Trolley buses

There is a page on the site about Durban’s transport history including the electric trolley buses that ran there for a number of years. I recently received this great picture from Trevor Jones and couldn’t resist posting it.

Trolley Buses in Durban circa 1962. Picture courtesy Trevor Jones.
Trolley Buses in Durban circa 1962. Picture courtesy Trevor Jones.

Trevor wrote:

I came across this old slide in a box of family pics. It was taken by my father, I would suspect in 1962 or 1963 (not after that, as we left Durban end-1963). It shows the City Centre, with the Cenotaph in front of the City Hall, and several of the characteristic Trolley Buses or “trackless trams” that graced the Durban transport scene till the mid/late-sixties. They were superb – quiet, powerful and non-polluting, but limited by the “overhead wires” as they were termed. The street in front is West Street, and the corner of the portico of the City Hall is just visible on the left.

I have to say that the picture did have me confused at first because I couldn’t work out its orientation. A close examination of the street signs revealed that the yellow bus is actually in Church Street which I didn’t remember being open to traffic. I checked on Google Maps and I was dismayed to find Church Street is about the only one in that area that hasn’t been renamed.

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30 Responses

  1. Frank Beeton
    | Reply

    The yellow trolleybus is one of four 1948 Sunbeam MS2 trolleybuses with BMS bodies delivered in 1948, and the red bus, from its prominent rear hubs, looks like one of 17 Leyland TTB5’s with Metro-Cammell bodies delivered in 1941 (25 similar buses built for Durban were diverted to London Transport during WWII). The almost all-over red colour scheme on the one bus was introduced for DTMB buses circa 1959, and was quite unusual on trolleybuses, most of which carried all-over advertising at that time.

  2. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Frank,
    Thanks for the input. Looks like you have done some study on the Durban Trolley Buses. Perhaps you can add some info to what I have added below.

    The Durban Trolley buses must surely be one of the most remembered memories for those that lived in Durban during their lifetime. They were there in 1949 when I first arrived in Durban and can still recall as a 5 year old youngster, the thrill of standing right at the very front upstairs and looking on from that high vantage point. Sadly I was around as well to see their final demise in 1968.

    I would like to, in this post, record something about the trolley buses “turn around ” points . “Turn around” points are what I call the end of the trolley bus routes where the buses virtually did a U turn and headed back into town. Some years ago, Kevan Mardon, the Durban transport fundi sent me a whole wad of drawings on the tram and bus system in Durban over the years. So I am indebted to Kevan as his drawings are really informative. However the drawings do not give the precise roads where the trolley buses turned round so if you lived near one of these points and I have missed it or incorrectly noted it, please add your information to complete the record.

    South Beach Route : The turning point was at the end of Marine Parade where it met Bell Street. Addington Primary School was here.

    North Beach Route : The turning point was in front of Natal Command .

    Point Route: The turning point was at the very end of Point Rd roughly where the Ferry across the Bay was situated.

    Queen Mary Ave Route : The turning point was at the intersection of Umbilo Road and Queen Mary Ave.

    Umbilo Route : Not too sure on this one but was it not at the end of Bartle Road?

    Toll Gate Route: This one was up Berea Road to the Toll Gate Bridge, over the bridge and then back into town.

    Glenwood Route: The bus turned up from Bath Road into McDonald Road up to the terminus near where Chelmsford Road met MacDonald Road. There was a building at the terminus with toilets and a large clock.

    Stellawood Cemetery Route : The trolley bus turned round in front of the cemetery gates.

    Mayville Route: Another one not sure of but have an idea it went up Mayville Hill as far as the Mayville Hotel. Have an idea this route was abandoned in the mid 60s.

    Puntans Hill Route : The trolley bus went as far as Banfield Crescent where it did a turn in this road and headed back to town.

    Sutton Park Route: As far as Sutton Park at the end of Stamford Hill Road where it did a turn. There was a terminus building here with a toilet.

    Penzance Road Route: A well known route but not sure. Was it at Durban Girls High?

    Musgrave Road, Springfield Road, North Ridge Road were if I recall circular trolley bus routes.
    A trolley bus route is indicated heading to the Umgeni River but I do not recall this one.

    • Frank Beeton

      Hi Gerald,
      My interest is mainly the vehicles and Kevan Mardon probably has more information than me on routes, etc. I will check my records over the next few days to see if I can fill in any gaps.
      BTW I believe we have some mutual friends in David and Sandy Canning!

