Thursday, 17 November 2016

Saturday trolleybus rides and a Beeston might have been

Last Saturday I persuaded Susan and our close friend Judith to humour me. We went to Sandtoft, an old and isolated airfield cum industrial estate located in the North Lincolnshire lowlands just beyond Nottinghamshire's most northern tip. Why? Well, a mix of reasons. I am a romantic, a bit of a bus nerd, especially trolleybuses, but as Susan and Judith could see with their own eyes at the Sandtoft Trolleybus Museum, I am not the nerdyest of nerds.

My final reason for wanting to visit the museum last Saturday was that it was their annual 'Twilight' event, when the museum stays open until 7pm so you can ride on trolleybuses in the dark. Last year, we went to Lowestoft and did the same thing. I also did a post (click here to revisit).

Sandtoft Trolleybus Museum is a leisurely two hour drive from Beeston (just over 60 miles) up the A614 via Ollerton and Bawtry. On the way we had an excellent lunch at Rose Cottage, which is on the A614 opposite Rufford Abbey Country Park.

Growing up in Wembley I travelled on the 662 trolleybus every week, even writing a poem about unrequited love and the 662 (which you can read here). Just thinking of those days fills me with happiness, my Nanna and me going to Harlesden eto go shopping every week when I was little, then during school holidays when I was at home. My first dictionary was bought there, now battered, which I still use. Just to have it my hands, to open it, unlocks a treasure chest of memories. I have other books I love, but if I had to save just one, it would be this.

I consider myself blessed to have lived during the few brief decades trolleybuses graced our streets. They date back to the end of the 19th century, but really gained ground in the 1930s when they replaced trams in towns and cities across Britain, but come the end of the 1960s they had gone from everywhere bar Bradford and Walsall, where I went on my last ride on a trolleybus on public streets with Pop, my grandfather, who had come to stay with us that first Christmas we spent in Birmingham after leaving Harrow a few months before. Nanna died in 1960. I was fifteen at the time and been working just six months. Riding on a trolleybuses is a cocoon of memories and emotions for me (as if I need to tell you this!).

Nottingham had one of Britain's largest trolleybus systems and a good few of the city's trolleybuses survive in the care of enthusiasts. Earlier this year, Sandtoft had an open-day devoted to Nottingham trolleybuses. They never made it as far as Beeston, although Nottingham did plan to run trolleybuses as far as Chilwell along three routes through Beeston (Broadgate, Chilwell Road, Queens Road and Wollaton Road), but these and other routes never happened because diesel buses were cheaper to buy and more flexible. In truth, trolleybuses were quickly overtaken by events and technology — as it happening now with street trams. History really does repeat itself and here ends the lesson. 

Sandtoft Trolleybus Museum last Saturday was sadly deserted. Lincolnshire mist surrounded us and the damp seeped into our bones. It was that kind of day, so we stayed a couple of hours and left, but not before I took a few pictures:

We arrived at 3.30pm and saw these two trolleybuses waiting for passengers. There were just three running.

This Hudderfield trolleybus was the first one we rode on and, for me, the most handsome. In appearance, closer to Nottingham and London trolleybuses than the other two, but with a clunky ride.

Inside the trolleybus was empty except for the three of us, who sat on the bench seats above the rear wheels. Our ride consisted of two loops in both directions around a circular route. The museum is not as developed as Crich Tramway Museum or the East Anglia Transport Museum in Lowestoft, even though all three were formed at the about the same time. I first visited Crich and Sandtoft when I was councillor, giving a grant to the former in my capacity as Chair of the then Midlands Area Museum Service, and the latter when I was a Notts county councillor and floating the idea of finding the trolleybus museum a home between Edwinstowe and Rufford, so that it could provide a on-road service between the Robin Hood Centre and Rufford Abbey Country Park, but it was not to be for a number of reasons.

Our second ride (and by far the smoothest) was on this single-decker trolleybus from Wellington, New Zealand. This was popular with the real enthusiasts present, who clambered aboard every time it was waiting for passengers.

Then, finally, what the visit was all about, riding on a trolleybus in the twilight and the dark, and this was our last ride, on a Bradford trolleybus, the most modern in use, dating from the 1960s, with a front entrance and a folding door. Bradford lost its trolleybuses in the mid-1970s. Again the ride was smooth and the seats more comfortable, helped by the fact that the trolleybus was 8' wide (the other two were 7'6" wide).

The Museum's café closed at 4.30pm even though the museum was open until 7pm! Some kind of service was going to be offered in another part of the museum, but come five o'clock it still was not in place, so we headed back to Beeston.

Sandtoft is not Crich, but it is still worth a visit. It has bags of potential, but as Susan observed, the volunteers who run Sandtoft probably like it as it is.

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