A trolley trip into past THE highly-atmospheric flashback photo featuring Sefton Place in the heart of the St Helens town centre (this page, March 12) had a host of our veteran readers toddling down memory lane.

I was pleasantly surprised by the avalanche of response to this moment of nostalgia.

John Foster of Billinge, G.E. Potts from Haydock, J. Harrison (Windle), John Williams (Clock Face) and Robert Lamb (St Helens) were among those who wrote at length in supplying reminiscences. Many others button-holed me with brief details.

Most of them plumped for the 1950s (though with a possibility of the very late 40s) as the era in which that particular shot was taken.

John Foster from Braeside Crescent, Billinge, agrees with that time slot. "I rule out the 'sixties," he writes, "because I'm sure that the road surface was tarmac then." The photo showed granite setts.

And he adds: "It is not a wartime photograph, because all road signs were taken down then to confuse any enemies (as well as us!). Also, where the phone kiosk is shown in the picture, there had previously been a large steel tank filled with water for wartime fire fighting."

John feels that the tubby soldier, prominent in the foreground, appears too old and portly to be a National Serviceman and must have been a regular. "We were mostly in our late teens or early 20s," he adds, "but on the right, at the corner of Cotham Street, looks to be another soldier cutting a rather finer figure."

And he puts me right on a technicality. The street was not cobbled, he explains, but surfaced with rectangular granite setts

The road surface behind the photographer and outside the Congregational Church (site now occupied by the NatWest Bank) was set with wooden blocks. "This was to deaden the clatter of steel-shod wheels and horse hooves, to reduce noise in church." Robert Lamb believes the picture is from 1949-50. And commenting on the army uniforms in view, he adds: "All who were lucky enough to get an ill-fitting demob suit had to put up with comments about overalls being better tailored."

Pointing out a white chevron on the No. 7 Rainhill trolleybus, dominating the centre of the picture, he says that this was a blackout measure - an overhang from the 1939-45 war.

But the telephone kiosk is of later date, says Robert, who has picked out no fewer than four British military personnel in the well-peopled picture.

The old trolleybuses had a great influence on the working life of John Williams from Clock Face Road. He was was a Corporation bus driver from 1947 to 1957.

"A Mr Wake was transport manager from about 1950 and shortly after his arrival a cream-coloured flash was painted on the side of all buses, just like the one on the No. 7 Rainhill trolley in the picture."

The bus was pictured at the 'alighting only' stop before running round empty to the fondly-recalled Burkhill's tea stall, under the market place (near the Savoy Cinema) before starting its next trip round the Prescot and Rainhill circle.

On the right of the picture is a small queue, standing outside the Gas Showrooms. They were waiting for either the No. 3 Haydock, No. 2 Rams Head, or No. 1 Atherton Punchbowl bus.

"Yes," says John, "it was then possible to travel all the way to Atherton by trolleybus without getting off."

John Harrison, from Stuart Road, Windle, also picked up on the trolley theme and believes that the picture could date from 1947-48. The bus pictured, he says, was a wartime utility - one of 10 diverted to St Helens in 1942 by the Ministry of Supply.

"Built by Masseys of Wigan on the famous 8ft wide chassis, they had been intended - but for the war - for South Africa," adds John. Originally they had wooden seats, were painted an all-over grey and ran only on the Prescot-Rainhill routes. Gradually reconditioned, they were repainted in the new Corporation Transport livery of red and cream with a distinctive cream streamline stripe on each side (as shown in the flashback photo). In 1949 the livery changed again and streamline stripes had all disappeared by the end of 1951.

Sefton Place has become much changed since its road-island days. In 1947-48 John watched the crew of a tower wagon re-routing trolley wires to what had been a rather hazardous terminus. Bridge Street then became the terminus . . . and some time afterwards the island was removed completely.

"Now, Sefton Place is undergoing more change with trees being planted where the old island terminus stood. It's a pity some lasting memento to the long-vanished trams and trolleys cannot now be incorporated into the new pedestrianisation scheme."

The nostalgic picture reminded G. E. Potts from Clipsley Lane, Haydock, of the cluster of long-established businesses which once nestled close to Sefton Place. Tom Knowles's high-class gents' outfitters, the Prince of Wales pub, and just a little further along, the old Co-op Buildings and Scala Cinema.

He noticed little Brook Street "trying to nudge in at the bottom left of the photo." It was so inconspicuous that few people knew of its existence. "But every dog has its day," says G. E., "and Brook Street today is the route to the St Helens College - one of the finest around!"

G. E. has a sharp eye. He noted that the trolleybus bore the old DJ registration of St Helens and that it was a bright day ("note the gent in the bus queue with the sunshine reflecting from his Brilliantined head") - clues which he believes help to place that picture of a million memories in the early '50s bracket.

Well, whoever is correct date-wise, that picture has certainly got the old memory banks jiggling!

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.