    • Richard Holmes

      I am pretty sure that the Mayville bus went as far as 45th cutting

      I think that it turned right and went through Sparks Estate but equally could well have gone round the roundabout and headed back into town

    • Gerald Buttigieg

      Hi Richard,
      I cannot recall the trolley buses going through Sparks Estate at all. Thinking of the route it would have gone up Sparks Road up to the circle (is that Locksley Drive) and then come back. In addition the turn off would have been off Ridge Road into South Road and down into Sparks Estate and that was a hazardous route in my estimation. I maybe wrong but my memory does not recall a trolley bus route heading for 45th Cutting.

    • Frank Beeton

      The map I mentioned shows the Mayville Hill route to be an extension of the Toll Gate route, so possibly the buses went along Jan Smuts Avenue? The present road system in that area has been considerably re-aligned with freeways etc. so its quite hard to visualize nowadays.

    • Richard Holmes

      Hi Gerald

      We came to Durban ( from JHB ) in 1962 and for the first 3 years rented a house in Grace Avenue Westville.I had just left school and I did not have my driving licence.When I did get it my access to the parent’s car was very very limited indeed to begin with.So for a while my wheels were a Corporation bus

      I distinctly remember the walk from home to 45th Cutting and vice versa and the bus stops

      I suppose that the buses may well have been motorised but my recollection is that they were trollies

    • john jones

      We lived in Puntans Hill and the trolley bus had to do a pretty sharp turn into Banfield Cresent . There were many many times when the pylons ( ? ) came adrift from the electricity cables. And then the driver would have to get out with his long pole and re-attached the pylons ( not sure what they were called ) to the overhead cables. They were very very smooth rides those were on the trolley buses. Except one had to get used to the ‘sparking’ sound LOL.

  3. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Frank,
    Yes, David and Sandy have been around to my place here in Byrne. A few years ago now.
    Are you involved with double decker motor bus they have now running around the Baynesfield Estate? Not sure where the bus came from but possibly from the collection they had at the Durban Drive In site.
    Regarding the trolley bus routes, I am forgetting the routes they followed. Someone should sit down and record them for posterity as they will never be resurrected as they were. When you come to think of it, when families could only afford one car in the family, the trolley and motor bus routes would to an extent dictate where you chose to live. My mother and sister were examples in that both could not drive so they relied heavily on bus transport to get to and from work, going shopping, taking the kids to the doctor and not to forget that most children in those days went to school by bus quite safely and happily at that.

    • Frank Beeton

      Hi Gerald,
      David was at school with me (Grosvenor Boys’ High). I reconnected with him when I organised our Matric 50th Anniversary in 2013.
      I didn’t know about the Baynesfield bus, but looking at the pictures on Facebook it looks like an ex-Johannesburg AEC Regent V, possibly ex the Durban bus museum.

      Regarding the trolleybuses. I have a scanned copy of an article “Durban’s Trolleybuses” from Classic Bus Magazine (ca 1997), written by John Grant-Silver. Unfortunately, the quality is not suitable for reproduction. However, it contains a highly simplified schematic map of the Durban Trolleybus System, which does not show the detailed routes, but lists the following destinations:
      South Beach/Marine Parade/Point/Umgeni/Sutton Park/Greyville Junction/Toll Gate/Mayville Hill/Overport/Marriott Road/North Ridge Road/Puntan’s Hill/Musgrave Road/Glenwood/Penzance Road/Stellawood Cemetery/Umbilo. I’m not sure if these were all termini, but this may help to jog some memories.

    • Wayne

      Yes the aec is from the durban drive in Site. The guybus went to the James hall museum. The trolley bus has gone to the uk

  4. Richard Martin
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald
    The original Marine Parade route (No 1) terminus was diagonally opposite the Cumberland Hotel as for many years, that was the last building along the road until Natal Command. It was light brown face brick building with toilets, built in the same architectural style as the one at Sutton Park and (I think) one somewhere up in Glenwood. The Marine Parade terminus building may still be there.
    When more apartment blocks were built in the 1960s, north of the Cumberland, the Marine Parade route was extended to Natal Command.

  5. Mike
    | Reply

    Hope the video (link above) brings back some pleasant memories for some of you….and may add a little value to the Trolley/ bus info!…………

    • Moira Badstubner (nee Williams)

      My father “Dick” Williams was an electrician for the Durban Corporation and lost one of his thumbs when it got caught in one of the interchange connections.

