Electric/Battery Powered Vehicles

The successor to the horse for door to door deliveries was usually the battery electric. More expensive to buy than petrol-engined vehicles, they were noted for their minimal operating costs. Their demise was largely due to corporate mergers and the arrival of supermarkets, which brought about huge changes in shopping patterns.

It is hard to believe that in the 1970s, there were more than six hundred battery electric vehicles on the streets of Dublin, with smaller numbers in other cities and towns throughout the country.

Domestic washing machines and laundrettes led to regular closures of laundries from the 1960s onwards, one of the last to survive being the Milltown company. On 15th July 1982 – the day Dartry closed – No. 18, which had been operating up to a few days previously, was given to the Museum. After 36 years, it was certainly one of the longest-serving commercial vehicles ever to work in Dublin. It went direct from Milltown to the Montrose Television Centre where RTE disguised it as a Swastika Laundry van for the television series Caught in a Free State. Following three years on display at Castleruddery Museum, it underwent restoration at Broombridge FÁS centre in 1986. It then returned to Ballsbridge for the motoring Centenary Exhibition in July of that year – over 40 years after it first appeared at the RDS. Since then, it has been on show in Howth.

Bread-van's slice of history

Door to door bread delivery was one of many services swept away by the supermarket culture. The bakery trade has also changed in other ways – gone are the likes of Kennedy's, Downes, Bolands, Thompson's and a host of others that were once household names. Johnston Mooney O'Brien (note the absence of the word "and" ) survives as what the motor industry would regard as an exercise in badge engineering, so the bright red and white vans seen today have very little in common with those that worked from the bakeries at Ballsbridge and Jones's Road in Dublin up to a few years ago.

JM & O'B operated two fleets, both with numbers starting at 1. There were motor vehicles, usually employed on longer runs with bigger loads. But the main business was done by a fleet of some 130 door to door delivery vehicles, electrics replacing an equal number of horsecars between 1938 and 1962. The firm's first experimental electric was a Wilson and was so successful that a further fifty were bought up to 1954, when Partridge Wilson of Davenset Works, Leicester, ceased production after 20 years.

In 1953, several electrics entered service. These were BMA type and had integral bodywork - that is, with the cab and body built as a single structure. No. 33, with bodywork by Dublin Vehicle Builders of Summerhill, was one of these 1953 deliveries, being registered ZU 4894. Originally believed to have been allocated to Ballsbridge, it was recently identified by a former driver as a Jone's Road vehicle. In the seventies and early eighties many of the older electrics were replaced by larger vehicles, mostly Cabacs and Morrisons. By that time, too, there was the beginning of a run down in the domestic delivery business. No. 33, then 28 years old, was withdrawn in 1981, repainted and presented to the Museum.

On display in Howth since 1986, No. 33 was one of the Museum vehicles selected for use in the film A Man of No Importance in 1994, starring Albert Finney as a Dublin bus conductor. Transported to Ardmore Studios, it was carefully repainted into 1963 livery but for technical reasons was not used in the film, the Museum's Kelso Laundry van appearing on its own. The only JM & O'B vehicle currently on display, No. 33, will eventually be joined by two other vehicles from the same bakery.

Laundry's 1947 Brush awaits day of restoration

Dartry Limited was established in 1888 as the Dublin Laundry Company, with its works beside the Nine Arches and the River Dodder at Milltown. In 1900, the laundry claimed to be the second largest in the United Kingdom and was official launderer to Queen Victoria when she visited Ireland in 1900. The company had several branches throughout the city and suburbs.

This Brush 2-ton lorry was used by Dartry Ltd. to move laundry in bulk to and from its branches. It also carried the large laundry baskets used by various institutions and which would not fit easily into vans. Before the closure of the numerous city centre hotels that accompanied Dublin's precipitate decline in the 1970s, ZH 2511 was also employed in servicing those establishments.

Brush, makers of this lorry, began building railway locomotives at the Falcon Works in Loughborough, Leicestershire, in the mid-1860s. The company later built trams, buses and trolleybuses. From 1945-52 a range of battery electric road vehicles was offered. These had a ten-year life expectancy, often far exceeded. This lorry, supplied by Murphy Electric, Upper Stephen St., Dublin, has bodywork by Dublin Vehicle Builders of Summerhill, long defunct. Registered on 10th November 1947, its total cost was £1,186-55p (€1,506.61).

The vast majority of battery electric vehicles used in Ireland were floats or vans, lorries being quite rare and, usually, distinctive. A familiar sight in Dublin for nearly 34 years, the Brush was withdrawn in May 1981. Its owners survived for little more than another year, the Dartry Laundry closing in July 1982 after 94 years in business. This vehicle epitomises the era when Dublin had more than 25 commercial laundries.

© Dublin City Public Libraries

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