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  • British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s by Stephen Dowle

    Few dissent from the view that Harrington Grenadier was one of the best coach bodies of its era. This example, on an AEC Reliance 2U3RA chassis, was one of a batch of five new to Bowen's of Birmingham in 1965. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    "Transitional" is, I suppose, the word to describe the bus industry’s situation in the second half of the 1970s. The transition was from two-man "crew" operation – universal on all but the most unfrequented services ten years earlier – to "OMO", or One-Man Operation, to employ the diabolical gender-specific term used in those far-off, unenlightened times. For us in the industry it was a "soft" revolution: I never heard of anyone being compulsorily made redundant as a consequence of OMO. I was one of many conductors who were re-trained as drivers, and the usual high turnover of staff made it possible to manage the changeover on the basis of natural wastage, retirements and so on. Once the dust had settled the man behind the wheel found himself doing what had, until recently, been two jobs. Much of the camaraderie disappeared and bus driving became a solitary, slightly sadder occupation. Of course, operators were in the business of running bus services, not social clubs.

    OMO was a response to decline. The industry's prosperity had peaked in the decade after the war. It was said that operators typically employed 2.4 people for every bus owned and all bus undertakings eagerly embraced OMO as a means of reducing their wages bill. Many ill-informed theories were advanced to explain the decline. Passengers were especially vocal on the topic and blamed the ever-falling fortunes of their local bus operator on the disincentive effect of higher fares and deteriorating standards of service. This was to put the cart before the horse. It was the age of "affluence", full employment and inflation. At a time when local newspapers were plump and heavy with the weight of Situations Vacant advertising, it is said that you could walk out of a job in the morning and start another in the afternoon, people rejected the shifts, split turns, early starts and low pay of bus work. Many buses were pulled from services because it was impossible to provide crews for them. Attempts to make the job more attractive mostly took the form of pay rises, which had to then be paid for in higher fares. To keep fare increases below the level at which passengers were deterred from travelling was a delicate balancing act. To me it was plain that the industry's reduced circumstances could be attributed mainly to the great increase in car ownership. Once they could afford to, people naturally preferred to travel in their own cars, door-to-door, at times of their own choosing. This led not only to a fall in the number of passengers, but to an increased problem of traffic congestion. Another factor was that people now stayed indoors watching television where once they would have gone out in search of recreation. The decline of public transport was a natural consequence of increased prosperity.

    The moulded 'St Helens front' was supplied with many Leyland Titan chassis when traditional exposed radiators passed out of favour. Colchester's 43 (OVX 143D) had beennew in 1966 and carried bodywork by Massey. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    The industry's adaptation to its reduced circumstances took place against a background of stability. The Transport Act of 1968 and the 1974 reforms of local government had brought in changes of organisation, but these were now well established; the greater upheaval of privatisation and deregulation would not come until the mid-1980s. For the period covered by the book it was "steady as she goes". As far as the vehicles were concerned, the introduction of OMO had presented ticklish problems of re-design. If the driver was to take his passengers' fares, the engine would have to be removed from its natural place at the front to a more hostile environment further back. In the case of double-deckers this meant the vertical rear transverse position, never very satisfactory from an engineering point of view, and in single-deckers a mid or rear horizontal underfloor configuration. This made room for a spacious platform and cab ahead of the front axle. The noble front-engined half-cab bus, a familiar and uniquely British vehicle, was doomed, and its slab-fronted, box-on-wheels, one-man successor was taking over. The normal pace of fleet renewal meant that the last front-engined buses, built towards the end of the 1960s, would reach the end of their lives in the early 1980s. So it proved. The photographs in the book were taken between 1975 and 1980, by which time OMO was almost universal. The few remaining pockets of "crew" operation disappeared during the first years of the new decade.

    This unusual Leyland Titan PD3/2 with Alexander body was fitted from new with an experimental fibreglass front made by Holmes (Homalloy) of Preston. (British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s, Amberley Publishing)

    I have spoken of "the bus industry". The coach sector, being for the most part in private hands, was proof against government interference and went its own way. Most large operators, however, had a "coaching side" that formed a minor part of their activities; most subsidiaries of the National Bus Company (NBC) contributed white-liveried vehicles to the National Express coach pool. The NBC, my employers, had incurred my displeasure by imposing a particularly insipid "corporate identity", which had led to the disappearance, one might almost say suppression, of previous company identities, liveries and lettering styles. Much the same had happened in the large cities, where the previous corporation undertakings had been absorbed into Passenger Transport Executives, each hell-bent on promoting an up-to-the-minute, go-ahead "image". In the book's introduction I give an account of how pleased I was, on first travelling to Scotland in 1976, to find the streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh thronged with the vehicles of the Scottish Bus Group, still wearing the exquisite liveries and fleetnames of its separate companies. Remote from modish influences, old ways endured in Scotland, for the time being.

    Hurrying around the country by train with my camera to chronicle these developments became a favourite recreation. The matter became increasingly urgent as aged survivors of the pre-OMO epoch, each in its due time, joined the inevitable procession that led to the breaker's yard. Although I was not keen on the direction events were taking, for students of the industry they were undoubtedly interesting times. There was still much variety and what was old was markedly different from what was new: today, I would suggest, the oldest vehicles in service are not fundamentally unlike their newer replacements. Another important difference between then and now is that foreign builders had yet to get their feet under the table of the British market. Fleets were still dominated by the big names among domestic builders, notably Leyland, AEC, Bristol, Daimler and Bedford. Looking back, through the wrong end of a telescope and wearing, as usual, my rose-tinted spectacles, the era seems a miniature golden age. It is a characteristic of golden ages that they never last.

    Stephen Dowle's new book British Buses and Coaches in the Late 1970s is available for purchase now.