  6. Frank Beeton
    | Reply

    Thanks, Mike. Wonderful nostalgia. Do you know who made that film?

  7. Allan Hannah
    | Reply

    Trolley buses, oh trolley buses!!
    Popped in to see how you were doing, Gerald!
    The trolley bus stories caught my eye!
    Being a boarder at DHS resulted in many trolley bus rides to Durban and then home again to our esteemed quarters at DHS! What do I recall about these buses! I suppose the loud whirrimg noise emitted by electric drive motor as it strained its way up to Musgrave Road was the most memorable for me!
    …and how often did the two arms jump off the supply cables, just as we were turning into Musgrave Road!! This event was rectified by the use of along pole, hook on one end, to grab the arms and set them back onto the supply cables1
    Allan Hannah

    • Allan Hannah

      Hi Gerald
      Hope you catch a glimpse of this note!!
      Was in the Musgrave Road area yesterday, by chance, and took a few pics of what things look like today!!!
      Would like to send to you by e-mail for you to see and maybe include on FAD site!
      Lost all phone numbers and e-mail addresses in the beeg crash of PC at 59!!


  8. J Dube'
    | Reply

    I have a few more details about the trolley bus service which I have obtained from an elderly bus conductor who was on the trolley service before being transferred to a driver when all the double decker vehicles were replaced fully by the single decker.
    The 13 Mayville service went down Jan Smuts Highway and turned back at the junction with the Cato Manor road.
    14 was Tollgate, up and over the bridge
    15 served half way up Berea Road turning back between Currie Road and Musgrave Road at the old tennis courts. This service was when the old Berea Road existed with the grass island between the up and down carriageways.
    41 Musgrave Road returning as 43 via Mitchell Park, Florida Road and Stamford Hill
    21 North Ridge Road returning via 18 through Morningside and Stamford Hill
    19 Umgeni Road turning back at Umgeni Station (Britannia Hotel) just before the bridge.
    1 Marine Parade turning back at the Snake Park area.
    2 South Beach turning back at Bell Street
    3 Point via West Street and Point Road Corner
    4 Point via Stanger Street and Winder Street
    5 Point via South Beach which went along South Beach route, down Bell Street and continued along the 3 route to the terminus. This service returned by the same route and was used in the holiday period mostly to help the popular 2 South Beach service.
    He was saying the trolley bus service was very popular and a clean fairly quiet mode of transport and far more comfortable then the motor bus. He became a dab hand at resetting the trolleys when they left the wires and became very accurate and quick.
    I remember preferring the trolley bus going to town from Berea Road and would let the motor bus pass if there was a trolley bus following. The great expanse of the windows that slid right down was also great on hot days.
    I hope this information is of use.

