Classic road trip

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Members of the Merseyside Bus Club were ‘united’ for their 2024 annual holiday tour. ROBERT FRASER

Adrian Morton reports on an annual enthusiasts holiday taking in a number of interesting Midlands operators

This week’s Industry Heritage takes on a slightly different form as we follow the long-established Merseyside Bus Club on its 2024 holiday tour. The inaugural holiday first took place in 1981, then organised by the South Yorkshire Transport Trust, subsequently followed by another, the jaunt finally moving into the hands of the Merseyside Bus Club, where it has been since 1994.

A holiday has taken place each year since 1981, the only exception being 2020 due to the global pandemic. The duration is now four nights, but it was previously a week, and this year most notably all spent in the same hotel. Historically the holidaymakers would move to a different location each night, principally in the same area, defined by the title of tour, such as Devon and Cornwall. Bill Barlow is the principal organiser, suitably assisted by Tim Newins, David Leigh and Les Scott.

I’ve known Bill since 2017 when the group visited my own former company, Mortons Travel. Since our regular contributor for this column, Nick Larkin, is away at present, in addition to stepping into his shoes I wish to dedicate this article to Bill, whose wife sadly and unexpectedly passed away just two days before the trip commenced, understandably removing the opportunity to see the fruits of his labour come to fruition.

Tours are essentially UK based but have previously encompassed Ireland, the Isle of Man, Channel Islands and the Outer Hebrides. The group encompasses long-standing friends who come together each year for a holiday, essentially a very close knit number of individuals known to each other for many years, so little opportunity exists for newcomers to participate, unless very well known to one of the organisers.

The Merseyside Bus Club was founded in 1976 and has for 48 years provided day tours, monthly meetings in Liverpool and a bi-monthly review for its membership of around 150. In 1994, the holiday tours encompassing a different part of the British Isles each year were added.

This year’s tour marked 30 years being organised by the Merseyside Bus Club, encompassing the East Midlands and most notably the first tour not to touch the coast. There were 26 participants. It takes a great deal of commitment from the organisers and a huge degree of generosity and engagement from operators, individuals and other organisations for the format to work.


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Monday 13 May commenced near to Knutsford, travelling aboard my former Eastern National Leyland Tiger/Plaxton Paramount C131 HJN, which is preserved is the colours of United, a youthful purchase in 1988 and where it stayed for around 15 years before sale to Henry Cooper of Annisford and its subsequent acquisition by myself in 2019.

The first visit of the day was to Andrew’s of Tideswell where members rode aboard its superb Sheffield United AEC Reliance/Plaxton Panorama, KWE 347D, for a trip to Matlock to partake in some lunch before continuing the short journey to local operator Slacks, to view its fleet and, near to completion of its extensive restoration, Commer Avenger/Plaxton Embassy 878 YTE.

The group was then deposited at a central Nottingham hotel, the base for the next four nights. An evening ride on the extensive Nottingham tram network involved a trip to Hucknall to visit the Nottingham Heritage Vehicles Charity. The organisation occupies the former Trent Motor Traction depot in the town and is headed by its Chairman Simon Lowings. It holds monthly open days throughout the year and a visit to support the trust is highly recommend, with the Art Deco depot receiving extensive renovation over recent years and now housing a formidable collection of buses with local connections, many of which are operational and often take to the roads for the enjoyment of enthusiasts and the local community alike.

The restoration is almost complete on this Commer Avenger. ROBERT FRASER


On Tuesday 14 May, guests took the tram back to Hucknall, to avoid the morning rush hour and were collected by Vallences’ AEC Regal with Willowbrook body, KNU 446, new in 1946 to Silver Service of Darley Dale, and taken for a visit to the company’s operating premises, which included two short trips on their magnificent Bedford OB/Duple GDL 667, new to Paul of Ryde on the Isle of Wight and latterly with Alexcars of Cirencester before purchase in 2018.

A further change of vehicle to another Bedford then ensued, this time an SBG with Duple Vega bodywork, registered SFJ 904 and new to Greenslades of Exeter in 1956, a type affectionately known to enthusiasts as butterflies due to the shape of the grille. This coach took the party to the centre of Chesterfield where they were collected by former Ulsterbus Leyland Tiger/Alexander DXI 3341, now adorned in yellow and white to represent a former Maltese route bus and owned by the Chesterfield 123 Group.

