“On The Buses” (Remember trolley buses, back-enders & clippies?)
October 2002 Meeting Report
Guest Speaker - Peter Hammond
The October meeting of the Keyworth & District Local History Society met on Friday, October 4th in the Centenary Lounge for a talk on Nottingham City Transport buses. The speaker for the evening was Peter Hammond who was making a welcome return to our Society having previously entertained us with his talk on villainous Victorians a couple of years ago. Tonight’s subject was very close to his heart and he spoke as someone who had been both a bus conductor and a bus driver for Nottingham City Transport. Tonight’s talk was, quite literally, a “Busman’s Holiday” for him. His passion for the subject was infectious.
The main part of the talk was in the form of a slide show accompanied by Peter’s very entertaining commentary. Things looked as if they might be getting off to a somewhat shaky start when the bulb on the slide-projector was found to have blown. However, Peter was nothing if not prepared and, a spare bulb was instantly found to replace the failed bulb.
The slides were then shown in roughly chronological order, the first one being of horse drawn trams in St Peter’s Gate. The audience were reminded as to what a delightful experience the horse drawn tram must have been, especially for the driver. The horse’s toilet habits, apparently, left much to be desired, and as the poor driver sat right behind the offending parts of the animal he was often regaled with some extremely noxious aromas and unsavoury sights. Apparently the condition worsened as the weather became warmer! Life for the passengers must have been pretty grim too, especially the upper deck patrons who were totally exposed to all that the elements may choose to throw at them. Sitting on a wet seat in the pouring rain on a cold, dark evening in the middle of winter as the horse slowly plodded it’s weary way to your destination after a grinding day’s work must have been pretty unattractive, especially if the horse was relieving itself during your journey! Whoever comments on the “Good Old Days” presumably overlooks such everyday treats as this! Today’s public transport may be far from perfect but it’s a vast improvement on a hundred years ago.
However, a slight improvement occurred after the First World War when Nottingham City Transport slowly began to replace its’ horse-drawn trams with motor buses and electric trams. The customer still had it pretty hard though. The motorbuses had solid wheels, as did the trams, and both still had an open upper deck. The solid tyred buses must have been a real joy on Nottingham’s mainly cobbled streets. The audience were shown photographic slides of many of these veteran forms of transport and it’s fair to assume that none of the audience was smitten with sufficient nostalgia to want to have them as their everyday means of transport. Our parents and grandparents must have breathed a collective sigh of relief as, all too slowly; Nottingham’s buses and trams began to have covered accommodation. Even then though, the staircase to the upper deck was mainly exposed to the elements.
The first trackless, or trolleybuses, appeared in 1927 and these must have been quite a step forward. For one thing they must have been much quieter with their electric propulsion. Things evolved slowly through the 1930’s, the major event being the demise of the trams in 1936. It wasn’t until the advent of the Second World War that things changed subtlety. Woman began to appear as conductresses, and even, as the manpower shortage began to be felt more, as drivers. With petrol-rationing services were reduced and buses which might be nearing the end of their expected service life had to be pressed into service longer that would otherwise have been the case. Utility bodies began to appear, although the word “utility” gives something of a false impression. Most utility goods were actually of quite a high standard and the buses were no exception. Some neat little touches occurred too, lace curtains at the bus windows to improve the vehicle’s black-out characteristics were one. Although this practice was stopped fairly quickly as all the curtains kept mysteriously disappearing! Buses were also parked on the roads at night, away from their depots, so that, in the event of an air raid on their depot the effects would not be so telling.
After the war the fleet was gradually modernised and many new services were introduced to serve the new housing estates springing up in Nottingham’s suburbs. In 1957 Nottingham City Transport celebrated it’s Diamond Jubilee and to mark the occasion the fleets’ livery was altered and the livery that we know today came into being. Previously the buses had been all green but cream and green became the norm and it suited the vehicles very well. This extends to the present time and it is no exaggeration to say that Nottingham City Transport buses are still, as they were then, amongst the smartest looking in the country.
Progress continued apace and the first rear-engined buses appeared in 1960. The 1960’s also saw the demise of the much-loved trolleybuses. Apparently trolley bus request stops were a different colour to motor bus stops. One being green, the other red. (As Michael Caine probably never said, “Not many people know that”. The final trolleybus service ran in 1966 though the vehicle concerned still survives to this day. It has found a resting place at Sandtoft in Lincolnshire where there is a trolleybus museum. It actually runs a few times each year on open days at the museum. That really must be a nostalgic experience for anyone who travelled on trolleybuses regularly. Another innovation, though not necessarily a step forward came in 1970 with the advent of O.M.O. Or to put it in plain English, One Man Operation, where the driver also collected the fares. This introduction signalled the end of the rear, open platform type of bus. All buses now have mid engined layouts, the engine being under the floor, indeed the last of the rear-engined buses were taken out of service two or three years ago.
A selection of slides was then shown depicting some of the smaller companies that served Nottingham. Amongst the slides shown were representatives from: - Midland General, Trent, West Bridgford Urban District Council, South Notts, and Gash. The presentation was then brought right up to date with Nottingham’s new tram system, though it seemed a little incongruous that on one of the slides that was shown of one of the City’s depots the old tram lines are still there. Another surprising fact was the amount of Nottingham City Transport buses that can still be seen in one guise or another at various locations around the country. They are to be found as far afield as Stratford and Edinburgh, to name but two of many cities that our old buses still operate in. All in all Peter Hammond provided his audience with a very well balanced and informative talk, made all the more enjoyable by his obvious great love of his subject. Many of the slides shown had brought back many memories for a large proportion of the audience and we look forward to seeing him again on some future evening with another highly entertaining presentation.