Same Shot, Different Day

Here we have a photo taken on the 19th of April 1985, a Friday, in Holmes Chapel. It was Easter time and I had a week off, armed with one of Crosville’s Weekly Wanderer tickets and ready to Explore.

I wanted a safari suit for days out with Crosville but my mum wouldn’t let me

Based as I was in Runcorn, an hour the wrong side of Chester for heading off into Wales [and without the benefit of the rail travel the Rideabout ticket offered – for a premium] I decided in view of the moderate daylight hours to spend a few days exploring previously uncharted former North Western territory not so far from home in Cheshire.

That’s me in the corner: none of the places visited in this account are shown on the map. We are in between Warrington, Northwich, Congleton and Macclesfield

It’s important to bear in mind that at this time nobody could imagine that one day North Western buses would once again ply the streets of Alty and the lanes of rural Cheshire. This was a year and a half before bus deregulation and, though there were murmurings in the world of public transport, few ordinary punters had any idea of what was in store…

Finding myself at Altrincham at lunchtime my next move was on a previously untried route, quite an obscure one and peculiar in being one of a few former North Western routes numbered in Crosville’s H series. H-routes were supposedly operated by the Merseyside depots Liverpool, Runcorn, and Warrington. I think that Warrington may have had some limited involvement in these Cheshire operations at times but the H39 service I took was operated by Congleton depot and went nowhere near Warrington. Was there a plan, I wonder, when carving up the old North Western operations, to have a Crosville outstation of Warrington at Altrincham to operate these routes?

The bus waiting for me at Altrincham was a disappointment. I was hoping that this irregular service would provide an enjoyable ramble on one of Congleton’s dual purpose RELL6Ls but it was not to be. Dual purpose Leyland National ENL829 was to be my ride and the driver hadn’t even been bothered to wind on the destination blind from the usual K of Congleton’s routes to the exceptional H for the H39 service. To make matters worse, the bus was missing the offside section of its bumper…

Though the bus was ultimately destined for Congleton I planned to abandon it at Holmes Chapel [as seen above]. After a short wait, I could connect with another journey operated by Congleton, only this time it was an odd Crosville-operated trip on a PMT service. This transfer of work between National Bus Company subsidiaries was after the MAP revisions of the early 1980s, where the survey must have indicated that Crosville could operate the run at less cost from Congleton than a PMT bus which would have been Burslem-based. By this time such services would not operate without substantial local authority support, so the authorities were starting to have a say in what economies could be made.

The 319 was a long established route serving the lanes around Goostrey and the notable Jodrell Bank radio telescope. I expect that the mid-afternoon trip would normally have been busy with schoolchildren but this was a school holiday. While waiting for it to arrive I changed the lens on my camera from standard 50mm to telephoto 135mm, making the perspective of the following photo very different even though the buses were parked in exactly the same place. This is sister bus ENL833 waiting time before my next trip.

These photos are the perfect illustration of the value of standing back and zooming in to photograph vehicles in a more natural proportion to the landscape around them. The standard 50mm camera lens and its wide view makes it necessary to stand too close to the vehicle just to make it big enough in the frame. This close-up wide-angle approach means that that the surroundings are diminished to the point almost of irrelevance. A more distant viewpoint, reduced field of view and slight magnification gives a more balanced perspective of a vehicle in the street or the landscape. Though I was standing further away, the buildings in the background figure far more importantly in the telephoto view. Also the bus looks more rectangular, like a bus does in the real world.

But just look at that destination display! The K is once again left untouched and the third number track is left in limbo between the 8 and the 9. No destination is shown [it should have read “319 Goostrey Circular”]. At least the bus is intact this time. But, really…

Many years later I was in Holmes Chapel enjoying an unhurried, meandering return to base with a preserved bus after its successful MOT test. I decided to pay tribute to the conscientious staff of Congleton depot by parking Crosville RELL6G SRG181 in the same place again and recreating the composition with the same destination display. Same shot, different day.

This is an excerpt from a longer account of the day in question which will be published in ebook PDF format with these and many more illustrations in full HD. This will be given away free, but only at the time of publication, to my e-mail subscribers. To ensure your copy you can sign up in the box on the right of any page on this site. The ebook will be published in the coming weeks: don’t miss out!

On the edge

This is the third stage of my morning trip from Garston to Liverpool in August 1985. Previously I had caught a Bristol VR of the MPTE fleet on the 86 and arrived in Catharine Street to photograph a now preserved Dennis Dominator.

Leece Street in Liverpool delimits the southern edge of the city centre. Heading away from Lime Street along Renshaw Street it is where you turn left to head for the Philharmonic Hall. The turn is landmarked by St Luke’s “bombed out” church on the corner. In 1985 the city petered out beyond that point, “China Town” wasn’t the feature it is today and many crumbling and abandoned buildings were to be seen on the road out to the Dingle.

On my way into the city centre, on foot by now, snapping at passing vehicles with my camera, I paused by Rodney Street: using my 135mm telephoto lens, the towers of the Liver Building loomed over the rooftops of the Rapid Hardware complex in Renshaw Street as I zoomed in on the buses climbing Leece Street.

MPTE Atlanteans 1057 and 1049

To the right can be seen an attractive but neglected building which has been replaced by something rather less characterful but no doubt more functional. The vehicles featuring here are two Atlanteans of the many “old school” buses bought after the “new generation” evaluation bus featuring in my previous post from this day. The Atlanteans are on two of the major “south end” routes heading for the arterial Smithdown Road towards Garston. The 80 following up behind would proceed onwards to Speke.

