Local Bus and Coach News

By David Wilder

READING BUSES

Newbury and District

New Volvo B8R/Plaxton Leopard 1420 (YX71 LWF) received its fleet branding decals on 1st March and, as can be judged from the illustrations in our photo section, looks very smart indeed.

ADL Enviro 200 658 (RX66 PTZ) broke its duck on the newly reintroduced Vodafone V1 contract shuttle between the Railway Station and town centre and the Vodafone HQ building on 11th February. Since then, no clear favourites have emerged with all the Wright Streetlines and ADL Enviro 200s seeing occasional allocation on the contract and a thoroughly varied allocation resulting which is, undoubtedly, exactly what the Vodafone organisation were hoping for when they abandoned dedicated, liveried vehicles from the contract.

The local service double decker working, which begins each morning with the 4A out to Lambourn and the 4C back to Newbury town centre and both Park House School and Newbury College followed by a day on service 2 including the very busy school variant 2A and the last 8 of the day, has been shared between ADL Enviro 400 1207 (SN11 BMO) and former Nottingham long wheelbase Scania/East Lancs Omnidekka 865 (YT59 OZP) with the odd one-day appearances from sisters Enviro 400 1205 (SN11 BWE) and Omnidekka 866 (YT59 OZR.)  This is a heavy days work by any standards and the regulars do well to keep it up so consistently.

Football services again figure significantly this month with three home games to cater for during the period under review. The 150th Anniversary game against Coventry on 12th February saw service F20 (Newbury) operated by ADL Enviro 400MMC 787 (SN16 OHE) F51 (Basingstoke) by ADL Enviro 400MMC 785 (SN16 OHC) and F52 (Farnborough) by ADL Enviro 400MMC 783 (SN16 OHA). Much assistance was also given on Reading operated services, namely the F1 (Station-Stadium Shuttle) by ADL Enviro 400MMCs 784/6 (SN16 OHB/D) and ADL Enviro 400 1206 (SN11 BWF) on the F2 (Shinfield Park-Stadium shuttle) by former Nottingham long wheelbase Scania/East Lancs Omnidedekkas 865/6 (YT59 OZP/R) on F24 (Purley on Thames) by ADL Enviro 400 1205 (SN11 BWE) and on the F31 (Winnersh Triangle) by ADL Enviro 400 1207 (SN11 BMO.) A record turnout by any standards but, sadly, Reading lost 3-2.

The next home fixture was an evening one against Birmingham on 22nd February when, despite the company’s regular midweek commitments, an impressive turnout was still mustered. All the same vehicles were used in this and the third match of the current review, so we will just use fleet numbers without the registration numbers and types or the start points for the services, all of which are listed above. The F20 was operated by 865, the F51 by 784, and the F52 by 783. Assistance was given to Reading on the F1 by 785 and on the F2 by both 787 and 866. Happily Reading won the game 2-1.

The next home fixture was on Saturday 5th March, against Millwall.This saw the F20 operated once again by 865, the F51 by 785 and the F52 by 783. Assistance to Reading was once again forthcoming with 784, 787 and 866 helping out on the F1 and 1205/6 on the F2. Sadly, Reading were beaten 1-0.

Charity of the Year

The new Charity of the Year has been announced. It is “New Beginnings Reading” which is a charity dedicated to the prevention and relief of financial hardship in the Reading area.

Service 7

Temporarily suspended Tiger Service 7 is to be experimentally reintroduced from 14th March following successful negotiations with Wokingham Council and, presumably, an improvement on Reading Buses’ staffing levels. Crucially, however, Fleet is not included in the new timetable which basically covers the route as far as Riseley, taking in Grazely, Spencers Wood and Swallowfield with eight trips per day.

Vehicles Modified

Gas powered, generic liveried Scania/ADL Enviro 400MMC City 707 (YP67 XCB) is to receive promotional branding for the newly announced Charity of the Year, “New Beginnings.” It is confirmed that ADL Enviro 400 1202 (SN11 BWB) will continue to carry its promotional wrap for outgoing Charity of the Year, “Sport in Mind” for the time being.

205 (SN60 EDF) is being prepared for in service trials following the complete rebuild of its electric driveline at Magtec. It retains its old style yellow 26 livery.

Vehicles Withdrawn and SORN

Gas powered Optare Solo 186 (RG55 BUS) has been placed in reserve.

Gas powered Scania/ADL Enviro 400MMCs 701-5 (YN66 EZM/O/P/R/S) remain out of use and SORN awaiting a practical redesign for their under stairs gas tank supporting framework.

Unusual Workings

The following non-Jet Black 1 liveried vehicles were noted operating Jet Black 1 during the period under review:

Generic gas powered Scania saloon 435 (BU52 GAS) – 1 day.

Generic former Stagecoach Transbus (Dennis) Trident/ Transbus (Alexander) AX400 536 (WA04 CPZ) – 1day.

Generic long wheelbase Scania/East Lancs Omnidekka 810 (YN54 AFE) – 1 day.

Generic former Nottingham long wheelbase Scania/East Lancs Omnidekka 863 (YT59 OZN) – 2 days.

Generic former Nottingham long wheelbase Scania/East Lancs Omnidekka 864 (YT59 OZO) – 1 day.

Reading Charity app liveried ADL Enviro 400 1202 (SN11 BWB) – 1 day.

Reading app black and green liveried ADL Enviro 400 1203 (SN11 BWC) – 8 days.

Newbury and District liveried ADL Enviro 400 1205 (SN11 BWE) – 4 days.

Newbury and District liveried ADL Enviro 400 1207 (SN11 BMO) – 1 day.

Pick of the bunch must be gas powered saloon 435 which did several round trips on11th February but it was nice to see the oldest double decker in the fleet, 536, put in an appearance on 17th February.

On the other side of the coin Jet Black liveried 788 (SN16 OHF) worked Reading Football service F41 from Chatham Street on 5th March while sister 791 (SN16 OHJ) worked service F22 from Oxford Road and Tilehurst on the same day.

