Trolleybuses, electric buses which draw their power from overhead lines, might look like artefacts, relics from a bygone age of public transportation. But with climate anxiety looming large over today’s diesel-guzzling world, the environmentally friendly trolly bus has made something of a come back, appearing in cities, like Lecce in Italy , keen to curb their carbon footprint.
It is a little known fact, then, that Hastings once ran its own trolleybus system, one which was, for a while in the 1920s, the biggest in the UK.
The line opened on April 1 1928, and started gradually replacing the Hastings tramway from there.
64 tram cars were replaced by 50 single decker trolleys and 8, more expensive, double deckers as the route expanded, slowly replacing what had once been the tram route.
By May 1929, with 21 miles of trolleybus wire, the Hastings route was the biggest in the UK.
Though the transfer was expensive, costing about £1,383 (£87,455.03 today) per mile, the new trolley buses were faster and more efficient, cutting travel costs down from 13d to 10d per mile.
The route would eventually close in 1959, relatively early considering the last trolley bus service, in Bradford, would not close until 1972, but the Hastings line would leave an indelible mark on the town and its people.
Nigel Hogben said: “Basically it fascinated me. How it could run without petrol or anything like that. It was a little bit amazing.”
Nigel, alongside the rest of the Hastings Trolleybus restoration group, works to keep Happy Harold, the double decker trolleybus retrofitted with a diesel engine, in working condition. His fascination with the machines began when his father took him to see London’s last trolleybus run at the East Ham Depot
Since taking over the restoration group, Nigel has worked to keep the bus in tip-top shape, restoring the top deck, seats, cab and roof to bring it back to “near complete condition.”
He said: “There are still jobs to do, but it is 91 years old and still going strong.”
Though he works on maintaining a converted trolley bus in the present, he is no less interested in the buses of yesteryear, and is full of facts about the way they used to run.
He said: “Apparently, at Cooden Beach, the wire ran out and they had to get a cable so they could turn it around!”.
Sid Saunders, a retired bus inspector and enthusiastic photographer, shares Nigel’s enthusiasm. He said: “it’s part of history. Youngsters wouldn’t get it. They bring back memories of a quieter pace of life. Everything is so rush and tear today.
“They were happy days- the likes of which we’ll never see again.”
Many thanks to Sid and Brian for their help with this article. If you have any memories or experiences with the trolleybuses, drop a line to Connor.Gormley@jpress.co.uk
To find out more about the Hastings Trolleybus Restoration Group, visit their Facebook page.