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To the right can be seen an attractive but neglected building which has been replaced by something rather less characterful but no doubt more functional.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.

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.

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.

Serving the College by the Sea

Student days in Aberystwyth for many in the 1980s meant living by the sea [which was nice] and having to go to lectures on campus which was a mile away and 300ft above. A daunting feat for the unfit and quite a tiresome commute even for the most athletic.

To bring some solace to the life of the typical Aberystwyth town-dwelling student [quite a lot lived on campus, it must be said] the University College of Wales teamed up with Crosville to provide an hourly shuttle bus to and from the university campus and the town below. To complicate matters some lectures were held at the Old College by the pier and some students had ten minutes to get from one site to the other. So the lectures and buses were timed to facilitate transfers for the poor students concerned, as shown here:

“But it’s all in foreign” I hear from the back. Well, students had to pass a Welsh fluency test to get in in the first place, so it should be simple enough to read a bus timetable, eh?

No, I jest. In Wales even in the 1980s the rule was that all official notices in public organisations should be bilingual to encourage the use of the native tongue. This was a significant about turn from the many years that the Welsh language was suppressed by the British government. At the university, this bilingualism was enforced and any society daring to put up a notice around the campus that didn’t have a Welsh translation would soon see it defaced with a huge CYMRAEG!!! slogan in marker pen or on a sticker. So the bus timetable also came in Saesneg.

The bus pass was £9 per term for unlimited use at the time, which worked out at 90p a week. Considering that the fare on public buses was about 30p to the university, this was great value. The first term I was there I put in for my pass right away.

They asked for my full name

Many a happy ride was had on whatever buses were available at the time. Aberystwyth was the engineering centre of the South Cambrian division and would service and repair buses allocated to depots at Machynlleth, Aberaeron and Newcastle Emlyn. So there was a fairly fluid exchange of buses around the area and I had such treats as Bristol LH SLL615 of Aberaeron depot, Plaxton-bodied RELH6L ERL302, HVG932 and 933… the latter pair were ex-Sheffield/South Yorkshire Bristol VRs with highbridge East Lancashire bodies rather like the later batch of VRs delivered to Merseyside PTE.

HVG932 was later allocated to Liverpool for ferry shuttle work and driver training duties and by great fortune I was allowed to “type train” in it when training to be a Crosville driver myself.

For the most part, Crosville’s regular allocation of vehicles would be scheduled to operate in between local trips around town. At the top of this page is this photo of DVG517, Aberystwyth’s first new double decker in many years when allocated in 1981. It is seen on the promenade, where there were many seafront halls of residence for the university.

Crosville’s Aberystwyth stalwart DVG517 loading for an early departure on the promenade

The route in town was a circular one, arriving via North Road, running along the prom to the pier, then Pier Street, Great Darkgate Street and North Parade. Services departing from town would commence at the top of the prom [as seen above] by what was then the police station, then follow the route to North Parade and onwards to the campus via Northgate Street and Penglais Road [or Penglais Hill as it is often called]. At the time service buses did not serve the promenade or Great Darkgate Street so a photo in those locations was a bit of variety. Since then local routes have been diverted to serve those roads.

DVG517 passing through Great Darkgate Street, used only by UCW services in 1985

Nowadays Crosville is no longer in existence to serve the students of Aberystwyth and there are no Bristol VRs for the poor dabs but the mantle has been admirably picked up by Mid Wales Travel who provide a student service and extend their student card’s validity to all their services in town. Moreover, they offer discounts on other routes, which the Crosville/UCW scheme did not. A Mars bar [the gold standard inflation index] in 1983 cost 16p and in 2019 was 74p, 4.6 times more expensive. The £98 price tag of a Mid Wales student pass in 2020 is only 3.6 times more expensive than my UCW pass for 1983. Kids these days don’t know how easy they have it.

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.