By Simon Wise.
They are just maroon and cream coloured ghosts now, their web of wiring long gone; even the posts that supported those wires have been removed from Whitley’s streets, but Reading’s trolleybuses will be recalled in a special event this Sunday 3 June 2018.
The Thames Valley & Great Western Omnibus Trust (TV&GWOT) celebrated the centenary of Thames Valley Traction Company in 2015 and are returning to town this summer with a fleet of their own as well as guest buses to commemorate 50 years since the end of Reading Corporation trolleys.
This means the return – for one day only – of the original service 15 to Northumberland Avenue and 16 to Whitley Wood. Of course, with no overhead power, no actual trolleybuses will be running (although we hope that a 1950 vintage Sunbeam will be on display outside the station). Instead you can expect a combination of AEC Regents from the fifties, a sixties Dennis with the door at the front, one of the seventies “Jumbos” and a London Routemaster – remember them on the Mainline services in the 90s?
Trolleybuses first arrived in South Reading in 1936, firstly as a replacement for the Whitley Street tram service (the terminus was given the “secret” name Whit Pump during the war) extending down the Avenue and Basingstoke Road as it became more inhabited post-war. Northumberland Avenue services eventually extended as far as the current Emerald 5 service, hence the still existent turning circle. Whitley Wood vehicles had a more complex reverser to negotiate in front of the Engineers Arms, this being the outskirt of town at that time. At one time, when the fleet outgrew the old Mill Lane depot, a second garage was built on the then deserted Bennet Road – where Renault Trucks now stands.
At one stage it was planned to link the two services as a circular along Whitley Wood Road. Sadly, this did not come to pass. Trolleybus systems across Britain suffered when their main wire supplier pulled out of the market. Diesel power seemed to be the way forward. In Reading, traffic jams and the impending arrival of the M4 & IDR (inner distribution ringroad) put our system on the final ride. Route 16 was converted in the early spring of 1967, cheering crowds seeing off the last trip one Sunday lunchtime. Route 15 dwindled and went quietly after the morning rush-hour on December 31 1967.
TV&GWOT will be running routes 15 & 16 on alternate hours from the bottom of Greyfriars Road between 10.22am and 3.22pm, with a final trip to Northumberland Avenue at 4.15pm. In addition, services will also run on Thames Valley’s route 12 to Riseley along Basingstoke Road. Other special services around and out of town will be running from what were always known as “stations”. All services are free, but there is a full colour timetable available to buy with comprehensive look at Reading’s trolleys by historian Dave Hall, plus an article on another transport operation with strong links to South Reading; Horseman Coaches.
Buses are likely to be busy, and food and drink shouldn’t be consumed on board. The vehicle owners spend a lot of their own time and money restoring and maintaining their buses, so please respect this.
This should be a special event though. Bring a camera, and your memories. Hold very tight please!