Books explore the peak and final years of Bradford’s trolleybuses

Fifty years ago Bradford’s last trolley bus left the city centre.

Sunday 26th March 1972 was the day of the last trolleybus journey – the end of an era of transport in Bradford.

754 at Forster Square leaving for Crossflats ‘on the Lane’ via Saltaire and Bingley

Stuart Emmett is a Bradford-born author and bus enthusiast since the early 1950s. Here he talks about his books, Bradford Trolleybuses: The Early Years and Jubilee Celebrations and Volume Two: The Later Years and Closure, which will be released this month. next :

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: 679 runs Leeds Road towards Thornbury in September 1962, followed by a bubble car679 heads Leeds Road towards Thornbury in September 1962, followed by a bubble car

The first volume specifically celebrates the fine and best years of the peak year in 1961. Historically, Bradford trolleybuses were the “first and last” in the UK (in 1911 Bradford was the first common British system, then the last, in 1972).

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Volume 1 of Stuart's bookVolume 1 of Stuart’s book

With a single flat road out of the centre, aptly called Canal Road, Bradford city center sits in a bowl surrounded by 200-400 meter hills. It is said that when you are in Bradford you can always find the city center by dropping a ball and following it. There are also very few places inside the Bradford Bowl where you cannot see the skyline.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: 789 turning to Bolton Road for Five Lane Ends, Idle, Shipley, Saltaire789 turning into Bolton Road for Five Lane Ends, Idle, Shipley, Saltaire

The operating environment in Bradford was perfect for quiet, fume-free passenger transport, which also climbed effortlessly up the hills surrounding the city.

A single fleet

The 19 trolleybus variants used in 1961 are shown with a fleet history since 1934 (1934 trolleybus chassis were still operating in 1961). Bradford after 1951 then bought only used trolleybuses and also undertook extensive rebuilding and conversion programs from 1944; subsequently many “home and away” trolleybuses have been refitted, while lately others have been stripped for parts. Indeed, the last trolleybuses circulating at the time of closure were in fact new between 1945 and 1950 and had gained new bodies from 1959 to 1962.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: 596 on Thornton Road in November 1953, followed by a police car596 on Thornton Road in November 1953, followed by a police car

Livery changes are also explained and illustrated with a look at the structure of the depot and the service vehicles used to maintain the network.

Route developments

Finally, in Volume 1 we begin to look at the history and development of the route since 1911, together with evocative illustrations of the trolleybus in use, mainly from the main years of development in the 1930s. A view is therefore also provided of a city in flux and redevelopment, and part of the development has been responsible for the disappearance of certain roads. However, these times are fully covered in Volume 2.

The Book of Volume 2 follows Volume 1 and concludes the history of the route and the development of the many interesting routes “over the hills of Bradford”. The routes are beautifully illustrated and show the ranges from soot-dark Victorian buildings to rural termini and the resulting changes with the redevelopment of the city. Indeed, the redevelopment of the city in the 1960s also provides a historic pictorial setting for the trolleybuses that are seen “at work” in the city.

An itinerary summary provides full details of start and close dates with advances and journey times; these ranged from every 2-3 minutes to 30 minutes and had journey times of 10-30 minutes.

Why Bradford was special

Bradford’s trolleybus revival is described and shows why it was a special system. However, after every rise there can be a fall and it began at Bradford shortly after 1961. While the future looked good in 1960 with planned capital development, the fall and eventual closure resulted from changes management, town center development, main road changes and finally, a defined proximity policy. The decline was slow, however, accelerating towards final closure in 1972.

All shutdowns and consequent fleet losses are fully covered, however, this is not “last day” coverage, as the books emphasize the best times and peak periods of the system . While many bus enthusiasts only visited Bradford’s trolleybuses towards the end of time from 1970 to 1972, they had by then missed the best and most interesting times in 1960/1961 when the range, variety and network and fleet diversity were at their highest.

Finally, the book discusses what might have been and proposals for an extensive restructuring program which involved the purchase of Portsmouth and Manchester trolleybuses as well as the purchase of new trolleybuses.

It was not to be, but Bradford’s trolleybuses remained ‘special’; these nostalgic books show why it was.

As with Volume 1, Volume 2 also shows in detail trolleybuses at work on the various routes as they effortlessly and quickly climbed the hills from the city centre.

l Volume 1 is available for pre-order at shop.keypublishing.com/collections/coming-soon/products/bradford-trolleybuses-the-early-years-jubilee-celebrations

Volume 2 will be available online at the end of July.

l Photo credits:

596: AD Packer

716 and 757: T Greaves

754 and 678: AD Packer

758: G Liege

789: Omnicolor

Carol N. Valencia