Over my shoulder, another one of those beloved MPTE VRTs was coming down Hardman Street [the continuation of Leece Street beyond the Rodney Street intersection] on the 86 so I swung round and it was duly captured on film. The buildings seen behind have held up very well in comparison to the one shown above. The one next to the traffic light is the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, much reputed for its exotic urinals and not a bad place for a pint to be had [in the bar, not the urinals]. MPTE 2105 was pictured heading down for the city centre and the Pier Head beyond.

East Lancs bodied Bristol VR 2105 in Hardman Street

Further variety then appeared in the form of a Crosville Bristol VR with the more familiar ECW bodywork [but with a Leyland 501 engine rather than the Gardner motor featuring in the PTE examples] heading out of the city for Warrington.

Crosville DVL406 being pursued by MPTE 1912

DVL406 was on the Warrington allocation, returning on the H1, one of the three Crosville services from there to Liverpool. This was a long-standing Crosville interurban service in decline: it would cease to exist just over a year later, after deregulation. Prior to the MAP project [which was the National Bus Company’s pre-privatisation exercise to trim away unnecessary mileage and consolidate operations] this service had a 20 minute daytime frequency. After the survey it was reduced to hourly, with a complementary service as far as Widnes and then to Runcorn also operating hourly as H25. The H1 and H25 combined to make a 30 minute frequency between Widnes and Liverpool via Hale. After deregulation, all Crosville main line services along this road became H25 to Runcorn and the H1 was no more.

DVL406 had been new at Wrexham and used on the D1 service between Chester and Llangollen but was replaced after a year or two when a batch of Gardner-engined VRs arrived at Wrexham. Most of the 501-engined DVL class were concentrated on Merseyside. DVL406 was a bus I would drive in service on the H25 myself out of Runcorn a couple of years later.

Bringing up the rear is MPTE Atlantean 1912 on another 86 working, slightly obscured by another 1980s phenomenon, a Skoda [or is it a Lada?] remarkably with both brake lights working! After this I moved on to the city centre proper and took a train to St Helens. There is more to relate of this day another time.

Dark days in Liverpool

The previous post on this site described my arrival in the Merseyside metropolitan area as it was in 1985, on a weekday morning in August at the start of the off-peak period, ready to explore the transport network. This was achievable at reasonable cost by way of the popular “Saveaway” scratchcard ticket. I caught one of the well-liked Bristol VRT buses on the 86 service from Garston outside what was then Allerton railway station, long before the station metamorphosed into the modern day Liverpool South Parkway interchange.

The last photo presented showed a view of a Bristol VR in Smithdown Road unusually clad in East Lancs bodywork, taken from the rear upstairs seat of another. My next exposure on the negative strip shows this shot of one of MPTE’s “experimental” 1980 series of “new generation” double deckers. These were being evaluated with an eye on the impending withdrawal of Leyland Atlantean chassis from Leyland’s bus chassis portfolio. The Atlantean had been the mainstay of the Merseyside fleet for many years and it was evidently a hard act to follow, the PTE seeming unimpressed by its successors. Willowbrook-bodied Dennis Dominator 0027 is seen operating from Speke on the 80 service which followed me along Smithdown Road.

MPTE 0027 in Catharine Street

It must be remembered that in the 1980s Liverpool was a city in decline with mass unemployment, riots and buildings [many that once reflected the opulence of the international city of trade] in a state of dismal neglect. The photo of 0027 [new in July 1980] was taken after I left the 86 service in Catharine Street in what they now call the “Georgian Quarter”. In those days it had a reputation for, ummm, illicit nocturnal activity in its side streets.

A vision [in those days on Merseyside] of modernity in passenger transport [though not an option followed up in numbers by the PTE], 0027 is seen passing a terrace of large Georgian town houses with peeling paint. Today they look a bit smarter.

0027 was one of a small batch of Dennis Dominators that had a relatively short life on Merseyside. This one then saw service down South with Maidstone and District…

Maidstone & District 5317
Photo hosted on the flickr site of the late Vernon C Smith https://flic.kr/p/Ux2frH

…and had a subsequent lease of life with independent operator Smiths of Market Harborough…

WWM904W  Dennis Dominator  Smiths-Market-Harborough
Photo hosted on the flickr site of harrypope https://flic.kr/p/6Epyh4

… which saw the bus survive long enough to be sought out by a preservationist from the area where it first saw service. It is now part of the Merseyside Transport Trust collection [though I do not know who currently owns it]…

Merseyside Transport 0027 WWM904W
Photo hosted on the flickr site of Steven Whitehouse https://flic.kr/p/2gzsZzB

…and is evidently under restoration returning to its original guise.

My photos indicate that I walked a few hundred yards through the “Georgian Quarter” towards the “Knowledge Quarter” before veering citywards past the Philharmonic Hall and its Dining Rooms across the road. In Leece Street I hung around for a while to snap a few scenes in another part of the city which has seen changes. We’ll take a look at those views another time.

As a postscript to the above, I have been given more information about the vehicle’s history by the owner of 0027, Neil Hilton. The trial batch of Dominators was withdrawn at the time of deregulation in 1986 and sold on to a dealer in the south of England. One passed fairly quickly to Maidstone and District but 0027 had to hang around for a year before joining its former stablemate at Maidstone. The other MPTE Dominators were sold on, one to Kingdom of Tiverton and the other exported to Hong Kong.

