Hastings trolleybus Happy Harold is sprightly at ninety

Harold 90 2 SUS-180504-111743001
Harold 90 2 SUS-180504-111743001

Happy Harold, Hastings’ own trolleybus was 90 last week and to mark the occasion he visited Silverhill Depot, where he was first entered service, while on Easter Sunday he transported a group of 90 year olds from Old Hastings House to Hastings Museum for a special party.

The double deckers were unique in that they were the only purpose-built open top double deck trolleybuses in the country and probably the world. Trolleybuses were electrically propelled, drawing current from overhead wires; they were silent and non-polluting, and differed from trams in as much as trams ran with iron wheels on rails set in the road and trolleybuses ran on pneumatic tyres.

Harold 90 7 SUS-180504-111732001

Harold 90 7 SUS-180504-111732001

The bus took part in the Coronation celebrations of Queen Elizabeth II, when it was painted in a ‘Royal Maroon’ and cream livery. It carried a placard above the cab proclaiming the new Queen. This was later replaced with a life-size cut-out of the Conqueror and in typical Hastings fashion the vehicle was unofficially renamed ‘Happy Harold’

The open-topper proved to be an enormous success and was in service right up to the end of the system in mid 1959. Maidstone and District Motor Services, who had owned Hastings Tramways since 1935, decided that, since the ‘bus was such a popular attraction it should have life after electricity and a brand-new Commer TS3 diesel engine and gearbox were fitted in time for the ‘bus to re-enter service in the 1960 season and it continued to run up and down the seafront until 1968 when, following a small fire in the lower deck, it was withdrawn from service and stored.

In 1980 Hastings Borough Council acquired the vehicle for £1000 to ensure its survival. Disaster followed the hurricane in October 1987 when the roof of the shed housing the bus was blown in, taking Harold’s upper deck with it. Hastings Trolleybus Restoration Group was formed and they, with specialist help from the Borough Council’s direct labour departments spent 1600 hours working on the vehicle leading up to its re-launch in 1989.

A disaster in November 2012 saw the 50-year old engine seized and Happy Harold was towed home.

Harold 90 5 SUS-180504-111710001

Harold 90 5 SUS-180504-111710001

Finding someone to rebuild the engine was not easy but local vintage vehicle expert Tom Bewick undertook the task and fully rebuilt the rare and unusual 3 cylinder 6 piston supercharged diesel engine, donating his time and expertise to ensure that this unique vehicle could still be enjoyed.

After several years off the road Happy Harold finally emerged, complete with MoT to appear at the Trolleybus Group’s annual show on the Oval in May last year and can now be seen, staffed by volunteers, joining in community events around the Hastings area.

Chair of the Restoration Group, Ion Castro said: “I would like to thank everybody, too many to mention individually, who gave up their time to make these two days such a success and I’m very proud that we were able to celebrate these amazing anniversary events that couldn’t have happened without the co-operation of so many people.”

Don’t forget the annual show on the Oval, May 20, admission free and there’s more about Happy Harold on his website, www.1066.net/trolley.

Harold 90 1 SUS-180504-111639001

Harold 90 1 SUS-180504-111639001

Pictures by Sid Saunders.

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