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!

Anglesey initiative

Friday, 11th July 1980. I am celebrating the end of my O-level exams with a Crosville Rideabout ticket. I had just been for a ride on this bus, Crosville MTF701, on service N60. This was quite a short lived experiment and, like a lot of other services, a victim of the National Bus Company Market Analysis Project. The N60 was a circular service with several variants around the lanes of south-east Anglesey linking places like Llangoed, Glanrafon and Llanddona which had previously been terminal points of trips from Bangor.

Introduced early in 1978, it was operated out of Bangor but the minibus spent the day based at Beaumaris running round its route, with drivers coming out with single deck buses from Bangor to connect. Occasionally they would swap over to return to base for breaks.

I think that the perceived benefit was linking the alternative terminal villages up by way of roads that a full sized bus might have difficulty getting through.

So as the photo was taken we were awaiting the arrival of Crosville RESL6G SRG85, the connecting N57 service back to Bangor which would be bringing passengers out for the next N60 loop.

I have the timetable book from 1979 where the connecting services were conveniently adjacent on the centre pages. I kept the staples in the scan to prove it. Take a look at the cover first…

1979 Crosville timetable cover
The cover of the 1979 Crosville timetable for Caernarfon, Bangor and Anglesey.
Not sure how I ended up with Colin Austin’s copy…
1979 Crosville timetable Bangor - Beaumaris - beyond
If this is too small to read you can zoom in, usually Ctrl+ keys

Might as well bookend the timetable with the back cover, showing the range of bargain fares available at the time:

Rear cover of Crosville 1979 timetable showing fare offers

I was enjoying the luxury of my first Rideabout ticket and that morning had been hauled out of Chester by BR locomotive 40 080 pulling Mk1 carriages. My day also featured SRG176 out from Bangor to Beaumaris, DFG189 on M13 and semi-automatic FLF DFG257 on M81 seasonal service at Rhyl. It ended with a ride on CLL327 on the seasonal daily service X4 from Rhyl to Runcorn.

By October 1980 the N60 service was abandoned and the full-sized single deck buses from Bangor would extend beyond Beaumaris to one terminal point or another as they had before.

MTF701 and its sister bus MTF700 then spent some time at Barmouth, I think on rail replacement duties related to the closure of the rickety railway viaduct over the Mawddach estuary and there being a weight limit on the most direct diversion route. There is more to be said about MTF700 and the service it was bought to operate, but that will be for another posting.

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.

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Zigzag Wanderer

Some classic Crosville publicity here for you. Probably from 1984-85, the post-Wanderbus Crosville Wanderer ticket. In my younger days you could buy a Wanderbus which was valid all day on all National Bus Company stage carriage services south of the Mersey and the Humber. Except you could go to Widnes and Warrington and you couldn’t go to the Wirral. So read the small print.

The National Bus Company withdrew the Wanderbus ticket on the 30th of April 1983. Crosville immediately implemented their own replacement ticket charging the same price of £2.97. The price had remained unchanged for several years and I hear that some unscrupulous people reused tickets a year after they were bought because the Setright ticket couldn’t display the year. I seem to remember being told that drivers were supposed to set the stage number to the year to prevent this but in my experience you were lucky to find a driver who could remember how to issue a ticket at all. You were supposed to issue a sequence of three 99p tickets with the “SPECIAL” type applied.

So here we have the successor ticket to the Wanderbus, the Wanderer, which is Crosville only. Not valid on PMT or Trent services. But valid on South Wales Transport buses on a joint service all the same, and now, unlike the Wanderbus, across the boundary into and out of the PTE areas. The price has finally gone up to £3.30. Still great value to people like me who got up early to maximise the mileage.

That bloke would probably get reported now.

Step on, step off, stay awhile. The Weekly Wanderer was the successor to the Crosville Explorer weekly ticket which, unlike the Wanderbus, was valid on all Crosville bus services including those operating entirely in Merseyside, like the Prescot services from Liverpool and the services from Heswall and West Kirby into Birkenhead. I remember riding on ERG56 from Birkenhead to West Kirby on an Explorer week with a man behind me repeatedly whistling the same few bars of “Is This Love” by Bob Marley. It was intensely irritating at the time but now when I hear that song I’m back on ERG56 in 1978 in the sunshine.

This is my last ever Day Wanderer from a Setright machine.

