A History of Bournemouth Corporation Trolleybuses
This article has been written and edited by David Bowler. David is author of the history “Bournemouth Trolleybuses” published by Trolleybooks in May 2001 and a number of other detailed works on trolleybuses
The photographs have been provided by David purely for viewing on this site and the copyright for them belong to the acknowledged photographers to whom we are in debt.
As something of an insurance policy for the future the Bournemouth Corporation Act 1930 extending the borough boundaries also empowered the Corporation to convert their tram routes (excluding those in Poole) and several motorbus routes to trolleybus operation. The tramways had been extensively reconstructed, the existing fleet modernised and new tramcars purchased since the First World War but extensions into the rapidly developing suburbs were becoming necessary. By now tramways were beginning to be thought of as old fashioned (Bournemout’s 3ft 6ins gauge track meant that only open-top tramcars could be used) and the end of the 30 year lease of the Poole system was imminent.
Following a fact-finding visit to Wolverhampton in early 1933 the Council gave the go-ahead to construct an experimental route between Bournemouth Square and County Gates, Westbourne. This involved erecting additional wiring paralleling the tram route, which continued to operate, and the hire of four prototype trolleybuses:
These were garaged at the Southcote Road tram depot. To get between the depot and the Square one trolley boom was placed on the single positive tram wire and a ‘skate’ was positioned in the groove of the tram rail to provide the negative contact.
The four hired vehicles enabled the Corporation to compare and test different vehicles over the same route. Although level for most of its length, the route included the second steepest incline on the tramway system between the Square and the top of Poole Hill. Each end of the route posed no problems with turning the vehicles: the trolleybuses simply turned around the tramway loading island in the centre of Bournemouth Square and followed the one-way tramway loop at Westbourne.
The successful Ministry of Transport inspection of the route took place on the 13th of May 1933 and public services started at 12:00 noon using the six-wheeled Sunbeam and the four-wheeled A.E.C. On 15th May 1933 the four-wheeled single deck Thornycroft was first used, with the six wheeled A.E.C. (see photo) entering service on the 23rd of May. The fare for this journey was one penny.
The service was a huge success, running and maintenance costs were lower than the trams, the public liked them, and it was announced on the 3rd of October 1933 that the trolleybuses would be retained on this service and that all the tram routes would be converted to trolleybus operation over a 3 year period.
The route was allocated the service number ’25’, although the trolleybuses never actually carried the number at first (It was, after all, the only route using the trolleybuses!).
These had all been delivered by the 24th of June 1934 (Nos. 72 – 83). Six more with the Park Royal bodies (84 – 89) were ordered and these were delivered by 18 October 1934, bringing the total up to twenty two. All subsequent Sunbeam MS2 orders used Park Royal bodywork.
As the remaining tram routes and certain motorbus routes were progressively converted to trolleybus operation, another eighty four trolleybuses (Nos. 90- 173) were ordered from the Sunbeam Motor Car Co. Thirty six of these were delivered between the 11th of February and the 18th of June 1935, twenty four more between August and December, with the remaining twenty four arriving by March 1936.
At the end of 1936 the fleet comprised some 106 trolleybuses, 103 of them Sunbeam MS2s. This was the largest fleet of similar vehicles in the country, all having rear entrance and front exit, two staircases and 56 seats. After the opening of the full Bournemouth Square to Christchurch route on the 8th of April 1936, tram services ceased. This day was also the ‘Last Tram Day’.
Tram number 115 was the last tram to run from Bournemouth to Christchurch carrying the Mayors of the two towns along with other officials. At Tuckton Bridge, the borough boundary, the official party boarded the first passenger carrying trolleybus to run into Christchurch.
Trolleybus extensions well beyond the erstwhile tramway network continued until the outbreak of the Second World War by which time the ‘Silent Service’ had reached out through Winton to the northwestern suburbs of Ensbury Park, Talbot Village and Wallisdown, and provided a circular service along Castle Lane between Charminster and Moordown. The trolleybus system extended some 33.35 route miles served by 16 different services and was proving a major financial success.
Although there was no decline in loadings, indeed by 1943 the trolleybuses were carrying some 41 million passengers annually, the war brought holiday-making to an end. Surplus rolling stock was loaned to the hard-pressed undertakings of Llanelly, London, Newcastle upon Tyne, South Shields, Walsall and Wolverhampton. All told some 30 Bournemouth Sunbeam MS2 contributed to the war effort in other towns or cities. Despite the reduced fleet it proved possible to serve a new route extension along Barrack Road from Iford to Christchurch serving various military installations.
