Brighton Bus Depot, Lewes Road

Photo:Brighton trolley bus in the Old Steine

Brighton trolley bus in the Old Steine

From the private collection of Martin Nimmo

Photo:Brighton trolley bus

Brighton trolley bus

From the private collection of Martin Nimmo

The last trolleybus

By Martin Nimmo

I was there on the evening of 30 June 1961, when FUF 1, the last trolleybus, ran into the depot yard.

Photos taken with my new camera
On my way back from school that afternoon I had taken my "new" camera with me to the Aquarium terminus of trolleybus routes 26/26A/46 and 46A, and took a few photographs. Number 1 in the fleet (FUF 1) turned up with a magnificently painted board on its front, proclaiming "Brighton Trolley Buses 1939-1961 Last Trolley Bus" with a painted crest of the County Borough, and on its offside, instead of an advertisement, there read "Brighton Trolley Buses 1939-1961".

Lucky to get a seat
In the late evening, I went down to Old Steine to watch the last few trolleys making their final journeys, and was lucky enough to be offered a seat on FUF 34 which had been hired privately to run into the depot just in front of FUF 1. I was given a special 1d (white, Bell Punch) ticket overprinted in red with a last trolleybus slogan.It was a sad moment when the silent trolleys disappeared for ever, and Brighton became an all-diesel bus town.

Bought some interesting parts
A few months later, after writing to the General Manager (Mr Winston Robinson, whose name appeared on the side of all the buses), I was allowed to select and pay for a couple of items of trolleybus overhead wiring.  In 1968 I was "treated" to a visit to the stores to pick out some remaining trolleybus spare parts, and was given a few items of interest (including a parts catalogue for the pre-War "FUF" trolleybuses) to help with writing a book on the subject. Many years later I was allowed into the offices of the then General Manager at Lewes Road. The office still had window glass reading "Brighton Corporation Tramways".

The building was put up by direct labour in 1901 for the new Corporation electric trams, which were inaugurated in November that year.

Submitted to the site by e-mail on 29 July 2002
This page was added on 22/03/2006.
Comments about this page
The office windows etched with Brighton Corporation Tramways to which Mr Nimmo refers, still remain and are in the main undamaged, although now somewhat faded and stained. The entire building has become very dilapidated and run down; it seems the current occupiers, Brighton & Hove Bus Corporation, are not in the least bit interested in preserving the heritage of their former competitors. I work within these premises, and could also show you a section of concrete floor (approximately 10m) where tram rails are still clearly visible. I am sure that in due course these will just be dug up and scrapped without a second thought, and no doubt the etched glass windows will suffer a similar undignified fate. I find this all very sad; I am certain there are preservation groups who would dearly love to acquire such memorabilia.
By Geoff Marshall (25/02/2003)
My main memory of this building was my introduction to the local music scene on the 13th July 1977, a tremendous gig featuring the Piranhas, Nicky and the Dots, and Attrix (Gerry and the). It was a steamy night, the Piranhas were punky, funny and sharp, Nicky and the Dots arty and energetic (my first awareness of Talking Heads was their rendition of Psychokiller at this gig), and Attrix were led by Rick Blair, sadly now deceased, who went on the open the Attrix record shop at 3 Sydney St, and produce 3 albums of assorted Brighton bands. These were called Vaultage 78, 79 and 80, named for the Vault of the Brighton and Hove Community resource Centre where many of the bands kept their equipment and practised. There was a poster for this gig, a beautiful screen-printed sunset with a silhouette of the Brighton skyline, later featured as the cover of the Vaultage albums. Sorry this comment doesn't have much to do with buses or trams!
By Jay Derrick (28/02/2004)
This building is scheduled for demolition,and a new two storey bus depot building comprising of offices a canteen and training rooms is to be erected. Planning reference BH2004/01464 May 14th. This seems a dreadful thing to happen to yet another part of our Transport Heritage.
By Gordon Hall (31/05/2004)
Greetings, I was a conductor on the trolley buses from Lewes Road in 1949 before I got back into aircraft work. A very happy time indeed. I also went on to the petrol buses , Dyke Road. If any old friends read this, I send my best wishes. Arthur.
By Arthur Arculus (13/02/2005)
Thankfully the front of Lewes Road depot has been treated to possibly its first cleaning ever and looks quite good. The 'Tramway' windows have mostly been removed and are either in store at the towns museum in Church Street or at Crich. The depot is safe- the buiding that is to be demolished is the staff canteen on the south side of the entrance that was built in the fifties. Please check out www.brighton buses.com and help with updating my fleetlist. Thanks.
By Alan J Piatt (09/03/2005)
I was also at Old Steine on the last evening and rode on 36(FUF 36)back to the depot. At the bottom of Elm Grove a young couple, probably on their home from the cinema,got on and rode to Upper Lewes Road stop,(always known as Cox's pill factory where they alighted. They were the very last fare paying passengers on a coporation trolleybus. I wonder who they were? Following a visit to the depot, where No.1 was put through the bus washer, and then parked, I walked home up Hollingdean Avenue to Ditchling Road. The sight of the overhead wires which would no longer be used, brought quite a lump to my throat. I also remember that same evening, about 5.00p.m, seeing one the T. buses going around Preston Circus, loaded to capacity. I could not help but think how sad that the following day that bus would be going to the breakers!Happy days, when buses were cleaned regularly.
By John Boxell (25/04/2006)
I was born at 1 Riley Road in 1942 overlooking the depot. I remember an unexploded doodlebug being stored in the depot. We could see it from our upstairs window, it was just behind the front wall of the depot. I wonder what happened to it? The depot provided me with lots of interest when I was a small child watching the buses being washed on a Sunday morning and the uncanny quiet on Christmas Day when the gates were shut. Christmas was the only time in the year that happened. When I was a teenager I went to the Saturday night dances there in the Social Club and the girl presenter was Ann Nightingale. She later went on to find fame as a Radio 1 DJ. At the back of the depot was a very high wall which was the end of our garden. Mum would sling any snails she found over the wall!
By Maureen Nash (28/07/2006)

