London Trolleybuses on route 611 at Highgate Village terminus
|Click on picture  for an enlarged version|
Notes by David Bradley
Here is a picture taken on a sunny afternoon, at the Highgate
Village terminus of Route 611, that just soaks up the atmosphere before the advent of Sunday trading. To me having
a city route that terminates in a village with a weekday service interval of just 5 minutes, seems quite amazing, when
40 years later rural bus routes are down to a frequency of just one per day. Not that Highgate Village was,
or is, that rural!
The original single rear light of the trolleybus was supplemented, with two reflectors, by legalisation brought in only months before all trolleybuses were to be scrapped. Surprising how poor the front and rear lights were considering the real 'pea soupers' of fog in the early 1950s.
From: "Eric Graham" <email@example.com>
You might not think that Highgate Village was 'rural' but had you the chance to hear the stories from my mother,
born 1912 and the youngest of many siblings, you might well change your mind. It WAS a village, with everyone knowing
each other, and their business; the fire engine pulled by horses [to great peril to the family dog] and through
traffic almost non existent.
The picture of the six-eleven trolleys [not as I heard referred to by a whippersnapper recently six-one-one] firstly brought back the smell of the vehicle, unlike the tram or motor bus, and then the remembrance of the bamboo pole being pulled out from a tube underneath the body to reset the conductors at the Junction Road spot mentioned by your correspondent.
The turn-round in the Village, as I am sure you know, was originally designed for the trams till they found out the limit of their climbing ability was Dick Whittington's mile stone!
I well remember visiting the old family house, in a terrace, while it was empty and awaiting demolition so some 1950's awfulness could be erected. My mother and her sister were sad; I was sad too because although I had never lived there I could feel the change that was coming and the change that had happened to Highgate. Change that was, as is, not always for the better.
From: "Keith Elms" <KRElms@aol.com>
Stumbled upon your site from a query in Google about Highgate Village. You have a wonderful site.
When I was 18, and soon after the conversion to RM's, I worked for LTE at Stamford Hill. The pictures of the Hill bring back lots of memories of those days! As for the trolleys, I lived off Balls Pond Rd. near Mildmay Park and would take two trolleys to school in the Whitechapel Rd. I still remember walking along listening for the singing in the wires that would herald a mad dash to the request stop by the Alms Houses every school day.
Later I lived in Highgate Village and the pictures of the 611 turning at the top were interesting. At the bottom of the hill at the Archway there was a frog that let the 611 divert up Highgate Hill and the rest of the routes go off right to Archway Rd. As a small boy I would wait there as it was a notorious place for the poles to jump off at that frog. Much fun for a 6 year old!
I now live in the US near Chicago where mass transit is a bit of a joke. There is talk of restoring a tram line or trolley in Chicago but it never gets off the ground! Ah well.
Keep up the great work, I will check back often.
From: "Phil Evans" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Although always a consistently high earner, the 611 was something of a headache for London
Transport's tram and trolleybus department. Difficulties in securing a suitable terminus in Highgate
Village, and opposition to plans to run along North Road and North Hill to North Finchley, delayed
its introduction and the steepness of Highgate Hill meant the route had to be
operated with specially-adapted trolleybuses.
Tram 11 had terminated in a stub in Highgate High Street; while this was fine for the trams as the driver just changed ends and the tram went back the way it came, trolleybuses needed a turning circle! London Transport posited three plans: a loop via Southwood Lane, Castle Yard and North Road; extending the route along North Road and constructing a turning circle 60 yards north of the junction with Castle Yard; and extending the route to North Finchley via North Road and North Hill* [with corresponding reductions on routes 517/617]. However all these extensions took the route over the London County Council boundary, and were all objected to by Middlesex County Council, Hornsey Metropolitan Borough Council and Highgate School, the latter citing dangers to school children - all the proposals involved trolleybuses passing the school. Eventually London Transport managed to secure a site at the junction of Highgate High Street and The Grove, close to the tram terminus and just within the London County Council boundary [presumably this involved the expense of compulsory purchase and demolition of property on the corner], and built a terminus large enough to hold two trolleybuses. This terminus is still used by the 611's successor, the 271 bus, today. Having been planned for 4th September 1938, tram 11 was finally replaced on 10th December 1939; it was the last tram route to operate in North London aside from the three routes which used the Kingsway Subway in Holborn.
Parts of Highgate Hill are as steep as 1 in 10, so the Ministry of Transport required all trolleybuses using the hill to be fitted with run-back and coasting brakes. London Transport had to order a fleet of trolleybuses specifically for the route, the J3 and L1 classes. They were ordered before the extension to North Finchley was dropped so there were more than needed; however a related proposal to reduce routes 517/617 also had to be dropped, so the surplus buses were used on other routes at Highgate. Occasionally this meant that, when a 611 needed to be substituted at short notice, there was no J3 or L1 vehicle available and another type had to be used. When this happened the northbound journey would be curtailed at Archway Station and the vehicle would pick up its southbound time from there, and lost mileage would be incurred.
Even at the end, London Transport seemed unsure about what to do with the route. In 1957 the route was considered for trial running of Routemaster buses, but this was dropped as it would have meant a long period of dual trolleybus and motor bus operation at Highgate Depot. From then on it was continually proposed for early conversion, but London Transport never seemed sure when to schedule it, or why it should be converted early; was it to remove the requirement for "special vehicles", to even out the number of buses required at each stage of the trolleybus-to-motor bus conversion, or because the route was "self-contained" - there was no working onto and off other routes, otherwise a very common feature of trolleybus operation? In the event the route was replaced by bus 271 after Tuesday 19th July 1960. Highgate's other routes were not converted until 31st January 1961, apart from the 627 which survived until 25th April 1961.
Incidentally, the Kingsway Subway trolleybus 1379 could in theory have operated on Highgate Hill. The vehicle was fitted with the coasting and run-back brakes because of the steep ramp into the subway at the Holborn end - in effect it was an L1 with a redesigned rear end. Plans to operate trolleybuses through the Subway were dropped - clearances were too tight - but, not wanting to waste a good vehicle, 1379 was allocated to Highgate and used in everyday service until withdrawn in 1955. Does anyone know if it ever reached Highgate Village?
* It was 1973 before North Road and North Hill got a bus service, when route 143 was diverted via Highgate Village instead of Archway Road.
From: "Richard Surman" <email@example.com>
Intrigued by your site. I grew up overlooking the terminus in Highgate Village, in the mid
forties and early 50s. As a child I was fascinated by the conductor's ability to re-attach the conducting pole to
the overhead cable. These always seemed to come off, and the conductor used a long pole with a hook on the end.
Great fun! I'd also agree with one of your site visitors, Highgate Village was very rural: a passing car was an
event until Ernest Marples put his London traffic plan into action in the fifties.
And as for winter, we always got snow - lots of it too.
A little gem of a site amongst the usual internet rubbish.