0027 became M&D 5317 and was later sold to a Merseyside independent, Huggins of Moreton before once again moving away from the North West to Smiths of Market Harborough. Smiths finally sold it into preservation. Thanks go to Neil for providing these extra details. I look forward to recreating the photo in Catharine Street one day!

Garston Glory Days

Back in August 1985 we were still a clear year before deregulation. I was very active with my camera, having discovered the affordability of bulk black and white film and a darkroom. Most of these pictures existed only in negative form for many years until technology made a reasonably quick scan all that was needed to unleash their full potential.

On the 23rd of August that year I was visiting my family home in Runcorn and decided to have a day travelling around Liverpool. The “freedom of Liverpool” could be had during off-peak hours by way of the very affordable Saveaway ticket. This was a scratch card that was available with a single area of validity [of the four Merseyside Areas, Liverpool, St Helens, Southport and Wirral] or, more expensively, for all areas. I must have had an all areas ticket that day because I found myself at St Helens after starting in Liverpool.

Coming from Runcorn, the Saveaway would not be available until I arrived in the Metropolitan County of Merseyside so I must have caught a train from Runcorn to Allerton because my notes tell me I made a local trip in Runcorn on Crosville SNL4 and then caught MPTE 2137 on the 86.

My photos tell the story from there. I spent a while hanging around Horrocks Avenue, by Allerton station photographing buses on the 86 service. At the time this was still largely operated by MPTE’s East Lancs bodied Bristol VRs which in those days were operated out of Walton depot and, in the case of the 86, Garston.

Running out of service to Garston depot past Allerton station in south Liverpool

The photograph above of VR 2137 running out of service into the nearby Garston depot shows the old building at Allerton station. This has since been replaced by the Liverpool South Parkway interchange. This comprises a terminal linking the Merseyrail Northern Line [from Hunts Cross to Southport], the “City Line” former Cheshire Lines route from Warrington to Lime Street and the West Coast Main Line from Crewe. In addition to all that, a bus station linking the southern suburbs and the airport is part of the complex.

So far, London trains do not stop at South Parkway though I would imagine that it would be high on the list of aspirations for local transport authority Merseytravel and John Lennon Airport.

Allerton would have been the place to buy my Saveaway ticket, and this would be valid only from 0930. I imagine that my arrival was before that time to allow me to make the most of its validity. I would have bought my “piece” and validated it and returned to the main road outside looking for VRs to photograph. 2137 may well have been running in from a peak hour turn, perhaps a schools or work service. It was to feature in another photo soon after because it quickly returned from Garston with another driver on an 86 service to the city centre.

2137 back in service and about to take me into central Liverpool

The beauty of a telephoto lens is the ability to shoot an approaching bus and still be able to hail it in good time. I know that I boarded this bus and sat, unusually for me, rear seat upstairs. Nine-thirty buses were inevitably busy in Liverpool, for as well as the Saveaway validity starting then, so did the OAP “Twirly” passes. Liverpool is reputed for its Twirlies, standing at bus stops at 0915, hailing buses to ask the weary driver “am I too early?”

So rear upstairs seat it was, the front perch evidently occupied in the photo and perhaps the next best place, the rear downstairs bench over the engine, would have been taken too.

In 1985 Liverpool had yet to realise the tourist potential of Beatles fans so I would not have realised on the next stretch of the 86 route that I passed within sight of the adolescent Paul McCartney’s Forthlin Road home. Further along I would not have failed to appreciate the passage through the Penny Lane terminus with its shelter in the middle of the roundabout and everything else. It was just beyond here that I must have realised that the next 86 service had caught us up.

MPTE Bristol VR 2139 on Smithdown Road between Penny Lane and Greenbank Road

It’s a well-known phenomenon of high frequency services that buses tend to bunch up at busy times as the first bus along gets a pasting and becomes late. The next one will catch up, overtake, and then itself be delayed as it encounters the crowds of angry inconvenienced passengers who have accumulated along the way. So 2139 followed and I had this opportunity to photograph it in a rather down-at-heel Smithdown Road. I think that the Prince Alfred Road depot is pictured behind. This is what it looks like now [not much improved, really]:

https://goo.gl/maps/GH2pqpixAhe1HaUx5

The 86 service enters the city via Catherine Street and passes the Philharmonic Hall before descending Leece Street. I know that I left 2137 at Catherine Street and started to take more photos but there I will pause for now. Those views are for another day, reader, I will show them to you soon.

Cruising the Cambrian Coast

Bristol style

Continuing the progress of the party which was following the Crosville D94 route through the middle of Wales on a particularly appropriate and authentic vehicle of the 1980s, we last looked at the little village of Llandderfel by the Dee. From there we headed for Dolgellau via Bala. Bala is a busy ribbon along the A494 and so is not a good place to stop when there is tourist traffic. A bus stopped on the carriageway can cause tailbacks and the resulting photos are correspondingly cluttered. On quiet days pleasant views can be had.

At Dolgellau we paused in Eldon Square where the main bus stop for the town can be found. On sunny days the square is unfavourably oriented and the sun will spoil your pictures… as it did on this particular day, so we took ERG280 on a lap of honour around the town’s little one-way system to catch the sun in the right direction. The day’s variable lighting is evident in this view of what English people call Smithfield Street. Looks like some sort of tragic incident occurred here the previous Christmas.