I am quite certain (although I cannot give specifics) that, as late as 1966/67, a few Brighton trolleybuses were still running from the Lewes Road area down to the Steine: I used to catch them home from school. Of course the wires had long since gone but many of the metal poles with the distinctive bobble on the top were still there going up Elm Grove.  These buses had been converted to diesels and of course had no trolley poles but otherwise looked much the same.

By Adrian Baron (23/01/2007)

Sorry Adrian, but the buses you mention were not converted trolleybuses but the AEC Regent's FUF 60 - 69 which looked very similar and were purchased at the same time. Check out the fleetlist on www.brightonbuses.com

By Alan J Piatt (25/01/2007)

It is fantastic to read such historical information. I have seen the tram tracks at Lewes Road. I take my PCV next week and marvel in the history of this company. Absolutely fantastic!

By Cameron (18/03/2007)

Alan, you must be right. Thanks for solving a 40 year mystery for me - I wondered about this at the time.

By Adrian Baron (27/04/2007)

When I was about 17 I started working at my father's scrap yard at Greystone Quary, Southerham, near Lewes. I am sorry to have to admit that one of my first jobs was to start breaking up the old trolley buses at the top of our yard. They had lain there in the grass for several years, my father, who at this time owned the yard, had been requested by the council to pull them over onto their sides as they could be seen above the bushes by passers by travelling on the Lewes Eastbourne road. My grandfather had bought these buses from Brighton and had left them standing for quite a while in the hope that someone might be interested in buying one or two, as they were intact, but sadly no one was interested. So their fate was to be broken up for scrap! Sadly at about this time we also scrapped two white open top brighton buses, the White Rabbit and the White Lady, we had kept these for years with the same hope, that someone would want to rescue them, again, sadly no takers. One small side story to this, when towing one of the trolley buses back to our yard through Lewes, he got it wedged under the railway bridge this stopped the trains on this line for several hours whilst the bridge was inspected for damage!!

By Roderick John Light (23/07/2007)

Interesting to hear from a member of the Light family. Of course there were a number of people who would have liked to preserve a Brighton pre-War trolleybus, but most of us were impecunious youths with no funds or storage facilities! A pity, but that's life! Light's yard at Southerham was always a source of wonder to us; was once granted admission in the snow in January 1963, and was allowed to depart with FUF 1's front registration plate. Unfortunately, some other enthusiasts got too enthusiastic about plundering the relics, and I have no doubt that the Light family spent time and money trying to keep the trolleybuses from being vandalised. The white open-topped buses were actually pre-War Eastbourne Corporation vehicles which went to Southerham after many years' service on the seafront of that town.

By Martin Nimmo (20/08/2007)

Back in 1984, I approached Mick Light to see if I could acquire trolleybus no. 19 from the Southerham yard. This was situated at the far end by a small cliff leading down to the then operational quarry. We agreed that if I could get it out I would take it and never return. (Not the exact words used but you get the drift.) I then approached Dick Clark of Brighton Buses fame and he told me that if I could get it to Lewes Road depot he would get get Man-power Services to help restore the bus. Next step was to contact someone at the Barracks and an officer there who could best be discribed as 'Captain Mainwaring' thought it would be a jolly good exercise in vehicle recovery and having told him where the bus was and drew him a sketch I left it with him to contact me when the exercise was "on". Months went by and on my way to Eastbourne one day I thought I would have a look over the hedge by the farm track on the A27 and imagine my horror at seeing the entire scrap-yard cleared. Not a car, van lorry or worse of all no trolleybuses! The army man had visited the site and saw all the buses that were forming a barrier on the left side of the yard and assumed one of those was the one we wanted. Decided it couldn't be done and went back to the barracks and didn't bother contacting me. Mick, in the mean-time decided to clear the yard and the one chance of saving a pre-war Brighton Corporation AEC trolleybus was gone.

By Alan J Piatt (09/12/2007)

It is not a trolleybus, but efforts are been made to restore Brighton's last tram, no 53, built at Lewes Road depot in 1937! Contact me Guy, at tram53project@yahoo.com or guy99@btopenworld.com for details. Save electric traction.