  • South East England Buses in the 1990s by David Moth

    Guildford & West Surrey Leyland Olympian 903 (F573 SMG) is seen outside Camerley railway station on 8 April 1995. (South East England Buses in the 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    The 1990s was an interesting time for bus operations as it saw the consolidation of the bus operating industry where a lot of companies that had been privatised and sold to their management teams in the late 80s were sold on to the emerging big groups. Such as Badgerline, Drawlane, later British Bus, and after that, Arriva and Stagecoach. Also a lot of the operators still showed their NBC heritage by the large number of Bristol VRTs still in service. Maidstone & District and East Kent Road Car were both smart fleets with a high proportion of double deckers in their fleets. It was a real shame that these companies inevitably got swallowed up by the big groups and eventually lost their individuality. Southern Vectis remained independent until 2005 and was well regarded by enthusiasts for their attractive livery and vintage fleet.

    Seen on 30 July 1994 is Luton & District Bristol VRT 934 (SNV 934W). (South East England Buses in the 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    Reading was an interesting place to visit as council owned Reading Buses had a smart fleet of various types of buses. Plus from 1994 onwards there was the independent operator Reading Mainline that were extremely unusual in that their entire operational fleet was composed of just one type – Routemasters.  Reading Mainline were taken over by Reading Buses in 1998 and operations ceased in 2000. Another operator using Routemasters was Timebus who for a short while operated Routemasters on services around Watford. Although their bus services didn't last long, Timebus is still in business as a private hire operator and still has several Routemasters today. Luton & District was another interesting former NBC operator that was formed from the part of United Counties that was transferred from Eastern National in the 1950s. They had an interesting fleet with a high proportion of double deckers and took over neighbouring London Country North West before being taken over themselves by British Bus in 1994. A particularly favourite fleet of mine was Southend Transport which had a fascinating, but aging fleet in the 1990s, with a very high proportion of second hand buses in its fleet, including several Routemasters, Leyland Olympians, Leyland Nationals and Bristol VRTs.

    All the photos in this book were taken by me in the 1990s for my own enjoyment and for my friends. Which is why some areas are very well represented, i.e. Kent and Southend, and some are very much over looked, i.e. Sussex and Oxfordshire.

    It is a matter of regret that I didn't keep the bus photos I took during two visits to Brighton in the 1990s and several photos taken in Kent and Oxford in 1992.

    David Moth's new book South East England Buses in the 1990s is available for purchase now.

  • Eastern National: The Final Years by David Moth

    Looking very smart in Eastern National's 'spinach and custard' deregulation livery is Bristol VR 3094 (STW 38W), which stands in Chelmsford bus station on 11 August 1992. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    Eastern National was probably one of the more fondly remembered Tilling subsidiaries and although it had a very highly standardised fleet towards the end of the 70s and most of the 80s, it still had something of interest. It is well known that as a National Bus Company subsidiary, EN was involved in the great FLF/VRT swap of 1973, when the National Bus Company swapped a large number of Bristol FLFs for an equivalent number of Bristol VRTs that The Scottish Bus Group was dissatisfied with. What is not so well remembered is that two years earlier in 1971 Eastern National and Alexander Midland did a swap of their own where Eastern National gave fifteen Bristol FLFs in exchange for the same number of Bristol VRTs.

    Although a few operators converted half cab double deckers to One Man Operation in the 70s, with varying degrees of success, Eastern National was the only operator that converted Bristol FLFs to OMO. Six were rebuilt in this way in 1973, but it was not considered a success and no other operator did this.

    Bristol VRT 3095 (UAR 585W) is seen on 10 February 1992. This bus was sadly lost in the arson attack at Colchester depot on Christmas Eve 1994. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    Eastern National were the only NBC company to stipulate 70 seats on their Bristol VRTs delivered in the 70s while every other subsidiary was receiving 74 seaters from the advent of the Bristol VRT/ series 3 in 1975. Although the last two batches in 1981, which were diverted from Alder Valley and Southdown, were 74 seaters.

    Eastern National built up one of the country's biggest fleets of Leyland Nationals in the 70s. The last one being delivered in 1980, which had the effect of gradually eroding the Tilling inheritance in the fleets appearance. Which up until then had been dominated by Bristol/ECW types which of course was standard in the Tilling Group.

    Eastern National's last front engined double deckers were Bristol FLFs. EN bought 247 FLFs and even by 1980 there were still over 100 in the fleet. But they were withdrawn rapidly after that, the last one being withdrawn in September 1981, although crew operation lingered on for a short while after. By 1982 Eastern Nationals' fleet became very standardised, with the double deck fleet being almost entirely made up of Bristol VRTs plus three examples of the new Leyland Olympian. While the single deck bus fleet being mainly Leyland Nationals with a few remaining Bristol REs.

    Seen when about four months old, Dennis Lance 1503 (P503 MNO) is at Colchester bus station on 9 June 1997. The batch of thirteen buses to which 1503 belonged would be the last buses delivered in Eastern National livery. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    Eastern National was successfully purchased from NBC in December 1986, and during its brief period of independence, saw off competition from Coastal Red as well as taking on several LRT routes in East London. A number of midlife Bristol VRTs were purchased from Milton Keynes Citybus at this time, mainly for use on LRT routes.

    In 1988 Eastern National purchased 30 Leyland Lynxes which went on to have long lives in Essex, although none were ever allocated to the northern Essex depots such as Colchester, Harwich, Braintree or Clacton.

    Eastern National was taken over by Badgerline Holdings in April 1990, which seemed surprising at the time, as it was the first bus company that Badgerline took over that wasn't in the south west or Wales. At first little seemed to change, but in the summer of 1990, Ford Transit Minibuses were transferred from Cityline for town services in Chelmsford.

    In July 1990, EN's new owners partitioned EN, creating the new subsidiary Thamesway for the south of Essex and LRT routes, while the Eastern National name was retained for services around Chelmsford, Braintree, Maldon, Colchester, Harwich and Clacton. Thamesway very quickly transformed their area of operation, introducing minibuses on town services in and around Basildon and Southend areas, as well as directly competing with Southend Transport in the south east corner of Essex.

    In 1993 a new livery and identity was introduced using the colours of parent company Badgerline. This was also the time when Badgerline introduced their subtle corporate identity by applying cute cartoon badgers to the wheel arches of the subsidiary's buses.