News of Former Fleet Members- Subsequent Disposal

Scania/Wright Solar saloon 1013 (YN05 GXP) has passed from Midland Classic to Nottingham Coaches and was noted operating Derby-Crewe Rail Replacement services in an all white livery in early March.

Thames Valley Buses

Former Vodafone ADL Enviro 400MMC 781 (SN66 WRC) returned to service in full Green Line livery at 0440hrs on 21st February and has rarely been absent from Green Line service 703 ever since.

Robert Williams confirms that there will be a pause before sister 782 (SN66 WRD) is painted into Green Line livery and that it will be used in general Thames Valley double decker pool operation until that time. It has been noted in regular use on service 194 (Bracknell-Camberley) where its plain red livery will certainly look right, and Bracknell local services 171/2. It also worked Green Line service 703 (Bracknell – Heathrow) daily from 25th-27th February and on the afternoon of 5th March.

ALDERMASTON COACH LINES

Former Stagecoach Merseyside Optare Solo KX51 CSY is in service here with a blue stripe in place of its orange one to make it close to Aldermaston Coach Line’s own livery.

 

BARNES COACHES

Two new vehicles delivered in early March are Irizar i6 YT22 EXB and Mercedes Benz Tourismo BV22 WPF, the first of the “22” registrations to be recorded in our column.

STAGECOACH GROUP

Following ongoing delays in the proposed National Express merger with Stagecoach, not least created by concerns expressed by the Competition Commission, news emerged as we closed for press  that the group was set to be purchased by an Asset Management company, DWS Infrastructure, for a sum in the region of £600 million and that the Stagecoach board seemed set to recommend acceptance by shareholders. Deutsche Bank reportedly owns 79.49% of DWS Infrastructure’s share capital.

STAGECOACH MEGABUS

The MI5 service calling at Reading has been drastically reduced and now consists of two departures a day to London Victoria via Heathrow, at 1415hrs and 1805hrs arriving at London 1 hour and 40 minutes later (Heathrow 55 minutes later,) the services having begun at Birmingham at 1200hrs and 1550hrs. There are also now two departures per day from  Reading to Birmingham departing Reading at 1145hrs and 2040hrs arriving at 2hrs and 10 minutes later, these services having left London at 1000hrs and 1900hrs respectively and called at Heathrow at 1045hrs and 1940hrs.

Had the proposed merger with National Express gone ahead Megabus operations were to have passed to the Comfort DelGro Group, more usually associated with London Bus operators Westbus and Metroline but with the very recent announcement that instead the Stagecoach board were recommending a counter bid from DWS Infrastructure this deal may also be abandoned.

WEAVAWAY TRAVEL

Double decker operation returns to the fleet with Former Stagecoach London Irisbus/Dennis Trident/Alexander AX400 17954 (LX53 JYU) which saw service with the London Borough of Havering and Reading and Woking Coaches after leaving Stagecoach London. The vehicle is expected to be repainted into a more familiar livery by the time these notes are published.

ADL Enviro 200MMC YX69 NWC has passed to Bestway Travel, Bolton and was noted still carrying Weavaway Travel Group livery but with its new owner’s name applied when undertaking rail replacement duties in Bolton in February.

AND FINALLY

As always, my most grateful thanks to Robert Williams, CEO at Reading Buses, to Simon Weaver, Managing Director of Weavaway Travel Group and to Dave Fulford, Operations Manager at Newbury and District for information included in this report. My most grateful thanks also to Bob Morley and Stuart Wise for their invaluable observations and to James Cusworth at Bus Fare and John Lidstone at Buses for information gleaned from those publications and to the myriad of contributors to industry and enthusiast websites and social media pages for information that enables us to better pursue our interests and to trace or recognise former fleet members or to trace the ancestry of recent arrivals. Finally, the website bustimes.org can is a valuable source of information in preparing these notes. If I have missed anybody I apologise and you know who you are and that I am always grateful for your reports.

Photo Captions

Translines March 2022

Black and White Filler Photo Captions

  1. As we move into Spring I thought members might enjoy this decidedly wintery view, recently released in the ever delightful Salisbury Reds’ Throwback Thursday series, and reflect upon how fortunate we have been to enjoy a relatively mild winter. The photograph features Wilts and Dorset Bristol LS6G 538 (JMR 323) stuck in a snowdrift near Knighton whilst operating service 5 to Netheravon on 31st December 1962, just as the great freeze up was taking hold. Back then, of course, the Wilts and Dorset service 80 ran through from Newbury to Salisbury. (Photo courtesy of Salisbury Reds.)
  2. A fascinating photograph which recently came to light in the AEC Society FB Page and which we were kindly given permission to use shows an interesting scene at Reliance’s Boundary Road depot in the Spring of 1964. The coach on the right is former Shamrock and Rambler Bedford SBG/Duple Vega 93 (OEL 932) which was one of a batch of four which joined the fleet in December 1963. Sadly it was written off following a head on collision on the narrow and twisting Lambourn Valley “bottom” road later that year and this is the only known photograph of it in service with Reliance. The double decker featured, 62 (BGA 9) left the fleet even before that and appears to have been fitted with a temporary destination blind previously removed from a long departed single decker, as double deck blinds never included “Chaddleworth” which can be seen ghosting at the top of this display, purely because the section of route through Leckhampstead, Thicket and Chaddleworth on the Brightwalton service was unsuitable for double deckers at that time and they could only access Brightwalton on a restricted basis. (Photo courtesy of copyright holder, Raymond Soper.)
  3. March Archive Photo Captions

    At the February Transport Group meeting a member very generously donated an album of bus photographs to the Group which he had rescued from a Charity Shop. The album is a wonderful record of the Thames Valley and early Alder Valley era and includes not only a number of once commercially available images (which are themselves becoming increasingly rare) but also a number of individual photographs obviously taken by or for the former owner. In short, they are a treasure chest of memories which I hope might form the basis of an archive. Bob Morley very kindly dropped them off for me to properly catalogue, which will be a privilege to eventually complete, and in the meantime here are six photographs from the album which I hope will give members a taste of the collection. All photographs are currently listed as “photographer unknown” but this will be rectified as research continues.