By Guy Hall (07/01/2010)

My uncle, Charley Lineham, was a trolley bus driver and I remember a Wednesday in the 50s: I worked late and when we came out of work there was thick fog and visibilty was down to about ten or so feet, not expecting any buses to be on the road I decided to walk home. This was from the top of Edward Street to most of Lewes Road and when I reached the junction of Upper Lewes Road this trolley bus (a No 48) was slowly coming to a stop with smoke pouring out from under the bus. Then out of the driver's door stepped my Uncle Charlie. I learnt later that he had had to crawl along on the bus's battery and it had started to overheat, they were not meant to drive for long on the battery at slow speed so I understand. I think the local paper would have a report on that pea-souper - I don't remember another like it.

By Jim Dorrington (11/03/2011)

I wonder if anyone remembers a trolley bus driver called Derick Chatfield?  He drove trolley buses from the Lewes Road depot. We worked together after he left the corporation and went to work as a coalman at Hall & Co. in Davigdor Road. We both drove Bedford petrol lorries on piecework delivering 15 ton of coke a day from the gasworks at Portslade. Each of us helped the other to load from the hopper and onto the trucks in larger bags. Then we went on our own rounds. We each had to deliver two five ton loads to churches and down manholes and the other five ton was delivered around the houses. We were the only two drivers on piecework at Hall & Co. We were on a £1,000 a year which was good money, but you had to bend your back for it. Now I have chronic arthritis for my troubles. I wonder if Derek is still around.

By Mick Peirson (05/06/2011)

I worked in the office for a short while around 1950 - Head cashier was Mr Packer and the chief clerk was Mr Tullet. Boring sort of job, doing wages, logging accidents etc. Left to join the RAF as a pilot - rather more exciting!

By David Blackford (12/06/2011)

Thursday week, 30 June 2011, will be the fiftieth anniversary of the last trolleybus to run in service in Brighton. It is quite amazing how this silent form of transport is still missed by those who used to use it.

By Martin Nimmo (19/06/2011)

These were amazing vehicles, no noise pollution, no fumes. What do we have now in these green times , several Yellow buses that smell like chip shops offering to Save the Planet and Brighton buses with smug comments on the back about anyone daring to venture in various locations being fined £60 . The only problem I ever saw was when the pickups came off the overhead cables , soon replaced with a long pole carried beneath the bus . Progress 

By Alan Spicer (23/06/2011)

I still remember one bonfire night a trolley bus lost its pickup just as it turned into Braybon Ave from Carden Ave, the annual bonfire celebrations were well under way on the site now occupied by the Roman Catholic Church .The poor unfortunate conductor fought to reconnect his pickups to the power lines whilst being showered with bangers thrown by the local youths (not me- I was too young) but no doubt my elder brother Mick joined in.

By Alan Spicer (23/06/2011)

My dad, Wally Levett drove the last trolley bus in Brighton. His conductor was Fred Bracey. During the school holidays I remember my dad taking me and my sister to the Lewes Road depot. I also remember the christmas parties. We used to go to the ice show, then back to the depot for the party. What a great time we had.

By Maureen Howell (19/09/2011)

Anyone out there remember my dad Wally Levett, also Wally Lowe, Fred Bracey, someone known as Kipper feet? Oh what memories I have of drivers of buses, nearly all the menfolk in my family drove them or were conductors. They all worked for different companies- Brighton Corporation, Southdown, Tillings, bhd. Please comment if you knew my dad.

By Maureen Howell (19/09/2011)

I was prompted by Geoff Marshall (25/02/2003) about the windows, so I have posted pictures of the depot and the final window that exists here

By John Desborough (14/02/2012)

Just wandering around Brighton on Internet from Down Under (New Zealand) and came across the old trolley bus photos at the Old Steine. I was a conductor in 1949 until going to Allen West's switchgear. Happy days. Lovely sight for an 86 year old.

By Arthur Arculus (07/10/2012)

Hi Maureen Howell. I remember your dad well and also his conductor Wally Lowe. (I worked on the buses there from 1968 to 1971 with them). Your dad became an inspector if my memory is right. Wally Lowe was union secretary, a very intellectual guy who played a mean game of chess.

By Den Mackey (06/05/2013)

I used to travel on the No.46 trolleybus from Braybon Avenue in Patcham to a stop near the Level where I changed to (I think) a No.44 which took me to the bottom of Elm Grove and I then walked to school in Hanover Terrace.  I recall the trolleybus route into Patcham / Hollingbury replacing the old 35 diesel buses. These always had to change down on the steepest part of Braybon Avenue and used to almost stop as the driver would attempt to double-declutch from 22nd to 1st gear.

By John Snelling (27/10/2014)

I worked at the depot in the wonderful old offices from 1980 until 1985 on marketing and timetable planning so much later than most of the reminiscences here.  Plenty of tram track remained in the yard then - cobbles too!  I knew Wally Lowe reasonably well - is he still around, does anyone know?

By Adrian Figgess (28/10/2014)

Braybon Avenue must have been a mother of a hill for the bus to have 22 gears. The driver would not have had to double de-clutch as first gear would have been a crash gear, so whack it straight in. If it did not go in, then a start over again.

By Mick Peirson (28/10/2014)

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