Memories of Trolleybuses in West London

Written by Colin Vaughan

From the second floor of our house overlooking the Uxbridge Road, I had a grandstand view of the passing scene between 1939 and 1953. I don't remember the Feltham class trams, they'd been withdrawn when I was one, in 1936, but here on the Acton and Hammersmith border, I well remember my beloved F1 Leyland trolleybuses. Still new in 1939, they plied the 607 route to Shepherds Bush to the east, and west to Acton, Ealing, Southall, Hayes, and Uxbridge. Routes 660 and 666, with C1 and E1 AEC classes, joined at my magnificent vantage point, the Askew Arms junction. C1 no 260, now at the East Anglia Transport Museum at Carlton Colville, must have passed by many times, little did I know that many years later I would ride again on this vehicle.

I have always found road junctions on the trolleybus system the most interesting of places. The way that the trolley heads thread their way through the most complex wiring layouts, mostly without dewirement, was a constant source of fascination. The best layout I ever saw for "fascination factor" was not in London, but in Central Square, Bournemouth. Here a total of five routes met All the frogs were under driver control, using their skill alone, something that, as far as I know, was never attempted in London. Not that my Askew Arms junction lacked interest. Keith Farrow in his excellent booklet "London Trolleybus Wiring Southwest & West" mentions this junction in some detail. I remember it from its earliest days, such as when the facing frog for the east to south turn was moved back from the Junction, to a location some two traction poles back in 1938, to install an auto frog! I had a hint a few days before because additional parallel hangers and extra pull offs were added during the day with the running wires fitted over-night. The turn, was rarely used, and had been installed as a temporary measure to allow the 657 route access to the Shepherds Bush Green terminus while tram tracks were being recovered in Goldhawk Road. The eastbound service was the only one affected by this, as the road was still wide enough for west bound trolleybuses to proceed as normal.

During German night raids in the second year of World War 2, a land mine fell on the Goldhawk Road blocking it completely. This meant that not only was the eastbound 657 service forced to use this rarely used turnoff, but also the westbound service to Hounslow. As there was no wiring at the Askew Arms junction for this manoeuvre; traction batteries had to used. There were also problems eastbound, as this turn had not been used since November 1936, and much arcing occurred when the first vehicles used the turn. The wooden spacer bar taking the turn across the westbound 607 route, caught fire, resulting in disruption of all services for several hours!

My school was also located on this Uxbridge Road, about 4 miles to the west in The Mall, in Ealing. Service was so good in those days, the late 1940's to early 1950's. With a 2-minute headway, it was possible to go home to lunch and be back within the hour. This meant 4 Trolleybus trips every day! No wonder I was very familiar with the class F1! Memories of the orderly queues outside the Napier Aircraft Engine Works as the early morning shift returned home with the smell of metal swarf and oil on their clothing, and lunchtime cooking smells from the restaurants along that stretch of road abound. One advantage of travel by trolleybus over travelling by bus is that aromas of the outside are not masked by diesel fumes! My travel by trolleybus was not confined to the school run. Football on Saturday afternoons was a major factor in my life at the time, and very often involved a grand circular tour.

My team was, and still is Brentford, whose ground, Griffin Park, is located near Kew Bridge on the 657, [Hounslow], 667, [Hampton Court], and 655, [Hanwell Broadway]. Partly for road safety reasons, a circular tour meant fewer roads to cross. But mainly because a circular tour meant more interesting junctions, and a trolleybus garage to visit on the way home, this was the route I always took. So the Saturday afternoon trip started with a ride to Shepherds Bush Green on an F1. Then on to a 657, sometimes a B1 class or more often a C1. Occasionally I went by 667 and a K1 or even an A1. These were most odd, like being on an LT 3 axle petrol bus, without the noise, or the aroma of benzene. Arrive at Kew Bridge; walk to the ground past the Gas Works, and up South Ealing Road. Watch the match, maybe on the day we beat Arsenal 6-3! [Yes we were in the First Division in those days]. Then back to Kew Bridge to board a 655 and a familiar F1 to Brentford Half Acre, and then turn northwards along Boston Manor Road to Hanwell Broadway, and Hanwell Trolleybus Garage, home to the F1 for both the 607 and 655 routes. On this tour there were many interesting wiring layouts, particularly at Shepherds Bush, where the 630 route, from Willesden Junction [College Park] to West Croydon, the longest route on the system, crossed The Green.

In my opinion Hanwell, was unique, especially as a terminus for the 655 route it allowed a turn through the garage, which was very handy for the drivers, as the canteen facilities were passed on the right. Finally, board an eastbound 607 F1, and travel through West Ealing, Ealing Broadway, past my school, and through Acton and Acton Market Place. The 660 and 666 routes converged here, and so on down Acton Hill under the Richmond to Broadstreet railway line. Past the Napier Works, on to the intermediate terminus at Acton Vale [Bromyard Avenue], and finally arrive home, at the Askew Arms junction, halcyon days! And this was, more than just this circular trip. The 607 route stretched as far as Uxbridge, passing Southall, Delamere Road, Hayes End, and Hillingdon Church termini on the way. A trip out to Uxbridge was a highlight of a weekend. Some of this traversed dual carriageway on the A4020. 40-45mph in a trolleybus swaying gently from side to side, is an interesting experience not to be missed. If I ever win the lottery maybe I'll buy enough land at Carlton Colville so that visitors can experience that feeling every once in a while.

Or perhaps I could convert the 207 to trolleybus operation!