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!

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!

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.

Dedication to the cause

Photography is an art, right?

And if you do your art properly, it means mind, body and soul. Sacrifice. Engagement. Forward planning, knee-jerk reactions. Whatever it takes. Getting wet, even…

A little while back I posted a photograph of former Crosville Bristol LH SLL620. It’s a vehicle I rode in service a couple of times, one of a type of which I’m particularly fond. It’s always a pleasure to reacquaint myself with it at the running days its owners kindly participate in. But back in 2006, and I gulp as I realise that that is fifteen years ago, it was under other ownership. I found myself invited along on a ramble around Wales with a view to finding attractive photographic locations pertinent to its previous time in service, or to others of the same type.

It was a day of heavy showers, and in North Wales they can be serious showers.

We had already spent time hiding from a downpour in the old stone shelter at Llangwyfan Sanatorium near Denbigh…

From the shelter at Llangwyfan Sanatorium

Llangwyfan Sanatorium was the terminus for short workings from Denbigh on Crosville service M76, winding along the back roads between Denbigh and Ruthin, the sort of roads where grass grows in the middle. Buses had to wait at a point en route when operating southbound if a northbound bus was due, because there was nowhere for buses to pass on the long stretches of narrow lanes. A sign in the photo above warns off drivers of large vehicles, but it is still a bus route.

Our furthest destination from the agreed meeting point at Wrexham that day was Cwm Penmachno, a disappointment because parked cars prevented our reversing at the terminus to pose the bus for the classic photo at Glanaber Terrace. At the Cwm you are a four-mile walk from Blaenau Ffestiniog. There is no road but the path will take you nearly 1000ft above the starting point, over the pass and down the other side.

On the way back from the Cwm we rounded a bend after a little bridge called Pont Llechwedd-hafod to find a tiny terrace called Rhyd-y-Grô. I called out for a photo stop but there were no other takers as the heavens had opened again.

Rhyd-y-Grô. Very twee.

I didn’t spend a lot of time composing this shot, I must admit. It was sheeting down. But I look back in satisfaction that this is the only record of the halt because the other so-called “enthusiasts” didn’t want to get wet.

A little further on is the village of Penmachno proper. There was even a pub there, I hope there still is. Here was an opportunity for one of those shots where the road seems to be impossibly tight but is negotiated hundreds of times a year by buses with little ado. I can imagine the blind corner being problematic, though, when vehicles meet unexpectedly.

The Eagles inn at Penmachno. You can still get a bus here from Llanrwst.

There are many more photos of this extremely enjoyable day for another time. And then photos from other enjoyable days with other enjoyable vehicles. I will revisit them all. In the meantime, perhaps these pictures will inspire some to go out and find some interesting locations near to wherever they are. Post your links to your favourite pictures out in the wild in the comments below!

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.

Green buses in the gloom

As a companion to the previous post, another approach to capturing preserved buses away from rallies and museums is the public “running day”. Preservation groups and enthusiasts’ clubs kindly arrange and publicise events where preserved buses are used in public service, usually free to all comers with perhaps the sale of programmes to raise money to cover costs or a suggestion that passengers offer donations to bus owners as they ride.

Such events, as well as being enjoyable social gatherings, provide opportunities to intrepid photographers who can wait at strategic positions to snap the buses en route.

A few months after the previous photos were taken on a private outing in Wales I drove down to Liverpool one Sunday afternoon in October 2006 where the Merseyside Transport Trust were having one of their well-organised running days in the south end of Liverpool. There were termini at Woolton and Penny Lane but firstly I waited at Woolton village where some of the routes crossed.

It was a very rainy afternoon. I remember, fifteen years later, that I struggled to keep my camera dry and I discovered I had a hole in the sole of my shoe. But I was rewarded with some pleasant in-service snaps. In the photo above Liverpool Corporation AEC Regent V no. A267 operating route no. 5 has its interior tungsten lighting aglow as the light was starting to fade at 4 p.m.

The wet slates act as giant reflectors to compensate.

In opting for my composition to feature the Woolton sandstone architecture [you may have heard of some local celebrity Quarrymen] I neglected to wait for the bus to obscure the only contemporary feature to give the game away, the very 21st century Merseytravel bus stop!

MPTE “Jumbo” Atlantean 1111 also made an appearance, adding to the atmosphere with headlamps aglow and windows misted up.

Congratulations to the MTT for all their hard work in restoring these vehicles and organising superbly co-ordinated events. I’m sure we all look forward to more of these occasions in future.