An electrobus outside Hove Town Hall in July 1914

Brighton’s first electrobus arrived in style on Easter Sunday in 1908. It swooped down into the town to the accompaniment of a posthorn, to be greeted by a throng of journalists who had just finished a lavish lunch at the Hotel Metropole. The lunch, hosted by the Electric Vehicle Company, had much of the flavour of a modern motor car launch. There was a strong contingent of newspapermen from London and one local reporter was moved to comment in some awe on the glamour and glitz of it all.

Brighton’s interest in the electric buses had been prompted by mounting protests from ratepayers over the deafening din and evil fumes of the new petrol vehicles, which were beginning to replace horse power on the streets.

Under pressure from both Brighton and Hove councils to do something about noise the local bus company leased a plot of land from Brighton Corporation in October 1908, building a garage and battery charging station so that it could expand its fleet of electric buses. The company also bought three more electrobuses from the Electric Vehicle Company for around £700 each – significantly more than the cost of a petrol bus.

The local bus company, the Brighton, Hove and Preston United, was yet another innocent victim of the electrobus swindle. After the collapse of the London electrobus enterprise in January 1910, Edward Lehwess took eight electrobuses from the London garage, paying the liquidator £800 for them and sold them on to the Electric Vehicle Company, a company that Lehwess controlled, which in turn sold them on to the Brighton bus company for £3,411—a mark up of 325 per cent.

Lehwess then stole 19 batteries from the electrobus garage, selling them to Brighton for £1900. And to cap it all Lehwess seized the rest of the London electrobuses and broke them up for spares, which he also sold on to Brighton. By April 1910 Brighton had the world’s largest fleet of battery-electric buses in the world, with a total of 12 electrobuses. It was a figure that wouldn’t be surpassed until the late 1990s.

Over the years the Brighton electrobuses proved to be very popular and reliable. Each of them clocked up more than 200,000 miles in a ten-year life. The last electrobus made its final journey in April 1917. In May, Brighton councillors asked the bus company what had happened to the electrobuses. The bus company, which had been taken over by a major transport firm called Thomas Tilling, said that a lack of spares meant that the electrobuses were no longer safe.