William is a horse drawn tower wagon which was supplied by contractor Robert W. Blackwell & Co. of London in 1902, together with a quantity of overhead equipment for conversion of Reading’s tramway system from horse to electric traction. Despite carrying Blackwell’s name on his three remaining hub caps, he was brought-in rather than made by Blackwell’s themselves. Horsepower was at that time the only realistic means for propulsion for a tower wagon, as petrol engines were in their infancy, though William was probably towed by a motor vehicle once this mode of traction had superseded the horse.
William was owned by Reading Corporation Transport Department until 1967, although in later years he was used only in connection with trolleybus traction pole painting (acquiring a coat of traction pole green in place of his former maroon livery), and for internal wiring work within Mill Lane depot.
Upon withdrawal, the tower wagon was presented to the Reading Transport Society (now British Trolleybus Society), and it was at this time that it acquired the name William. At some time, many years previously, the Corporation’s legal lettering had been applied to the body. The lettering would have read Reading Corporation Transport, Mill Lane, Reading – William John Evans, Transport Manager. So ancient was the paintwork, however, that the only word still visible was William!
William was towed from Mill Lane depot to Smiths Coaches depot in Rose Kiln Lane, on 15 September 1967
When taken into preservation, William was in desperate need of attention – indeed, the tower was declared to be ‘in a dangerous state.’ It resided for many years at Smith’s Coaches depot in Rose Kiln Lane and much restoration work was done by the Bilbé family of Reading. Various new parts were manufactured (some during woodwork and metalwork classes at Reading School!).
In August 1976 William was paraded through the town on a low-loader as part of Reading Transport’s 75th Anniversary.
By this time, the vehicle was in full working order although the decline and subsequent sale of the Smith’s Coaches business meant that it could no longer reside at their depot. William was therefore moved to the trolleybus Museum at Sandtoft in the late 1970s where it is stored in the back of the depot.
Work commenced in 2009 on the restoration of the wheels and springs and completed the following year. Some woodwork now requires replacing and it is waiting its turn for this work to be carried out.