Twelve streamlined open top double deckers were supplied by the English Electric Company of Preston in 1934. Officially called “Luxury Dreadnoughts”, after the old Dreadnoughts they replaced, they
were numbered 238 – 249 and followed a prototype (226, later 237) which had been delivered for evaluation earlier that year. 703 was the third of the production order and was originally numbered 240.
The open top cars, including prototype 237, were put to work on a new Promenade service to Cleveleys. They were designed to work all year round as the spartan open top decks, with wooden seating,
could be closed off leaving the luxurious “Railcoach” style lower saloon available for use. Had war not intervened, it is possible that they may have remained in their open top condition but a
requirement for a greater number of high capacity year round cars saw all thirteen Luxury Dreadnoughts enclosed during 1941/2, making them outwardly similar to the fourteen Balloons delivered in
1934/5 (which includes our 715).
The newly enclosed cars lacked the sliding sunshine roofs of the Balloons, and much of the comfort as the upper deck wooden seating was not replaced with cushioned Railcoach style seating, but merely thinly covered with matching moquette. Nevertheless, the expanded fleet of 27 Balloons were used year-round on Promenade to Cleveleys, and Lytham Road services, but would not venture further north to Fleetwood until later in their career.
Repainted into a mainly green livery during the war, and then rather neglected for some years afterwards, the Balloons fell out of favour as manager Walter Luff favoured high frequency single deck cars on service. In 1952, the first of 25 single deck Coronations arrived, and the Balloons were relegated to summer season use only – although Blackpool’s was a long summer season from Easter until the end of the illuminations in November. From 1954 the Balloons began to be upgraded as the new manager Joe Franklin recognised their potential as crowd shifters during the season. A brighter livery was introduced, whilst other changes (introduced gradually) included adding additional seating upstairs and replacing the twin destination screens with larger single screens, which our “240” received in 1956. All 27 Balloons survived the contraction of the tramway in the early 1960’s, and in 1968 were renumbered 700 – 726.
703 was overhauled in 1970 and was fitted with cushioned seating upstairs (from scrapped Railcoaches). Much use was made of Darvic plastic interior panelling, to replace the original Alhambrinal, but 703 did retain curved upper deck side roof windows, now rubber mounted.
703 remained in green and cream, in various styles, throughout its working life in Blackpool despite the application of all over advertising liveries to many Balloons in the years from 1975. However, it was the recipient of two heritage liveries; the first (in 1995) saw 703 return to the mainly green wartime style, to commemorate 50 years since the end of the war. Then, in 1998, it received the 1980’s style which was ironic as 703 had been one of three Balloons to not actually received this style during that period. This was reapplied in 2004.
703 was withdrawn in 2008 as part of the rundown of the traditional fleet in advance of the tramway upgrade. It was acquired by the trust and sent on loan to the Beamish Museum in Durham following a repaint in a representation of Sunderland Corporation livery (Sunderland had some similar trams) and a final outing in Blackpool for the benefit of photographers. With the fictitious identity “Sunderland 101”, 703 ran at Beamish from 2011 to 2015 and was a useful people mover at this busy museum. It was latterly acquired by Beamish but withdrawn from use in 2015 with a defect. In 2016 Beamish offered 703 to the Blackpool Heritage Trust (BHT), and following an appeal for transport funding, it arrived home in March 2017. Having come full circle, 703 re-joined the FTT collection in December 2019 following the merger of the two trusts. The tram is not currently serviceable and requires repairs to the defect that saw it side-lined from use at Beamish.