As Britain began its slow recovery from the war and the population started to take seaside holidays again Bournemouth re-established its policy of converting trunk motorbus services to trolleybus operation. Between 1947 and 1951 new routes were constructed from Fisherman’s Walk to Tuckton Bridge, from Bath Road to Bournemouth Pier and thence to Bournemouth Square, and along the entire length of Castle Lane between Broadway and Iford. The system reached its maximum extent of more than 39 route miles with 18 separate services provided by 127 trolleybuses.
In 1950-51, 24 BUT9641T / Weymann six-wheeled trolleybuses, to the established design of a rear open platform entrance, front and rear staircases, and front exit equipped with folding doors, were delivered. This enabled the undertaking to commence the gradual withdrawal of the most time-weary Sunbeam MS2s.
In 1953 the transport undertaking gave up generating its own traction current at Southcote Road and henceforth all power was supplied by the Southern Electricity Board. This apparent economy subsequently had a ‘boomerang’ effect as the nationalised utility, with no particular interest in Bournemouth’s passenger transport, progressively increased its charges for DC power.
Although the trolleybuses remained highly remunerative, throughout the 1950s passenger figures declined as local residents bought private cars and, with the coming of television, ventured out less in the evenings, whilst holidaymakers began to make their first exploratory trips abroad. In 1955 the Transport Committee recommended that new trolleybuses be bought to replace the pre-war Sunbeam MS2s and in 1956 twenty 4-wheel Sunbeam MF2B / MCW trolleybuses, again to the established rear open platform entrance, front and rear staircases, and front exit design were ordered. These modern vehicles featured an exit forward of the front axle which could be supervised by the driver, of a similar style to that introduced by the contemporary Leyland Atlantean motorbus. The order was extended by a further ten trolleybuses in September 1957 by which time the fleet had gradually fallen to 103 units.
There was still much debate of route extensions into the post-war suburbs of Kinson, Northbourne and West Howe, and conversion of the trunk motorbus service along Richmond Park Road. Legislative approval already existed for the majority of these plans but although the parliamentary powers continued to be renewed until 1961 nothing materialised.
In 1958 three pre-war Sunbeam MS2 trolleybuses were converted into open-top layout by removing the upper-deck structure above the base of the windows. The front staircase and exit were removed at the same time. These trolleybuses ran on a summer circular tour of the town and, numbered 200-202, introduce a new fleet numbering system. Also in summer 1958 the first Sunbeam MF2B (258) arrived, the entire order 258-287 being delivered by November 1959. Due to the increasing age of the pre-war Sunbeam MS2s it was considered prudent to buy seven second-hand 1948 4 wheel BUT9611T / Weymann trolleybuses from Brighton in 1959 whilst the Sunbeam MF2B / MCW order was further extended by another ten vehicles to a total of 40. In fact only 39 Sunbeam MF2Bs were finally delivered, one chassis being lost in a fire at the Weymann’s factory, the last (301) on 12 October 1962. This was not only the last trolleybus to be delivered to Bournemouth but also the last new trolleybus to be built for any British operator.
The continuing fall in passenger loadings, plans to construct a town centre by-pass and the end of trolleybus equipment and rolling stock manufacture in Britain forced the Council to carefully evaluate the system’s future. In March 1963 the Council decided on a progressive run-down in operations estimated to take 10-15 years. In September 1963 the link between Cemetery Junction and Holdenhurst Road was closed and some services rationalised. Following the closure of Southcote Road Depot in June trunk trolleybus service 25 Westbourne – Boscombe, comprising the original experimental route, closed in September 1965. All the remaining trolleybus services to the north of the town (26-32), reached by way of the 1 in 8 (12.5%) Richmond Hill, closed in September 1966.
The busy routes 20 – 24 through Boscombe to Iford, Tuckton Bridge and Christchurch continued until 20 April 1969 when the last trolleybus, fittingly 301 conveying civic dignitaries and invited guests, brought up the rear of a ceremonial procession from Christchurch to Bournemouth’s Castle Lane Depot.
(Provided by Web Master in order to avoid being the one site out of a multitude of Bournmouth Trolleybus web sites that does not mention the turntable. The item is really only suitable for those with broadband )
“The Christchurch trolleybus turntable was situated in a public house yard at the eastern terminus of the route where the trolleybus was driven onto the turntable and the two trolley arms lowered.
The Driver and Conductor manually turned the trolleybus on the turntable and reconnected the trolley arms onto the two overhead conductors and the vehicle was then driven off the turntable to the queue barrier.”
The video above is made up of two colorslides provided by Les Folkard who retains the copyright for them and a short extract of an 18 minute video available from Beulah AV Services with a list of videos to be found here
Also see our other pages on Electric Transport in the South West