Personal recollections of London Transport's East End Trolleybuses

Written by David Parsons

Although I now live on the Isle of Wight I still remember with affection the Trolleybuses that ran in the East End of London. Born in 1947, I lived opposite West Ham Football Club in Castle Street, until 1963, roughly where the entrance to West Ham Supporters Club is now. I then moved to a block of Flats in Park Road near Upton Park Station until I moved to the Island in 1998. I can still see the queues of homeward bound fans after a match either waiting for the trolleybuses or walking up to Upton Park Underground Station.

 Walthamstow, Crooked Billet
Click on picture [TR21] for an enlarged version

My local routes were the 689/690 Stratford Circular, the 685 Canning Town to Walthamstow [Crooked Billet], I believe that this was the only instance of a pub name to appear on a London Trolleybus Blind. This pub is now long gone and a massive roundabout and fly-under has taken its place, ah well such is progress. The 665 Bloomsbury to Barking Broadway and 567 Barking Broadway to Aldgate or Smithfield. They ran from either West Ham [WH] or Poplar [PR] depots, both now demolished and housing estates built on the sites, although the West Ham Depot site is remembered as one of the street names there is named Routemaster Close. There was also I believe a rush hour route 565 from Holborn to Barking Broadway which ended in 1956?

I remember one Saturday afternoon when I was about 10 or 11 when the fans were pouring out of the football ground a 689 stopped at the bus stop opposite the Boleyn Pub [still there and unchanged], in Barking Road. I noticed that the conductor had forgotten to pull the frog for the right hand turn into Green Street. I tried to tell the conductor that the booms were on the wrong wire, but was told by the conductor in earthy East End language to go away. Of course the inevitable happened as the bus turned the corner the booms came off the wires blocking the road all ways to other traffic. Unfortunately for the conductor there was no bamboo pole under the bus so he had to get one from another Trolley that had been held up. I walked away with satisfaction.

Another incident from my memory that unfortunately had a tragic ending, happened about summer 1959. Coming home from school I found my mother and grandmother waiting for me at the Boleyn bus stop in Green Street just past the Football Ground entrance. I found out later that a young girl [?] had been knocked down and killed by a 685 Trolleybus which was turning from Barking Road into Green Street from the London Direction. I found out much later from a St. John Ambulance member, who became a very good friend of mine after I joined St. John Ambulance many years later, that it was he who attended this incident and was under the bus trying to help the girl whilst waiting for the fire brigade and ambulance. It turned out that she darted out across the road as the bus was turning and didn't hear the vehicle coming as they were so quiet.

My late mother was a clippie working on the Trolleys running from West Ham Depot during the 2nd World War and I believe that West Ham was the most bombed Depot during the war. She told me about several things that happened during the time she worked there. One story she told me was that after one bombing incident, nearly all the serviceable Trolleys had their windows blown out by blast, but she went out on one of the Docks Routes, 687/697/699 during the winter wrapped up in a great coat, trousers, woollen hat, scarf and gloves. She was nearly frozen stiff but the services must run. It was a matter of pride with her that they did. Coming on duty in the early morning to take the first Trolley of the day out, she had to walk from where she lived at the time with my Grandmother near the East Ham and Barking Bypass to West Ham Depot, it was nothing unusual for lorry drivers coming from the Royal Docks to stop and offer a lift to her. She thought nothing of it, you couldn't do it today. She also told me that on V.E. Day in 1945 when the celebrations started she was conducting on a 689 which was turning right into Barking Road from East Ham High Street North. The driver stopped the bus by The Denmark Arms Pub, opposite East Ham Town Hall, [the pub is still there], with the booms up on the wires, as the passengers wanted to treat her and the driver to a celebration drink. I don't think that would happen today either.

 The return of London's Trolleybuses
Click on picture [907] for an enlarged version

I wonder if Trolleybuses will ever make a comeback to the Capital, I hope they do. When they do make a comeback, like the trams in Croydon I wonder if whoever runs the service will do [so I understand], the same as they did when the trams started running again, that the first new tram was given the following number after the last number of the old trams in London and given the same colour livery as the old trams. I would love to see the new Trolleybuses in the same livery as the old double deckers. I hope Virgin Buses never get a franchise for a new Trolleybus service, as I don't think that they would be very successful.

After all would you get on a Trolleybus that doesn't go all the way?

From: "Paul" <>

I read this web page with interest: it brought back many happy memories.

I was born in 1941, and I remember trams going along Woodford New Road [as it is now] in Upper Walthamstow. They were then replaced by trolleybuses which only went as far as the Napier Arms in Woodford.

Can anyone recommend a website or a publication that can give me some history of the transport in the mid 1940s in that part of NE London? I'm trying to find out when the last tram ran on that line.

My friends tell me I'm imagining it, but I definitely remember catching a double deck bus with an outside staircase. When did this style of bus stop running? The route was no 10 or 10A, later becoming 48A.

Can anyone give me any leads on the transport of the Bakers Arms to Woodford route?

From: "John Prentice" <>

A good general book for this period is London Transport in the 1940s by Michael Baker, published by Ian Allan. It is currently available at £15.99.

Outside staircase buses of the LT and "Tilling" ST types ran until the late 1940s.

