Reminiscences of Trolleybuses in London

Written by Roly Wilcox

I am particularly interested in destination blind wordings on trams, trolleybuses and buses, particularly the lesser known wordings. Does anyone share my interest? I have extensive notes but I feel there is much more to learn and much more that many of your middle age surfers will recall which should be committed to the archives.

How interesting to note that with the efforts of excellent publishing houses such as Jim Whiting's Capital Transport there is more information available now on London Buses, Trolleybuses, Trams and the Underground than there was 40 years ago. We could have done with more information then but perhaps we could not have afforded the luxury at that time or perhaps we didn't have the shelf space. Or would it have spoiled that exploration discovery instinct? Like finding a long line of Routemasters in Poplar Garage one night due to enter service the next day in November 1959. The smell of the new vehicles and the shine of the new compared to the forlorn dull paint work of the old. Another memory I will not forget, revived by a photo I have seen since which must have been taken on the same night. Did I bump into the photographer that night?

Ian Allan kindled the fire of enthusiasm in the 40s and 50s but we must congratulate the dedicated band who have since written and recorded information since as we should the photographers and film takers.

Some of us might feel uncomfortable at standing and photographing in the middle of the road with 70 seated passenger staring in astonishment at anyone who dare have an interest in such a vehicles, but those people brave enough to persist in their aims really have left us with an excellent legacy.

Having said that there are many gaps.

As the years have passed it occurs to me that many middle age and elderly visitors to this site regard the trolleybus and the trams before them as long lost friends. And we all like looking at albums of our friends and family. If you look at photos of Tramlink and of the Virgin trolley on route 542 on this site can't you detect a family resemblance?

Taking the trolleybus overhead down
Picture LTM1
Removing the overhead wire minutes after the last trolleybus had passed.

And has not the trolleybus had the last laugh? Widespread shortage of that foreign product, oil, recently proves their worth. In one of your photos you query why overhead wires were removed as soon as the routes were withdrawn.

Were LT having nightmares and afraid that the so called dead trolleys at Colindale or Charlton would conspire in huge numbers in the middle of the night to escape from their graveyards and form convoys of electric vehicles to make their protest against withdrawal. Were their arms [trolley booms] waving aimlessly in the air in desperation or were they crying out for help to family colleagues in France or Spain?

Perhaps the authorities were afraid that the remaining beasts at Bradford, Maidstone and Reading might converge on the gates of these depots and form a silent vigil to help the London vehicles escape their death. Perhaps the George Cohen scrap firm had a reason to call themselves the 600 Group. Perhaps armed with 100s of serviceable trolleys they intended operating these themselves on routes numbered in the 600 series. The first deregulated 616 route from Edgware to Marble Arch. Or is that just wishful thinking?

Like me, don't you feel uncomfortable at seeing diesel bus routes numbered in the 500 and 600 series? Almost as if the authorities are trying to blot out our memories of the trolleybus routes in that series. If so they made a mistake sending fast buses down the Uxbridge Road as, yes, 607s. Is it just imagination that some of the new low floor double deckers remind you vaguely of the trolleys, or that some of the new First Bus Volvo / Alexander's bear a resemblance to these and the trams.

© Roly Wilcox

Recently added FOOTNOTE

Good to see the site is still doing well and has been expanded. Crisp, clear and memory provoking views remind me that this coming month on 5th May 2002 marks 40 years since the abandonment of trolleybuses in London. July 2002 marks 50 years since the end of the London trams.

To digress, it is 30 years since the last trolleybus in Bradford. It is remarkable that so many parts of Bradford still have their trolleybus poles in place. I can recommend the recent Online Video, Bradford's Favourite Transport, which includes a tram journey along Manningham Lane filmed exactly 100 years ago in April 1902.

For those who are in the area and would like to savor the remaining trolleybus pole areas in Bradford I would recommend travelling Greengates - Idle - Five Lane Ends - Bolton Junction - Bolton Road into Bradford. On the return trip diverge at Five Lane Ends to go to Thackley. The depot at Saltaire still looks very much a trolleybus depot, but the one at Bolton Junction has long since gone.

The video does actually show trolley standards still existing at Bolton Woods. It is remarkable that trolleybuses were withdrawn from this route 70 years ago yet the poles are still standing. It is difficult to appreciate why trolleys ran to this quiet backwater in the first place.

A message to transport enthusiasts - bearing in mind there are two sets of guided busways in Leeds and one new guided busway in Bradford [not to mention brand new electric multiple units [similar to the Heathrow Express type] plus a remodelled and relaid Leeds Station having 6 approach tracks instead of 4] why not make a trip north - this area is something of a transport paradise. Bradford has one of the most modern bus fleets in the UK and it is within 10 miles of the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, the Keighley Bus Museum and a [now] free National Railway Museum at York, and National Photographic Museum [part of the Science Museum]in Bradford.

Two tram systems nearby, one at Sheffield and one at Manchester. If you can't spare the time to travel at least see the Bradford video!