The 9th of December 1985, issued on SNL807 on the T10 service as I made my last trip from Runcorn to Aberystwyth to arrange to move my belongings back to Runcorn where I was to become a trainee bus driver a week later.

Looking at my notes I made a special trip on CTL50 on the new X5 to Liverpool [on which I would have paid extra] before catching MPTE Atlantean 1745 to the Pier Head, then a ferry to Birkenhead for a C1 to Chester, which was operated by Chester’s DOG154.

From Chester I took SNG371 on the D25 to Wrexham. In my notes [and I remember this] it says that DVG482 reversed into the side of the SNG in Chester bus station. The VR veered over into the same lane as the SNG and stopped just as it made contact with the National ahead of the rear axle. I was sitting as usual on the offside seat after the step and I saw the side of the National flex slightly in front of me on the impact. The VR driver realised at the last second and just drove off. Not a mark on the National.

This put me on a later working on the D94 than I usually took. The 1105 from Wrexham which I usually used was a Corwen working and was almost always one of their ERGs 271 or 276. The following working was around 1300 and operated by Dolgellau and this day it was the now preserved SNL588 but unfortunately back then it was before it was fitted with its Gardner engine.

This left me with a long wait at Dolgellau for a bus to Aberystwyth so I took a ride to Blaenau Ffestiniog on SNL575. I knew that this would be my bus back to Aberystwyth because it was on a diagram unusually operated by three depots: It would set off from Aberystwyth in the early afternoon around 1 p.m. and meet a southbound bus from Dolgellau outside Machynlleth depot. The drivers would change buses then return to their own depot. The Dolgellau bus then did a school bus in Aberystwyth and a Penparcau circular before heading north back to Dolgellau, again swapping drivers with a southbound service only this time at Esgaergeiliog, between Machynlleth and Corris, basically on a straight stretch of the A487 in the middle of nowhere.

In the meantime the Aber bus went beyond Dolgellau on a trip to Blaenau [the one I caught] this time meeting a Blaenau Ffestiniog bus at Trawsfynydd for another driver swap. The Aberystwyth bus would spend a short time at Blaenau before returning to Dolgellau, swapping crews again halfway, before undertaking the return trip to Aberystwyth with another driver swap at Esgaergeiliog as above.

What this meant was I had a terrible day with no VRs and no REs, instead spending most of the day on four Nationals and an Olympian.

My return to Runcorn later that week was I think by British Rail, laden with luggage. A large and very heavy trunk full of books was carried by the Crosville parcels service to Runcorn depot at no charge after I explained my circumstances to the staff at Aberystwyth depot. I can imagine the language used by those involved in loading and unloading it at Aberystwyth, Dolgellau, Wrexham, Chester and Runcorn. Thanks guys.

The following week I was given a staff pass and never had to buy a Wanderer ticket again. As a driver I don’t think I ever issued a Day Wanderer for Crosville but I remember the evening Wanderer being popular for trips to Liverpool, Frodsham and Chester.

This is the back of the Setright ticket. I was never taught what the numbers on the back of the ticket signified. It looks like you could build the date using the elements [i.e. a number between 1 and 31]. But I am guessing. You were supposed to punch them for transfers I think. Any suggestions leading to enlightenment would be welcomed.

A Unique Express Service?

A little while back I showed the cover of the 1956 Crosville summer express timetable given to me by a very kind inspector who kept me chatting for a while at his information kiosk. The most interesting service shown inside has to be the 159 route [“double deck vehicles may be operated on this service”] from Liverpool to the North Wales coast. For it was, as far as I am aware, the only scheduled bus service to cross the Mersey on the Widnes Transporter Bridge. Leaving Liverpool by way of Wavertree, Woolton, Hunts Cross and Speke, the bus served Hale and Widnes before the crossing to Runcorn. There exists a photo of a Bristol LD in service on the Transporter but I do not have the right to reproduce it here. I can suggest a site on which it can be viewed, however.

Happily, I can share the pages from the timetable detailing the times and fares:

The unique 159 service?

I am intrigued to see that the service stopped in Devonshire Square in Runcorn. The road bridge from Widnes opened in 1961 before I was born and a new bus station in High Street by the new market hall was provided to receive the extra buses coming regularly from Widnes and Liverpool. Before that time I know that many buses terminated at the South Bank Hotel in Waterloo Road near the Transporter gates offering onward travel to and from Widnes.

Incidentally, the bus terminus in front of the hotel building still exists.