ERG280 in the spotlight entering Dolgellau along Ffos-y-Felin

After Dolgellau we made our way along the tricky narrow road on the north bank of the Mawddach estuary to the terminus of the D94 at Barmouth. Sadly, we found that the bus terminus has been moved from its traditional park along the wall of the Cambrian Coast railway line near to the level crossing [as featured in hundreds of photos down the years]. There is a replacement bus parking area but with a rather bland backdrop of seaside flats that I won’t bore you with. It was a useful lunch stop before we moved along gently via the coast road northwards towards Blaenau Ffestiniog.

In the 1980s Crosville’s YFM-L batch of REs, of which ERG280 is evidently one, became concentrated in West Wales. One or two could often be found operating out of Dolgellau and its outstations at Barmouth and Tywyn. There was a good chance of one on the R38 which operated between Barmouth and Maentwrog, a tiny village situated at an important confluence of strategic routes at the north end of Cardigan Bay. The bus interchange was at the top of the hill beyond the village of Maentwrog at Tan y Bwlch, outside the Oakeley Arms pub. Up on the hillside above is Tan y Bwlch station on the Ffestiniog Railway. I once had the idea of taking a bus up there [as Crosville used to in the 1970s with their Bristol SCs based at Blaenau] but when I wrote to the Ffestiniog Railway asking whether it was possible to turn a bus at the station in the 2000s, I received a rather stern reply warning me not to try.

So after a seaside lunch of fish and chips we were on our way north. Beyond Harlech it was too good a location not to pull over for a photo with the hilltop castle looming behind in peculiar light. The atmosphere provided some texture in the background too, which was nice.

Those poles should be edited out really

Looks like the D94 got a bit lost there but in truth we didn’t have a destination on the blind to use. We had more luck on arrival at Maentwrog.

Scene of many a Crosville photo, “Maentwrog Interchange”

ERG280, though strictly a Wrexham bus, looks at home here. Buses came from Pwllheli, Porthmadog, Dolgellau, Barmouth and Blaenau Ffestiniog and all those bases had members of this batch on allocation at one time or another. Many an MW, RE or LH came by, SCs too, though I never saw one in service in Wales through being too young and I haven’t seen one photographed here.

I have quite a few shots of venerable Crosville vehicles at Maentwrog but probably the most remarkable was Crewe’s SRG191 which went on holiday in West Wales in the summer of 1985 before going home to die. I rode it along the same route we followed in ERG280 but in July 1985 when it was operating out of Barmouth.

SRG191 at the Oakeley arms on 25th July 1985

SRG191 operated variously out of Dolgellau, Barmouth, Blaenau Ffestiniog, Pwllheli [and Porthmadog outstation] and Holyhead [at least] in 1985. I have a photo of it at Aberystwyth working in from Dolgellau. After gallivanting around Wales all summer it was back at Crewe by the winter. All the remaining Crewe dual door SRGs were withdrawn when the new EOGs entered service on the Coastliner service on the first Sunday of 1986. The ENLs displaced from the L1 were sent to Cheshire, mostly Crewe but also Northwich as I remember.

I will leave you with a link to flickr where a few photos of Maentwrog over the years are hosted, including one of sister ERG277.

Gaggs of Bunny

Writing for the fun of it I like to throw in a few Gaggs now and again. And here’s one I turned up in my 4000 black and white negatives from the 1980s.

It’s the 23rd of December 1988, another gloomy grey winter day, and I’m out with a companion in Nottinghamshire in search of Bristol/ECW buses and perhaps a few scoops of Kimberley Ale [before they sold out to Greene King] in the Trent operating area. Our “piece” for the day was a Derbyshire Wayfarer ticket. I can see that we used the Silver Service to get to Chesterfield and I had a ride on a Fleetline there.

I seem to remember being in Hucknall and my companion being disappointed in buying a “Christmas pudding cake” from a bakers’ shop only to find that it was a plain sponge dressed up in a veneer of chocolate. Swizz. Other than that, just the photos and a few bus numbers to jog my memory which recalls very little of the escapade.

Of course, by this time we were two years into the deregulated era so there were a lot of second hand buses knocking around in motley colour schemes, sometimes smartly repainted into a proper livery, sometimes wearing the livery of its previous owner such as this one, former United Counties Bristol VRT Mk 2 no. 790.

It’s Nottingham city centre and people are – wow – out shopping. They look quite cheerful about it, don’t they? We’ve got a Christmas tree in Debenhams, the Stonewash Beatles crossing the road in the background, it’s so 80s! Back when you could actually park a bus in front of Debenhams…

https://goo.gl/maps/xRy7KAe7UdkX6MC36

The operator is the delightfully named Gaggs of Bunny, a long standing operator in the Nottinghamshire area. The bus, on service 100, seems to have come from Bunny itself, the “via Ruddington” board pointing back towards the home base. It appears that Trent had a route 101 from Nottingham to Loughborough which went through the village of Bunny so this number seems to have been chosen to attract Trent’s custom.

This post being prepared on the 1st of July, so it is sobering to think that in exactly six months it will be New Year’s Day 2022.

Trafford Park midwinter

Arriva 3099, this VDL SB200 with Wright Pulsar 2 body was only around a year old on 20th December 2012 when I captured it on a foul, dark day using a high ISO setting on my camera. It can be seen passing the Imperial War Museum North on the southern quays of the Manchester Ship Canal.