    1. Here we have a photograph of Bristol KS6B 597 (FMO 979) which started life operating Reading-London services A and B. The photo was taken in 1960 as 597 approached its tenth birthday in January 1961 but before it had its coach seats and luggage racks removed in 1964. It’s comfortable interior would have been appreciated on the long 5B service which linked Newbury and Reading via Hermitage, Hampstead Norris (as it was then,) Yattendon, Upper Basildon and Pangbourne. Here we see it in traditional rural surroundings in Yattendon on its way back to Newbury.
    2. In another delightfully rural setting, we see Bristol LL6B 565 (FMO 947) laying over in Boxford after a short working on service 106 from Newbury via Grove Road and Woodspeen. 565 was one of five LL6Bs converted to front entrance for one man operation (as it was known then) which also involved the removal of part of the front bulkhead, the fitting of a slanting nearside cab window so that a ticket machine, its electric motor and change bowls could be fitted over the rear of the engine cover and a sideways moving driving seat so that the driver could turn and properly face boarding passengers and issue fares. They were outstandingly successful and popular with drivers. The conversions took place in in 1958 and 565 was additionally fitted out for use as a tow bus if needed, remaining at Newbury until withdrawal in August 1968.
    3. Here we find ourselves at the terminus of service 114, East Woodhay House, with Bristol MW6G 854 (VJB 945) soon after delivery new to the depot in November 1960 and the first of a batch of four which were to serve the depot with distinction in the coming years, 854/6 moving on to High Wycombe after seven years and 855/7 remaining at Newbury into the Alder Valley era until withdrawal in 1975/6.
    4. In this rear end view of 854 on the same day we see the attractive design specified by Thames Valley – that design varied a great deal in that era – and we also get a nice feel for the traditional rural terminus that this represented. The lifetime of the MWs were years of tremendous change in rural bus services. Many were modified and many more withdrawn completely. As the 1960s progressed more and more services were converted, partially or completely to one man operation and the MWs ended up going to places that would only host a crew operated double deckers in their early years. They were at the vanguard of change and they coped admirably.
    5. Fast forward to the early 1970s and we herald the arrival of the Leyland National. It was 50 years ago that they started to appear in squadron service and although Newbury’s first pair did not arrive until 1973 they would certainly have been ordered in 1972. Here we see Alder Valleys fourth Leyland National 104 (LMO 226L) working that once bastion of double deck crew operation the 112 (Newbury-Oxford via Abingdon) when still quite new. Drivers back then would certainly have had a variety of charges every day, with Bristol LSs and MWs for part of a shift and Bristol LHs, REs and Leyland Nationals for the rest – and that was before the arrival of the Fords.
    6. Here is the second Leyland National to arrive at Newbury, 105 (LMO 227L) in later years, after the Newbury area services received “Kennet bus” local branding. The Leyland National suffered from countless teething troubles in its early form, many of which were engineered out as modifications were made to the basic design. It was a sharp learning curve for engineers, operators and, above all, drivers. One of the earliest issues was weight distribution, with a very light front end resulting in some spectacular accidents, not least 105 bursting through the front of Hermitage Post Office, happily when it was closed. Here we see it leaving Newbury bound for Reading on another scenic rural service, the 101 via Thatcham, Cold Ash, Bucklebury, Bradfield and Theale.

    DCW11032022

  4. March Archive Photo Captions

    At the February Transport Group meeting a member very generously donated an album of bus photographs to the Group which he had rescued from a Charity Shop. The album is a wonderful record of the Thames Valley and early Alder Valley era and includes not only a number of once commercially available images (which are themselves becoming increasingly rare) but also a number of individual photographs obviously taken by or for the former owner. In short, they are a treasure chest of memories which I hope might form the basis of an archive. Bob Morley very kindly dropped them off for me to properly catalogue, which will be a privilege to eventually complete, and in the meantime here are six photographs from the album which I hope will give members a taste of the collection. All photographs are currently listed as “photographer unknown” but this will be rectified as research continues.

    1. Here we have a photograph of Bristol KS6B 597 (FMO 979) which started life operating Reading-London services A and B. The photo was taken in 1960 as 597 approached its tenth birthday in January 1961 but before it had its coach seats and luggage racks removed in 1964. It’s comfortable interior would have been appreciated on the long 5B service which linked Newbury and Reading via Hermitage, Hampstead Norris (as it was then,) Yattendon, Upper Basildon and Pangbourne. Here we see it in traditional rural surroundings in Yattendon on its way back to Newbury.
    2. In another delightfully rural setting, we see Bristol LL6B 565 (FMO 947) laying over in Boxford after a short working on service 106 from Newbury via Grove Road and Woodspeen. 565 was one of five LL6Bs converted to front entrance for one man operation (as it was known then) which also involved the removal of part of the front bulkhead, the fitting of a slanting nearside cab window so that a ticket machine, its electric motor and change bowls could be fitted over the rear of the engine cover and a sideways moving driving seat so that the driver could turn and properly face boarding passengers and issue fares. They were outstandingly successful and popular with drivers. The conversions took place in in 1958 and 565 was additionally fitted out for use as a tow bus if needed, remaining at Newbury until withdrawal in August 1968.
    3. Here we find ourselves at the terminus of service 114, East Woodhay House, with Bristol MW6G 854 (VJB 945) soon after delivery new to the depot in November 1960 and the first of a batch of four which were to serve the depot with distinction in the coming years, 854/6 moving on to High Wycombe after seven years and 855/7 remaining at Newbury into the Alder Valley era until withdrawal in 1975/6.
    4. In this rear end view of 854 on the same day we see the attractive design specified by Thames Valley – that design varied a great deal in that era – and we also get a nice feel for the traditional rural terminus that this represented. The lifetime of the MWs were years of tremendous change in rural bus services. Many were modified and many more withdrawn completely. As the 1960s progressed more and more services were converted, partially or completely to one man operation and the MWs ended up going to places that would only host a crew operated double deckers in their early years. They were at the vanguard of change and they coped admirably.
    5. Fast forward to the early 1970s and we herald the arrival of the Leyland National. It was 50 years ago that they started to appear in squadron service and although Newbury’s first pair did not arrive until 1973 they would certainly have been ordered in 1972. Here we see Alder Valleys fourth Leyland National 104 (LMO 226L) working that once bastion of double deck crew operation the 112 (Newbury-Oxford via Abingdon) when still quite new. Drivers back then would certainly have had a variety of charges every day, with Bristol LSs and MWs for part of a shift and Bristol LHs, REs and Leyland Nationals for the rest – and that was before the arrival of the Fords.
    6. Here is the second Leyland National to arrive at Newbury, 105 (LMO 227L) in later years, after the Newbury area services received “Kennet bus” local branding. The Leyland National suffered from countless teething troubles in its early form, many of which were engineered out as modifications were made to the basic design. It was a sharp learning curve for engineers, operators and, above all, drivers. One of the earliest issues was weight distribution, with a very light front end resulting in some spectacular accidents, not least 105 bursting through the front of Hermitage Post Office, happily when it was closed. Here we see it leaving Newbury bound for Reading on another scenic rural service, the 101 via Thatcham, Cold Ash, Bucklebury, Bradfield and Theale.