The South Bank bus terminus as seen in 2008.
The Transporter was at the bottom of the slope on the right

Walking from there towards the river leads to the former access to the bridge and the platform across the river at West Bank can plainly be seen. A photo can be seen here with the view from the Transporter arriving on the Widnes side wih a Widnes Corporation PD2 about to reverse up to the bus stand to meet the arriving passengers. A view looking back towards the Transporter at Widnes is here. Compare the thriving shop with today’s scene of desolation as two road bridges have now abstracted all the passing trade!

As far as I was previously aware, buses accessed the South Bank terminus via Waterloo Road rather than Devonshire Square. Does anyone know if the service operated via Bridgewater Street or Egerton Street on its way to and from the Transporter? I suppose that Devonshire Square may have been wide enough for buses to turn around in those days. It would be great to hear from anyone who remembers those days and can explain what went on.

As well as the times, the booklet has the fare tables for single and return:

Single fares for the 159
Return fares and conditions

Your comments, answers, questions, criticisms… all welcome. Get in touch by leaving a word in the comment boxes on the site or contacting me at <crisparmour at gmail dot com>.

A Parting Shot

LUT, or Lancashire United Transport, was just hanging onto its identity as a subsidiary of Greater Manchester PTE at its Atherton depot. By the end of 1981 it was no more. But it had been running this service linking Liverpool and Manchester airports for some years and in 1981 was still working at it. The service strangely did not allow for travel from intermediate points to Liverpool, only to Manchester airport. Perhaps this was a condition of its licence, the service travelling through the operating areas of Warrington, Widnes and Crosville into Liverpool Corporation territory.

I would have found this leaflet on one of those rotating racks in the council information office in Runcorn.

Leaflet cover [there was a vertical fold down the centre making the leaflet look less cluttered than the flattened view presented here]

At first glance I thought the car park sign was a flat computer monitor like the one I’m looking up at now but such a thing was unthinkable then. Even in 1981 three-colour printing was a luxury and the graphics and typography hadn’t changed much in ten years or more. I Am Annoyed by The Inconsistent Capitalisation though.

Frightening the public with the suggestion of full car parks may have been a profitable marketing ploy at the time and the encouragement to book seats with local ABTA travel agents seems unwieldy but in the age of the internet such arrangements are far simpler now than we could imagine back then.

If this text is too small to read on the web page try zooming in or open the image in its own window…

I don’t know whether this service survived the full integration of LUT into GMPTE in 1981. In later years and with the redevelopment of Speke into John Lennon Airport and booming trade to new destinations in Europe from Liverpool, Arriva and Terravision have in more recent times attempted to link the two cities and their airports in a similar way to cash in on the increased traffic but with only limited success. The best you can hope for at the moment is a bus link from JLA to Liverpool South Parkway station and onto the rail network you go.

I remember seeing one of those LUT coaches going through Widnes towards Speke. There was nobody on it.

Double Deckers and the Cymru Coastliner

Between Chester and Caernarfon Crosville had run stopping services and express services for many years. In 1965 a licence was granted to run a limited stop service from the 5th of September along the coast road which saved an hour on the time taken by the stopping services A1-A3 on which passengers had to change buses at Rhyl. The new running time was three and a half hours.

In the first instance, the service, numbered L1, was conductor-operated with coaches and some of these were very elegant double deck FLF Lodekka coaches.

A desktop advertising display board from the 1960s

Here’s an illustration of one of these beasts in the wild, in Alistair Holt’s excellent flickr collection: https://flic.kr/p/2jCA8NL

The service was one-man operated from the the 29th of October 1972. The batch of new buses due to launch this one-man service was delivered late so that E and F registered dual purpose RELLs and even the odd Seddon were pressed into service for the first weeks. The YFM-L batch of ERG-class RELLs eventually held sway on the service for a couple of years. All too soon they were bounced off by a batch of brand new N-registered ENL-class Leyland Nationals with rather effective roll bars. This modification made them significantly more tolerable than the earlier Leyland Nationals which rolled rather a lot. But a batch of coach seated VRs would have been so much nicer!