The bus is bound for Exchange Quay, a tramway interchange stop just on the north side of the ship canal on Trafford Road in the borough of Salford.

Ignorance of the local geography can cause offence in Greater Manchester. The winding River Irwell mostly marks the boundary between the Siamese twin cities Manchester and Salford, er… except for the parts of Broughton and Kersal that encroach on Mancunian territory… it gets complicated. As a rule, the good people of Salford do not like to be referred to as “Mancunians”.

This is Trafford Wharf Road in the modern-day borough of Trafford [not the city of Manchester either], running along the quayside and the northern boundary of the Trafford Park industrial estate. This was the first planned industrial estate in the world and remains the biggest in Europe. Its origins go back to the 1890s when the Manchester Ship Canal was under construction and the site became ripe for industrial development next to the developing inland seaport.

Since the photo was taken, the construction site behind the museum has become itv Studios, part of the Media City complex with the BBC back then already well-established on the north quays in Salford. The Quays had fallen into disuse for the most part, shipping traffic having dwindled to a few passages each week. Much of the waste land has been reclaimed for residential and retail blocks, a theatre and exhibition space and a concentration of media centres.

Eight years later 3099 is still in service at Arriva North West’s Wythenshawe depot. You can check its whereabouts using this remarkable resource using open data broadcast by buses’ ticket machines. As you will see, it still plies the 245 service sometimes but no longer serves the quays, the service having been cut back to terminate at the Trafford Centre: a perfect place for a day out if you like fake plastic trees.

While we are here, have a couple more views from the same location that week. A Stagecoach Dennis Trident/Enviro 400 travelling from the Trafford Centre to Piccadilly passing the Towers of Gold [Peel Holdings HQ]:

Stagecoach 15932

A Bluebird Bus & Coach Enviro 200 with MCV body passing the itv site. This operator was actually taken over by Stagecoach the month before, pending an OFT enquiry which in the end allowed the sale to proceed.

Bluebird UU08BLU

Going, going… [part one]

2013 seems a long time back now. It was the year Halton Transport invested in a new midibus fleet. Well, not a new fleet, a slightly used fleet previously with Blackpool Transport… for about 14 years or so. One of the first three Optare Solos is seen at Halton View in Widnes, but the view is oriented more towards Fiddler’s Ferry than Halton. In February 2013 Fiddler’s Ferry was still making smoke, steam and ultimately electricity. You will note that in Widnes it is customary to wait on the wrong side of the road, turn your back on the driver and give a clear hand signal. I think it has something to do with the chemicals in the air.

After a short while it was decided to disguise the age of the new fleet by buying registration plates issued in Northern Ireland, a ploy repeated the following year when a batch of Scania Omnicity buses was bought from Metrobus after service on a guided busway in the Crawley area. But in 2013 the bright new hope at Halton was the arrival of six Solos. These arrived in two batches of three, in January and August and were numbered 55-60.

These arrivals in August 2013 would become Halton 60 and 58.

The decision on a livery was largely made by the layout of the previous Blackpool scheme with cream going over the yellow and Halton red over the rest. The first three were deployed on a new circular service 26/26A which linked Halton’s loss-making round-the-houses service to Cronton via Halton View with another similar service round the other side of town that was extended to cover a new housing area and complete the loop by approaching Cronton from the other side.

Halton 56 crossing the route of the old Cheshire Lines Widnes loop between Widnes Central and Hough Green which closed in 1964

This was all to the detriment of Widnes Commercial Motors which had been running a supported service 13 over the latter route for which the funding was withdrawn. The principal participants on the service, nos 55 and 56, had a rudimentary route branding which would typify the Halton approach in subsequent years, lacking a sense of style or sympathy with the vehicle’s design.

When the second three arrived in August they saw use on another local service, the 27 around Halton View which was cut back from its previous link with Runcorn over the river.

58 in Weates Close on the Warrington side of Widnes, rather overshadowed by the power station which sits between the two towns.

Even with the economy made by using smaller buses, the 27 was progressively cut back, its frequency being reduced from every 20 minutes to 30 and then hourly.

There being six Solos, two spares could be available for service elsewhere. The most likely places to see them in use were St Helens…

Unbranded Solo 57 sits at Sintellins while its driver goes for a pie

…and a new local service devised to link Appleton Village with the sleepy suburb of West Bank which declined after the 1961 road bridge was opened between Runcorn and Widnes. West Bank had been the terminus of the Transporter bridge crossing and benefited from lots of passing trade until the transporter was dismantled after the road bridge opened. The 9 was tentatively known as the “Buzzabout” and there was a bee logo for the timetable because it visited the Hive, a new leisure park with skating, bowling, cinema and predictable chain restaurants. No branding was ever applied to the buses.

Solo 58 pretending to be on the 9 at The HIVE leisure park for publicity

The 26 saw reasonable use and had a regular rota of drivers who had a good rapport with the passengers. Compared to the dark days of 2012 when there were no buses from Widnes to Cronton on Saturdays, the 30 minute frequency Monday to Saturday was a big improvement and many new links were made possible by the circular route. The 27 and 9 fared less well.

Halton Solo 56 outside Rainhill station and what I think was once a Higsons pub opposite.