    Leyland Lynx 1427 (F427 MJN) is seen at Basildon Hospital on Friday 28 August 1992 on an early afternoon journey to its home depoty of Chelmsford from West Thurrock Lakeside. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1995 Badgerline Holdings and GRT Holdings merged and the resulting new company was called FirstBus. This also brought Eastern National and neighbouring company Eastern Counties back into common ownership.

    While Badgerline and GRT both had a policy of their subsidiaries having their own identities, First Bus decided to gradually create a group identity. This meant the Eastern National and Thamesway fleetnames gradually being relegated to lesser prominence before finally disappearing altogether.  This was a process that was happening to various fleets throughout Britain. Eastern National and Thamesway were eventually reunited as First Essex.

    As time went on  the Eastern National heritage gradually disappeared as the VRTs, with their classic ECW lines, (a reminder of the NBC and indeed Tilling eras) were gradually withdrawn, with the last ones (apart from one which was retained for a while as a heritage vehicle) being withdrawn in 2004. And the Lynxes went about the same time.

    Recently First have revived the Badgerline name and livery for services around Weston super Mare, and do seem to be in a gradually process of introducing local identities to selected areas, so maybe one day the Eastern National name may be revived.

    David Moth's new book Eastern National: The Final Years is available for purchase now.

  • East London Buses: 1990s by Malcolm Batten

    The western terminus of East London's route 15 at Ladbroke Grove was changed to serve a new Sainsbury's store, opposite which East London's RML2709 stands on 25 March 1991. Note the route branding posters either side of the blind box. (East London Buses: 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    The 1980s had seen profound changes in the way bus services were provided in Greater London. At the start of the decade nationalised London Transport had held a virtual monopoly on bus services wholly within the Greater London Area, as well as running the London Underground. They had been even larger before 1970, when the country area and Green Line express services were hived off to the new National Bus Company. But in 1984 London Transport was taken from under the control of the Greater London Council (which was to be abolished) and replaced by a new body London Regional Transport. Then from 1 April 1985 a new wholly owned subsidiary, London Buses Ltd, took on the operation of buses. The monopoly was to disappear, as under the 1985 Transport Act, the old system of route licensing was replaced by allowing open competition on commercially registered routes and competitive tendering elsewhere. London was spared competition but LRT was required to put routes out to competitive tender. In April 1989 London Buses was split into eleven regional operating units, plus London Coaches who ran the sightseeing operation.

    The 1990s were not going to be quieter! Route tendering would continue and be extended to all routes. The London Buses operating units could compete for these (including cross-border routes tendered by the counties adjoining London) but more profound change was coming for in 1994 as a process of privatisation of the operating companies took place. First to be privatised was London Coaches but all had been sold within a year. It was the intention that no one purchaser should be able to buy adjacent operating districts. East London was acquired by the Stagecoach Group. Their origin began ten years earlier in Scotland, but since then they had expanded rapidly, buying up former National Bus Company fleets and municipal operators, mainly in northern England. Stagecoach also took Selkent, which was adjacent but on the south side of the Thames. With only one route through Blackwall Tunnel and one through Rotherhithe Tunnel to connect them, this was not seen as posing a problem. The new owner of Leaside District, to the north and west of East London was an already familiar name – that of Cowie, the parent company of Grey-Green. They also took South London.

    Captial Citybus gained a major increase in their operations when they were awarded the contracts for several routes in the Walthamstow area in 1991 at the expense of London Forest, following their strike. (East London Buses: 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    It should be noted that Forest District had been wound up before privatisation started. Following a two week strike over proposed pay cuts of c18% in order to win tenders in 1991, it ceased operating in November that year. Leyton garage and its vehicles were transferred to East London. Hackney passed to Leaside, while Walthamstow and Ash Grove garages were closed – Walthamstow lost its routes as the tenders it would have won were relocated to other companies.

    Major national bus-owning groups were emerging by the end of the decade, as a result of takeovers and selling-on of the former National Bus Company fleets, some of which had initially gone to management buy-outs. Stagecoach was one, Arriva was another, taking over the Cowie group of companies, and First Group were a third, acquiring the Badgerline owned companies such as Eastern National and Thamesway. All of these groups would eventually acquire one or more of the former London Buses districts.

    RMC1461 was restored to original appearance and Green Line livery in 1994. Although painted primarily for display purposes, it still saw use on the 15, as here at Paddington on 23 August 1995. When the route eventually lost its Routemasters in 2003, RMC1461 was donated to Cobham Bus Musem. (East London Buses: 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    London Regional Transport was replaced by a new body London Transport Buses who would now administer route tendering amongst other things. One stipulation by them in 1994 was that buses on routes entering Central London must maintain an 80 per cent red livery. This was the beginning of the end for the variety of liveries that had sprung up since the start of route tendering. The variety would continue however in outer London. Several of the existing small fleets running tendered services were swallowed up by their bigger neighbours but LRT and LTB in turn encouraged new small firms to apply for contracts, sometimes with disastrous results when they got into financial difficulties.

    Vehicle-wise, the 1990s were especially noted for the rise and rise of the Dennis Dart single–deck model which soon became the mainstay of many fleets, and replacing many of minibus types which had typified 1980s thinking. The traditional London Routemaster seemed safe, as it had been decided to retain these on twenty-five trunk routes into central London. A refurbishment programme had begun from 1992 to extend their lives by up to ten years.

    In the latter half of the decade, accessibility became the watchword following the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Low floor single deck buses with wheelchair and buggy access began to enter service. Upton Park’s route 101 was one of those selected for the first conversions. Soon such vehicles entered service in bulk, replacing earlier Darts amongst the other types to go. In late 1998, the first wheelchair accessible double-deckers entered service on Arriva’s East London route 242. By the end of 1999 there were over 500 running in Greater London, and the 1000 mark had been reached before the end of year 2000.

    Malcolm Batten's new book East London Buses: 1990s is avialable for purchase now.

