The History of the Fleetwood Festival of Transport

Trams at Fleetwrood Ferry, 14th July 1985, image produced by Dr Neil Clifton under Creative Commons license

‘Tram Sunday’ or, to give it its full and proper title, the Fleetwood Festival of Transport started, as do so many things, as a “one off” event and through coincidence, chance and a single- minded will for it to succeed it is now set to continue further into its fourth decade of existence, change, evolution and success. So how and why did it start?

To answer that, we first need to go back to the 29 September, 1885. This was the start date of the Blackpool Tramway as we know it today, though, admittedly, it was very different to the system that we know and love today.

Back then there were ten little conduit tramcars that picked their power up from a slot in the middle of the tracks, a bit like a Scalextric racing car set does. It wasn’t very successful at first as the sea kept washing into the slot and shorting it out and if that didn’t stop the trams, the sand did. However, it survived against all the odds, becoming not only the first such system in the UK, but also the last.

When it came round to the centenary year of this plucky little system, it seemed only fair that a set of celebrations befitting such a unique and hardy little survivor was deemed appropriate.

Three main events were planned, an open day at the tram depot in Blackpool prior to the centenary day itself, a grand procession on the 29 September and to mark its uniqueness, an event making best use of the fact that a section of the system, as it existed by then, still ran along a street... and a town centre one at that.

In conjunction with the nearby British Commercial Museum at Leyland, a selection of vehicles from the museum and from vehicle owners that were known to them, became part of the event. The Fleetwood Transport Festival was to have the street shut to normal traffic during the event, with the street instead being lined with transport from yesteryear, along with charity stalls, varied forms of entertainment and transport -related sales stands. These added to the atmosphere of a vintage festival, but with the totally unique attraction of vintage trams.

All was in place and a date in mid-July was chosen for the event. Unusually for that summer of 1985, the day broke with brilliant sunshine, as it did for the other two centenary events.

In the end, over 200 classic vehicles turned up, augmented by a fleet of ten vintage trams. Around 10,000 people had heard of the event and turned up to have a most enjoyable day. After it was all over, the trams went back to their depot, the vehicle owners took their treasured possessions home and the visitors went their ways, but with happy memories of an enjoyable, unique and “once in a lifetime” event. However fate was to intervene at this point.

Fleetwood at its inception was far more important than Blackpool, as it was a fast expanding new town. It was the brainchild of Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood, who owned the area of sand hills and rabbit warrens Fleetwood was duly incorporated in 1836, thereby making 1986 its 150th anniversary year.

A small team of dedicated locals wished to mark this anniversary with a list of events, such as street parties, concerts and entertainments over that summer. Some of these locals had attended the, up to then, unique “Tram Sunday” event and so the question was asked whether it could be run again as it had been so enjoyable and successful. The town’s unique position in transport history had been highlighted by it. Enquiries were made and whilst the Leyland Museum was happy to start things off, it was left to a very new, but no less enthusiastic group of vehicle enthusiasts, to organise the vehicles whilst the Fleetwood 150 Committee organised the road closures and the like.

The same weekend in mid-July was chosen again as it didn’t seem to clash with any other large local vehicle events that might otherwise limit the vehicle entries needed. The “one off” event effectively became a “two off”.

Tram 40 at the 1997 Tram Sunday, image produced by PL Chadwick under Creative Commons license

The event was again declared a brilliant success and the rest, as they say, is history. A group of like-minded and enthusiastic locals who were and still are, proud of their town, stepped forward from the Fleetwood 150 Committee. They were joined by others from many other linked organisations, to form the Fleetwood Transport Festival committee. Although members came and went over the years, this committee continued to run and develop this remarkable event for the next quarter of a century. However, in 2010 the event was unable to be run, due to the fact that the tramway was being hugely upgraded to be fit for another century of operation and so all the track in Lord Street had been pulled up for renewal. As it happened the weather that day was appalling anyway, so it probably was a blessing in disguise.

During this enforced year off, the town’s business community recognised just how helpful to the local economy this special event was, and so they banded together to re-launch the event in 2011, with a whole new committee, new branding, a new ethos and a new vision.

Today we now see a highly successful event that annually attracts in the region of 80-90,000 people to one town, on one day, in one street, to give them a totally unique, highly enjoyable, totally free day out. The local council have found that the event brings in the region of £2 million to the local economy annually and long may it continue to do so. Recently, the event has linked up with arts group, Left Coast, to bring transport themed arts entertainment, including an incredible second procession during the day.

For more information, visit www.tram

David Evans

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