    DCW11032022

Photo Captions

To help readers better understand the local bus scene from the mid twentieth century, I will explain a few features. My aim is to go into sufficient detail to make the subject more accessible without going into excessive detail. To begin with, the old Newbury and District company was a 1930s cooperative of formerly independent bus operators who joined together to give the new company the strength to fight off competition from the big regional companies and sufficient expertise to operate in a manner to remain compliant with the legislation and regulation introduced in the 1930 Road Traffic Act. The company found the going too tough as World War 2 progressed with all its shortages and the increased demand for bus services in the area. It was purchased by the Red and White group who introduced diesel engines and double-deckers to the fleet among other reforms. A steady trickle of replacement buses, both new and re-allocated from Red and White’s South Wales heartland began to arrive and as soon as the war was over large orders were placed on behalf of the group with AEC and Guy for single and double-deckers respectively, all with Duple bodies, some of which were earmarked for Newbury. Pending their arrival, a number of old secondhand buses was purchased and completely rebuilt and also many of the new and existing fleet were rebodied. A very impressive depot and works complex had been built at Mill Lane, Newbury, which was big enough and sufficiently well equipped to look after the home fleet and the two fellow subsidiaries in the area, Venture of Basingstoke and the South Midland coach company at Oxford. All this changed when Red and White sold their entire group to the state-owned British Transport Commission, effective from February 1950. Newbury and District and South Midland were placed under the control of Thames Valley while Venture of Basingstoke was placed under the control of Wilts and Dorset. Some further older vehicles were shipped into Newbury by Thames Valley, pending delivery of new Bristol/Eastern Coachworks stock to replace non-standard vehicles, and these joined some new Guy and AEC vehicles from the Red and White order. In a minor rationalisation, several almost new Guy double-deckers moved to Newbury from Basingstoke in exchange for modern AEC double-deckers in 1951. The AEC single-deckers served the area well until 1960 and the Guy double-deckers until 1968. One further point of clarification is that double-deckers came in two heights until the mid-1950s, high bridge double-deckers being approximately 14 feet and six inches high and featuring the conventional centre gangway upstairs. Low bridge double-deckers were approximately 13 feet and six inches high and featured a sunken offside gangway upstairs with seats four in a row on a pedestal. Offside seats downstairs had notices reminding passengers to lower their heads when leaving their seats but all too often alighting passengers saw stars after they stood up too suddenly. Equally inconveniently, the shy passenger trapped on an inside seat upstairs would dread having to squeeze past, whilst bent double, three seated passengers on the pedestal of the swaying bus to descend into the sunken gangway; the conductor would not enjoy collecting fares from an inside passenger and those fortunate enough to sit at the front of the upper deck always had their forward view bisected by the window frame and the hinged bottom section of the opening section of window above it. Whilst inconvenient, all this was essential in the spread of double deck operation over wide areas of the nation where railway and other bridges were built with a height limit over 13.5 feet and under 14.5 feet. When Bristol invented the technology to build a reliable bus of 13 feet six inches high that could accommodate a flat upper deck with a centre gangway a collective cheer must have gone up! The other key factor in the 1950s was the desire to introduce one person operations on rural services as quickly as possible as labour costs escalated and operating costs generally increased against a backdrop of increasing private car ownership and declining off peak travel, all of which reduced bus usage and pushed many services into the red with alarming haste.

