Southend Corporation Transport
The Trolleybus Network 1925 to 1954
This page has been adapted from Richard Delahoy's book, Southend Corporation Transport, Trams, Trackless and Buses. Copyright Richard Delahoy 1986.
This short history is split into five parts, Trams 1900-42, Early Buses 1914-16,
Trolleybuses 1925-54, Buses 1932-1953 and Co-Ordination 1954-55
Further details .Click here for the trolleybus fleet list or click here for a map of the routes, superimposed on the map of bus routes in 1961.
T rolleybuses - or trackless trolleys as they were often known - were first introduced into this country in 1911, at Leeds and Bradford. By the middle of the 1920's technological advances meant that they could be considered as a reliable and efficient means of transport. The capital cost of establishing a trolleybus route was much less than that of a tramway and whilst more expensive initially than motor buses (because of the overhead equipment) they were easier to drive and maintain and used locally generated electricity. These points were not lost on the management of Southend's trams at the time that the future of the truncated Prittlewell tram route was being examined. Because of the short length of the route a frequent service was needed to attract passengers but the line was single track with only one passing loop, limiting the service that could be run. Doubling the track was an expensive option that the Council could not afford and therefore it was decided to supplement the tram service by superimposing trackless vehicles. The Corporation did not at that time possess the statutory powers necessary to operate trolleys, but it was able to persuade the Ministry of Transport to permit a one year experiment; subsequently the Corporation Act of 1926 gave Southend permanent powers to operate trolleybuses.
Thumbnail photo A rrangements were made to hire two single deckers from Railless Ltd, and after inspection of the first one by the Ministry on October 16, 1925 it was put into service immediately. The second one was delivered early in 1926. They only operated as far as Victoria Circus (whereas the trams continued down the High Street) to avoid further complicating the overhead at that junction and because of traffic congestion in the High Street. At Whitsun 1926 the service was extended beyond the Blue Boar by about a quarter of a mile to Priory Park gates. A third single decker, formerly an AEC demonstrator was obtained in 1927 and became number 103; the original two Rail less vehicles had been numbered 1 & 2 (again duplicating tram numbers, as the 1914 motor buses had) but they were renumbered 101/2, starting a separate series for the trackless trolleys.
Thumbnail photo A disadvantage of the early trolleys was their low seating capacity - 29 or 30 - but in January 1928 Southend received on hire a 55 seat Garrett six wheel double decker (probably the one exhibited at the 1927 Commercial Motor Show). The success of this vehicle led to orders for a further five. Meanwhile the Prittlewell tram service was completely withdrawn after December 18th, 1928 but the initial plans to extend the trolley route to the former High Street tram terminus were thwarted - the LMS Railway refused to allow the station approach to be used for a turning circle, and the Ministry likewise ruled out turning in the street. However solution was found by extending the wires down the High Street and then via Whitegate Road, Bankside, Seaway (then newly constructed) and Marine Parade to the Kursaal, this section opening on 2nd August 1929.
B y the time that the Kursaal section was opened, Robert Birkett, General Manager since 1905, had given up his transport responsibilities to concentrate solely on the electricity generation and supply business, which was separated from the transport undertaking in 1929. His replacement, the 29 year-old Ronald Fearnley, came from early pioneer of trackless operation, Keighley Corporation. That system was already in decline (it closed completely 1932) but at Southend Fearnley was to expand the network (and re-introduce motor buses, as will be explained shortly) before moving on to Coventry in 1933. Thus from January 21st, 1932 the Prittlewell trolleys were extended along Fairfax Drive from Priory Park to Eastwood Boulevard.
A completely new route started in the east of the Borough months later, when on July 31st a service was inaugurated from Victoria Circus via Bradley Street, Guildford Road, Sutton Road and North Avenue to Hamstel Road (terminating on a circle at the junction with Crossfield Road); this service was later projected over the existing wires to the Kursaal. In the summer of 1934 a short branch was opened along Marine Parade to the foot of Pier Hill, being served either by the Prittlewell or Hamstel Road routes.
T he final extension of the trolley system prior to the tramway abandonment programme came in 1935, when from July 24th alternate vehicles on the Prittlewell route were diverted away from the turning circle at Eastwood Boulevard, being extended instead up Nelson Road to a new terminus at Wellington Avenue, just a few yards away from the tramway at Chalkwell Park. When the tramway closed and the trolleys were projected back into Southend via the London Road the Wellington Avenue reverser was retained for short workings.
T he final extensions of the trolleybus system came in response to the closure of the tramway when trolleys were projected along the seafront from the Kursaal to Thorpe Bay Corner from June 4th, 1939 as an extension of the Prittlewell route. This extension to Thorpe Bay came at a most unfortunate time - the trolleys were cut back to the Kursaal upon the outbreak of war and when peace returned the route was only ever served during the summer and then not on a regular basis.
