Route from Grimsby to Cleethorpes

Overhead wiring and its associated equipment have received relatively little attention from transport historians despite the fact that they comprise the bulk of surviving relics of British trolleybus systems. Fortunately, a lot of details of the Grimsby and Cleethorpes overhead wiring have been recorded and here we take a ride from Old Market, Grimsby to the Bathing Pool, Cleethorpes, recalling some of the sights along the way.


Grimsby Corporation introduced trolleybuses in place of trams on the Freeman Street route on 3 October 1926. In preparation for this, orders were placed for 98 poles and for overhead materials for the whole route which began at Riby Square, some distance from the Grimsby depot in Victoria Street. Trams continued to run from Riby Square past the depot and in order that the trolleybuses could reach the depot one power pole was attached to the tram wire and a skate on a chain attached to the rear of the bus was dropped into a tram track. The conductor had to hold the skate in the groove of the tram track by a wooden handle and the trolleybus, travelling at walking pace, held up the trams. Once, when a dog decided to relieve itself on the skate just as the driver applied the power it did the 4-minute mile in 2!

This arrangement came to an end when Grimsby’s remaining tramway, between Old Market and the Borough boundary with Cleethorpes, was replaced by trolleybuses on 22 November 1936. The route began with a loop around one-way streets and passed the depot before meeting the original trolleybus route at Riby Square. Here a complicated junction of loops and frogs existed, reportedly weighing ten tons. The route continued along Cleethorpe Road to the Borough boundary where the trolleybuses turned in a loop via Rutland Street, Hamilton Street and Park Street. In all, the Grimsby trolleybus system consisted of 3.47 route miles. The depot was equipped with five wired roads, access (to and from the southbound wiring only) being through the front of the building only. Bamboo poles were used to allow trolleybuses to leave or access the northbound wiring, and to leave or join route 10.


Cleethorpes Corporation replaced trams by trolleybuses on 19 July 1937. Mr F.H. Peacock, Engineer and Manager of the Transport Department, detailed the necessary preparations in the 9 September 1937 edition of The Transport World:

"The conversion of the overhead equipment and the construction of the Kingsway extension was carried out by Clough, Smith & Co Ltd, London. In order to ensure that the trolleybuses could be operated at the maximum scheduled speeds with the minimum number of trolley-head dewirements the contractors prepared in advance a route plan showing the proposed positions, sizes and lengths of the poles, and in addition, separate enlargement plans of each terminal and intermediate loops and junctions. These plans were carefully considered on the site by the General Manager before being approved, to ensure that the trolley wires would be erected above the natural path of the vehicles on straight portions of the route, and in the most suitable positions at curves.

It was specified that no design of materials should be employed that had not proved to be satisfactory in prolonged service. A detailed estimate was prepared in advance of all materials required so as to ensure no shortage arising during construction, and no surplus on completion of the contract other than that required for future maintenance. As a result of this careful preliminary work a trial run over the whole length of the route took place in exactly 13 weeks from the commencement of work, and the system was put into service within a week of that date.

All the existing poles and tramway overhead equipment were removed and replaced by new material. An improvement specially appreciated by the general public was the replacement of the tramway centre-pole construction in the Grimsby Road by trolleybus span wire construction, thus considerably increasing the effective width of the roadway. The loss in road surface area due to centre-pole construction is clearly demonstrated after a fall of snow by the wheel marks of vehicular traffic.

The new poles are of the one piece type, 31 ft, 33 ft and 35 ft in length, the latter being of the heavy duty type employed at junctions to support catenary wires to relieve span wires from the additional weight of the insulated crossovers etc., a method specially favoured by the Ministry of Transport. The (spherical) pole finials are of the spun metal type. To maintain the ears in a vertical position the eyes of the straight line hangars, double and single pull-offs are so placed that they compensate for the sag of the suspension wires. The trolley wire is of the Rotherham section originally introduced by the contractors on the Rotherham trolleybus system. This section of trolley wire enables suspension ears to be employed of a width not exceeding the diameter of the wire, and when suspended vertically in conjunction with the above mentioned special fittings, silent and sparkless operation is obtained even with worn trolley wheels.

All sectional insulators, negative splicing ears, frogs and insulated crossings are of the British Insulated Cables 'Rampend' type.

The electricity supply for the former tramways company was obtained from an old steam generating plant of 450 kW capacity. This plant was uneconomical, and was therefore scrapped in favour of modern rectifier equipment. Electricity is now obtained from the grid at Grimsby, via the Cleethorpes Corporation Electricity Department, and rectified by Hewittic traction type rectifiers. There are two separate 250 kW equipments, designed to operate from the incoming E.H.T. supply at a voltage of 6,000/6,600 volts, three-phase 50 cycles, and delivering 550 v D.C. to the trolley system. The two equipments are provided with separate control and can be placed in parallel according to the load demand. The H.T. switchboard is of the metal-clad drawout type made by Switchgear & Cowans Ltd. Owing to the fact that the rectifier equipment requires no attention and almost negligible maintenance, the sub-station is left locked up".

The Grimsby and Cleethorpes overhead was linked at the Borough boundary to allow through running, but another one-way loop existed on the Cleethorpes side of the boundary via Park Street, Sidney Street and Daubney Street. A little further on trolleybuses on Football Specials could be seen 'laying over' near Grimsby Football Ground awaiting the crowds of supporters. The route then followed Grimsby Road with its suburban houses before passing through the centre of Cleethorpes and emerging onto the sea front. From here it ran along Alexandra Road and Kingsway to a turning circle at the Bathing Pool. In Cleethorpes a total of 2.24 route miles were wired, and two lines of overhead wiring served the depot in Pelham Road, inside which two roads were wired.

Route numbering etc.