  1. Our first photograph shows several aspects of what we have just looked at and was taken in the mid-1950s in Thames Valley’s Newbury depot. The permanent, high quality of the brickwork used in the depot’s construction is evident behind these two buses. H15 (HOT 392) is a high bridge Guy Arab III/Duple 57-seater which was part of the large post-war order for the Red and White group and was one of four which were allocated to Venture of Basingstoke but transferred to Newbury within months in exchange for AECs. Initially numbered 175-8 they were renumbered H13-16 in 1954 when all high bridge double-deckers at Newbury were renumbered into a separate “H” series. This followed a bridge strike involving an older vehicle which lost its roof after being taken on the Lambourn valley service 106 in error and striking a low bridge. The vehicle alongside is Thames Valley’s standard low bridge Bristol K6A/Eastern Coachworks 451 (DBL 159) which was one of many similar buses to serve the depot well. New in 1946 its early post war build is evident by the heavy window frames and the fact that it had an AEC 7.7 litre engine. It was the subject of a major midlife rebuild at the nearby Thames Valley bodyshop set up in the former Thames Valley dormitory shed in Mill Lane and it worked on successfully until late 1962.
  2. Here we see one of a pair of low bridge Duple bodied Guy Arabs, 170/1 (FMO 515) which were ordered by the Red and White group with a specific mission in mind that their high specification reflected. The pair were purchased to wage war on the Lambourn Valley Railway and one or both could be found at Lambourn throughout their long and ever active lives. They contained features virtually unheard of in a double decker new in 1950. For a start they had heaters and platform doors to keep the cold and draughts at bay. They also had very comfortable semi coach seating 53, (27 upstairs and 26 down) and were smooth, quiet and, with a Gardner 6LW engine, fast by the standards of the day. The fact that they were low bridge and so could go safely on any double decker route made them very versatile throughout their lives because additionally a significant number of drivers preferred them to more modern Bristols they were out on all day work quite frequently, seven days a week, long after their high bridge sisters had been relegated to peak hour and market day services. I spoke to the driver of 170’s very last revenue earning journey some years ago and he told me proudly that he had been asked to operate the 2030hrs service 112 to Oxford to help out during a period of driver shortage; this was agreed, and when he arrived back at the depot shortly after 0010hrs he was told not to refuel it as the new owners were waiting to take it away and it only had to go to Fareham. He thought it was going to Gosport and Fareham who were keen Guy operators but it went to Wallington Commercials instead. That is as far as it ever went as the engine went to Hong Kong and the rest of the bus was scrapped. A sad end to a group of exceptionally fine buses.
  3. The AECs were not quite as long-lived but they were certainly well used. New in the spring of 1947 and also finished to a high standard they were not only used extensively on service work but were often to be seen on private hire and excursion work in the early years as well as helping out on the South Midland express services to Southsea and from Oxford and Worcester to London. They were also often called in at short notice to help out on Associated Motorways express services to points further afield. As the 50s progressed and rural services came under financial pressure the move towards one person operation was got underway. Having a large fleet of half-cab single-deckers with plenty of life left in them led to something of a dilemma but the front entrance Regal/Duples were less of a challenge than the many of the rear entrance single-deckers in the fleet. 134 (DMO 323) was converted in 1958 and is seen here, soon afterwards, loading for Hungerford via the old 116 service serving the Bath Road and Avingdon. The door has been made driver controlled though still sliding, part of the bulkhead behind the driver has been removed and his seat has been made adjustable so that it can be moved sideways and back to serve boarding passengers. The slanting bulkhead window has been fitted to create space for the electric Setright ticket machine and its motor which was hinged and swung round so he could see it. Change bowls were also installed together with a hook from which to hang the driver’s cash bag. A rather nice example of “customer care” practised by Newbury depot drivers which was not unique to the depot but perhaps the exception rather than the rule, was the habit of leaving the bus marked up for its next destination with the door open so that passengers could board while the driver was on his break. He would return shortly before departure time, attach the handle to his ticket machine, sling his cash bag over his shoulder and walk round the bus taking fares before returning to his seat, detaching and storing the ticket machine handle before hitching it to the motor, hanging the bag up and driving away! 134 served Newbury depot until 1960, when it was acquired by Creamline of Borden who it served for a further three years.
  4. The early 30-feet long Bristol LL6Bs represented more of a challenge to convert to one person operation as although the cab conversion was similar to that pioneered on the AECs the Eastern Coachworks bodywork featured a rear entrance! With 39 seats and plenty of life left in them the investment was considered worthwhile, and so it turned out to be. The job was completed by Eastern Coachworks and a very neat job was made of it. The new front door was a driver operated folding type driven by an electric motor and so was faster in operation than on the AECs and the rear end rebuild was very neatly executed. The rear of the partially removed front bulkhead bore the legend “PLEASE PAY HERE” to back up the external signage and some of the cab features were a little Heath Robinson in appearance. The newly fitted reversing light was manually illuminated using a standard domestic Bakelite light switch and when activated a large sign in the cab illuminated the warning “REVERSING LIGHT ON” lest the driver should forget to turn it off again and run the risk of prosecution for showing a white light to the rear. In total five of the batch were thus converted, 564-8 (FMO 946-50) in late 1958/early 1959 and all were initially allocated to Newbury depot although the last pair soon moved to High Wycombe. Two of the remaining three were often to be found at Lambourn outstation but after conversion to include a hidden towing capability from the boot this one, 565 was normally kept busy at Newbury unless commandeered by the engineers to help with a breakdown. It was captured on film here by an old friend, Ricky Winter, who visited the area with the aim of trying out the rural routes, typified by 565’s appearance on the 114 to East Woodhay. These buses were highly successful being amply powered and, being 7 feet 6 inches wide in an age when most new buses were 8 feet and even 8 feet two and a half inches wide, were considered ideal by many drivers for the narrow, twisting lanes of West Berkshire. They were all kept busy until 1967/8, this being one of the last few to go in August 1968.
  5. An unusual purchase by Thames Valley was that of five fourteen-year-old Bristol L6As from Crosville Motor Services, Chester. The great attraction was that they had already been converted to one person operation, including the rear to front entrance rebuild, at Crosville’s vast Central Works in 1958 and were in exceptionally good condition. Apart from being AEC rather than Bristol powered and some 2 feet 6 inches shorter than the Thames Valley conversions described above, S301-5 (GFM 881/2/4/7/8) were virtually identical to them and fitted into the fleet profile perfectly. They were also very popular, reliable buses which worked throughout the company and for the year or so that they were about, gave a very good account of themselves. All went on to serve subsequent owners and S302 is still very active in preservation, once again sporting a Thames Valley livery. In the second of Ricky Winter’s local rural service shots we see S303 (GFM 882) out on service 120 at Frilsham.
