THE era of the trolleybus as Bournemouth’s favourite mode of public transport came to an end half a century ago this weekend.

For 36 years, they had been known as the town’s “silent service” – running from Westbourne to Christchurch and north to Wallisdown and Castle Lane.

They replaced the town’s trams and were in turn supplanted by diesel-powered buses as they became uneconomical in the 1960s.

Bournemouth Corporation decided in 1930 to try running trolleybuses, and a route between Westbourne and the Square was equipped with overhead wires ready for a trial in early 1933.

That October, the council decided the trolleybuses would be used permanently, and the existing tram routes would be converted for bus use.

The route was extended to Boscombe the following year. The formal opening of a route from County Gates to Boscombe, with a spur to Queen’s Park to take in the Dean Court football ground, happened in the presence of a government transport minister on June 22, 1934.

Christchurch was added to the network in 1936. The town lacked space to accommodate a trolleybus’s turning circle, so a turntable was installed at Church Street. After positioning the bus on the turntable, the driver and conductor would unhook it from the electrical supply with a bamboo pole, before manually pushing it around 180 degrees.

The popularity of trolleybuses grew rapidly with the network. In the year ending March 1937, the vehicles carried 26.3million passengers, and 10 years later, the figure had risen to 42.7m. But by 1957, usage was down to 29m.

Times were changing in favour of motorbuses. Spares for the existing fleet were more difficult to come by, the overhead wiring was costly, and private car ownership was beginning to rise rapidly.

In 1962, the corporation took delivery of the last trolleybuses ever built for British use. In April the following year, it resolved not to buy any more, and to wind down the service.

In 1964, the corporation decided to sell the world’s only open-topped trolleybuses – three Sunbeam vehicles that had been built in 1935 and converted for use on sightseeing use in 1958.

The last trolleybus on the original number 25 route from Westbourne to Boscombe ran in September 1965.

By 1969, the end had finally come, and Saturday, April 19, was the last day of scheduled services.

That Sunday, a procession of 17 buses left the Pier Approach at 3pm for a farewell trip through the town. The drivers included William Biddlecombe, 65, who had driven the first trolleybus on the experimental service in 1933. Around 500-600 people took part in the event and many more lined the roads to see the last trolleybuses go past.

When the procession reached the bus depot at Mallard Road, there were 17 new 74-seater diesel buses, ready for handing over to the mayor, Alderman Michael Greene, by Britsih Leyland and coachbuilders Walter Alexander and Co.

Around 70 trolleybuses had already been disposed of, most of them to be scrapped, leaving fewer than at the depot. Three would eventually go to preservation societies.

The day after the procession, work began on removing the 40 remaining miles of overhead wires.

* Bournemouth Library is marking the anniversary with an exhibition about Bournemouth Corporation Transport until April 27.

Although the vehicles are long gone from Bournemouth, two Bournemouth Corporation trolleybuses – a Sunbeam MS2 from 1935 and a Sunbeam MF2B from 1962 – can still be seen at the Trolleybus Museum in Sandtoft, Doncaster.