By­ways

Christo­pher Ni­chol­son

Evergreen - - Contents - CHRISTO­PHER NI­CHOL­SON

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.

© ALAN MUR­RAY- RUST

On the wires! Derby trol­ley­bus 230 in Oc­to­ber 1966.

© BRIAN LO­MAS

A strik­ing im­age of Derby trol­ley­bus 237 at the Black Coun­try Mu­seum in Dud­ley.

© ALAN MUR­RAY- RUST

Derby was served by trol­ley­buses from 1932 un­til 1967. This one is shown in July of that fi­nal year.

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