Memories of Trolleybuses in Bexleyheath
I grew up in Bexleyheath, where, in the fifties, there were two trolleybus routes, which were
physically separated from the rest of the London network. One of these, the 696, ran past the back of my garden. And I
was born in Bursted Woods maternity home, Barnehurst, right on the other route, the 698. So maybe it is not surprising
that I am a trolleybus enthusiast!
I grew up in Bexleyheath, where, in the fifties, there were two trolleybus routes, which were physically separated from the rest of the London network. One of these, the 696, ran past the back of my garden. And I was born in Bursted Woods maternity home, Barnehurst, right on the other route, the 698. So maybe it is not surprising that I am a trolleybus enthusiast!
Sadly, London Transport selected the two Bexley routes to be the first to go in their withdrawal programme, along with another isolated route, the 654, which connected with the rest of the system at just one point, West Croydon. Unfortunately I never got to go on the latter, something I particularly regret as I now live in Epsom, not far from the 654's Sutton terminus.
I consoled myself by exploring the rest of the London system, the obvious place to start being North Woolwich, within sight of the Woolwich terminus of the 696/698. One crossed the river using the Woolwich Free Ferry, which in those days used splendidly antiquated boats where one could go down and see the engines working. The ride on the 669 to Stratford was fascinating. It went through the heart of Docklands - the trolleybuses were soon to go but who would have believed then that one day the docks, too, would vanish?
Though I covered a fair bit of ground, the system was dismantled faster than I could explore it and I regret for example that I never got to travel on the 607 out to Uxbridge or the 630 to West Croydon. But I got to such outposts as Enfield Town, High Barnet, and Sudbury - all fairly exotic for a young lad living south of the river! And I got to know fairly well routes 657, Hounslow to Shepherd's Bush, and 667, Hammersmith to Hampton Court. I explored the Kingston routes just a few months before final closure, when I travelled out to Tolworth, just a couple of miles or so from where I live now.
May 1962 and the last day of trolleybus operation. I was now 14 and went straight from school, still therefore in uniform but discarding the detested cap [there was a school rule, which I often rebelled against, requiring one to wear it all the way home but the risk of encountering one of my teachers in Hounslow, say, seemed fairly low!]
I travelled via the District Line to Wimbledon, now once again an electric traction terminal, this time for the Croydon Tramlink. Here I travelled on route 605 to Kingston, via Raynes Park and New Malden. At Kingston I transferred to the 604 for the short hop to Hampton Court, one of the most scenic stretches of the London trolleybus network, which passed through pleasant parkland and was generally accomplished at some speed as there was little need to stop.
At Hampton Court I transferred to the 667. Again this was a pleasant ride, following the Thames to Hampton Village before turning "inland" to Twickenham, past Fulwell Depot where the final trolleybus to run in London, a 604, finished its journey early the next morning. Some six years later, when I was newly married, my wife and I lived for few months in Twickenham. London Transport had originally planned for the Fulwell and Isleworth routes to continue for six or seven years after the rest of the system; had they done so I might have again lived in a "trolleybus town", albeit briefly. Alas a purchaser in Spain was found for the fairly new vehicles running from these depots so their routes became the fourteenth and final phase of the original withdrawal programme.
I got off at Busch Corner, Isleworth, the junction with route 657, which I'd selected for my last ever ride on a London trolleybus system. I walked a couple of miles or so to its Hounslow terminus, past Isleworth depot, which housed just one route the 657, and along the busy main shopping street of Hounslow itself. Then I boarded the vehicle for my final ride - EXV104, I have the ticket still. I thus returned to Bush Corner, continuing via Brentford and Chiswick to Stamford Brook, from where the 667 made its separate way to Hammersmith. We proceeded along the Goldhawk Road to the Shepherds Bush terminus. I watched my vehicle set off on its return journey to Hounslow, before disappearing into the Central Line tube station. I confess there were tears in eyes.
For a few more years there were provincial systems to explore. I effectively 'adopted' the Reading system and my last journey of all on a British trolleybus system was in Cardiff in 1969. By that time I had other preoccupations, not least marriage and fatherhood, so I did not really keep up with the final closures in the early seventies.
I have in recent years travelled on overseas systems, particularly Switzerland, where my daughter lived for a while. I have also travelled on trolleybuses on the west coast of North America - Vancouver, San Francisco and Seattle [where the trolleybuses run though tunnels under the city centre, providing a free public transport service]. The most exotic system which I have seen [but not travelled on] is the route in Nepal, running from Kathmandu a dozen miles or so to the beautiful city of Bhaktapur. Ironically this route opened in 1973 - one year after the final closure in Britain! I still miss the British trolleys. The overseas ones are invariably single deckers so somehow do not count in book as 'real' trolleybuses!