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Page Two

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George's Last Tram

Written by: Steve Brookes (Blackpool)


A Balloon Tram on the road.

'A low rumble of a tram engine, and then with the sudden squeal of brakes, it all ends'.

On many stormy and wet nights the Blackpool ghost tram has been heard, but no one ever admits to seeing it, and explanations abound as to its origins, ranging from the mundane - 'it is an electrical occurrence due to the salt air creating a short circuit on the aging overhead wires, which sounds like a tram in the wind' - to the more ethereal stories of evil spirits seeking revenge by driving noisy trams past homes of those who destroyed the seclusion of their haunts before Blackpool became famous.

However, one story is more often repeated than any other, and I have created a sequence of events from a couple of versions which seem closer to a ghostly origin than any others, and it concerns a man I will call George, who lived on Whitegate Drive.

It was 1962, and the outlying tram routes in Blackpool were becoming 'surplus' and expensive to maintain. The tramlines were worn and the tarmac hardly touched the rail edges in places and other than a very reduced service to the outer legs of the system, the main timetable only covered trams running from Starr Gate near St Annes and along the promenade and coast through Cleveleys to Fleetwood.

George had been a Blackpool tram fanatic since his childhood, and had, before his heart attack at the age of 55, been a driver on the system. Now, at the age of 62, he watched in sadness the cars and new front entrance buses moving the people along the roads, over the rails he had travelled over the years and finally his home on Whitegate Drive was to see the last of its tram service.

In three days time one of the Balloon double deck cars was to traverse the route as a closing ceremony.

The Balloons were new in 1933 and were the height of luxury and efficiency, and had given the crews a sense of importance when they arrived with their leather seats, speedy acceleration, quite running and the double staircases, which had made them a byword for the tourists who had previously been used to the wooden toastrack seats of the early trams.

George had, by dint of his being one of the first drivers to take control of a Balloon in 1933 been invited to take part in this last journey. He was proud to be asked, and being a widower for many years had only been able to share his pride with a few cronies at the Mitre pub in town.

'Oh well' said most (mainly under their breath) 'The things are outdated and a nuisance' which in the early 60's and increased car ownership they were.

There was little sympathy for George, as the lines in the middle of the road, and the tram stops which meant traffic having to avoid passengers alighting in front of them had become a real problem. But to George, and many like him it was the end of a great era, and a sad end as well, because many of the trams were to be disposed of as surplus to requirements, (an act later regretted by the Transport Department.).

The day arrived, and George was not going to let the side down. He dressed in his best suit, and his shoes shone as befitted his status as senior tram driver. He arrived at Rigby Road tram depot, and saw a crowd gathered around Balloon 712. It was 'his tram' from 1933. It was clean and the chrome gleamed. It stood defiant as though its sad journey was just a phase which would be put to rights.

The crowd boarded, and the bell rang, but 712 did not move. The driver tried but it resisted. And George smiled. He knew that the tram had been stopped at just the point where the wires were spliced and if it was a wet day, it would not move forward.

He moved to the front and whispered to the driver, who being a new hand listened to the old mans advice. He turned to the inspector, 'George knows how to get us going. Ill let him take it.'

The inspector nodded and George proudly moved to the cabin and took the handle and brake lever and let the tram roll back for a few feet. Sparks shot out from the pole, and moving the handle into the first notch up, the tram rolled out onto its final journey.

The whole community seemed to have come out to see 712 roll along its last trip, and the full tram, with George at the control seemed oozed pride. People on the journey felt that man and machine were as one. George drove without one jerk or grind of brakes, and 712 seemed as quiet and smooth as new. But it had to end, and one hour later, 712 and its civic party arrived back at Rigby Road depot, where George applied the brake at the very spot he had taken over. Just where the wires were spliced.

And so the customary champagne was drunk, and memories were shared, and 712 stood, its lights burning brightly. And George looked at 712, his eyes full of tears, and his hand shook with the recent feeling of the grip of 712's driving handle. The civic group slowly moved away, but George didn't. He stood by his tram, and he spoke to it, just like it was his small pet.

'It's ok. You'll be all right. You did all right. It up to you.'

He turned, and walked behind the rear cab of 712. Past the red rear lights, and started to walk toward the doors in the middle of the tram tracks. No one knows why, but the power surge cause the parking brake to come off, and 712 sparked into life, and quietly rolled forward. George should have heard the rumble of a tram engine and the squeal of brakes, but he seemed not to. He was found by the crew under the front of the tram. He had, they say died instantly. 712 was still, its brakes fully on. Its engine quiet.

The rain and wind from the Irish Sea ranged across the entrance of the depot, just like the nights when a rumble and brakes are heard around Rigby Road.

Steve brookes MBE
Ex-patriot of Coventry, UK
Now living in Blackpool, UK

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THE DOG

Written by: Harry (Perth, Australia)

This a true story.....

My family were bombed out during the war in Coventry. We got another house in Foleshill, the road was Durbar Avenue.

The living room was often the location of weird happenings. A dog would lie by the fire, although we had no dog. It would come upstairs and pull the bedding off in the middle of the night!! No one had ever seen it, but we heard it and felt it's presence often enough.

To us, it was a happy feeling house, it always seemed bright and so on.

After we moved, about 1951 I think, the chap that bought the house committed suicide there. As did the 3 owners that followed him!!

After making a few enquiries it turned out that the owner before us had also committed suicide!!

As I have said, to us it was a happy house, and don't remember any serious disagreements in it at all, during the 7/8 years we lived there.

Harry
Ex-patriot of Coventry
Now living in Perth, Australia

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GRAYFRIARS BOBBY

Written by: Ann Morris (Coventry)


As a child I spent many school holidays at my grandparent's houses, both in Edinburgh and Uddingston, 9 miles from Glasgow. At my maternal grandmother's I was always fascinated by the warmth of the famous legend of a little dog called Grayfriars Bobby.

Bobby was a Skye Terrier owned by John Gray, an Edinburgh Constable.



When John Gray died in 1858 of TB., he was buried in Grayfriars churchyard. John Gray's family left Edinburgh after his death, but Bobby, so great was his loyalty to his master, refused to leave his master's side.


For over 14 years Bobby watched over his master's grave day and night. During this time Bobby became a much loved local figure, being fed and looked after by locals. A shelter was constructed there for him, and he was given his food regularly in the kitchens of dining rooms nearby. When the question of his licence arose, the Lord Provost of the day paid it personally.

Then when Greyfriar's Bobby died in 1872 he was buried in the churchyard close to his master.

The touching story of the little dog's fidelity spread throughout the land. Travellers went to the churchyard especially to observe the famous Bobby. One of these, the philanthropist Baroness Burdett Coutts, was so impressed that she was instrumental in having the statue sculpted. The monument was unveiled in 1873, not long after Bobby died. He is now buried within the churchyard.

A statue of the terrier is now situated on Candlemakers Row, and is one of the most photographed statues in Edinburgh, if not the whole of Scotland. The dog's collar is on display in the Huntly House Museum in the Canongate stretch of the Royal Mile.

Ann Morris

0008: 6th June 2001

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