  9. John Dube'
    | Reply

    Hi Gerald,
    I have spoken to a close family friend who was a conductor on the trolley buses and double decker motor buses, at the end of their service they were replaced with Royal Tiger single decker buses. The conductors were transferred to drivers on the diesel single decker’s and the post of conductor was abolished.
    Richard Martin is correct about the terminus of the service 1 Marine Parade being at the Cumberland Hotel, in later years it was extended to Natal Command.
    Route 13 Mayville ran down Jan Smuts to the Cato Manor Road intersection where it returned by the same route.
    Trolley buses never went past that terminus, 45 Cutting was served by diesel buses on the Sydenham and Sherwood services.
    Route 14 Tollgate, up Berea Road to the Tollgate Bridge and back down Berea Road.
    Route 15 went up Berea Road to the old tennis courts on the left side between Currie Road and Musgrave Road where it turned around the then grass traffic island in the old Berea Road. For some unknown reason the bus shelter was on the traffic island. This service ended when the rebuild of Berea Road started.
    Route 41 Musgrave Road, up Berea Road, Musgrave Road and returning as Route 43 Marriot Road route going along to Mitchell Park, down Florida Road, Stamford Hill Road, Cartwright Flats to the City. The Route 43 was the reverse service returning on the 41 Musgrave Road route back to City.
    Route 50 Botanic Gardens Road via Berea Road returning as Route 49 via Clarence Road, Stamford Hill Road (Greyville) This service was never a trolley bus service.
    Route 21 North Ridge Road, up Berea Road into Musgrave Road, Silverton Road and snaked its way up to Ridge Road. The Terminus was at the Girls School in Earl Haig and returned to the City as Route 18 via Morningside, Sutton Park, Stamford Hill, Cartwright Flats into Town. Route 18 followed the same route returning on Route 21.
    Route 20 Puntins Hill which followed the Route 18 both ways.
    Route 19 Umgeni which want along Umgeni Road to the Umgeni SAR Station / Britannia Hotel where it turned and returned the same route back to City. A deviation was via Sutton Park and along Sutton Park Road, the 18 route to town
    Route 7 Umbilo serving a long winding ride through upper Umbilo, past the old resevior and back down Queen Mary Avenue, (Past Port Natal School) turn right into Bartle Road along to the terminus. The bus turned right at Prospect Road? (where Bartle Road narrows) down the hill, Left into Gower Street and back up onto the narrow part at the end of Bartle Road to the terminus / Timing Point.
    Route 2 South Beach, up West Street right onto South Beach turning back at Bell Street.
    Route 3 Point via Point Road corner to the end of Point Road.
    Route 4 Point via Stanger Street and Winder Street, joining the 3 route.
    Route 5 Point via South Beach, follows the 2 route but goes down Bell Street, left into Point Road to the terminus. This service returned by the same route serving South Beach. ( The service was a Summer service assisting the very busy Route 2)
    There was also a trolley bus that served (Route8?) Umbilo Road which went as far as Queen Mary Avenue where it turned and returned to the city. These services alternated along Gale Street or Umbilo Road (Both 2 way streets back in those days.
    The trolley bus service was very popular, they were more comfortable than the diesel buses and gave a much better “jerk free ride”. They were quicker due to having a conductor so you were not held up by passengers digging for money or asking questions which holds up the service. The conductors were good ambassadors for Durban as they could direct people and generally be nice and helpful to passengers. The one man service destroyed all that!
    (A pet “assistance” the conductors provided was when people complained about the height of the platform the conductor would “lower the platform” by winding it lower using the handle to the rear destination board, and you had a happy passenger – Talk about the power of suggestion!)
    The services lost a lot when the conductor was abolished.
    Another perk with the trolley buses was the windows pulled right down a bonus in hot weather, a curse to the ladies with their fancy hair styles. You were protected from falling out by the 2 silver metal pipes that ran the length of the bus over the windows.
    They also had the fishing rod rack on the rear to accommodate the fishermen’ rods.
    Their main drawback was having to follow the bus in front until you got to a passing point where either the conductor pulled a handle on the street pole to change the points (like railways) or the driver switched points by accelerating and pulling the hand brake 2 points together which switched the wire direction points. Smart operation!
    The conductor would blow his whistle to signal the driver it was safe to proceed.
    Those were the days, very frequent bus service, clean and on time!!! The Durban Corporation ran an extremely good service.
    I hope these details are of interest and will jog a few memories. This goes back to the good old days of the 50s and 60s and although the details are still very clear in his mind Len apologised in advance for any errors but he feels he has it right.

  10. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    John Dube’ has sent me this picture postcard of Berea Road taken probably in the mid 1950s even early 1960s. It gives a view of what it was like before it was turned into Kinmont’s Canyon of today. I am trying to place where the photo was taken from and I would guess from the Old TollGate Bridge. In the near distance would be the blocks of flats which lined the lower portion of Berea Road. These would be Eureka Court, CanonGate, Regency Court , Crateford Court and near Umbilo Road intersection Moncrieff. As John points out note the bus stop in the middle island. I wonder if this was not a relic of the tramways?

    Talking trolley bus routes one I forgot about was the Overport route. This came up as far as Ridge Road where the present Overport Shopping Centre is. Here South Road meets Ridge Road. To the right of the intersection in front of the old Overport Telephone Exchange Building and former Post Office at street level used to be a fairly large island which had growing on it a huge old tree. On the island was built a small bus depot with domed roof and adjoining it were public toilets. The buses would round at the island and then do a U turn and head back into town. The tree has gone today as has the bus depot and I think all that remains today is the public toilet building .

    • Frank Beeton

      “Jan Smuts Highway” for the Mayville route is correct! My “Jan Smuts Avenue” shows that I have been living in Joburg too long!