  • Huddersfield Trolleys and Buses by Michael Berry

    Trolleybus No. 541 prepares to leave John William Street for Ridings, where it would climb Woodhouse Hill. (Author's collection, Huddersfield Trolleys and Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    A World away!

    In the far off days of the Huddersfield Trolley era, the “boom” wasn’t just the pole sticking out at the top of the bus – the whole industry was “booming”!

    Cars were a limited luxury few could afford – or needed for that matter. Some trolley services in the more populated parts of the boroughs had something like a 7 minute frequency at peak times.

    While the Corporation took care of the day to day working duties, firms like Hanson and Baddeleys of Holmfirth took the families on their holidays. It may not have been the tropics, but before the M62, a day trip to Blackpool on a Hanson coach was still a marathon. I remember as a young lad on one of these trips where the typical Hanson driver said with a wry grin when arriving at the seaside resort, “The bus leaves at 5, if thas not on it, I aint waitin”. Imagine saying that to the travelling public today!

    Huddersfield continued to buy Seddon vehicles for its single-deck fleet. (Author's collection, Huddersfield Trolleys and Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    But on the other hand, Hanson were a World away from the strict disciplinarian set out by the Corporation. While most of the Baddeley fleet were immaculate,  the  Hanson  fleet  (especially  service  buses)  were  notoriously shabby,  and  often  reeked  of  diesel,  but  all  that  said,  these  were  brilliant times. If you wanted a Hanson bus, more often than not, you just stuck out your hand. Bus stops were more of a passing trend than a necessity to some of the Hanson drivers, some just seemed to stop anywhere.

    With all this, not only the buses were lost, but a whole way of life went with them. My Grandma and Grandad lived in Cowrakes near Lindley, and on the dawning of the motorbuses (trolleys never went up Cowrakes), when going to Huddersfield, my Grandmother would shout “Fred the bus is in!” I never knew what that meant as it was just parked at the side of the road.

    These Regent V-looking buses were in fact 1949/50 Regal rebuilds by Roe in 1960-2. (Author's collection, Huddersfield Trolleys and Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    With the onset of the motorcar, people no longer talked, they separated themselves and the change was made. Again thinking of my Grandmother once in Huddersfield market, she stopped and talked to this other lady about eggs (my Grandfather kept a hen run in Cowrakes and sold eggs locally), “Grandma who was that” I remember saying, “no idea love” were the three words back. These were times when people talked and the buses brought them together, be it workers or families, youngsters gave up their seats for adults (not by choice admitted!), men stood to let the ladies sit, and a good old natter with a neighbour (or even a stranger) made the trip seem so much shorter.

    As with all changes the car has become a public “necessity” with families relying more on cars and less on buses. Less people on the buses means higher fares and on it goes. The bus industry was once Government backed for all to use but de-regulation and private enterprise are just two of the reasons that have played a big part in how public transport operates today. At Keighley Museum, (as in so many other Museum orientated venues), we try to re-create a past where buses were a once big part of everyday life. We celebrate a touch of history, no different to places like the Railway Museum at York, or the Maritime Museum. The Bus and Coach industry was just as much an integral part of public life as any other form of transport.

    Although a more pictorial than written history of the town’s buses, the book is written in an effort to try to show not only the changes to its transport system, but the structure of the town itself through the years.

    My thanks go to all the staff at Amberley, and John Hinchcliffe for the help in the production of this book.

    Michael Berry's new book Huddersfield Trolleys and Buses is available for purchase now.

  • Road Rollers by Anthony Coulls

    The classic shape of an Aveling & Porter steam roller evolved in the 1870s; here’s an advert for one from the Land Agents’ Record of March 1896. (Road Rollers, Amberley Publishing)

    It takes a certain kind of madness to preserve a road roller, either steam, diesel or petrol powered. All are heavy and awkward and the amount of time, effort and money expended upon restoration or repairs is not reflected in the value of the machine at the end of the work. Yet it’s still fun, and the roller folk are a particularly sociable type. In recent years, road making demonstrations have taken off and become popular, with all manner of supporting equipment from living vans to tar boilers, lamps and road repair signs. Working demonstrations such as these are immensely popular and as good as any working museum when done well.

    There can be no better depiction of the variety of Aveling rollers over the decades in terms of size and appearance than this picture of a quartet of rollers on the National Traction Engine Trust’s sixtieth anniversary road run from September 2014, led by Dick Blenkinsop’s Aveling-Barford of 1937. (Road Rollers, Amberley Publishing)

    Restoring a road roller is my blood. In 1966, my father and his friends Trevor Daw, Doug Kempton and Gus Palmer all clubbed together to buy a derelict Ruston & Hornsby steam roller which had worked for Herefordshire County Council. They paid £100 for the compound engine which was lying at the Bransford Bear public house in Worcestershire. It had been bought as a plaything but the idea came to nothing and so it was moved on to the four friends, who called themselves the Arden Steam Group. The Group had connections with the Hockley Heath Steam Association and the Warwickshire Steam Engine Society, so the plan was made to take it home to their county – under its own steam. Over a period of 12 months, the roller was retubed with no power tools and fettled to make it roadworthy to travel to Hockley Heath and in March 1967, the Ruston set sail under its own steam. The journey was filmed by the BBC, sadly the footage no longer exists. The Arden Steam Group continued to work on the engine and painted it grey, probably because that was the cheapest paint that Dad could come by from his employers at the time! Unfortunately as time progressed, the lives of the Group changed too, and so in 1971, three of the partners sold out their shares to Trevor Daw, who then went on to own Ruston 114059 for another 40 years, carrying out a heavy overhaul throughout the 1970s and then rallying it extensively throughout the 1980s and 1990s. The roller is now cared for by the Vickery family in Hertfordshire, joining the other Ruston steam roller in their collection. A regular on the steam rally scene, it will always have a special place in the heart of our family.

