Brighton trolleybuses

Photo:Trolleybus FUF 37 outside Lewes Road Depot in 1959

Trolleybus FUF 37 outside Lewes Road Depot in 1959

From the private collection of Gordon Dinnage

In praise of trolleybuses

By Gordon Dinnage

This picture was used to support an article by Adam Trimmingham in the 'Weekend Argus' of 14th August, 1999.  Adam wrote: 'Times when trolleybus ruled. Fast and frequent buses, almost silent and producing no pollution, sound an ideal solution to Brighton's transport problems.' This was a description of the electrically-propelled buses drawing the current from two overhead wires that ran above Brighton's streets. The current was conducted through two booms down to the roof of the bus and was then transfered down to the chassis motor. These were similar to the previous  'Dick Kerr' tram motors,  only upgraded to 80hp and built at the Allen West factory at Hollingbury.

Swift and silent
These trolleybuses were almost silent (similar to the remaining electric milk floats we see on the road today) with very fast pulling speeds up gradients like Braybon Avenue. Later, fuel-driven buses like the Leyland PD3, nicknamed 'Queen Mary' buses, were far slower with a full load when operating the same gradients for Southdown Motor Services. I would have loved to have remembered travelling on the trolleybuses and have always been fascinated by this method of apparently clean propulsion. In 1975 I wrote a project about this for one of my final years at the old Knoll School for Boys in Old Shoreham Road just before I left, including original photographs. Sadly the school insisted it was kept by them and it has never been seen since. I think my teacher at that time was Mr Harman.

This particular bus was sold on to Staplefield School for use as a playbus in 1960, then scrapped by March of 1968. All the other trolleybuses were sent to J. Lightyard of Lewes where they were scrapped and broken up. Andrew Henbest has recently made great strides in bringing together many previously unseen and notable memories in a new book on Brighton trolleybuses, and we were pleased to have supplied three views to assist in this and in order to provoke pleasant memories for the readers.

Added to the site on 26-02-06
This page was added on 26/06/2006.
Comments about this page
The article kindles many memories which we will put into writing in a forthcoming book 'Trolleybus Memories' published by Ian Allan in 2007. Whilst never recorded trolley number 12 went to the same scrapyard as the BH&D trolleys, I have the fleet number and at the time the front reg. plate which Malcolm Keeping has now. I could go on about this wonderful efficient system and will one day - not too soon. Keep up the good work.
By John Bishop (28/02/2006)
Bob Green again. My stepfather, Charles Barnard, was a Brighton tram conductor in 1927 and then was taught to drive a tram which he did on the Elm Grove route until the trolley buses were introduced in the mid-thirties I believe (I was 14 years old then). My main memory was of riding a bicycle along Lewes Road to the Technical College and being totally unaware of a trolley bus following me until it passed with a tremendous whoosh of air, otherwise almost totally silent, frightening me to death. Fortunately, I survived. A very interesting page.
By Robert Green (attended St Luke's Senior Boys School 1933 to 1936) (02/03/2006)
Quiet a few years ago I did a couple of interviews on BBC Radio Brighton, that shows how long ago it was, about the trolleybuses of Brighton and actually did one by the side of number 19 (FUF 19) at Southerham Farm. Following the interview I had a chance to talk to Mick Light, Joe's son, who now runs the yard and he told me that if I wanted one of those b***** things to take one and never come back. Well, I thought about it and contacted Richard Clark, the then General Manager of Brighton Corporation Transport, and he told me that if I could get it to the depot he would get Manpower Services, a government backed scheme for training the un-employed, to help with the restoration. I then went to the Army Barrocks and saw a person who was the spitting image of Captain Mainwaring who advised me it would be a great exercise for the TA and, having given him all the details of 19's location, including drawing a map, I felt assured that we would have a fully restored A.E.C. trolleybus back in the town. After a few weeks I contacted 'Captain Mainwaring' who told me the exercise was to be held 'shortly'. A few more weeks went by and on a visit to Eastbourne I thought I would stop at Southerham and have a look at the yard from the top of the field bordering the A27. Imagine my horror when all I could see was a freshly cleared scrap-yard with nothing in sight except chalk. I immediatly contacted Captain Mainwaring who was very gruff with me saying that he hadn't realised the job would be so difficult and withdrew his men and left. Our foolish Army man hadn't followed my drawing at all and having arrived at the yard saw the first line of trolleys all pushed into one another to form a barrier and decided that was it lads, off we go home. If he had followed my drawing he would have found 19 standing on her own ready to be winched down a small ledge (three tyres were still inflated even after twenty odd years there) to be put on a low-loader and brought back to Brighton. Mick Light, having got fed up with having these old buses cluttering up the place decided to clear the yard and start a recycling plant. That is my tale of woe. By the way, Gordon, Allen West didn't make the trolley motors in Hollingbury. They were made in a factory which stood where the Mithras House, Brighton University, car park is today.
By Alan J Piatt (13/03/2006)
I wanted to know if anyone in Brighton today is interested in bringing back the trolley buses/trams that were here before? Are there any people here interested in this?
By Jonathan (08/06/2006)
In ideal conditions the trolley buses climbed Braybon Avenue well. But in less than ideal conditions there was a severe problems. I remember one winter in the 50s, when I was a child living at the bottom end of Braybon, there was a queue of several buses stuck outside our house. The lines had a thick layer of ice on them and the buses were unable to pick up power. I remember my mother and some of the neighbours taking out cups of tea to the stranded crews. I believe the buses had to be towed into Brighton. On any frosty night the pick-up arms flashed and crackled causing dreadful interference on our radio and later television set.
By Roy Langley (13/06/2006)
In my page above, I stated the article was written by Adam Trimingham, who would need to be corrected. I supplied the photograph, from our vast negative libary. Of course there is always someone who will know the right facts, hence why I leave that to others. As time permits, I will add a selection of other views of Brighton scenes and its transport for the pleasure of visitors to this site. If uncredited/unauthorised pictures from our library are seen elsewhere on the internet, they are an infringement!
By Gordon (27/07/2006)

