The last time London introduced a cable-related means of public transport, it didn't last. Trolleybuses first appeared in 1931 as a replacement for trams, their overhead connectors offering better manoeuvrability than rails. Soon London had the largest trolleybus network in the world... but it didn't last. A decision was made to replace trolleybuses with go-anywhere diesel vehicles, many of them Routemasters, and wires strung above our roads gradually disappeared. The very last London trolleybus ran on Tuesday 8th May 1962, from Wimbledon to Fulwell via Raynes Park, Kingston and Hampton Court. That'll be 50 years ago this week, which was the cue for a celebratory event yesterday at the bus garage where that last journey ended. A little event for London, but a big event in Fulwell.
Trolleybus 50, it was called. Any excuse for bus lovers to come and stare, and ogle, and take photos, and generally immerse themselves in all things omnibus. Normally it's part of the parking area in front of the bus garage, but yesterday a dozen vehicles were lined up around a small quadrangle, including that very final very last trolleybus [photo]. There's still a sign in the back window reading "THE END", and a medallion of the Queen hanging from the front window of the top deck. You could climb aboard and, if you were patient enough to wait, climb the back stairs to the upper seats for that true trolleybus experience [photo]. Alongside was London's very first trolleybus, affectionately known as a Diddler, which also made a commemorative run on that last day in May 1962. Completing the trio was a rare post-war trolleybus, complete with adverts for Co-Op 99 tea, its red and black paintwork polished and gleaming. [photo]
It was busy, this event, busier than you'd expect. Several locals had turned up, but the place was especially packed with People Who Like Buses. They're a hardy breed, many not a little obsessed, and will travel anywhere if there's a chance of a heritage vehicle to stroke. They're not averse to standing around in pairs discussing route discrepancies ("yes, the 108B terminated just before the Blackwall Tunnel") or, more likely, praising one model over another ("I do like the RM, don't get me wrong, but for me it doesn't have the smooth lines of the RT"). They tend to be older, and are almost invariably men, but younger bus-spotters are continually rising slowly in the ranks. And they were clearly annoying one another yesterday, entirely unintentionally, by standing in front of the various vehicles and blocking clear line of sights. Gentlemen with cameras stood patiently, and not quite so patiently, waiting for close-up starers and casual passers-by to get out of their bloody camera shots thank you. You wait months to see these lovely buses, and then you can't quite capture them for posterity because too many other folk have come to mingle too.
There were other vehicles to see too, not just trolleybuses [photo]. A couple of single deckers - an old red RF and Cobham Bus Museum's Leyland Tiger - drew admiring glances. Plus awholerow of double deckers, one of which was a green London Country RML, just like used to roll past my house when I was very small, which caused a pang of mild nostalgia [photo]. Another bus was available for actual rides - a short hop up the road to Hampton Hill [photo]. Proper enthusiasts could buy books and photos of buses, oh so very many photos of buses, or even walk away with a genuine SW London bus blind for only a fiver. I'm sure many a wife exclaimed "What the hell have you bought that for? It's not going up in here!" when their bus obsessed husbands arrived home. But let's not overlook the event's mainstream accessibility. Nicholas Owen the newsreader came along to open proceedings, and there was even an outside broadcast from the DJs at Epsom Hospital Radio. You'd have enjoyed it, unless you'd have absolutely hated it, and you'll know which. All hail to the trolleybus, once workhorse of our streets, now a minor object of worship down Fulwell way. Other people's photos:Alan, wirewiping, Peter, Hoosier Sands, Debster!