  6. Thames Valley was an enthusiastic operator of the Bristol LS single decker bus from its inception in 1952 and is hardly likely to have regretted it as they were to be the backbone of the single deck fleet for two decades, proving very capable, reliable vehicles on all Thames Valley’s routes, from the limited stop Reading – London to the most rural of Newbury’s market day services. They were purchased new with batches powered variously by Bristol and Gardner 6-cylinder engines and some with Gardner 5 cylinder units. During the second half of the 1960s Thames Valley’s native fleet was supplemented by a wonderful array of second hand LSs of every variant which will form the basis of a further instalment. It is easy to forget that when they were ordered the LS buses were intended to operate single deck services with a conductor, a luxury that would soon begin to diminish as the economic climate surrounding the company’s operation worsened. Fortunately, as the LSs were earmarked for conversion the challenge was insignificant as they were ideally suited, the door being at the front and already driver controlled and with no cab to be re-engineered. A change bowl and small counter top was added to the top of the cab door with a change box and quick change unit mounted lower down on the drivers’ side of the door with hooks from which to hang the driver’s leather cash bag. A Setright speed cradle and motor were added to the cab frame so that both could swing round to the drivers left arm when required. A reversing light was fitted, but connected to the gearbox, with a reversing horn that could be turned off during the silent hours. Two double seats were removed from the front of the vehicle to make room for luggage pens, as the boot could no longer be routinely accessed for pushchairs and large packages, reducing the seating capacity from 45 to a still creditable 41 (plus an authorised eight standing) and the front exterior and entrance area liberally adorned with black on yellow signage. Those still with rear destination displays had them plated over. Here we see Newbury’s 707 (HMO 853) which started life as an LS5G but later received a Bristol engine, making it a far sportier LS6B. Here we see it at Newbury Wharf, recently arrived from Bucklebury on service 111. A Wilts and Dorset LS can be seen behind it on service 135 to Burghclere and Whitway while a sister Thames Valley LS sits on its right. By this time the LS had become very much a local stalwart and 707 had been converted to one person operation, as portrayed by the signage. It served Newbury well but was moved away to Bracknell after its next overhaul and recertification.
  7. Thames Valley’s early regard for the LS was not restricted to the service bus as it bought batches of LS coaches for both its own and the subsidiary South Midland coaching activities. We will cover these in a later series but these coaches were every bit as successful as the buses and their excellent specification made them ideal for even the most prestigious of touring duties and private hire. Most followed the traditional path of spending their first few years on the very up market extended tour work and gradually descended through day tours, private hire and express work with any specially spaced seating arrangements reduced to the standard, but still very comfortable high backed 39 fixed seat configuration. Newbury had a small allocation of Thames Valley coaches for use on excursion, private hire and contract operations but as part of the ongoing special relationship with South Midland an arrangement existed for some years whereby three of the older South Midland coaches would be borrowed from Monday to Friday of each week to cover three contract and private hire schedules from Newbury. Three Newbury drivers would travel up to Oxford on the last 112 on Sunday evening to collect the nominated vehicles for the week and bring them back to Newbury for use from first thing on Monday morning. After use over the evening peak on Friday the Newbury drivers would take them back to Oxford ready for use on South Midland’s expresses over the weekend before travelling back passenger on the last 112 from Oxford to Newbury. The LS coaches were naturally closely inspected to assess the cost and feasibility of conversion to one-man buses as the time neared for their withdrawal from coachwork. All the LS coaches had unusual one-piece, outward swinging, manually operated doors which would clearly need changing and all had twin, single line destination displays which would be unsuitable for service buses. Proper drivers cab structures would be required but they would be straightforward to fit. The first batch also had a narrower, curving door frame which would have required extensive rebuilds to accommodate a platform door but the later batches were more squared off and so simpler to re-engineer. The decision then was taken to leave the 1952 batch from both companies but to convert the 1953/4 vehicles on a rolling basis. Three were converted starting in 1964, three were started in 1965, three were started in 1966 and two were started in 1967, all in house. Some received bus seats and were painted red while others retained coach seats and were painted with cream upper and red lower panels. They were all good, Newbury having several examples of both over the years, but the ones that retained their coach seats still felt very luxurious. A lucky St Bartholomew’s Grammar School student is seen here joining the queue to board S319 (TWL 59) for the journey home on service 129 to Compton and will no doubt be looking forward to an exceptionally pleasant journey. The 129 was basically a rail replacement service for the old Didcot, Newbury and Southampton railway between Newbury and Compton. S319 came to Newbury, once the conversion was completed, in June 1967 but inDecember 1968 it was, sadly, withdrawn and sold for further service with the, then, fledgling Hedingham and District company.
  8. A far more complex and expensive manner of adapting existing coaches to make them suitable for one man operation had been adopted on a couple of batches of tired halfcab coaches prior to this. Like most companies, Thames Valley had been desperate for coaches in the early post war boom. Eastern Coachworks had switched production almost entirely to desperately needed service buses for the British Transport Commission subsidiaries and the established coach builders had order books bursting and waiting lists stretching into years. Thames Valley was successful in obtaining some Bristol L6B chassis which would be very satisfactory for coachwork but had to extend its search for a bodybuilder. Windover had a smart coach body on offer and built four 35 seaters in 1947, four in 1948 and eleven in 1950. Local bodybuilder Vincent of Reading had come up with a neat looking design despite being new to building coaches (as opposed to horseboxes) and supplied two to its near neighbour in 1948. After a decade the half cabs had become obsolete in appearance for top end coach work and some, including the Vincent pair, were becoming structurally uneconomic to rebuild. The decision was taken that the worst examples would be rebodied as buses after their chassis had been overhauled and lengthened from 27 feet to 30 feet to enable a seating capacity of 39 on the “new” one-man buses. At this stage it was decided that the Bristol AVW engine from the former coaches would be removed, reconditioned and fitted to Bristol K type double-deckers while the Gardner 5LW engines removed from recently scrapped wartime Guy double-deckers would be reconditioned and placed in the “new”

