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.

Fondly remembered [part 1]

In the short time I have been maintaining this site I have learned of the passing away of two loved and respected figures from my time in Mid Wales.

In an earlier post I showed this photo of Crosville’s last ENL romping through the little village of Comins Coch as it approached Aberystwyth on its way from Machynlleth.

ENL978 was the last of Crosville’s ENL class

In a comment on a Facebook thread linking to my page it was revealed that the driver shown here, John Fletcher, who I had only ever heard called “Fletch”, then the lead driver at the sub-depot at Machynlleth, had passed away only recently.

The news made me feel very sad and I thought back to the rides I had had on his bus and particularly one day in the summer of 1985 when Machynlleth depot operated an extended S18 service. This usually ran from Machynlleth to Dinas Mawddwy but, for the summer holiday weeks that year, it continued once weekly over the dramatic mountain pass of Bwlch Oerddrws to join the S13/S14 Aberystwyth-Dolgellau route at Cross Foxes. From Dolgellau it extended to Barmouth, allowing visitors a few hours at the seaside before returning mid-afternoon.

On the 25th of July I caught the special S18 at Dolgellau. I had arrived ahead of it on SNG357 on the S14 service from Aberystwyth and walked back along the route a short way to take a photo of Gardner-engined Leyland National SNG409 arriving from its climb over the Bwlch. When it appeared I had the bonus of snapping an inspector’s mini in pursuit of 409. On the platform an inspector can be seen standing.

Gardner-engined Leyland National SNG409 arriving in Dolgellau with inspectors’ mini in pursuit

The minis were used so that inspectors could intercept buses without the drivers’ knowledge that they were in the area. The general public see ticket inspectors as the threat that persuades them to pay the correct fare for their trip for fear that they could otherwise be caught cheating and have consequences to suffer. What they may not have realised is that the platform staff were under much greater scrutiny for their adherence to the rules and there were more rules to apply to the staff than the passengers. So when inspectors were at large it was not unusual for drivers to give one another a signal as they passed.

In the Merseyside area this was generally a “thumbs down” sign but, when the minis were introduced, drivers adopted a two-hands-off-the-wheel alternating up-and-down movement of the hands to denote the act of steering. This would signify a sighting of the inspectors’ car in the area. A bus going over the Bwlch would be easy prey for the inspectors with no chance of the driver knowing that they were at large.

As I joined Fletch on SNG409 in Eldon Square he was breathing sighs of relief. The long climb up to 1200ft at the top of the Bwlch reduces the bus to a low gear and a crawl so he thought it a good time for a crafty smoke. As the bus crested the summit he saw the mini parked up ahead and just had the time to drop the offending fag out of the cab window undetected.

His morning had another stressful moment in store on the road from Dolgellau to Barmouth. The road winds along the Mawddach estuary and was bordered by stone walls along much of the way. There were places where it was very difficult for wide vehicles to pass. It may have been improved during the last 35 years, I sincerely hope so!

The nightmare scenario was the oncoming caravan driver. Many tourists would come to the area in the summer time. Unfortunately, not all of the drivers were familiar with the hazards on what passed for the main roads. An unfamiliar and inexperienced motorist towing a caravan could wreak havoc on roads like these. So there was a big groan when we rounded a bend and saw up ahead the Wrexham driver of the D94 service returning from Barmouth having met a caravan coming the opposite way.

Pulling up behind the impasse I had a golden opportunity to capture the scene, one frequently encountered but rarely depicted. The photo shows how little space the drivers had to work with. Bear in mind that, after passing the caravan, the driver of the D94 had to pass the bus we were on! Eventually we did and no damage was incurred by any vehicle.

I have been informed that in later years Fletch worked for Evans of Penrhyncoch and was made responsible for the Mid Wales Motorways operations out of Newtown when they were taken over, driving a school bus outstationed in his home town of Machynlleth into Newtown in the morning and working at Newtown during the day. After that he is said to have worked for Lloyds of Machynlleth.