The Solos also saw use on a short-lived contract operated on behalf of Merseytravel on Saturdays between Rainhill and Kirkby via Knowsley village. Occasional use on Merseytravel school contracts was possible, in fact as Halton became more desperate for serviceable buses at three o’clock on a schoolday afternoon one could materialise almost anywhere at a push.

Certainly excellent value for money was had from these vehicles but they didn’t project a great image of the company being nearly 20 years old towards the end of their stay. Nobody lamented their eventual withdrawal and replacement with short wheelbase Enviros.

Crewe’s Coppenhall Clipper

Back in 1987 things were not going terribly well for Crosville. I had attended a meeting with the Crosville Enthusiasts Club at Sealand Road Works, Crosville’s central engineering base in Chester, just before deregulation where Crosville’s General Manager David Meredith was the invited speaker. There was a relatively short speech to the assembled. The question-and-answer session afterwards, after a slow start, started to draw some engaging and elaborate responses. I remember him being asked about the threat of neighbouring companies competing with Crosville, even [at the time] National Bus Company allies like Potteries Motor Traction. He made some disparaging remarks about the initials PMT and the buses having red skirts. But the impression he wanted to give was that Crosville was too big and resilient to have to worry about small fries like their neighbours.

From deregulation, things started to go very wrong. Crosville’s Crewe depot lost out to PMT when bidding for tenders for the “Cheshire Bus” network of subsidised services from Cheshire County Council. PMT set up a depot on an industrial estate just outside the town and took most of the weekday rural services based in Crewe and evening and Sunday work too. PMT allocated a lot of depreciated buses to the area to work on these competitive tenders, meaning that Crewe became a magnet for fans of Bristol REs and older VRs.

In 1987 a service was introduced in Crewe linking the town centre with a new outlying housing development. PMT painted an ex-National Welsh Bristol LHS with coach seats in a special blue and yellow “Coppenhall Clipper” livery for the new route.

The bus is seen here arriving between Crosville Leyland Nationals at Crewe bus station on Monday the 21st of September 1987. It was to take me for a spin on the next trip. The route wasn’t particularly picturesque but it is always great to clamber onto an LH and sit up high and listen to a Leyland 400 engine snarling for half an hour. The LHS, whilst extremely nippy, rather lets itself down as a town bus by having formidable entrance steps, it being a mid-engined chassis. The dual purpose seats were some compensation, I suppose. I only remember travelling the route once and I don’t know how long the service, or the tenure of the LHS on it, lasted. But it was a good reason for a visit. The day also saw me riding VRs 610 and 620 to and from Nantwich and RE 219 on the attractive back-road route to Sandbach, the K32, and its extra local service in Sandbach the K50. All this had been Crosville work just a year before.

It seems to have been a rather grim day for the time of year and the buses certainly looked the worse for it. I did visit the PMT yard at Crewe at least once. It was near the Co-op tea factory, which I think may now be the HQ for the rather wonderful Wright’s Pies. It’s certainly in that vicinity off Weston Road. I’m not sure that the bus washing facility was great and the yard was not surfaced if I remember rightly. But Crosville now had a problem on their hands having lost work and gained a hungry rival on their doorstep.

By the way…

Prior to its use at Crewe LHS 310 had another life with PMT: see https://www.flickr.com/photos/34487875@N07/3350160310/, Cliff the Milk’s photo of the bus wearing an earlier National Express-style livery with a cheeky ParaMounT fleetname.

Then and now [2]

As a sequel to the previous post, the same day I took the photo of Lloyds newfangled Optare whatsit on the X28 at Comins Coch I had earlier driven from Corwen to Dolgellau along the former Crosville D94 route. This now calls itself Traws Cymru T3.

Having scoped out the current timetable for the T3 service in advance, travelling from Cheshire via Llandegla and arriving just ahead of a departure from Corwen for Dolgellau, I set off in the direction of Llandrillo to lie in wait and snap it entering the village.

A surprise was in store when it arrived for, as well as arriving very promptly, it was a double decker. I have had the pleasure of a round trip to Aberystwyth on Crosville Wales Bristol VRs via this route back in the 1990s but haven’t been along by service bus since so it was pleasing to see another decker in use after all this time. This is a former Go-Ahead Scania Omnidekka now with Lloyds Coaches. It is seen cresting the bridge over the River Ceidiog which comes down from the Berwyns [over there to our right] to join the River Dee over to the left a bit.

The driver seemed in a bit of a hurry so I dashed back to the car in the little car park across the road to give chase. Expecting to pass the bus waiting time in Llandrillo village, I found myself instead in pursuit of a bus that was well on its way.

Knowing the route well enough I realised that the service would then involve a double run to Llandderfel allowing me to snap it as it came back to the war memorial overlooking the River Dee. I have taken a few photos in this location in bygone days when I used to travel between Aberystwyth and the family home by Crosville bus. Though a fair bit slower than going by train it was much cheaper on a £3.15 Day Wanderer ticket. Moreover, there was a good chance of a long and enjoyable ride on one of Corwen depot’s Bristol RELL dual purpose saloons into the bargain.

A recurrent theme of these pages, on the subject of travelling with Crosville in Wales, will be the kindly co-operative drivers who would pull over to allow me to photograph the bus somewhere interesting. In the case of Llandderfel, the village square where the bus turned was poorly oriented for photography, the sun being behind the bus as it reversed, so I used to ask the driver if I could jump out at the war memorial, leave the bus to go to the village and back, then get the picture of it on its return to the junction and jump back on. I was never refused.