    The Advance was the successful later roller made by Wallis & Steevens with a twin cylinder engine for quick reversing. The picture shows the very first of its type at the Onslow Park Rally near Shrewsbury in August 2007. (Road Rollers, Amberley Publishing)

    It was therefore inevitable that I would get involved with rollers, despite there not having been on in the family in my lifetime. The first one came in 1996 when a 1944 Wallis & Steevens diesel roller was rescued from Victoria Park in Leamington Spa, my home town. There had also been an Aveling steam roller in the playground there, but this had been sold in 1993 whilst I was at university. I found a home for the Wallis with a school friend’s farmer father in South Warwickshire, and after a number of days work with my friend Ken Milns, we got it going again over the Easter weekend in 1998. Around ten years later, the roller was borrowed by Trevor Daw, our family friend from the 1960s and he completely rebuilt it in his workshop. The finished article now lives on loan at Beamish Museum in County Durham, but not before we took it back to the park in Leamington in 2013. We had a lot of work to get it going again and also had to apply via the DVLA to get the roller’s original registration number back, a process helped very much by the Road Roller Association. Likewise, drawings, manuals and archives were also sourced via the RRA and the Museum of English Rural Life at Reading University where the Wallis and Steevens records are kept.

    Isaac Ball of Wharles ran a fleet of steam rollers, all equipped with the full-length roof as seen here, and mostly made by Burrells. They also built their own living vans, such as the one behind the roller. The road train, including the water cart, was part of the Ball reunion event held in June 2017. (Road Rollers, Amberley Publishing)

    The diesel and experience gained from its rehabilitation led to a steam roller, and the 15 ton Aveling roller 3315 of 1894 joined the fleet in the summer of 2003. Firstly being stored in West Yorkshire and then finding its way to County Durham where we had made our home. Having stood idle since being taken out of service in the 1950s, it had lost a number of parts, but the boiler was in essence good, and friends assured us that the rest of the machine could be repaired or replaced where fittings were missing – and thus the die was set for a ten year rebuild – or recommissioning as I liked to call it. Skills were learned such as riveting, welding, gas cutting and tubing the boiler. New friends were made in the process and much research undertaken on the engine and others like it as we looked for new parts, spares or information on how it might all fit together. As with any restoration, there were set backs and side roads followed, but with steady fundraising, progress was made. In 2012, the roller lived again, taking its first moves at a party to celebrate the restoration and support given by so many. That said, in 2013, further defects were found in the roller’s transmission and gears. At the time of writing, further long and expensive repairs are being undertaken on the roller with a view to it continuing in steam on the road well past its 125th birthday in 2019. The whole family love it however and the fun and friendship it has brought to us all.

    My Road Rollers book examines the background to these wonderful machines during their working lives and then goes further into the popular appeal and how to get involved. Who knows, you may get smitten as I was?!

    Anthony Coulls's new book Road Rollers as part of our Britain's Heritage Series is available for purchase now.

  • Scotland's Independent Coach Operators by David Devoy

    The author in Docherity's, Midland, JA 5515. (c. David Devoy, Scotland's Independent Coach Operators, Amberley Publishing)

    The mainland of Scotland comprises the northern third of the land mass of the United Kingdom. The only land border is with England, and runs for around 60 miles. The population at the 2011 Census was 5,295,400, the highest figure ever recorded. The Central Belt has highest population density, with a population of about 3.5 million. Public transport is obviously geared up to serve the busiest areas.

    The country recorded 693 bus and coach operators in 1967, but this has dropped in recent years as many businesses have closed their doors for a variety of reasons from owners wishing to retire to bankruptcy. Many well-known names have sadly disappeared over the years. Often they drop off the radar unnoticed at the time, but looking back it is amazing just how many have actually gone.

    I’d like to thank Amberley Publishing for giving me the opportunity to put information and pictures of some of these firms into print before they are all totally forgotten about. This is my thirteenth title on the subject of Scottish buses for Amberley. It can be time-consuming and hard work, but always very rewarding to see a finished book emerge from a project. Amberley have always just left me to do things “my own way”, and have never interfered. It is perhaps inevitable that my own preferences for particular fleets, types and liveries will shine through.

    Mason's of Bo'ness, TSM 475T. (c. David Devoy, Scotland's Independent Coach Operators, Amberley Publishing)

    Some colour schemes always appealed to me more than others, and when smartly presented with signwriting and attention to detail, some fleets always looked really smart. Fashions change through time and what looked “right” at one time, can look dated and past its sell-by date if not refreshed every so often. Many colour schemes are now just based on white or silver with a few vinyls to break up the monotony.

    I have had lots of help over the years from the owners and management of many Scottish coach firms, often getting vehicles moved for photographs to be taken in the sunshine. (It does actually shine on occasion!). I have even had owners washing their fleet before pictures were taken. For all that help I am eternally grateful. Digital photography has of course become the norm nowadays, but it was not always so. In the old days, the cost of film and processing often dictated what was taken. I am glad that I took as many pictures as I did, but at times the film had to be rationed and eked out.

    I can remember being out for a drive in the car with my wife on many occasions, and we would as often as not “just seem to pass a coach operators premises”. I would tell her, “I’ll not be long”, but would often get into conversation with someone or other. She soon got wise however and would come prepared with a book and some cross-word puzzles. I would often make it up to her with a nice pub-lunch or tea and cakes in a little café.

    Good taste never goes out of style, and many almost-forgotten fleets and coaches are depicted in my latest book. I hope you enjoy it.

    David Devoy's new book Scotland's Independent Coach Operators is available for purchase now.

  • East Anglian Buses 1970 to 1995 by Robert Appleton

    Eastern Counties Bristol RELL6G with Eastern Coach Works body, RL680 (RAH 680F) in Stradbroke after working service 203 from Ipswich in June 1979. RL680 was based at the Stradbroke outstation. (East Anglian Buses 1970 to 1995, Amberley Publishing)

    I was born and raised in Mistley north-east Essex, the nearby River Stour forming the natural boundary between Essex and Suffolk.