I am always saddened to hear of old Crosville men passing away but especially when I have been the direct beneficiary of their kindness and patience with a young enthusiast. It was the good nature of these people that inspired me to work in the bus industry and many of my photographs are the result of their generosity of spirit in passing on the latest news, suggesting interesting workings to aim for and pulling up just where I wanted, to let me get the best photo. Fletch was definitely one of those! RIP John Fletcher.

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.

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.

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!

As seen in 1969

This beauty has been the talk of the Bristol fan groups over the last week or two after participating in a Royal Blue commemorative road run along the south coast of England.

Its frequent appearances in the forums had me reminiscing about my now very distant childhood, rather more than 50 years ago when the same bus looked very much like this: not, as now, because of a painstaking restoration but because it was still fresh out of Lowestoft. It was the first bus I became familiar with because of its special colour scheme and luxury seating and it made a big impression on me at a tender age.

As far as I can make out I started school in October 1968, at the start of the half term before my 5th birthday. At the time I lived 500 yards from my school and would be collected at lunchtime and taken home to be fed. This was after an incident with school dinner prunes I had better not go into in case any of you were thinking of eating soon. The walk home was all downhill but sometimes if we were a bit late I would be taken back to school on the bus… ERG53, mostly.

At the time it was the newest single door vehicle on allocation at Crosville’s Runcorn depot. New in June, it spent a short time at Heswall before settling at Runcorn. It was usually selected to operate the 144 service [joint with North Western, hence the unCrosville-like route number] to Northwich.

The 144 times as they were in 1968

It so happened that the 1307 departure from Runcorn coincided with my need to climb Bridge Street to Delph Bridge which was just by my school. So I remember the excitement of seeing it coming along and how I sat on the side-facing fuzzy green seats with their swirly pattern. It was all shiny and very modern-looking!

All my earliest memories are of bus rides. The Widnes Corporation PD2s to Hough Green on Thursdays to visit my grandmother; a Bristol K to Weston Point to accompany my father as he went to collect his pay packet from Castner’s gates. The dual purpose Bristol MW in a similar livery to ERG53 here that was waiting to take us back. They all made their mark.

The Runcorn bus network in 1967, before the new town was built

In 1969 we moved to a larger house away from the town centre which was good because it meant more bus rides! Our local routes in that year were operated mainly by elderly LD6Bs which were soon replaced by brand new one-man RELLs with centre exits. My bus to school, though, was a schoolday extra, the J16, which could turn up any old bus. The demoted LDs would still come along on this trip, and some elderly MWs, with stitched leather seats rather than Rexine, were regularly used.

Coaches also appeared relatively often and the most memorable event was the appearance [I can still visualise it in slow motion] of brand new RELH6L CRL261 [TFM261K] in the summer term of 1972 when I was 8. I boarded at the stop across the road and my mother was on the doorstep waving me off. She was amused at how astonished I was. The TFM-K batch was the last to be delivered in Crosville’s classic cream and black livery, in fact only the first arrivals were so painted, the latter examples arriving in National Express white. The ones that were cream were quickly repainted so that by the autumn the whole batch was white. Any photo or sighting of them is to be cherished!

But my abiding memories of ERG53 are its regular appearances in my street from 1969-71, early in the morning on a works service that started its daily diagram. I had the bedroom overlooking the street and would go to the window to watch the buses go by. As I grew up I could predict when favourite buses would return as I got to understand the trip lengths, frequencies and interworking with other routes. But I would be up and out of bed before anyone else to watch ERG53 glide down the road. I think my last ride on it in Runcorn was in 1971 or 1972 on the J17 service. I still remember standing watching as it drove away up Heath Road until it disappeared beyond the traffic lights and into the distance, the three rear windows in the cream upper half of the livery that marked it out as a special bus. As 53 left Runcorn to work on the Cymru Coastliner service, brand new Seddons arrived, painted in the same livery [with a bigger, brighter, more modern-looking fleetname] because of their dual purpose seating. I liked them too but 53 remained in my memory as an absent friend.