I lived in Bennett Road in Brighton from 1945 until about 1965. My dad had a stall in the London Road market. He used to go by trolley bus number 44 to the Level. I used to go to school in Woodingdean - St John the Baptist secondary modern, later to become Fitzherbert. The first part of my journey was from Arundel Road to the top of Elm Grove on a number 44 trolley bus, where I caught a diesel number 2 or 2a to Woodingdean. The trolley buses were silent and swift, having no trouble going up Elm Grove when loaded. I remember when they changed the number 44 to a diesel, going up Elm Grove one winter evening with a full load. The bus was just taking off from the bottom of Elm Grove by St. Joseph's church. The gearbox from 1st gear to 2nd gear was a snatch, and I remember the halfshaft snapping with such a full load. The trolley buses were just right and were missed when they went. What memories of Brighton I have.

By Mick Peirson (14/10/2006)

The photo of trolley bus FUF 37 shows a Brighton Corporation trolley bus outside the Brighton Corporation depot in Lewes Road. Brighton Hove and district bus company also had a fleet of trolley buses that lived at the Whitehawk Road depot, which was earlier Tilling Stevens bus company.

By Mick Peirson (14/10/2006)

Trolley buses certainly were fast - my father briefly had a tiny MG sports car in the mid 1950s and he told me a trolley bus could easily overtake him going up Ditchling Road. Why - in a hilly town like Brighton - we do not have this system back (but with all the modern technology seen in similar systems on the continent) beats me. It would be almost silent, pollution free and very eco-friendly as busses descending hills use their electric motors in reverse (" regenerative braking" for the technical) to slow them down and this feeds power back to the overhead which ascending busses can use. Instead I hear that a system of glorified bus lanes (using polluting diesel busses that use imported fuel) is being backed by the city authorities. Go to any European city to see how it should be done - and once was, here too.

By Adrian Baron (25/08/2007)

I also have memories of one night in the 1950s (probably around 1956) when it was so cold the lines froze and a trolley bus was stuck just below the bus-stop at Fiveways. We lived at 264 Ditchling Road and I remember Mum supplying cups of tea to all the passengers and crew.
They weren't so quiet either, I can still hear the noise of the arms going across the points and see the brilliant blue sparks when they arced at night or when it was cold.

By Ruth Mitchell (nee Rickards) (19/10/2007)

I worked in the general office of the trasport dept on Lewes Rd from the time I left school until I joined the RAF for national service 1949/51. I went back to the transport dept until I joined the Met police in 1953. My main job was working out the wages for the bus drivers and conductors. When I started in 1946, drivers recieved 5 pounds one shilling and conductors 4 pounds 19 shilling for a normal working week, but of course most worked overtime. I also calculated the wages for the corporation car park attendents and went out and paid them at various car parks. When I left, they bought me a pair of cufflinks. The wages for c/p attendents was one shilling and 15/16ths of a penny an hour, a bit different to today.

