Thursday, 6 January 2011

LONDON TROLLEYBUS LAMENT: FIFTY YEARS GONE

London streets seem to be eerily empty in the mid 1950s, but perhaps it is early in the morning.  Here a trolleybus turns northwards into City Road from the Finsbury Square turning circle.  Unfortunately for this and the next three photographs I cannot now find the website from which they are taken.  My apologies therefore for not acknowledging some excellent pictures.
2011 is the fiftieth anniversary of the removal of the trolleybuses from the City of London.  They lingered on for a few more months in places such as Kingston, Shepherds Bush and Edgware but for all intents and purposes they were now part of London's transport history.

One of the shorter routes into Moorgate (as Finsbury Square was optimistically called) was the 611 from Highgate Village.  Here two trolleybuses, modified with special emergency brakes in case anything went wrong on Highgate Hill, wait over before going back into the City. In these pictures there often seem to be lot more uniformed staff in evidence than one sees today
Between the late 1930s and the beginning of the sixties London had the biggest trolleybus network in the world.  By 1939 it had largely replaced trams north of the Thames and on the outskirts of the southern suburbs. It was thus a slightly oddly organised network.  For reasons of history - the City and West End saw trams as transport for the working class and thus undesirable - all the central trolleybus termini remained on the former tram sites on the fringes of the City and West End leaving commuters to walk in from such locations as Finsbury Square, Smithfield and a location a couple of hundred yards of Holborn Station called Bloomsbury.


The Smithfield terminus that skirted round the meat market.  The 679, here on a short working to Edmonton, normally went out to the fringes of London at Waltham Cross and was one of the longer routes.
Trolleybuses drew power from wires hanging above the street.  They were large, quiet and needed little maintenance.  Their principal problems were the queues that built up if anything went wrong with the power supply and the tendency for the collecting poles, the trollies, to spring off the wires.  The sight of a conductor with a long bamboo rod manoeuvering the trolley pole back on was a commonplace and endlessley absorbing occurrence in my childhoood.

By the 1950s buses seemed much more flexible.  Although slightly more expensive to run this was offset by the costs of re-wiring streets as an increasing number of one-way systems were introduced. The decision was made to scrap the system. 

The nearest termini to the Hall were Finsbury Circus from where long distance routes ran to the northern edge of London, principally Edgware and Enfield, and Liverpool Street that reached out into the East End.  Starting in 1959 the routes were gradually withdrawn and during 1961 the last services were replaced by buses.  The Moorgate and Holborn termini closed in November 1961, the last ones to remain open serving the City.

A 641 from Enfield on the City Road just short of Finsbury Square
The charm of trolleybuses was that they were a mundane form of transport that cheaply, quietly and cleanly moved thousands of commuters each day.  Also they were a very distinctive part of the London scene in the fifties and the pictures recall a less complex and a down at heel city that had yet to change into our world.

Finsbury Square late autumn 1961 and for a few days brand new Routemaster buses bear trolleybus route numbers; in this case as a 609 to Barnet.  A 641 arrives in from Enfield. Photograph courtesy Geoff Bannister.

No comments:

Post a Comment