Later, in 1977, I would finally be reunited with her in the PMT depot at Biddulph. The depot was shared with Crosville who assumed the North Western operations around the town when that company was fragmented in 1972. ERG53 later moved with her Crosville stable mates from Biddulph to an outstation on the site of Congleton’s cattle market until withdrawal in 1981 as I remember it.

After service with Crosville, ERG53 spent time with Liverpool Community Transport doing hires for community groups and schools, which saved it from being scrapped as most of the batch were [although sister ERG52 also survives at Birkenhead]. But it was to be a long time between rides on the old girl.

August 2012 and I attended the Bristol bus rally for only the second time and found ERG53 also attending. Having caught a Bristol MW to the Avon Valley Railway on the shuttle service, I was waiting for a suitable vehicle to take me back to the rally site when what should appear? I was able to take a photo on its approach using a telephoto from a bridge over the road. Looking back at the photo now I am struck by the unusual view of the cream roof and rooflights from my elevated vantage point… just like watching from my bedroom back in 1969.

To make an enjoyable weekend complete I was then able to travel back to Bristol on 53, my first ride on her in 40 years.

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.

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.

Moving People

The Leyland Society on Facebook were asking for photos on the theme of “Leyland Moving People” which took me back to the time I spent shooting from one of the footbridges on Liverpool’s “bubble bus stops” at Hood Street Gyratory. It was great for chaotic scenes of buses parked two abreast at crazy angles with general traffic flying past and passengers bolting across four lanes of traffic to catch the bus they could see loading its last passengers before pulling away. This was taken in September 1985.

I proposed this picture, taken at the start of the evening peak, with a classic MPTE Alexander-bodied Atlantean setting off with a full standing load and buses loading as crowds form in the rush hour. Also visible are another Alexander Atlantean, one of the MCW-bodied batch of 1978 and two East Lancs-bodied Bristol VRs. Just visible in the midst of all that is a Crosville SNL-class Leyland National loading up on one of the Runcorn-bound services.

Nowadays the scene is very different. The bridges have gone and a solitary Pelican crossing slows the passage of services through the much more constrained space now reserved just for buses. If I was to get my camera out in the bus station a security person would come to move me off the premises.

What a world we live in today.

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.

Then and now [1]

Did I mention that I used to live in Wales? Between September 1982 and December 1985 I was a resident of the sleepy Welsh seaside resort of Aberystwyth. In my final year there I lived at the top of Penglais Hill, the one you crest coming into town on the main road from the North, giving the most stupendous view of the town below. The descent is so steep that the illusion is created of the sea being in the sky, especially when you have a telephoto lens on your camera. The town seems to be built up in a big pile.

The university is built mostly towards the summit so town-dwellers had quite a climb to get there. When I lived at the top I was just a stone’s throw from the rolling countryside beyond the town. Being a bus photographer with a telephoto lens some excellent opportunities were to be taken for the sake of a fifteen minute walk or so.

In 1985 I had the keys to the university’s photographic society darkroom and I shot quite a bit of black and white film. I used to buy bulk rolls of Ilford HP5 and cut it to length and load it into my own cartridges. As a student on a budget it was the most economic way to do photography by a long way but it meant a steep learning curve. That sort of thing has never put me off so there are a lot of black and white films in my archive, over 100 36-exposure negative rolls in fact. Most of these photos were never printed at the time but have since come to life thanks to the invention of the transparency scanner.

In fact, back in the 1980s I had the prescience to anticipate that one day I would be able to do “special effects” on photos, like film studios were starting to do on the cinema screen. Photoshop hadn’t been invented but I knew it would be one day. So I shot lots of negatives.