ERG276 operating out of Crosville’s Corwen depot, seen at Llandderfel on the 9th of January 1985

Here are two similar black and white views of Corwen’s ERG276 operating the D94 weeks apart in 1985. The first one was in snow with harsh, low sun on my return to Aberystwyth after the Christmas holidays in January 1985. The second was after a weekend visit home on the 14th of March in rather duller weather.

…and again on the 14th of March 1985

Back to the 21st Century and I am in pursuit of the Lloyds Scania… at the last minute, approaching the war memorial in my car, it seemed there would be nowhere to park in the narrow lanes… but fortunately there was a gate to a field with a little recess in front. Climbing out of the car, the approaching bus could be seen over the stone walls….

Luckily the driver spotted me as I dashed over the road to get the shot and stopped abruptly so I could get the picture. I would later catch up with the bus again but that’s for another day.

So there you have it, two Lloyds buses snapped on the same day in exactly the same place as their Crosville forebears, 36 years previously, on the same routes [albeit now renumbered]. The other post showing the Lloyds X28 and Crosville S14 is linked on this page below and to the side.

There are more of these contemporary takes on 1980s photos to come as well as a host of other photos and facsimiles of transport publicity material and tickets. Sign up alongside to be notified of each post and benefit from forthcoming extra HD e-publications with full-screen photos. These presentation files will not be shown on this site but distributed to subscribers only.

Betty’s Bus

Back in the late 70s and early 80s Ribble got some good publicity for their special rural bus services wending their merry way around the area between Clitheroe and Burnley, in the Ribble valley and around Pendle Hill. Their regular driver, Betty Gray, became a bit of a local celebrity after appearing on local TV in reports showing her at work. She was also as a guest, or rather a subject [if I remember correctly] on “What’s My Line” on ITV. She had her place on a Ribble publicity postcard, feeding the ducks at Downham, which features in my archive.

“Betty’s Bus” even had its own special headboard as seen above. Actually, there were two “Betty’s Buses”, a pair of consecutively-numbered Bristol LHS buses. The Ribble fleet numbers were 271 and 272. Monday to Saturday there were different route variations each day, mostly based on Clitheroe and reaching Burnley four times a week. The Saturday service in my 1983 timetable did not start or end at Clitheroe, apparently being worked from the Burnley end. This, I imagine, because Betty had her weekends off.

The Bristol LHS was perfect for the narrow country lanes and quite photogenic with it. I could have taken hundreds of photos along the route because there were so many scenic compositions to be made. Film cost was a limitation in those days, and obviously there was only so much stopping for photographs that the driver and the posse of regular passengers could tolerate [I made them late!!]. But Mrs Gray was very patient and generous and allowed me to take some really unique photos.

I will not linger too long on the subject here because I have decided to focus on the route in more depth in a special extra-blog feature, extra in two senses:
(a) it will feature material not shown on these blog pages and
(b) it will be distributed outside the blog by e-mail to my signed-up blog subscribers only.

To receive a copy of this first special issue – and those which will follow – just sign up on any of my blog pages. The intention of these special issues is to explore an “e-mag” format, overcoming the limitations of the web site and using full HD images to fill your tablet, laptop, monitor or TV screen corner-to-corner with omnibological eye-candy. These will at first be short and sweet but if they are well received I am considering authoring some more extensive photographic essays and studies of operations in an expanded e-book format.

So your participation in this experiment [by signing up and giving feedback] would help me decide whether this is an endeavour worth pursuing. I hope to send out the first “extra” in the next few weeks, so subscribe to benefit from this free offer. I will advise on this site and on social media when the first “e-mag extra” is to be distributed but you can subscribe right now, above, on the right.

Note: As a privacy lover myself I do not share your e-mail addresses nor will I use them to pester you with irrelevant stuff. All features for tracking and analytics are disabled on this web site.

Halton’s final celebration

Happier times: just over twelve years ago one of the UK’s last ten remaining municipal bus companies was celebrating its centenary. It was both Good Friday and coincidentally April Fools Day, just as it was on the day of its inauguration as the Widnes Corporation Motor Omnibus Department in 1909.

It wasn’t much of a do really. The North West Museum of Road Transport at St Helens sent a few former Widnes Corporation or Halton Borough Transport buses down to Widnes to mark the day, to offer free rides around the town and over the bridge to Runcorn. A former Halton Leyland Lynx also ferried passengers to and from the museum.

The event was centred on the Green Oaks shopping centre at Widnes, the town’s principal bus interchange. Both Halton and the museum had brought a bus to be a static exhibit outside the market building. The museum provided preserved Widnes Corporation Leyland National no. 1 to use as an information point and sales stand. Alongside, Halton’s then traffic manager greeted the public in front of bus no. 8, an Enviro 200 with MCV body which I think was the newest bus in the fleet at the time. On reflection, Enviro no. 1, which looked pretty much the same as no. 8 but from the previous batch, would perhaps have been more appropriate alongside its predecessor. In the event the current no. 1 did pass through in service but I don’t think anybody noticed.

Halton had at least made the effort to commemorate the centenary by painting one of its current fleet in a nod to the old Widnes Corporation livery with significantly more red than the Halton arrangement of the time. Widnes Corporation fleetnames and the Widnes coat of arms with bees or and roses gules were emblazoned somewhat awkwardly. East Lancs Myllennium-bodied Dennis Dart SLF no. 34 could be compared with Leyland National no. 1 in the photo above. It has been restored in a similar livery [the one it wore when new to the Corporation] by the museum.