Single-deckers. This would have made them extremely cheap to run but, sadly, they were immediately condemned to struggle on Thames Valley’s hilly terrain, especially in the Newbury area, where very few rural services were flat throughout their length. Six were so treated in 1958, from the 1947/8 intake, 794-9 (DMO 664-9) followed by a further four, all former Whitsun bodied from the 1950 intake, in 1959, 817-20 (FMO 21-4.) They had all left the fleet by mid-1968. Newbury normally had a couple on its allocation at any one time, 794-6 and 820 being the most regular over the period. 794, pictured here, probably spent more time at Newbury than most and is seen here in the Wharf long term layover area, probably acting as the spare OMO bus of the day. A former Inspector once told me that they made ideal spare buses as the sight of one parked up spare would mean that no driver would lightly ask for a changeover vehicle for anything trivial if it meant driving one of these for the rest of his shift, or even his next trip, as unless there was something badly wrong with his bus this would certainly be worse, particularly if it was just a bit sluggish! The chassis were beautifully rejigged when lengthened and the new ECW bodies were built to the usual high standard and were considered attractive by most observers. Sadly, as each one became involved in front end collisions the original front would be replaced by a much simpler Lodekka front panel and grille, which looked great on a Lodekka but dreadful on these. Fortunately 794 still had the original when this photo was taken. The driver still had to turn round to serve customers but a large section of bulkhead was absent and all the latest modifications were included in the design. Sadly, the missing section of bulkhead made the noise far louder in the passenger saloon than it would have been in a conventional half cab and the vibration throughout the vehicle as the five-cylinder engine slogged its way over the undulating local routes did nothing to improve the passenger appeal or the driving experience, which is why they tended to be little used. All went on to give subsequent owners several years of service but they were rarely to be found regularly in all day service with them. If there was a prize for the least loved post war bus in the fleet I fear that there would be little competition against these unfortunate vehicles, which is a great shame as several sister BTC subsidiary companies had wonderful service from similar rebodied and lengthened chassis from former coaches which proved very popular and successful in their fleets, but they had, wisely, fitted reconditioned, smooth running Bristol engines which were more than capable of their new role.

