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Harringay, Haringey - So Good they Spelt it Twice!

In the 1950s trolleybuses ran along Green Lanes. There was the 629 Enfield to Tottenham Court Road, the 641 Moorgate to Winchmore Hill and the 521/621 Holborn to North Finchley (by slightly different routes).

The trolleybuses were always quite smooth (no need to change gear!) and were very fast off the mark. If you were not seated you had to remember to hang on tight. They were wooden-bodied and, as a child, I was under the impression that the body swayed backwards slightly when they started.

They normally ran smoothly along Green Lanes but there could be problems at a cross-roads such as at Manor House. A worse place was at the Nag's Head, Holloway where there was quite a complicated junction.

At these junctions it was not unusual for one or both trolley poles to jump off the overhead wires and rise above them. The conductor had then to go round to the back of the trolleybus and remove a very long bamboo pole that was in a tube that ran under the length of the bus. If traffic had built up behind this could be a bit difficult! He (or she) then had to use the pole, which had a hook on the end, to pull the offending trolley pole back down and set it back on the wire. Being bamboo the pole was quite light but it was very long so that it required quite a bit of dexterity. The pole then had to be put back in its tube before the trolleybus could proceed.

The most spectacular incident I saw (it may come back to me exactly where)was when a trolleybus came round a bend a bit too fast. Both its poles came off the wires, swung round and hit a tree by the roadside. It sat there with the poles bent and twisted waiting for London Transport's special recovery vehicle.

The motor buses were not so smooth. Some Sundays we we take the 29 bus which started from Turnpike Lane Station to visit my Uncle Sid who lived in Southgate. I always tried to sit up the front so I could watch the driver. These "RT" buses had a pre-selector gearbox. To change gear the driver would first select the gear he wanted with a small lever on the steering column, you would then see his left knee rise up and then he would stamp down on the pedal. The bus would then lurch slightly as it changed gear.

In 1959 the new Routemaster buses started being produced. They were soon put on the 41 route on which I used to go to school. They had a semi-automatic gearbox and were quite a bit smoother. They were produced to replace the trolleybuses and the 41 route was used for training the trolleybus drivers. One problem was that the drivers being trained were not too familiar with the route. On one occasion I was on a bus travelling up West Green Road to the junction with Green Lanes. At the junction the driver turned left and headed down Green Lanes towards the Queen's Head instead of turning right towards Turnpike Lane. There were immediately lots of shouts from the passengers (which the driver couldn't hear) and the bus was brought to a halt by the time-honoured method of the conductor rapping on the glass at the back of the cab with the "T" handled key he carried for opening the covers on the destination blinds. After a very awkward "U" turn in Green Lanes the bus regained its proper route!

Up to about the mid 1950s the conductor had a long wooden ticket rack with all the pre-printed tickets held in with spring clips. He would select one of appropriate value and use a bell-punch to make a hole on the edge at the appropriate fare stage. This system was replaced by a more flexible one by a rounded silver machine with a handle on the side. The conductor wore this rather like a hitched-up sporran (must be near Burn's Night!) and the machine printed tickets as required.

Trolleybus and buses were fine but the real excitement lay in the trams. On several occasions my father took me on a trolleybus to Manor House where we would change to a tram waiting on the other side of the junction. These were the last trams running in North London. The trams were much rougher and noisier than the buses but the great excitement lay in going steeply down into the tunnel at Holborn Kingsway. There were two stations on this underground section and the tram would emerge into daylight again under Waterloo Bridge. One memorable trip on this route was a family trip to the Festival of Britain in 1951. Here was plenty to excite a "technically-minded" six-year-old. Best remembered are The Guiness Clock and the various wonderous creations of Rowland Emett including the "Far Tottering and Oyster Creek Branch Railway".

Sadly the next year marked the end of the trams in London but I am grateful to have some memories of them.

Tags for Forum Posts: harringay alumni memories, harringay memories, stephen holliday's childhood memories

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Brilliant. My grandfather worked the trolley buses at Turnpike Lane around those times and I expect my mother would have had similar memories.

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