Now the trams, my real field. The Woodford terminus was always at the Napier Arms [although the trolleybuses went a little further than the trams to use a turning circle] and was served by tram routes 23 and 81. The 23 ran the short distance from Tottenham Hale [Ferry Lane] along Forest Road and Woodford New Road. This was the former Walthamstow Corporation route 3. The 81 ran from Bloomsbury via Bakers Arms, Whipps Cross and Woodford New Road. This was a former London County Council Tramways route worked jointly with Walthamstow. The 23 was replaced by trolleybus 623 [Manor House to Woodford "Napier Arms"] on 18th October 1936. The 81 was directly replaced by trolleybus 581 on 11th June 1939.

So with respect, I suggest that your memory is a little faulty. At the time of your birth the only trams left north of the Thames were the "Subway" routes 31, 33 and 35 which ran until the 1950s. The 33 ran to Manor House, the nearest to Walthamstow and was replaced by buses on 6th April 1952.


I have just been reading the page written by David Parsons where he expresses the pinion that "Walthamstow Crooked Billet" might have been the only pub name to feature on a London trolleybus blind.

It was not. As "Paul" in the very next contribution says, there was also "Woodford Napier Arms" [581, 623, 625]. And in fact the Crooked Billet one said simply that - the "Walthamstow" bit did not appear on trolleybuses, only on the replacement buses [58 etc].

Others to my knowledge were 691 to Horns Tavern [at Newbury Park]. That would also have been used on the 692, but I never saw that route in operation. Others included Greengate [at Plaistow], Upton Park Boleyn, Leyton Bakers Arms, Holloway Nags Head, Tolworth Red Lion and I am sure there must be many others too.

From: "Donald Williams" <>

Bowled over by the site Dave. I used to live near West Ham Depot at Plaistow and remember the damaged trolleys outside after a heavy raid, and other things that happened to them during the war which would make the drivers hair fall out nowadays! Found you by accident and had not thought about trolleybuses for years as I have lived in Hereford since the sixties and never went back. [Everyone says West Ham is a good place to come from!]

The 669, 699 and 697 passed our door, my dad had the barbers opposite Huggetts furniture shop and the turn-round for shorts at Bull Road and Holbrook Road meant the loop went right round the block. The trolleys were always coming off the wires at that corner and made a terrific noise especially if they hit the glass on the street lamp. One day, after they straightened Plaistow Road, the old trolleybus route up to West Ham Church was left intact but the new RMs used the new bit when the trolleybus drivers were getting to know the ropes on the new buses. I saw a trolleybus go straight on instead of turning right and it went a hundred yards before stopping, expect he did not remember he was back on the old trolley route and made a fool of himself in the process.

One of my uncles drove trams and trolleybuses through West Ham all his life and retired just before the RMs came in. Must have been bad during the war sometimes but he wouldn't talk about it. Hope this has stirred a few memories somewhere, wonderful days!

From: "Alan Thompson" <>

Excellent site and brought back a lot of good memories. I was born in 1948 and lived in Walthamstow until 1960, regularly used the trolleybus routes that served the suburb. I can still remember the sound when you were upstairs and the trolley booms crossed other wires like at the Standard Junction in Walthamstow, it sounded like thunder. Well it did to this junior school boy.

I can also remember the fast acceleration of the trolleybuses. They were clean, quiet, efficient. Why did those in charge have to change it all? Yes, I also hope the trolley makes return to the capital in the original livery.

Well done again.

From: "Pat Brambley" <>

Thanks so much for writing that page. Oh boy that took me right back to my childhood spent in Selsdon Road in a house next door to the Gas, Light & Coke Company. We used to sit in the dark for hours watching the trolley buses fly round the corner into Green Street. We'd be fascinated by the odd black conductor [the only black men we saw back the]. You've now got me reminiscing about Saturday morning pictures at the Odeon and all sorts!

From: "Pat Brambley" <>

Thanks so much for writing that page. Oh boy that took me right back to my childhood spent in Selsdon Road in a house next door to the Gas, Light & Coke Company. We used to sit in the dark for hours watching the trolley buses fly round the corner into Green Street. We'd be fascinated by the odd black conductor [the only black men we saw back the]. You've now got me reminiscing about Saturday morning pictures at the Odeon and all sorts!

From: "Len DesBois" <>

 The return of London's Trolleybuses I have just discovered your "Trolleybus" site. What memories it brings back. It reminds me of "Those Halcyon Days" when life was simpler/safer, or so my memory tells me. I was born in 1935 and lived in South Esk Road, off Green Street, but at the East Ham end. It was only recently that I remarked to a contemporary of mine about the various trolleybus routes [689, 690, 685, etc] and wondered if he remembered them.

I used to walk to WHFC on Saturdays and I, too, remember the hoards of supporters heading for Upton Park station after the match, in various moods, as you can imagine, dependant on the result! I frequently "tour" East Ham/Forest Gate via Google Street View, but am saddened by what I see the old stomping-ground has turned into. So far I have only found two shops that sell the same goods as back in the 50s/60s, namely, Newbury Radio in Upton Lane and A.W.Phillips [tool shop] in Plashet Grove. It simply does not do to go back. I prefer to remember things as they were, and going back tends to erase those memories.

The Steet View picture shows part of Green Street where the Carton cinema used to be. Says it all!