  1. Something very different hit the streets of Newbury in 1960 with the arrival of four brand-new, purpose built Bristol MW6G one-man buses, 854-7 (VJB 945-8) and here we see the first of the quartet, 854, laying over in the Wharf after a trip on the 109 service to Cold Ash. They were immediately preceded by a pair of coach seated but otherwise identical MWs, 852/3 which tended to spend most of their time on Reading-London service A and Reading-Guildford service 75 where the additional comfort of their coach seats was undoubtedly appreciated. The rugged design of the MW was ideally suited to rural bus services and with their underfloor Gardner 6HLW engines and five speed overdrive gearboxes they were more than capable vehicles. In many ways they were quite similar to the LSs that had preceded them and would work side by side with them for well over a decade, the main difference being that they were of conventional body on chassis construction whereas the LSs were of integral construction. The MWs also had a slightly different body style and local drivers nicknamed the LS buses “bull dozers” and the MW buses “snowploughs “due to their slightly more angled fronts. As the company’s finances continued to deteriorate the MWs could be seen on an ever-broader range of services as parts of once solely double-decker operated timetables succumbed to one-man operated single decker operation and bit by bit was converted as the decade advanced. These vehicles probably saw a greater variety of work than any other, starting on a variety of services that saw market day extensions and variations that had disappeared into history a few years later. They also saw the company take over Reliance services to Brightwalton (107) and Cold Ash via Ashmore Green (119) and became regular performers on both, not to mention various new town services as the estates in and around Newbury and Thatcham grew. The unthinkable happened when some of the Oxford and Basingstoke departures became single person operated and the MWs participated regularly on these. As the number of conductors dwindled they were some of the last one-man buses to be crew operated from time to time, when one might be allocated to quieter trips on double crew duties, so they made it to Reading along the main road as well as via Yattendon on the 5B or via Bradfield on the 111. By this time, however, only 855/7 remained at Newbury depot, 854/6 having been spirited away to High Wycombe to help with extending the one-man conversion of routes there, following their recertification in 1967. The reputation of the MWs was high throughout their lives and I recall being told by an engineer that 855 never had its cylinder head removed for its first twelve years of constant hard work, a truly remarkable record. All four of the MW buses passed to Alder Valley on 31st December 1971 but times were rapidly changing. An influx of new single-deckers in the early 1970s saw them declared redundant in 1975 and sold. 854-6 were soon scrapped without delay but 857 was sold to the Egham Bus Group for preservation. After attending a number of rallies and undergoing some restoration, disaster struck in 1991 when it was stolen and written off following an accident. It too was scrapped.
  2. There followed a period of eight years when the Newbury allocation of single deck one-man operated single-deckers increased every year but not a single new single decker was received, the gaps being filled partly by vehicles being transferred in from other depots but primarily by a large intake of second hand LSs being acquired from sister companies across England and Wales. In 1967 the company had purchased eight new two door Bristol RESL single-deckers and, in line with a number of other operators throughout the land, not least Reading Corporation, had decided to operate some local services with one man operated standee single-deckers fitted with a front entrance and centre exit and designed to carry 38 seated and 27 standing passengers. It is understood that they were intended to operate in Bracknell but the TGWU had not been consulted and no agreement could be reached. The vehicles were stored for a year but then emerged as S331-8 (LJB 331-8F) with the year letter conveniently swapped from an E to an F. The centre door simply had a barrier placed across it marked “Not in use” while the seating was upped by two to 40 with the permitted standee number reduced to the standard 8. They were then allocated across the company for use as standard one-man buses, turn and turnabout with the existing LS and MW service buses. Newbury received S337, which looked strangely out of place with its modern lines and double doors but naturally it created a good deal of excitement, being bang up to date, rear engine and semi-automatic. It was over two feet longer and two and a half inches wider than the LSs and MWs, but the fact that its seating capacity was slightly lower was due to the unused centre door. Sadly, it never had the impact that it could have had and deserved due, primarily, to it having been specified with the smallest available engine, an odd choice perhaps inspired by its intended routes being flat and local, but even so if it was to carry 60 plus passengers regularly, in urban traffic, something bigger would surely have been more appropriate. It was a very nice bus otherwise but one could see why it spent most of its time on flat, quiet routes. I recall my first ride on it on the typically well-laden evening peak 107 wondering how long it would take to climb from Donnington to Snelsmore Common, then wondering if it would make it at all and finally, wondering if our poor driver would manage to get it into top gear before we reached Winterbourne turn and about a mile on the flat. He did, just! I wasn’t too disappointed that we only saw it very infrequently after that but once I’d left school and started my training it came as quite a shock to see how well my new employer’s substantial fleet of RESs went with their standard Gardner 6HLX engines rather than Thames Valley’s 6HLW which were some 2 litres smaller. Sadly, these potentially fine vehicles were sold after little more than a maximum of ten years’ service, most being scrapped straight away but one lingering on with Alder Valley as a static office for some years. Many fleets obtained at least twenty years from similar vehicles with the larger engine fitted either new or retrospectively and it was possible to rebuild redundant centre doored 10 metre vehicles like these to useful 46 seaters with a single front entrance/exit.
  3. The next new vehicle to arrive was one of the very recently introduced Bristol LH buses which came as quite a surprise. A far more conventional manual gearbox, front entrance, underfloor engine single decker it fitted into a line of LSs and MWs very comfortably, appearance wise, but was a very different beast in many respects. The LH designation indicated that it was light, by Bristol/Eastern Coachworks standards, and high floored, putting it very much in line with the previous generations of underfloor-engined-Bristols. It was fitted with the well-proven Leyland 401 engine which offered a sparkling performance in service. Eight were delivered towards the end of 1968 numbered 200-7 (RRX991-8G) and were spread throughout the company. 206 was allocated to Newbury and I was fortunate enough to travel home from school in it during its first day in service. It had a most unusual livery for Thames Valley, being laid out in the normal way but the Tilling red and cream had a distinctly pink and buff shade to them, respectively, and like all the early deliveries it had a very shallow windscreen with a T shaped destination and numeral blind display which was fine for short drivers but necessitated taller drivers to bend down in their seat to see beneath the windscreen top. Subsequent deliveries, like 213 (VMO 233H) pictured in the Wharf after a trip to Bucklebury on service 111, had standard Tilling red and cream liveries and taller windscreens with single line destination and numeral displays. In all other respects they were virtually identical to 206 with a cream interior and green leathercraft seating. They were not noticeably sophisticated in any way but extremely purposeful and always gave the impression of being master of their role. They were noisy, always sounding a little bad tempered as they snarled and roared their way around the countryside. They also featured a rather load unloader valve which emitted a loud, explosive hiss as it released excess air from the braking system, something that every driver would dread when creeping past a nervous or excitable horse being ridden on the back roads! Although they were in many ways perfect for rural services they had no difficulties in more mainstream activities like inter urban services and town services as these became more widely one manned. I was very taken with 206 on that first day and became a fan of the LH6L from that day onward. Quite a smattering were allocated to Newbury in the next couple of years although by the time they started arriving I had moved to Chester. My first encounter with the pictured 213 (VMO 233H) was on an early morning journey from Harwell to Newbury, the first departure from Oxford (where I had alighted from an overnight coach from Merseyside) being worked by a City of Oxford Dennis Loline as far as the A.E.R.E Guard Room where through passengers changed buses. 213 gave a wonderful account of itself crossing the downs, actually overtaking several cars on some of the hills and certainly keeping up with the best of them on the flat! Some people found them a bit too unsophisticated and brash but I think most enjoyed them. Years later I was chatting to a couple of mechanics at Newbury who remembered them with affection. “Unbreakable and went like the clappers with a great big, thick gearstick like a half shaft with a knob on the end” was how one remembered them, and that struck me as an appropriate description! Sadly, they were rendered surplus to requirements due to both the influx of new Leyland Nationals under Alder Valley and the company’s increasing use of double-deckers once one-man operation of double-deckers became legal. 213 was typical of the LH’s lifespan under Alder Valley, being sold after only eight years’ service but carrying on to serve subsequent owners for a further nineteen years. Sister 214 (VMO 234H) survives in preservation, in Thames Valley livery, to remind us of what excellent and cost-effective workhorses the LH6Ls were.
  4. We will end this chapter back in the early 1950s with a view that typifies the beginning of the period under review as the previous photograph typified the end. Here we see a traditional, rear entrance, conductor-operated 35-seater single decker Bristol L6A 458 (DBL 166) which was new in January 1947 and only the fourth new post war single decker bus in the Thames Valley. Just like the Newbury and District AEC Regal featured earlier it will have been eagerly anticipated and the generously specified interior of its Eastern Coachworks body would have ensured that it did plenty of private hire and excursion work pending the arrival of the long-awaited new coaches and beyond. Like most early postwar builds, the availability of properly seasoned timber could never keep up with demand and so they began to show structural problems early on, but not before a great deal of useful work had been amassed by them. As we have seen earlier, as the 1950s progressed the requirement for 35-seater, crew operated single-deckers had reduced in line with the decline in rural services and the worsening profitability of bus companies resulting from increases in fuel, wage and other operating costs set against a decline in revenue as television ownership and the increase in private car ownership saw revenue beginning to spiral downward. 458 was sold in 1958 to famous independent Alexander (Greyhound Luxury Coaches) of Sheffield, an operator who loved Bristol Ls and found them ideal for its primary business activity, the provision of transport for contractors engaged in large scale road and building construction. Sadly, the end of the road came for 458 in 1963 when Alexander sold her for scrap. Here we see the old lady in far happier times, resting in the afternoon sun in Newbury Wharf after a trip out to Ecchinswell via Bishop’s Green and back on service 103. It is no coincidence that Bishop’s Green is still served by Newbury and District’s service 103 and is probably the last link with the initial series of Thames Valley route numbers allocated to Newbury area services following the company’s purchase of the original Newbury and District’s operation from the Red and White group in January 1951.

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