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Memories of Bilston

The Trolley Buses
by Geoff Roberts

At the top of Villiers Avenue in Bilston where we lived ran the main road between Bilston Town and Wolverhampton, Wellington Road. In the days when I was a youngster I went to Villiers County Primary School, not far from where we lived. In fact it was all downhill from our house and a good run past the ‘shrub’, the local shops (which of course included a local Co-op) the Villiers Arms and then you were there. The pub had an off-licence at which we spent the occasional penny on sweets or ‘suck’ as sweets were known then. More about the school later since I wanted to try and remember the trolley buses and what they were like.

Painted in green and cream, the Wolverhampton colours, the trolley buses ran in a wide network around the area. They were double-deckers of course with thin brown seats and metal floors and sides covered in advertising hoardings advertising everything from cigarettes to washing powder. Smoking was allowed on the ‘trolleys’ of course but spitting was strictly prohibited…penalty five pounds. I was always fascinated by the conductors’ ticket machines and would have loved to have had one as a toy. They were silver and hung on a wide leather strap round the conductor’s neck. Each machine had a push down lever action which controlled five or six banks of ticket rolls, each of a different value. The combination of tickets levered out constituted the value of the fare. I remember white tickets, orange and blue tickets and there were others of course. At the platform on the entrance to the ‘bus was the used ticket depository that we kids would empty and run off with at any given opportunity.

The back of the bus was as I said a wide open platform with a staircase going to the upper deck straight off it. Inside and to the left was the lower deck which had two bench seats against the sides of the bus with the rest of the seats arranged transversely up the bus. The driver sat in an enclosed compartment at the front of the bus and was connected to the passengers solely by the action of the conductor who had control of ‘the bell’. Thus he or she was the ‘boss’ of the bus and it didn’t pay to mess with them.
Many a young lad used the platform at the back of the bus to show off by descending and departing the vehicle whilst still at speed. Many a young lad, including me, went ‘a over t’ whilst trying to impress too as I well remember!

Usually my trips on the ‘trolleys’ were with Mum to go shopping in Wolvo (Wolverhampton) and my brother and I would always want to run upstairs to the very front where the bus top deck overhung the chassis and the view was spectacular. The escapade never lasted long before we were hauled downstairs again to sit in the bottom deck and behave ourselves. I can remember that the ceilings were very brown and in cold winter dripped with what must have been a very nicotine - rich solution! Heating was of course unheard of and in the open backed buses it rarely got very warm although a packed bus often created a warmish ‘fug’ of tobacco and body odours!

Just occasionally, and to the amusement or frustration of the passengers, the trolley bus would ‘come off the rails’, the term used when the overhead power transmission rods attached to the bus came unhinged from the high voltage cables. This sometimes happened I remember and almost always at complicated junctions and of course at exactly the wrong time! All the passengers had to disembark and we all watched as either the driver or conductor slid a large poll from under the bus and then spend the next half an hour or so trying to attach the trolley polls to the high voltage wires. Usually they managed the feat but it took time, usually delaying traffic and causing confusion!

Ticket truancy was virtually unknown, not just because society was intrinsically more honest than today, but because the system of inspectors was rigidly maintained and woe betide anyone who tried to get away without paying. The inspectors were loathed and feared by passengers and conductors alike but obviously carried out an effective role!

All of us kids wanted to be either drivers or conductors. As far as I’m aware, non of us ever made it but I guess it wasn’t for the lack of dreaming when we were seven or eight years old!

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