Those Nationals lasted for more than ten years, far outstaying their welcome and in their later years it was possible to see an occasional double decker on the service in the form of Leyland Olympian buses. If you were lucky a VR might even appear. There exists on the internet [but I can’t find it now, please give a link if you know] a photo of one of the last semi-automatic FLF buses triumphantly arriving on an L1 at Caernarfon Castle Square in 1982 probably pressed onto the L1 by severe traffic delays or possibly a rail strike. But these appearances were quite rare. When the decision was made to replace the Nationals altogether a batch of coach-seated Leyland Olympians was ordered and went into service on the first Sunday of 1986 when coincidentally I had been working for Crosville for all of three weeks.

It was a busy time, with me learning to drive a Lodekka during the day and in the evening going to Crewe to get my last rides on the SRG-class Bristol RE saloons which were going to be replaced by the ENLs cascaded from the Coastliner. But on the Sunday morning I took the first bus from Runcorn to Chester and was able to be the first passenger to board the new Olympian on the first service out of Chester. It was a cold, grey day. There had been snow the previous week.

The cover of the promotional leaflet for the introduction of the speeded-up Coastliner

The EOG-class Olympian coaches were finished in the most striking livery with a huge red dragon on each side leaning forwards on a base of a half-and-half livery of white over a lighter green than the then current NBC green. As seen in the publicity leaflet illustrating this post. Whether the decision had already been taken to use these colours in the livery for the new Crosville Wales company to be formed in the summer I don’t know. But in the end the colours applied to the Welsh fleet were similar. But the dragons were restricted to the L1 buses.

I rode on EOG205 as far as the St John’s stop in Llandudno before catching a bus back. There was quite a buzz on the buses that day with a lot of positive comments from the passengers. I was joined by a thrilled little boy and his mum at the front of the bus upstairs. I think that the dragon livery was extremely effective in captivating passengers and passers-by alike.

During my short stay at Llandudno I took a few photos, the first being the EOG leaving the St John’s stop after I alighted. The driver had waited a little for his departure time.

EOG205 on the first ever departure on the new faster L1 from Chester, leaving Llandudno for Caernarfon

The service was revamped along with the vehicles and another 30 minutes was removed from the running time, partly because by-pass roads were alleviating congestion in the area and partly by using some of those bypasses and missing villages out along the way. Whether the service could have entered a new golden age we will never know because Crosville split in two in the summer. Then deregulation happened in October and the planned and licensed network of which the Coastliner was a part degenerated into a free-for-all and loss-making or marginal services went to competitive tender. Despite [or because of?] frequent revisions of routes and extensions and contractions beyond either end of the route, the Coastliner withered away and quietly died. There is more to this story for another day…

Before my time

I mentioned in my welcome page the inspector in the information kiosk at Runcorn bus station in the 1970s who very kindly handed to me quite unexpectedly a timetable from his earlier days as a Crosville driver.

I had been scrounging for timetable booklets for the 1977 busway revisions just before the full circle of the busway opened in the new town. At this time the busway had also reached the old town via the Astmoor extension. There was a new bus station built on the new busway in the old town centre and a plastic pod was provided as an information kiosk. This pod replaced what had been a chic hexagonal office in the first bus station opened around the time of the road bridge in 1961. In 1977 that had just been wiped out by the arrival of the busway.

I was going on an enthusiasts’ tour the next weekend and hoped to be able to hand out the new timetables to the people on the tour and had visited all the information offices in the town on my bike gathering a handful in each. In the new kiosk the inspector was particularly friendly when he realised what I was doing and he engaged me in conversation about his old days driving coaches.

As I was about to leave, he reached inside a drawer and took out a booklet which he said I could have.

In 1977 this was already over 20 years old. That was already mind-boggling to my teenage self and to learn from the cover that Crosville had existed for over 70 years made me curious to find out more about its history. Eventually a number of books would satisfy my curiosity.

The inspector I later learned was known as Arthur Trevor. When I became a driver in 1he 1980s he had retired but staff who remembered him spoke in reverent tones. I remember his kindness fondly.

Graphic design has come on a long way since the 1950s but I feel very nostalgic for the style of transport publicity documents in the following years. Those days were long before computers made it easy for anyone to cobble up a logo and to composite images on a template. The speeding Bristol LS coach [or a very early MW?] on this design is so tiny you might miss it at first glance. I suppose this sort of cover was rustled up with stencils and screen printed, arcane arts in their day and now incomprehensible in the era of DTP, lasers, inkjets and pixels. The finest for me was the timetable cover design in the late 60s with intricate designs representing a pictoral map of the Crosville operating area. A scan should appear on this site soon. Also to come, some pages from inside this wonderful 1950s express timetable book.