Crosville’s last in the ENL series of dual purpose Leyland Nationals at Comins Coch in 1985

The one above was taken around lunchtime on a weekday at Comins Coch. Comins Coch is a small village just beyond the summit of Penglais Hill off the Machynlleth Road. It is not to be confused with Commins Coch, on the A470 between Machynlleth and Caersws near the railway line from Shrewsbury. That one has an extra m. The bus is being driven by “Fletch” who was then the senior driver at Machynlleth. That’s what my memory is telling me but I am wide open to correction here. He was noted for his star turn at the wheel of Crosville’s preserved Bristol SC SSG612 at the Mid Wales Festival of Transport in 1983. On the Sunday of the festival I rode a British Rail HST from Aberystwyth to Welshpool, caught the SC from Welshpool to Machynlleth and probably had a milkshake in the National Milk Bar before catching the HST back to Aberystwyth from Machynlleth station. I have a photo of the SC somewhere but I think it has still to be scanned.

Fast forward to today and Comins Coch still exists of course but Crosville, their Aberystwyth depot and ENL978 do not. Only yesterday I was able to update the picture, standing in pretty much the same spot as I was 36 years ago but this time to photograph Lloyds Coaches Optare YB14BCZ on the X28 service, largely the same as the Crosville S14 service pictured above, except that the Lloyds service extends past the Crosville depot that isn’t there along a road that didn’t exist to a supermarket nobody even dreamt of in 1985.

As is often the case in “then and now” photographs, there is considerably more foreground foliage. The scene is quite recognisable, though, but of course the hilltop is flecked with wind turbines.

Lloyds Coaches have been on the scene in Mid Wales since 2001 and have taken over the former Crosville depots at Machynlleth and Dolgellau, expanding into the vacuum left by the withdrawal of Arriva from West Wales and the collapse of GHA Coaches and Express Motors. Their operating area now stretches from Bangor in the north as far south as Lampeter.

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:
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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.

Gloom is glorious

Mention of Aberystwyth in the previous post made me wistful for my time there.

This view is representative of one of the many grey, drizzly days of wet air coming off the Irish Sea I endured, or perhaps became inured to and ultimately came to see the beauty of. I loved dark winter evenings especially Sundays when barely a soul could be seen on the streets, there being no Sunday trading and all the pubs being closed by law. Smoke would waft in the air from the many “real fires” in the terraces in the town centre. It reminded me of old Runcorn when I was very small.

There used to be referenda every few years to decide whether the ban on Sunday pub opening should be overturned. There was one during the years I was there and, despite the student population being eligible to vote, more Chapel wrinklies actually got off their arse to vote. And the ban went on.

This would be 1984 or 85. Crosville’s Aberystwyth depot ran a National Express route to London. Not to Victoria but Catford as I remember, presumably such an obscure place as Aber being thought not to merit a stand on Victoria coach station. A few Cardboard Leopards were allocated in full NX livery to operate it but this one is shown having returned from the marathon Pontrhydfendigaid circular [The Bont for convenience] S65 variant. So it must have been a Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.

Somewhere I still have my car graph from those days, one I made by standing in front of the chart on the wall in the depot and drawing it roughly before copying it onto graph paper in my billet. I think this may have gone on to do a trip to Clarach but it’s a long time now. It looks like the driver has just taken over, the emergency door flap standing proud and the passenger doors open. An Almex ticket machine is ready on the stand.

ELL21 wasn’t considered worthy of full coach classification [as CLL21] despite its use on NX services and carrying full NX livery.

Wrong side working

Hard to believe this is over 30 years ago. My memories are quite hazy now… I have some amazing photos from the experience, probably the most intense omnibological immersion in all my days.

My interfaces with this phenomenon were twofold: the first time when I saw a Southdown “Queen Mary” PD3 appear in Aberystwyth one evening, either 1983 or 84, I don’t remember now. That evening there were a few familiar faces milling around and I was invited to join them for a pint in the Unicorn if I remember rightly [it was my only visit to that establishment, it not being a regular student haunt, but I think it had a connection to the former Crosville depot super].