    In September 1965 I started travelling by bus to school in Colchester. These were the buses of the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company Ltd, operating service 221 East Bergholt – Colchester from an outstation at East Bergholt. Normally the bus was a Bristol – Eastern Coach Works LD5G Lodekka. For some reason I became intrigued by the builder’s plate on the rear platform, which stated the chassis builder as Bristol Commercial Vehicles at Bristol, and the bodybuilder Eastern Coach Works at Lowestoft. Also interesting that the fleet numbers and registration numbers agreed, for example fleet number LKD178 had registration number UNG 178.

    Service 221 also operated Mistley – Ipswich. Trips to Ipswich on Saturdays or in school holidays revealed that Eastern Counties had a lot of different Bristol buses and coaches with Eastern Coach Works bodies, and I was hooked, the start of my bus enthusiasm!

    Eastern Counties had a whole network of services radiating from Ipswich, a large depot in Ipswich, smaller depots at Felixstowe and Saxmundham, and a number of outstations in country towns and villages where buses were garaged overnight. The outstation system worked very well, it reduced dead mileage and gave employment to local people. At some point during the day, the outstation buses were refueled and cleaned at Ipswich depot, and swapped with other buses when regular maintenance was due.

    Over the years I enjoyed exploring Eastern Counties’ country bus services. My first journey on service 203 Ipswich – Stradbroke was in June 1979. Worked by Bristol RELL6G RL680 (RAH 680F) out stationed at Stradbroke, beyond Wickham Market we were going further and further in to rural Suffolk. The Stradbroke driver knew all his regular passengers, plus there were friendly waves to farm workers in the fields!

    Eastern National Leyland Tiger with Plaxton Paramount body 1131 (C131 HJN) in Drummer Street bus station at Cambridge in March 1986, working Highwayman service 801 from Chelmsford to Kings Lynn. (East Anglian Buses 1970 to 1995, Amberley Publishing)

    Country bus services had a different character to frequent urban services. In 1974 Eastern Counties gave up services north of Ipswich to Debenham and Otley. These services were taken over by Bickers of Coddenham who provided a reliable service with reasonable fares and friendly drivers. Bickers developed other services to such an extent that in 1988 the business was purchased by Eastern Counties and Ipswich Buses.

    Mistley was also served by the Eastern National Omnibus Company Ltd. Their small depot at Harwich provided buses for the long service 70 to Bishops Stortford via Colchester and Braintree, plus local services to Dovercourt and Parkeston Quay, and some workings to Clacton. Eastern National had a larger depot at Clacton, which operated open-top seafront services in the summer.

    Eastern National and Eastern Counties were both Tilling companies that became part of the National Bus Company, but there were differences. Eastern National’s fleet numbering system was four digits displayed on a fleet number plate with a two letter depot allocation plate above. There were differences in vehicle purchasing as well, with Eastern National buying more Bristol FLF Lodekkas and Leyland Nationals than Eastern Counties, whilst Eastern Counties bought more Bristol FS5G Lodekkas, Bristol RELL6G and Bristol VRT buses.

    East Anglia had municipal operators in Great Yarmouth, Ipswich, and Colchester. Each with its distinctive livery and different makes of chassis and body on their buses.  I regret that I did not travel to Lowestoft in time to photograph the Waveney municipal buses there before they ceased operation. Later I did see the last Bristol VRT delivered to the National Bus Company, Eastern Counties VR294 (VEX 294X) at Lowestoft depot.

    As crew operation was replaced by one man operation, I travelled further afield to Norwich, Cambridge, and Peterborough to see, ride on, and photograph the remaining Bristol FS5G and FLF6G Lodekkas in the Eastern Counties fleet before they were withdrawn. These journeys also introduced me to the buses of two other National Bus Company subsidiaries. United Counties reached Cambridge from Northampton and Biggleswade. They also served Peterborough on joint services with Eastern Counties from Huntingdon and Kettering. Lincolnshire Road Car buses reached Kings Lynn from Spalding, and later their long service Skegness – Boston – Spalding was extended to Peterborough as part of the Fenlander network.

    Delaine Coaches 102 (GDB 181N) Leyland Atlantean with Northern Counties body, ex Greater Manchester Transport, leaving Peterborough for Bourne in September 1989. (East Anglian Buses 1970 to 1995, Amberley Publishing)

    Innovations in the 1980s included Eastern National operating Highwayman limited stop services connecting Essex with surrounding towns and cities. Eastern Counties developed Eastline limited stop services connecting towns and cities in their area.

    Visits to Peterborough also introduced me to the immaculate fleet of Delaine Coaches, who operated in to Peterborough from their home town of Bourne in Lincolnshire. In East Anglia there were many examples of bus services crossing county boundaries. Chambers of Bures operated from Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk to Colchester in Essex. Norfolk’s operated from Nayland in Suffolk to Colchester. Carter’s Coach Services operated from East Bergholt in Suffolk to Colchester, and later from Hadleigh in Suffolk to Colchester. Hedingham and District had services in both Essex and Suffolk.

    Eastern Counties was split up in September 1984, with most coach work passing to Ambassador Travel, and western area bus services to Cambus. In September 1989 Cambus was split with the Peterborough area services passing to Viscount Bus and Coach, which meant another new livery and fleet numbering system. It was time to go to Peterborough again, not that I minded, because the tall walls of the car parks and Queensgate shopping centre surrounding the bus station amplified the distinctive sounds of the buses, from the melodious sounds of a Bristol RELL6G to the deep throated roar of a Bristol VRT series three with Gardner 6LXB engine.

    1986 brought bus deregulation and privatisation of the National Bus Company. Eastern Counties was privatised in 1987, and became part of Grampian Regional Transport Holdings in 1994. Eastern National was privatised in 1986, and became part of Badgerline Holdings in 1990. Grampian Regional Transport and Badgerline merged in 1995 to form First Bus. Also in 1995 Cambus and Viscount became part of Stagecoach Group.