A somewhat swifter pace ensured a timely arrival at Stagecoach’s Stonegravels depot, built for Chesterfield Corporation in 1964. A short visit was concluded to view the operations there, which is also the base for the recently re-launched Peak Sightseer network. Operations Manager Shayne Howarth very kindly conducted the proceedings and later transferred the members to Chesterfield Town Hall for a lunch break aboard one of the company’s Dennis Trident open-toppers.

From there it was all aboard the prototype Leyland National Suburban Express bus, which later became a demonstrator and was unique in having a totally flat high floor, accessed by an additional step alonside the driver. No orders were ever placed, the National Bus Company preferring the standard version albeit with dual-purpose seating. The National took the party to the operating centre of its owners, Midland Vectis, where a change of vehicle onto open-top ECW/Bristol RE TDL 564K, new to Southern Vectis, took place. Originally converted for use on the Shanklin’s Pony, linking the town with the beach below its famous chine, the RE returned the group to Hucknall for the tram to Nottingham, in what could only be described as some inclement weather!


Wednesday 15 May saw London come to Nottingham for one day only. Sharpes’ splendid RT, LLU 601, looking mighty fine in Fletcher Gate in the morning rush hour. A 30-minute trip followed, out through the suburbs to the Sharpes depot, and was enjoyed by all. A meticulously fine fleet was presented, the highlight being recently completed AEC Regal/Burlingham Seagull SHN 301, new to Scotts Grey of Darlington.

Our main chariot for the rest of the day’s proceedings was slightly more modern VWA 290L, a 1973 AEC Reliance Plaxton/Panorama III, new to Littlewood of Sheffield. It also operated for well-respected Fowlers of Holbeach Drove, where it was re-registered FRA 521L, before being acquired by Sharpes.

The first destination was Marshalls of Sutton-on-Trent. Here guests were treated to a ride on former W Gash & Sons 1950 Damlier double-deck LNN 153, with low-bridge Duple body. John Marshall took his test with Gash and regularly drove a school contract before setting up his own company with wife Thelma in 1989. Other vehicles present were a fully restored 1935 Leyland Tiger TS7, registered FW 5696, new to Lincolnshire Road Car and formerly used on route 37 between Retford and Newark via Sutton-on-Trent, the present day service operated by Marshalls.

New to Wainfleet, Nuneaton, Bedford YNT/Plaxton Paramount 3200 C434 HHL was also present.

After the visit to Marshalls a lengthy 50 mile expedition to Scunthorpe was on the cards. We were greeted in the town’s bus station by the sight of Hornsby’s Bedford OB/Duple Vista EDR 793, which has been owned by the company since 2017 and was new to Pridham Bros. of Lamerton,

now some 75 years ago. The group was split into two for two short 20-minute trips around the town, before people went their separate ways for an hour to grab a light lunch.

Next was a trip to the city of Lincoln and the Lincolnshire Road Transport Museum. Two vehicles were provided for our enjoyment and a journey through some of the local villages. Coincidently, the first was another Gash Damlier double-deck, albeit a high-bridge model, in the form of KAL 579 new in 1948 and re-bodied by Massey in 1958. The second, 1955 ECW/Bristol Lodekka LFW 326, most notable in being the first low-bridge body built with a centre upper deck gangway. Then it was all aboard the Reliance for the final time, returning us to its home at Sharpes’ depot in Langar. London came to Nottingham once again that day as were returned to the city, not in the RT but the company’s sumptuous Routemaster, VLT 291.

A highlight on the Wednesday was this beautifully-restored Burlingham Seagull. ROBERT FRASER


Thursday 16 May started with a tram ride to Clifton South where a former Leicester PD3 met us at the interchange, this being TBC 163, bodied by Park Royal and new to the municipal in 1958. This took us to Paul S Winson Coaches in Loughborough to view its very smartly presented fleet.

Two vehicles were chosen for rides around the locality, these being X17 PSW and EBC 567T. The aforementioned, an Alexander Belfast ALX400 bodied Volvo B7TL new to Dublin Bus as AV338, the later a rather unusual Unicar bodied Bedford YMT new to Moon, Shepsted in 1979 and the first coach to be purchased Winsons.

