IT was 50 years ago that Bradford’s last trolleybus left the city centre.

Sunday, March 26, 1972 was the day of the last trolleybus journey - the end of a transport era in Bradford.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: 754 at Forster Square outbound for Crossflats ‘on the Lane’ via Saltaire and Bingley754 at Forster Square outbound for Crossflats ‘on the Lane’ via Saltaire and Bingley

Stuart Emmett is a Bradford-born author and has been a bus enthusiast from the early 1950s. Here he writes about his books, Bradford Trolleybuses: The Early Years and Jubilee Celebrations and Volume Two: The Later Years and Closure, which will be released next month:

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: 679 heads up Leeds Road to Thornbury in September 1962, followed by a bubble car679 heads up Leeds Road to Thornbury in September 1962, followed by a bubble car

Volume one specifically celebrates the halcyon and best years of the peak year in 1961. Historically, Bradford trolleybuses were the “first and the last” in the UK, (in 1911, Bradford was the joint first UK system and then the last, in 1972).

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Volume 1 of Stuart's bookVolume 1 of Stuart's book

With only one flat route road out of the centre, appropriately called Canal Road, Bradford city centre is in a bowl surround by 200 to 400-metre hills. It is said that when in Bradford, you could always find the city centre by letting go of a ball and following it. There are also very few places inside the Bradford bowl, where you cannot see the horizon.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: 789 turning up Bolton Road for Five Lane Ends, Idle, Shipley, Saltaire789 turning up Bolton Road for Five Lane Ends, Idle, Shipley, Saltaire

The operating environment in Bradford was perfect for quiet and fume-free passenger transport, that also soared effortlessly up the hills that surround the city.

A unique fleet

The 19 variations of trolleybuses used in 1961 are illustrated along with a fleet history from 1934, (1934 trolleybus chassis were still working in 1961). Bradford after 1951 then only bought second-hand trolleybuses and also undertook extensive rebuilding and rebodying programmes from 1944; thereafter, many trolleybuses from both “home and away” were rebodied, whilst latterly, others were stripped for parts. Indeed, the last few trolleybuses running at the closure, were actually new between 1945 and 1950 and had gained new bodies from 1959 to 1962.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: 596 on Thornton Road in November 1953, being followed by a police car596 on Thornton Road in November 1953, being followed by a police car

The changes in livery are also explained and illustrated with a look at the depot structure and the service vehicles used to maintain the network.

Route developments

Finally in Volume 1, we start to look at the extensive route history and development from 1911 along with evocative illustrations of the trolleybus used, principally from the main years of development in the 1930s. A view is also therefore provided of a city in change and redevelopment, and some of the development was responsible for the demise of some routes. However, these times are fully covered in Volume 2.

Volume 2 book follows on from Volume 1 and concludes the route history and development of the many interesting routes “on the hills in Bradford”. The routes are beautifully illustrated and show the ranges from sooty dark Victorian buildings to rural termini and the attendant changes with city redevelopment. Indeed, the redevelopment of the city in the 1960s also provides a historical pictorial backdrop to the trolleybuses that are seen “at work” in the city.

A route summary provides full details of the start and closure dates with headways and journey times; these ranged from every 2-3 minutes to 30 minutes and had journey times from 10 to 30 minutes.

Why Bradford was special

The renaissance of Bradford’s trolleybuses is described and shows why it was a special system. However, after every rise, there can come a fall and this started in Bradford soon after 1961. Whilst the future had looked good in 1960 with capital development planned, the fall and the final closure resulted from management changes, city centre development, major road changes and finally, a definite close policy. The decline though was a slow one, that gathered momentum towards the final closure in 1972.

All of the closures and attendant fleet losses are fully covered , however, these is no “final day” coverage , as the books give an emphasis to the best and peak times of the system. Whilst many bus enthusiasts only visited Bradford trolleybuses towards the end times in 1970 to 1972, by then they had missed the best and more interesting times in 1960/1961 when the range, variety and diversity of the network and fleet were at the highest.

Finally, the book discusses what might have been and the proposals for an extended rebodying programme that involved buying trolleybuses from Portsmouth and Manchester and also the purchase of new trolleybuses.

This was not to be, but Bradford trolleybuses remained “special”; these nostalgic books show why this was.

As with Volume 1, Volume 2 also extensively shows trolleybuses at work on the different routes as they effortlessly and speedily glided up the hills from the city centre.

l Volume One is available to pre-order from

Volume Two will be available online at the end of July.

l Picture credits:

596: AD Packer

716 and 757: T Greaves

754 and 678: AD Packer

758: G Cork

789: Omnicolour