The success of Grimsby's original trolleybus conversion encouraged an application in 1926 for quite a network of routes: along Weelsby Road to Laceby Road, Sutcliffe Avenue and the Borough boundary, along Bargate and Deansgate to replace more of the trams and in a loop around Cleethorpes Road, Victor Street, Wellington Street, South Durban Street and Eleanor Street. However, when further tramway abandonment occurred on 3 January 1928, when the section between Peoples Park and Old Market was closed, replacement services were provided by single-deck Albion buses.

The trolleybuses operated under three route numbers over two basic routes. In Grimsby, route 10 was the original Riby Square - Weelsby Road service, while Cleethorpes used number 10 for a summer peak service between Park Street and the Bathing Pool. 11 was the joint route from Old Market to the Bathing Pool and number 12 was used for short workings beween Grimsby Old Market and Park Street (by Grimsby Corporation) and Riby Square and High Cliff (by Cleethorpes Corporation). Crews referred to Grimsby route 10 as 'the street' and joint route 11 as 'the road'. No further extensions were made to the system but '14' was included on the number blind of (at least) Cleethorpes 50, when new. This route linked Riby Square, Grimsby with Cleethorpes Market Place via Freeman Street, Oxford Street, Park Street and Brereton Avenue, and was at one time a very popular route through a then very densely populated area. It could easily have been rerouted in Cleethorpes and extended to the Bathing Pool. However, no record exists of plans to convert it to trolleybus operation.

During the Second World War Cleethorpes Corporation operated a lunchtime service numbered 12 between Lockhill and High Cliff. The trolleybus had to turn in Grimsby depot.

After the war there were again proposals to extend the trolleybus service along Bargate and Laceby Road to Bradley Cross Roads, but again nothing materialised. Eventually Cleethorpes dropped using 10 and both Corporations used 12 for any service not travelling the full route. Thus a trolleybus displaying route 12 could be pulled off route by an inspector to clear a queue and could turn (from the Cleethorpes direction only) at Riby Square, at Park Street or (from the Grimsby direction only) at turning circles at Isaacs Hill and High Cliff.

Trolleybuses returning to depot not in service would show 'DEPOT' on the blinds but, if returning in service 'PELHAM ROAD' (Cleethorpes) or 'CORPORATION ROAD' (Grimsby) would be displayed. It is not known why the latter did not display 'CENTRAL MARKET' as per the motor buses. After the merger the trolleybuses retained their original blinds until they needed replacement. Route number 12 was allocated to former Cleethorpes Corporation diesel bus route 4 to Humberston and 11 was used for any trolleybus service on the main route.

From the driver's perspective

The 'main line' was generally flat, except for Isaacs Hill in Cleethorpes that led to the High Street, and a more gradual incline in High Cliff Road. These features, plus the 'special work' in the overhead wiring, influenced trolleybus service speeds. In 1987 Mr Chas. Lazenby, a former Grimsby trolleybus driver, kindly provided details of maximum speeds for the route from Grimsby Old Market to Cleethorpes Bathing Pool:

"Old Market speed to turn crawl, then right hand turn into Victoria Street 4-5mph. Down Victoria Street speed 20-25 reducing to 10 at the junction of Pasture Street (cluster of insulation pots and joints). Straight on past Grimsby depot; there we encounter 4 break points and feeds, speed 3-5. Accelerate to 25, reducing speed at Central Market (4x rd's) then up to max. 28 until Loch Hill, (40 degree right hand turn) speed 10. Increase speed to 25 until Dock Railway crossings, speed 3-5, then increase speed until Riby Square junction: speed 3-5 over very large junction, power feed, joints diversion slips etc., then straight on 20-25. At Rutland Street diversion slow down to 15, continue to Park Street junction, 2 breakers and joints, speed here down to 5. Continue in Cleethorpes maximum speed until reaching Pelham Road (Cleethorpes depot), here there are 4 breakers and power booster: slow down to 3-5, then maximum speed until reaching Poplar Road junction; here there are diversions, joints etc, down to 5. Increase speed up Isaac's Hill. After High Street right hand bend into Alexandra Road, speed 5-10, then maximum speed up to High Cliff. Slow down to 5-10 when we encounter diversion circle, joints and supports, then maximum speed up to Bathing Pool, then crawl on turning circle for return to Old Market".

Clearly, drivers did not always keep to these guidelines as on one occasion the driver of 59 (GFU692) was caught travelling at 52mph on the last journey of the day from the Bathing Pool to the depot!

Wiring alterations and closure

The original spacing of the Freeman Street wiring was 18 in but this was later widened. No major route changes occurred during the life of the system, but small alterations to the overhead were recorded at Riby Square and High Cliff. The former was to allow trolleybuses operating on route 12 to lay over without either being dewired or blocking trolleybuses working routes 10 or 11. The latter occurred when a roundabout was constructed. After 1957 a roundabout was constructed at the foot of Isaacs Hill and for a short time the trolleybuses crossed it, but this was confusing for other drivers. A turning circle was incorporated when the wiring was altered (reportedly to replace the facility lost when Pelham Road depot closed) and used mainly by football specials which had previously turned at the depot or High Cliff.

During 1958 the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the two towns. All bus stop signs along the route displayed the words 'Royal Route' in gold on a red and blue background and the trolleybus main line was much affected.

The October 1959 report that called for the abandonment of the system cited as one reason the fact that the overhead wiring was in need of replacement. The last trolleybus ran on 4 June 1960, and by the following morning overhead wiring had already been dismantled from Old Market. Removal of the overhead wiring was undertaken by a firm called J.W. Draper of Bradford. Suddenly these roads seemed a lot less important than they had done before and now just a solitary traction pole remains at the former Bathing Pool terminus.

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