  11. Moira Badstubner (nee Williams)
    | Reply

    I love reading your comments…please keep me posted…Moira

  12. Tim Gallwey
    | Reply

    Surely that bit of Berea Road is from near Manning Road? Note also the grassy divide between the lanes and down under those trees the difference in levels was quite large. Interesting picture.

    As regards trolley bus routes I would sometimes get the bus from Gardiner Street to Girls High in order to get the the UN residences. That trolley bus certainly turned round by Girls High in a large expanse of tarmac at the corner of the UN rugby field.

  13. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi Tim,
    That postcard is difficult to judge where it was taken from. You could be right but what worries me is the elevation. On the corner of Manning and Berea Road is the Presbyterian Church which still stands and is not in sight here. From the blocks of flats you see which are in Berea Road, the first “big” road you would cross was Botanic Gardens Road, then Currie Road, Musgrave Road, Essenwood Road , Bellevue Road, Vause Road and then lastly Ridge Road. I am talking left hand side as you look at the postcard. What I look for now is houses whose gables point west towards the Toll Gate Bridge and you can see that some stand out. To me they would be in the roads I mention above. The only building I think on the right hand side that could be identified is the one with the black and white striped gable. The Berea Hotel was styled in that Tudor type style and there was a bottle store in a separate building. If my thinking is right the Berea Hotel which had the Inspan Garage on its corner was on the corner of Bulwer and Berea Road. Above Bulwer was Hunt Road and then Manning Road. So you could be right but the height the picture is taken from, confuses me.
    Can you remember exactly where the UN rugby field was that you mention?

    • Mark Billingham

      Hi Gerald,
      If you look on Google maps you will see the Uni playing fields diagonally across the road from Durban Girls High. They are still there.

  14. Mike
    | Reply

    A link to a Trolleybus site. Quite s few buses from Durban’ as well!.

    Hope the aficionado’s enjoy…………..

  15. J.Dube'
    | Reply

    The picture (post card) shows Berea Road just above Currie Road, the shop on the left of the picture, with the protruding pavement cover parapet, on the down side was on the corner of Currie Road. The location of the picture is between Currie Road and Musgrave Road. The grass island ended opposite a small road serving the blocks of flats on the UP side of Berea Road, the next road as you go up on the same side was Hunt Road (where Hunt Road school was located). The photo was taken from Berea Court, that is why the block can’t be seen. I have other photos of the location showing the trams in Berea Road and the shop on the corner of Currie Road is in all of them.
    I attended a number of incidents in that very area and know it well. The Manning Road intersection is further up and at that stage had a very small shop opposite the church on the up side and on the down side had a shop with an entrance to the shop on the corner and entrance to the flat on the Essenwood Road face. Going down towards Musgrave Road were private homes with an old wood and iron house owned by elderly ladies who always flew a big Union Jack in front of the house, then you got the big church on the corner of Musgrave and Berea Road.
    That area was demolished for the new Berea Road as it is today.

  16. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    Hi John,
    Thanks for the explanation and I would go with that. I do remember that when the big change to Berea Road was made, between the Toll Gate Bridge and I think Musgrave Road everything on the left hand side only was demolished to make room for the freeway. An old church on the corner of Musgrave Road and Berea Road was one of the “fallen”. I seem to recall even a small block of flats went. I posted a story and picture of the demolished church here on FAD but have not looked it up. I must refer to my 1938 directory to see what that brings up in this area.

  17. Gerald Buttigieg
    | Reply

    John Dube has sent in two photo postcards of the trams in Berea Road in the 1930s. It shows a very different Berea Road to what it is today and even to what I knew it as in the mid 195os. John writes:
    ” 2 pictures of that Berea Road section when it was serviced by trams in the early days, you can see the Currie Road intersection where the shop stood for ever prior to being demolished for the new road set up. The one picture shows the crew at the terminus “switch over” before returning to town.
    The one stop I remember like yesterday was the one where Berea Road and Old Dutch Road split. The stop was on the triangle opposite the Grand Tea Room.”

  18. Brian
    | Reply

    Regarding the Toll gate/Mayville trolley bus routes, the Mayville turn around was at the bottom of the valley where the turn off to Cato Manor now is. It never went up the hill to 45th cutting. The Toll gate turn was just after the present bridge which is the second bridge constructed there. In the 1940s North and South Ridge roads were separated. Pedestrian steps led down to Berea Road where the bridge now stands.

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