We continued aboard the Leicester half-cab to long established operator in the city, Confidence. Here we took a trip on another Routemaster, WLT 655, new in 1961 and first allocated to Wood Green Depot. After an impressive 24 years of service in the capital, it joined Confidence in 1985 and saw daily use for a further 18 years, mostly on works contracts but also schools. It is retained as a private hire and special events vehicle.

In the pouring rain yet again, guests were transported to the city centre and the new St. Margaret’s Bus Station, where there was free time to obtain some food and drink. We were then collected by another former Leicester City Transport vehicle, this time in the form of East Lancs bodied AEC Renown FJF 40D. This bus was part of a batch fitted with a high-bridge body on a low height chassis, but due to many passenger complaints they were returned to East Lancs for modifications to the lower saloon floor and rear platform.

We were transported to Leicester Transport Heritage Trust’s premises for a short tour before commencing the journey back to the tram at Clifton, on board a not so local vehicle, new to Bristol Omnibus, ECW bodied Bristol MW 357 MHU. This was not before a short stop to sample the Normanton-on-Soar chain ferry, located to the south of the village and first recorded on a map in 1771. It is one of the very few chain ferries still operating in the UK, albeit this one is more akin to a rowing boat. Relaunched in 2017, apart from private group arrangements, it is staffed by volunteers on weekends throughout the summer.

A visit to Marshall’s was part of Wednesday’s programme. ROBERT FRASER


Friday 17 May saw us re-united, excuse the pun, with my new to Eastern National Leyland Tiger C131 HJN for our return journey from Nottingham city centre to Knutsford. Thankfully the taxi rank emptied, enabling us to load the coach without blocking the tram tracks. Firstly it was across the top of the M1 to the central Derby-located operator, Harpurs. This was just a short depot visit, and most notable were several Alexander ALX400 bodied B7TLs used for schools work, a rather unusual 57 seat BMC Condor YJ07 VXS, new to WYPTE for its MyBus school services and formerly operated by CT Plus and also a now quite sorry looking AEC Regent, YAF 151A, formally 239 AJB, new to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment in Harwell, Oxfordshire.

Next it was out into the countryside to the Derbyshire town of Ashbourne to view any vehicles present at Glovers. Here a bonus trip was aboard new to Trent AIG 4114 (M54 PRA), a relatively rare in the UK Alexander Belfast bodied Volvo B10M, new with dual purpose seating for the TransPeak service between Nottingham and Manchester. It now seats 70 and although the most reliable vehicle in the fleet (something the owner was keen to point out), it now just acts as a schools spare for its more modern counterparts.

A scenic trip through the Derbyshire Dales and Staffordshire Moorlands took us to the attractive town of Leak. After time for lunch, Stantons of Stoke’s beautiful St. Helens-fronted Leyland PD2/East Lancs JTF 218F arrived in the town’s bus station to take the group on a 15 minute journey to the company’s depot near the village of Endon.

Here we were able to photograph a number of vehicles in the current fleet and some of Keith Stanton’s and other preservationists’ vehicles waiting their turn in the restoration queue. After 30 minutes in very pleasant sunshine we boarded our Leyland Tiger for our next visit, Paul’s of Stoke at Harrishead. Not too much of this very tidy operation to view, it was now 1430hrs so most vehicles were either already out working or just leaving for afternoon school duties.

Two vehicles worthy of note were new to Dublin Bus SJ04 PUA, an Alexander ALX400-bodied Volvo B7TL, formally AV397, and a now very rare Caetano Algarve-bodied Volvo B10M, P482 HBA, new to Bullocks of Cheadle.

Our final stop was to visit Roy McCarthy Coaches in Macclesfield, the clean and attractive lines of its blue and cream livery immediately recognisable. The purpose of our visit was to sample its lovingly cared for Bedford YNT with Plaxton Paramount 3200 coachwork, C307 UFP, new to the company in 1985 and the first brand new coach purchased. Other more modern Plaxton cousins started to arrive back at the depot, as by this time it was early evening, but after the luggage was transferred the absolute beauty completed the last leg of the journey back to our starting point near Knutsford, with the Tiger following on later, concluding an extremely satisfying but tiring week.

Thanks again must be given to all those who donated their time and vehicles to make this tour the success it undoubtedly was.

A tram ride or two were also part of the holiday programme. ROBERT FRASER