By Terry (16/02/2008)

Most of the coastal towns had trolleys. Bournemouth, Portsmouth, Brighton and Hastings. Further inland you had Maidstone. What a stupid move to get rid of these buses and the system. The trolleybus is alive and well on the Continent; trust us to be different. They even have them in San Francisco. I remember them well in Brighton.

By Bob Hex (18/03/2008)

What's remained in my mind is a distinctive "hissing" sound the trolley-buses used to make. At least this is my memory of those pulling away from the stop at the bottom of Elm Grove, as they began the ascent.

By John Gower (28/03/2008)

For John Bishop.  I was wondering if you are the same John Bishop that attended St Margaret's School in the 50s? If you are, please feel free to contact me on john.wignall@ntlworld.com
As a Brighton exile now living in the Midlands, it is most enjoyable reading up on this site. I have read the book 'Trolleybus Memories' and have just watched the DVD of 'The Best of Brighton'. Being a former busman in the Northants area, seeing the Bristol Lodekkas brought back a lot of memories as United Counties Omnibus Co was a former Tilling Group company.

By John Wignall (10/02/2009)

If you want to see a modern, full-scale trolleybus system in action, go to Salzburg in Austria. There is a number of websites featuring the system. Almost the whole of the city is wired for trolleybuses and the comprehensive network of services is fast, clean, efficient and comfortable. That is how it should be done. Why can't we have them here? If it were within my powers, we would have them back tomorrow.

By John Goddard (19/04/2009)

San Francisco and Vienna also have great trolley bus systems. When I was a kid in Brighton (maybe 8 or 9 yrs old), I remember nearly being flung off the back of the 26A as it accelerated up Ditchling Road from the traffic lights at the intersection of Upper Lewis Rd and Ditchling. We rode in a San Francisco trolleybus when I was out there on business last week. Steep hills for sure and there was something uncannily familiar about the noise of the electric motor and the overhead tolleys clattering over switches at road junctions. Phil Allsopp. Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

By Phil Allsopp (23/05/2009)

I would imagine that bringing back trolley buses would make a great deal of common sense these days. The main commuting and commerce routes from the Old Steine area outward seem to me to be virtually the same as when I lived there (1950s through late 1960s), based on recent visits (September 2008). The terrain of Brighton is very much like that of San Francisco so rather than continue to have diesels or natural gas buses wheezing up Ditchling Road or Elm Grove, trolley buses would make a lot of sense. Also, these days, the electric motors are far more efficient and we now have long-range lithium-ion battery packs (up to 150 miles between charges - See Smith Electric Trucks, UK) that could even make certain 'non-trolley' excursion routes possible for trolley buses to serve. I really think that we have a lot more technological flexibility and opportunity today than back in the 1950s when the Brighton trolley buses were in full swing. All it takes is some imagination, forethought and the political will to make it happen. I guess that those qualities have been in short supply in Parliament and local government in the UK - and certainly have been absent entirely between 2000 and later 2008 in the US. By the way my Dad drove buses and then luxury tours for Southdown from about 1953 through 1980. Phil Allsopp Scottsdale, Arizona, USA

By Phil Allsopp (24/05/2009)

For those that are interested, an ex Brighton Corporation trolley bus is still around! LCD 52, was used for a while by the corporation and then sold on to Maidstone. After they had finished with it, it ended up eventually at the East Anglian Transport Museum at Carlton Colville, near Lowestoft, where I believe it still operates an special days, albeit in Maidstone's livery. My dad worked in the Corporation transport dept from just after the war until 1977, and was a conductor on Trolleys and then worked in the offices at Lewes Rd depot.

By Geoff (22/04/2011)

I was 4 years old when the trolleybuses went off the road. I remember one day in the summer of 1961 just before I started school my Nan said to me "Would you like to go on a trolleybus?" because she knew I loved watching them when we went into town. Of course I jumped at the chance. My Nan told me when I was older that she took me because it would have been my only chance to go on one. We didn't have a need to ever use them as we lived at Colbourne Avenue in Moulsecoomb so our bus was the number 13 or a country bus. I remember it vividly as she took me to the Level and we got on a 43 that took us along the Lewes Road and up Elm Grove and then down to St James's Street via Queens Park Road. I have never forgotten the sound of them and would love to see a return but it would never be the same. I bought a video a few years ago called 'No Trollies To Aquarium', a wonderful film that shows some of the old trams as well. Wouldn't it be great if one year it was shown on the big screen at a Brighton cinema as part of the Brighton Festival.

