyTramcars, Tramways and Trackless tramsPrescott Pickupc1979
R.W. RushBritish Electric Tramcar 1885-1950PPC1976
W. G. Hyde & F.K.Pearson(s souvenir of Preston Guild )
Blackburn CBC Farewell to Blackburn's Trams Blackburn CB 1949
R.W.Rush Tramways of Accrington LRTL 1961
W.H. Bett & J.B. McCallumGreat British Tramway NetworksLRTL1957
Some Particulars of the Municipal and Sanitary works of BlackburnBlackburn CB1885
E. K. BlackburnIn and out the windows (changes in working class life 1902-1977)F.H. Brown 1981
G.C.Miller Blackburn: the evolution of a cotton townBlackburn CB1951
H.A.WhitcombeHistory of the Steam TramOakwood1961
E.R.Oakley Blackburn Corporation TramwaysNGT Spring1976
J.H. Price Museum NewsModern Twy.1983
I.YeardleyMeeting Blackburn's TramsModern Twy.1966

Newspapers and Periodicals

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