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.

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.

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.

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…

National Colouring Contest

Here we have a curiosity, dating from 1981, the International Year of Disabled People. Crosville employees and their families were invited to win themselves a crisp fiver. All they had to do was design a livery on a template of a Crosville bus. The company’s invitation to participate was on one side and the template on the other. It’s a long read… See you down below!

Well, in the end, they did not paint a two-door National in a special livery, nor convert one with ramps. There was a Bristol RE converted, SRG213, but I don’t remember now what the year was. Was that the bus that emerged from this project?

It’s a bit late now, but if you fancy a go anyway, you can print out and colour in the competition image below and e-mail your entry to crisparmour at gmail . com. Though I can’t return any entries you could win a prize if I show it here.

Want some more? Here’s an International Colouring Contest for you… if the National has left you wanting more colouring book therapy, you could still participate in the contest referred to in the song… simply download Lucia Pamela’s book and fill it all in. In your own time: I think the deadline has passed, Lucia Pamela is no longer with us and… swizzz… no winner was ever announced. If I receive any entries for either, I will be true to my word…