By Paul Clarkson (17/12/2012)

The bus that went up Elm Grove to the junction and along Queens Park Road, across Edward Street, down Rock Gardens and into town, was the number 42 bus.

By Mick Peirson (18/12/2012)

My apologies, I was only 4 years old after all! But I am very interested to know where the 43 went as I knew it existed. When I was 10 in 1967 we moved to Islingword Street so we used these routes quite a lot but the trollies had gone by then so maybe I'm remembering the 43 from that era. I do have a memory of a number 43 just doing a circular route but maybe I have it wrong. Did it change or did the routes stay the same?

By Paul Clarkson (20/12/2012)

Growing up in the 60s near Elm Grove with a dad who worked on the Corporation bus office - the 41, 42, 43, 44 and 44A all went up Elm Grove. The 41 and 42 were Corporation operated and were circular routes that turned right at the Junction, Queens Park Road, to Rock Gardens, Old Steine. The 41 was then basically straight back up Lewes Road to Elm Grove whereas the 42 went via North Road and Queens Road to the station, round to Seven Dials and then via Preston Circus and the Open Market. The 43, 44 and 44A were all BHD operated; the 43 ran just to the top of Elm Grove having come (IIRC) just from Seven Dials. The 44 and 44A came from Hove (can't remember exactly where at the moment) via Seven Dials and Preston Circus up Elm Grove and then down into Whitehawk terminating just by where the Marina is now.

By Geoff (21/12/2012)

To be honest Paul I don't remember a No. 43 bus in Brighton when I was a kid in the 40s and 50s. I remember the numbers 41, 42, 44, 46, 48, I am scratching my head to remember the numbers from the 60s but find it hard. If there was a number 43 then Brightonions past and present will let us know. Good luck.

By Mick Peirson (21/12/2012)

Looking at the above comments on Trolleybus routes, if my memory serves me right, the 44a was a motor bus route that was introduced after the Trolley buses were withdrawn. Route 43 originnaly ran from the old Steine to Black Rock during the summer up until 1950 after which it became a Deop working for all Company own trolleys, usually for the last run to a Whitehawk Garage.

By John Wignall (31/07/2013)

There was a No.43 trolleybus but only a few journeys were operated early morning and late at night.  It ran between Old Steine and Whitehawk Garage via Lewes Road, Elm Grove and Manor Hill.  The regular routes were 26/46 from Old Steine to Hollingbury, 26A/46A from Old Steine to Preston Drove, Circular 41/42 via Elm Grove, Queen's Park and Brighton Station (42), the short 43A from Old Steine to the top of Elm Grove, the 44 from Seven Dials via Open Market, Elm Grove and Manor Hill to Black Rock, and finally the 48 from Old Steine via Lewes Road to the bottom of Coombe Road.
Brighton Hove & District ran the 43 and 44, Brighton Corporation the 26/26A/46/46A and 48, with the rest being run jointly.

By John Goddard (02/12/2013)

As part of the 1939 agreement (well documented), Brighton Hove & District Omnibus Company (BH&D) purchased eight new trolley buses, primarily to be used on the planned extension to the trolleybus system from Race Hill to Black Rock. However, because of wartime restrictions, the extension was not fully completed until peace time returned. Trolleybus route 44 (Seven Dials - Black Rock) commenced operation Sunday March 3rd 1946. During the years of WWII all eight vehicles were stored in the company's garage at Whitehawk and were to become affectionately known as 'the Sleeping Trolleybuses'.

By Chris Wrapson (03/12/2013)

The trolley buses that ran past the Pepper Pot (or the Pepper Box as we called it with public toilets on the ground floor) and along Queen's Park Road were the 41 that did a circular route from Queen's Park Road, down to St James's Street, along to Elm Grove and back along Queen's Park Road (pretty boring for the driver), and the 42 that did the same route but went up North Road, Queen's Road, Brighton Railway Station, down New England Road along Union Road(?), by the Level and back up Elm Grove to Queen's Park Road.
So fast and so quiet but were replaced by diesel buses - slow and noisy. That's what they called progress. Maybe one day we will see electric buses once again. I remember going upstairs on the buses and walking into a fog of cigarette smoke. These days it's called passive smoking!

By Brian Clark (07/07/2017)

I was just wondering about Paul Clarkson's comment on the 20/12/2012 regarding the number 43 bus. Maybe the 43 was a race day special, just a thought.

By Mick Peirson (10/07/2017)

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