Fast forward to 1989 and I was invited to join the party. The trips – actually a seven day package holiday – were arranged by SOES, the “Sheffield Omnibus Enthusiasts’ Society” who are still going strong it seems, but no mention of holiday tours on the web site. I think that more recent tours have been arranged without the direct involvement of the Society on a more informal basis.

It was the only time I was to indulge but it was an enjoyable experience with visits arranged in advance to operators and organisations with some very interesting vehicles for the time. I had a ride on a Gardner engined AEC Regent V on which I could see the ground whizzing by through a hole in the floor beneath my feet. A research team of organisers had been out to verify the accommodation, scout for interesting vehicles and meet the people who would welcome us on our way round.

Each year a bus would be hired for the week. I remember that open-top buses were used a lot – I think the Southdown PD3 seen in Aberystwyth was open top – and the year I went the bus certainly was. DFG27, a converted open top FS Lodekka then with Crosville Wales, was used. I think we picked it up at Rhyl depot on the Friday evening and returned it to Llandudno Junction on the Saturday after the holiday. I say “we” because I was one of the nominated drivers for the week which involved two half-days at the wheel on the tour itself and positioning journeys to and from the official start and end points in Yorkshire.

Somewhere in my boxes there is a souvenir booklet reporting the events and places we enjoyed during the week which will help me piece together my memories of the time and give more context and meaning to the many photos I shot. There is a lavishly illustrated book to be written about this holiday so I won’t go into any detail here, there are too many to mention. I’ll just put the idea on the spike and present these views of the holiday bus looking quite at home but actually on the wrong side of the country where the sun rises over the sea in the county noted for its Tigers and tea.

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.

In the wild

Bus preservation is great, we have some splendid examples to cherish of vehicle types we have loved in your younger days, and sometimes from way back before our day. It’s our memories brought back to life, our heritage for all to see and appreciate. Museums and rallies have their place in this scenario, where we can come together and enjoy all this beloved machinery. But these places and events have their limitations with static displays and crowds of people milling about… these buses deserve to be depicted in another environment, in the real world!

I have been extremely fortunate to have been invited along on private excursions on a number of preserved buses and even co-ordinate a few such trips with the help of willing owners and enthusiastic passengers. The beauty of these days has been the freedom to pose the buses in pleasant locations, be it in their home from their working days or perhaps further afield. One of the earliest I remember was on Crosville Bristol LH6L SLL620 which had operated in the Wrexham and Denbigh areas. So we took a tour starting in Wrexham and, working outwards along Crosville routes through Denbigh, we made our way to Llanrwst and ultimately Cwm Penmachno, places formerly frequented by the LHs based at Llandudno Junction and its outstation at Llanrwst.

The photo above is at Bwlchgwyn, a village up in the hills outside Wrexham on the Ruthin road. The photo was taken on the 19th of August 2006 and happily the Kings Head appears still to be functioning as a pub. Apart from the 21st century van poking its nose into the road there is little in the photo to date the view. With the cheapness of digital photography hundreds of photos can be shot and stored on memory cards on a day like this. Though I have shared some of my pictures from this day previously, there are many views of different locations that remain unpublished. And many days such as these have taken place with hopefully more to come. With such great locations on offer, it is a good exercise in trying to find pleasing and original compositions using geographical features, buildings and landmarks. These owners spend vast amounts of time and money on their buses and they deserve recognition for their contribution to heritage preservation. I think there is no better showcase and tribute for a preserved bus than this… out in the wild.

Shortly after the pause at Bwlchgwyn we were in Llandegla village where short runs on the D8 service used to turn. The village is quiet and pleasant and has an attractive backdrop being overlooked by Moel Famau, just visible here. SLL620 probably paused here in its days working out of Wrexham looking a lot like this.

A great day was had by the small party on the bus and wonderful souvenirs were created.. I will no doubt return to this subject again… and again…

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.

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…