    Thus 1995 is the end date for this book, but why start in 1970? The reason is my late father was a keen amateur photographer who bought a secondhand Exacta 35mm camera for me in 1969. It had to be used with a separate exposure meter to calculate aperture and shutter speed, and I had to estimate the distance to the subject to set the focus. After a lot of trial and error I was able to achieve good results by 1970. Most of the images in this book were taken on Agfachrome colour slide film, CT18 rated at 50 ASA, or CT100 rated at 100 ASA.

    In this book I have tried to capture the essential character of bus services in East Anglia, especially the rural and inter-urban services that connected communities across East Anglia.

    Robert Appleton's new book East Anglian Buses 1970 to 1995 is available for purchase now.

  • Alvis Cars in Competition by Clive Taylor

    Harry Ratcliffe racing at Oulton Park in 1961. He raced the cars in the 1950s and early 1960s. Car details: 1926 TE 12/50; Registration No. RW 7329; Chassis No. 4321; Engine No. 9102; Car No. 9690; Body Maker - Carbodies. (c. Mike Webb Collection, Alvis Cars in Competition, Amberley Publishing)

    Celebrating the centenary of Alvis Ltd. Coventry

    T.G. John (Thomas George John) was born in Pembroke on the 18th November 1880 and the founder of the Alvis Car and Engineering Company Ltd. during 1919 in Coventry. Initially he bought the American company Holley Brothers in Coventry who specialised in the manufacture of carburettors.

    From the rudiments of manufacturing static engines, he became involved with Geoffrey de Freville and from this association he started to build a four-cylinder side valve engine, which was incorporated into the first Alvis Car known as the Alvis 10/30.

    From the outset, Alvis cars were known for high quality construction and engineering. All major components were either stamped or embossed with part numbers, an indication of attention to detail and thoroughness.

    Alvis used the popular means of competition to attract the public to their successes by entering races at the Brooklands Track in 1921 and also public long-distance trials such as the London to Holyhead Trial, winning a gold medal, and the London to Edinburgh Trial, winning a Silver Medal.

    Publicity was paramount to successful car sales and as the company grew soon a distribution network was required. The earliest and successful main distributor was the famous H. G. Henley company usually known to everyone as Henlys, based in central London with city branches elsewhere as well.

    Resting at home, ready for more action. Car details: 1931 Silver Eagle Tourer TC 16.95; Registration No. OF 9257; Engine No. 9145; Car No. 13746; Body Maker - Rod Jolley, Carbodies design.(Author's Collection, Alvis Cars in Competition, Amberley Publishing)

    Following the success of the side valve 10/30 model, larger capacity engines were built, known as the Alvis 11/40 and also 12/40, the last figures indicate the brake horse power. All these models had bespoke coachwork built by various body builders. In close succession, the universally popular model Alvis 12/50, with an overhead valve engine was born. In racing form at Brooklands, the 12/50 scored a resounding result in the 1923 200 Mile Race by Alvis works driver, Cyril Maurice Harvey winning the event. This type of engine had also been supercharged and used in competition by Harvey. Today the 12/50 model is universally recognised as one of the most popular and versatile models produced by Alvis and also the 12/60 with a larger engine capacity.

    The next significant model designed and built by Alvis was the Front Wheel Drive car. For the general public, sales were selective to new purchasers due to the power and maintenance required to keep the car in peak condition, especially as the four-cylinder model could also be supercharged.

    Alvis were also pursuing the development of the FWD with a straight eight-overhead camshaft engine with major success, but also at a crippling cost to the Alvis company.  Eventually Alvis officially withdrew from racing, but the success continued by the efforts of people like Bill and Ruth Urquhart-Dykes racing their own Alvis 12/50, not only at Brooklands but also in Belgium and France.

    Winning my first trophy - the Holland Trophy - in the Silver Eagle Racer at VSCC Pembrey, Wales, in 1995. Car details: 1930 Silver Eagle Racer, Chassis No. 7059; Engine No. 8799. (c. Terence Brettell, Alvis Cars in Competition, Amberley Publishing)

    The Alvis Firefly 4- cylinder 1496 c.c. and the Alvis Firebird 4-cylinder 1842 c.c. were produced in good quantities, and later their chassis and running gear provided the basis for many Alvis engined Specials.

    The next significant model to be built was the Alvis Silver Eagle, a straight six-cylinder overhead valve - engine 2.2 litres. This model had the potential at the time to continue the successes for Alvis in competition, but Alvis did not pursue it. Post-War this model has been used by private enthusiasts including being supercharged with significant success.

    Alvis continued with six-cylinder models with the Crested Eagle, Speed 20, 3 ½ litre, Speed 25 3.5 litre and finally the swan-song 4.3 model. All the six-cylinder models have been used in various long-distance road trials, road rallies, hill climbs and sprints both before and after the Second World War. Purchasers for these new models could select from various coachbuilder’s designs, including saloon, tourer, drophead, coupe and three-quarter coupe designs, plus the facility to make special one-off bodies with personal extras included to the customers desires.

    Alvis were sensitive to the market demands for a four-cylinder model, when the 12/70 design of 1842 c.c. became a reality in saloon and drophead options. This was the last new model to be produced before the Second World War.

    Post-War, Alvis models started with the remnants of the 12/70 engine and some components until the new design of the TA 14 commenced, with saloon bodywork by Mulliners and a drophead design by Tickford and sports TB 14 by AP Metalcraft. This model with several body options proved to be very popular and continued production into the fifties.

    Paul Holdsworth with Rod Jolley in the car at VSCC Oulton Park. Car details: Giron Alvie 1932/37. (Author's Collection, Alvis Cars in Competition, Amberley Publishing)

    The new 3 Litre model designated the TA21, used a straight six-cylinder overhead valve engine. The car had supreme comfort and a high cruising speed carrying four adults and also used in the TB 21 Sports Tourer. The later model TC21/100 benefited with the improved engine including twin carburettors.

    In the 1950’s a new body design by Hermann Graber designated TC108/G was made by Willowbrook, then Mulliner Park Ward retaining the three-litre engine. In 1960 another body design influenced by Hermann Graber in Switzerland produced by Mulliner Park Ward was used on the TD 21 Series I in coupe and drophead form. The front of the car and interior ventilation was revised on the Series II model incorporating the air vents around inset fog lamps.

