Arecent root around in my loft looking for something else altogether, revealed a mysterious find in one of the darker corners. The beam from my torch landed on what appeared to be a roll of black canvas material about two feet wide. Not remembering putting such an item there, I retrieved it for further daylight examination.
What an interesting find it turned out to be! In the light I could see the word DEPOT printed in white letters across the roll of black cloth, and further unrolling revealed more words in similar lettering; VICTORIA STREET, MARKET PLACE, MIDLAND STATION etc. The more I unrolled, the more seemingly unconnected words appeared. It then occurred to me that I thought I knew what this was.
Back in the 1970s when I was training to be a teacher at a college of education in Worcester, I recall talking to another student in the same hall of residence. He knew that I originated from Sheffield and once told me that he had something called a “destination blind” from a Sheffield tram at home. This was one of those roller
blinds containing all the different destinations for the tram, but only one could be seen at a time through the small rectangular windows on the front and back of the trams. The buses that replaced the trams had a similar arrangement.
As the original tram system in Sheffield ceased in 1960, I expressed an interest in seeing the blind. Sure enough, at the start of the next term he turned up with it under his arm. To my surprise he offered it me as he wasn’t that interested in trams. I thanked him profusely and thought no more about it. My plan was to examine it in detail when I got it home and had a bit more space because it was, he said, “Quite long!”
It came home with me when my three years of training were over, and subsequently followed me to every place I’ve lived since then — still rolled up. For some reason I never examined it fully, I just accepted what he told me — that it was a destination blind from a Sheffield tram. Now, 42 years later I was looking at it properly for the first time — and I was beginning to have doubts as to its correct description!
As the blind revealed its long list of destinations I was confused — because, having been born and brought up in the city, I didn’t recognise any of the places, apart from Midland Station. Sheffield certainly had a Midland Station, but so did many other towns and cities served by the Midland Railway. But Sheffield didn’t have any of the other destinations — apart from DEPOT and PRIVATE! For more than 40 years I believed I owned a Sheffield tram destination blind, but now I
knew I didn’t. So where had this one come from?
The internet is a wonderful resource for this type of research. I typed a few of the destinations into a search engine and . . . bingo! They were in Derby, so I presumed my blind must have come from a Derby Corporation tram. Destinations like Allestree Lane, Chaddesden Park Road, Osmaston Park Road and Raynesway are all in the city ( or they were when this blind was in use). And there was even a clue on the blind as to when that might have been — on its reverse was an oval rubber stamp: “Norbury Brothers, Altrincham, Cheshire Nov 1959”, presumably the date of manufacture.
However, further research into the Derby tramway system cast doubt on even this revelation. My blind, bearing a date stamp of November 1959 could not have come from a Derby tram. In that year only the trams of Blackpool, Sheffield, Swansea ( Mumbles) and Glasgow were still operational. Horse- drawn trams were introduced in Derby in 1880, the system was electrified in 1904 and the final one ran in June 1934.
There was a clue in one of the pages about Derby trams I looked at on the internet: “The four- foot gauge tramways were replaced by Derby trolleybuses.” The trolleybus was a compromise that could use the overhead electric cable system and infrastructure. It needed an extra overhead wire, but not the metal rails embedded in the roadway. Trolleybuses were quiet, had lively acceleration, and were slightly more flexible on the move — pulling in at bus stops rather than making passengers walk into the roadway to board. They could even run short distances using power stored in their batteries for manoeuvring in the depots.
Derby’s tramway system was replaced by trolleybuses in stages from 1932, following much the same routes as the trams, but with some new routes
and extensions of the tram routes into the growing suburbs. There were 11 routes in all and at its peak the trolleybus fleet, painted in a distinctive olive green and cream, numbered 73. A map of Derby trolleybus routes matched the names on my blind exactly, so it’s now clear that it was once carried by a trolleybus.
By the 1960s, like most British trolleybus systems, there was increasing pressure from the bus lobby to cease their operation and replace them with motor buses, which were considered even more flexible than trolleybuses when it came to route availability. A plan to extend some of the trolleybus routes in the mid- 1950s attracted protests over the amount of extra poles and wiring required and came to nothing. It signalled the death knell for the system. The last Derby trolleybus ran on 9th September 1967, and who knows, it could have carried my destination blind!
If you want to see a Derby trolleybus in action and experience their smooth and silent progress, there are preserved examples running at the Trolleybus Museum in Sandtoft, Lincolnshire, and at the East Anglian Transport Museum in Carlton Colville, Suffolk.
The destination blind which led on a journey of discovery.
On the wires! Derby trolleybus 230 in October 1966.
A striking image of Derby trolleybus 237 at the Black Country Museum in Dudley.
Derby was served by trolleybuses from 1932 until 1967. This one is shown in July of that final year.