W ith the onset of the second war Southend soon found itself with a surplus of buses and 124-7 were lent to Bradford Corporation from September 1940 until February 1942 (motor buses 207-10 were similarly sent to Coventry). Their return allowed the complete closure of the tramway in April 1942 by extending the trolleys from Chalkwell Park (Nelson Road) to Victoria Circus via the London Road, forming a complete circle, and from Victoria Circus via Southchurch Road & Avenue to the Kursaal. Later a single set of wires was erected around Warrior Square, being first used on 1st June 1943; in contrast to the trams, the trolleybuses ran clockwise here. A southbound link was also installed in Milton Road so that vehicles could proceed direct from Guildford Road into Warrior Square. Finally, from April 3rd 1944 the North Avenue route to Hamstel Road was extended down the latter thoroughfare to the White Horse and back along the former Southchurch Road tram route to form another circle. The following year a reverser was introduced off North Avenue at Lonsdale Road to allow a Warrior Square - Lonsdale Road service to be superimposed over the main North Avenue service.
D espite the complexity of services being operated, it was not until March 1944 that a decision was taken to adopt route numbers. To avoid duplicating the numbers already in use for the company bus routes it was planned to start at 101, but the following month this was revised to 50 upwards. It was not until about 1949 however that the numbers began to appear on vehicles and in the timetable leaflets.
A lthough two circular routes had been created in 1944 when the Southchurch loop was completed, the logic of linking them at Victoria Circus to form cross town services was not recognised until the revisions of November 6th, 1951 when the Eastern and Western Circulars were linked to form a continuous 'figure 8' route and alternate vehicles on the Western Circulars (28A, outward via London Road and 28B, out via Fairfax Drive) continued across Victoria Circus to operate the Eastern Circulars (63A, out via North Avenue and 63B, out via Southchurch Road). (Only alternate vehicles ran through, as the eastern end of the route required a 10 minute headway in each direction, but the busier western side justified a 5 minute frequency in both directions round the circle)
V arious factors militated against the trackless routes in the late 40's and early 50's. Much of the fixed equipment (power supply, etc) was old and would need replacement. The nationalisation of the electricity supply industry had lessened the economic advantages of trolleybuses once their power no longer came from another council department. Equally, much of the rolling stock dated from the early 30's and would soon need replacing. The greatest uncertainty however arose from the various attempts to co-ordinate the services of the Corporation and Westcliff-on-Sea Motor Services. When in 1945/6 an agreement was reached with Westcliff and Eastern National (very much the minority operator in the town in those days) for a co-ordination scheme, Southend were to grant running rights over (or should it be under?) the trolleybus wires to the company operators. Opposition from the other local bus operators - Benfleet & District, Canvey & District and the City Coach Company - killed this scheme and it was established that Southend did not in fact have any legal powers to permit others to use its wires. When, later, the objecting companies had all been taken over by Westcliff and an acceptable coordination scheme was finally agreed in 1953 the writing was clearly on the wall for the trolleys.
Thumbnail photo T he services to the Kursaal had been divorced from the main Southchurch and Prittlewell routes from December 2nd, 1944 and then generally operated to a half hourly frequency. With their low seating capacity, single-deckers 139-43 were employed on these routes, numbered 51 (via Southchurch Road & Avenue) and 52 (via Whitegate Road and Seaway). From November 1951 the trolley services to the Kursaal were effectively withdrawn except for works journeys to Priory Park and a summer only service on the 51, and even these were gradually taken over by motor buses.
F ebruary 10th, 1954 was the last day that the Eastern Circular worked under electric power, leaving just the Western Circular to continue until sufficient motor buses were available to replace it. Twenty-nine years of trackless operation finally ended in October 1954 and the coordination agreement took effect a couple of months later.
T o mark the demise of the system on October 28th, 1954, 128, decorated with bunting and numerous Union Jacks, was driven into the depot by the Mayor, Alderman H N Bride. It is thought that Southend was the first undertaking to hold a formal closure ceremony; perhaps that reflected the Mayor's interest in local history - Alderman Bride who was a councillor from 1945 until 1964 had written booklets on the history of the Pier and Old Leigh.

Further details .

Click here for the trolleybus fleet list

Click here for a map of the routes, superimposed on the map of bus routes in 1961. The trolleybus routes are shown in colours corresponding to when the routes were opened.

Continue with Part 4, Buses 1932-53

Click for full size photo Many thanks to Richard Delahoy for his kind permission to include textual extracts from his book in this site.

©1986-2007 Richard Delahoy and ©1961-2007 SCT61 Pages. All Rights Reserved.

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