Most of the people at the event seemed to be locals out shopping but there was a lot of interest in the buses present. Predictably, everyone seemed to want a selfie in front of an old bus and any enthusiast present [there seemed to be relatively few] would have to be patient to get a “clean” photo of the PD2s which participated while the locals took their turn standing in front and gurning.

Give up and go for a ride…

I had taken my little one along [then aged seven] so we went for a ride on East Lancs bodied PD2 no.38. Not much of a transport enthusiast, more a budding historian, he was more interested in understanding my own childhood experience. These buses featured quite regularly in my life when small since we lived in Runcorn and my mother’s mother lived on the Hough Green side of Widnes. Widnes PD2s would pass her house twice an hour and when not in school we would always go over on Thursdays to visit. I would always sit down at the front and stand with my nose at the front window watching the driver over the bonnet. Nowadays most buses in Halton are single deck so a ride upstairs was a novelty in 2009. Another family had beaten us to the front seats.

I didn’t see anyone spitting in the bus so that sign was most effective.

Of course, if you want to show a vehicle some love, it should be illustrated doing what it was built to do so after our ride I returned my offspring to the tender care of his mother and returned to Widnes to get a snap away from the event.

This is Deacon Road, a road well served by buses heading west towards Hough Green and Liverpool. Here no 38 is showing Runcorn on the front, which is where it was going, but back in the day the Runcorn-bound services went the opposite way and straight down the main street. Pedestrianisation and redevelopment has put an end to that so this was chosen as the easiest way on the non-stop run to Runcorn that day.

Here is PD2 no 31, also preserved at the St Helens museum, at Green Oaks on the day. It performed a few trips in the morning but was overheating quite badly so retired early.

Of course, this little show gave no indication of what was to follow and Halton Transport closed the shutters for the last time in January 2020 aged 110. I have quite a few Halton items in my archive and so will return to this subject in the future.

Not all it seems…

Ribble 800 at Burnley on 30th January 1989

I’m standing well back here and zooming in with my 135mm lens. Probably trespassing on the tarmac at Burnley bus station. The boarding passengers give me dark stares.

Telephoto compression adds to the illusion. This B-series Leyland National is 11.3m long, which of course wasn’t an option for the mark 1 National. Because this is not a mark 1 National, it is Ribble 800, the prototype mark 2 National as exhibited at the 1978 Motor Show at the NEC near Birmingham. It was fitted with a radiator and fan at the rear, like the mark 1 model, but production models had the radiator at the front to give the trademark bulge, a more curved and inclined windscreen and an extra 0.3m in length.

Built in 1978, it was given over to Ribble to be tested in service in February 1979 and operated out of Burnley depot. In 1980 its O.690 engine [a modified engine based on the O.680 I believe] was replaced with an L11 engine. The only National I drove with an L11 [or perhaps a TL11] was North Western 310 [LFR869X] and that was more powerful than most Nationals I drove but had the advantage of being a metre shorter than most Nationals. I think that, despite the L11 option, most Mark 2s ended up with O.680 engines until Leyland succumbed to pressure to offer the National with a Gardner engine.

The advertising livery it wore was bright yellow. If you like pretty colour pictures, I found one here.

By the time I caught this bus and rode on it to Blackburn it was over ten years old and hundreds of production models were in service. At the time, North Western were running much older ex-Ribble RESLs on town services in Blackburn in competition with the municipal bus company. This was the era of the Bus Wars where companies would register routes in competitors’ territory in an attempt to cause them financial ruin. Sometimes it led to their own.

In January 1989 we were two years into the deregulated era and it was hard to keep up with changes in the industry, they were coming so thick and fast. But word got around and no doubt I was tipped off that there were some Bristol rides to be had so an investigation on a rest day was arranged.

It was evident that Blackburn were under pressure with the town full of buses in different colours. Some, as you would expect, were from Hyndburn who had always shared the route from Accrington. But the 46 route between the two towns had a new competitor in the form of Battrick and Brown, trading as M&E Coaches, who were running ex-United Counties Bristol REs in competition on the main arterial route. The option of an RE ride was usually the best on offer and my notes tell me I rode on SBD219M, a Plaxton coach, and flat-screen ECW bus URP343H that day as well as a RESL new to Ribble in North Western colours.

M&E Coaches’ former UCOC RELH SBD219M with typical mismatched number blinds and paper sign in the windscreen for destination display

In the illustration above, North Western RESL6L no. 395, on which I had just made a scenic circuit around Shadsworth housing estate, sits behind the RELH which then carried me to Accrington.

I suspect this day was facilitated by a Red Rose Rambler ticket, a ticket which I think was co-ordinated by Lancashire County Council and permitted a day’s freedom within the county boundaries on all operators. The moves into and out of Lancashire were provided by North Western’s 761 Liverpool-Blackpool service on which my Crosville staff pass was valid. If I turn up the ticket or a promotional leaflet as I rifle through my boxes I will add it here.

Blackburn Borough Transport saw off the competition but sold out to Transdev Blazefield in 2007 who rebranded the buses “Lancashire United” before later backtracking and branding buses operating in the town “The Blackburn Bus Company”. All the M&E REs were sold by June 1990. I don’t know whether operations continued beyond that time.