    During 1964 the frontal area was changed with twin vertical lamps for a more modern look designated TE 21. In 1966 the last car the TF21, had a modified head with three carburettors with 150 BHP and dashboard instruments placed around the steering column in a binnacle setting.

    Alvis sold various running chassis to Hermann Graber, producing a unique body for each of his cars known as a Graber Alvis. Rover bought Alvis in 1965 and Alvis ceased building luxurious cars in 1967.  Eventually both companies were absorbed into the British Leyland Motor Corporation.

    My book contains a selection of stories provided by owners of various models using their cars in many competitive disciplines, without their contributions the content of this book would not have been possible.

    Clive Taylor's new book Alvis Cars in Competition is available for purchase now.

  • Bristol Omnibus Company by Stephen Dowle

    No. 2957 (977 DAE), a MW5G dating from 1959, was photographed at Lawrence Hill depot on Wednesday 26 March 1975. (Bristol Omnibus Company, Amberley Publishing)

    The provincial "company" bus undertakings that merged into the Tilling and BET groups included many famous operators with interesting histories, but the Bristol Omnibus Co. was one of the largest and may perhaps be considered the most distinguished. One of the reasons for its eminence was that as well as operating buses it also constructed them, making its name familiar throughout the industry. The operating and construction divisions became separate concerns in 1955, a date which may be taken as the high water mark of the industry's prosperity.  Thus, when I joined the company as a humble conductor in 1970, it had already been in decline for some years.

    The twenty years that followed fell neatly into equal halves. During the first, old ways persisted and the company was still recognisably itself, operating a fleet of mainly Bristol-ECW manufacture. Time-honoured practices survived, the job's management structure was unchanged and many services continued little altered from the earliest days of the motor-bus. The one big upheaval of those early years was conversion to One-Man Operation (OMO) which, by 1980, was essentially complete. In that year the Market Analysis Project was undertaken. This sought to "identify future passenger needs" which, being interpreted, meant identifying loss-making services and getting rid of them. Everything began to change as the industry was slimmed down to make it a more attractive proposition for future privatisation. From 1986 buses would operate for profit, with loss-making services discontinued where the local authorities were unwilling to subsidise them. "Providing a public service" came to be a quaintly old-fashioned concept. When, in 1990, an opportunity arose to leave the job, I went like a flash.

    With FLFs now being withdrawn from the main fleet, No. L8537 (989 EHW) muat have been one of the last LDs to be converted to a driver trainer. (Bristol Omnibus Company, Amberley Publishing)

    But still, for students of the industry they were interesting times – though it was seldom possible to approve of the "interesting" developments. As the number of passengers dwindled year by year and fare increases came barely months apart, the company's activities contracted: service frequencies were reduced, the fleet became smaller, buildings were vacated and depots closed.  In the eternal cycle of any fleet, elderly vehicles were retired and, like mushrooms springing up overnight, long lines of their shiny replacements, reeking of fresh paint, appeared in the yard of the company's main depot and Central Repair Works at Lawrence Hill. It was the impending disappearance of the handsome Bristol KSW, a favourite type of mine since boyhood, when I'd been a notebook-carrying "bus spotter" that first prompted me to take a few commemorative photographs. Finding myself suddenly a driver not long afterwards re-ignited my schoolboy interest in the subject. The photographs in this book date from this period – roughly the second half of the 1970s – before the developments mentioned above killed my enthusiasm.

    There was plenty to keep my camera busy. At the beginning of the period covered in the book the last rear-entrance buses in the fleet were being withdrawn, but the coming of OMO implied the disappearance of all traditional front-engined, half-cab buses operated by two-man crews.  As the period closed the company was persuaded of the need for more buses with high seating capacities – which essentially meant double-deckers – and many fewer small single-deckers. For the time being the short-wheelbase REs and their dual-door longer brethren continued to pound the tarmac: it was not foreseen that they would all be gone in a couple of years, well before their time. The LH-type would also disappear, with some examples disposed of after not much more than a year's service.

    Gardner-engined LD No. L8394 (WHY 947) had been new in 1956 and was withdrawn on the last day of 1972. (Bristol Omnibus Company, Amberley Publishing)

    On Saturdays, when Lawrence Hill's yard was deserted, I sometimes took my camera to work in search of any photo-worthy behind-the-scenes subject, not neglecting the interesting "works" fleet. In 1977 I transferred to Bristol's bus station – as a depot known as Marlborough Street – where routes and fleet were more varied. Viewed through my customary rose-tinted spectacles, the few years that followed return to me as a time of lost enchantment. Although somewhat reduced since the company's great days, the network of rural services that spread out from Bristol was still substantially intact. Beneath the Cotswold Hills, in the Vale of Berkeley or the Chew Valley, little-frequented routes linked villages to their nearest towns; buses called at roadside shelters half drowned in nettles and cow parsley to pick up farmers' wives, or at lonely crossroads where, at the gates of their cottages, old ladies waited, clutching their shopping bags. With hindsight it should have been obvious that these things were at an end. I am grateful that I was in time to experience them during their final years. They have endured with a kind of super-reality in my memory. I was happy but, of course, didn't realise it at the time.

    My tireless camera sometimes accompanied me if I was due to work some obscure service or there was the promise of an interesting vehicle, such as one of the dwindling number of five-cylinder MWs, an "upgraded" LS-type, or one of the vile early LHs the company had acquired second-hand from another National Bus Company subsidiary, Alder Valley. These, with the photographs taken on company premises and others I took "out of uniform" in my spare time, form the basis of my book. I have tried to provide informative captions, giving more that the bare details of bus, location and date. The introduction gives a more complete account of my association with the company. The book covers the last phase of this distinguished company's long existence, before it changed into something different and was broken up into "operating units" to be sold piecemeal into private ownership.

    Stephen Dowle's new book Bristol Omnibus Company is available for purchase now.

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