Family firm in the Forest of Dean

News stories are free to read. Click here for full access to all the features, articles and archive from only £8.99.
The company’s first ever new coach is this DAF-powered Yutong GT12. ADRIAN MORTON

Adrian Morton pays a visit to Grindles, a company which has a long history in its home town of Cinderford

A chance conversation with Phil Grindle, a few months back now, led me to think I really ought to go and pay his company a visit. I’ve known Phil for a good while as he’s purchased a number of vehicles from me over the years, but I’ve never ever been to his premises. To learn that he has recently bought a 1999 Neoplan Cityliner from Harris of Bromsgrove, but new to Parrys of Cheslyn Hay, for preservation was enough to tempt me down to the beautiful Forest of Dean.

Cinderford is in the heart of the forest and the Grindle family has been part of life there for nearly 100 years, after Roy Grindle, Phil’s grandfather, bought his first charabanc. Roy and his brother Percy rather strangely set up separate businesses on either side of the same street, Percy running furniture vans and three coaches, Roy just coaches, but the rivalry was friendly. Roy bought his first brand new coach in 1936, a Willowbrook bodied Dennis Lancet.

Roy’s son Harry took a very active role in the business, passing his test on another Lancet Roy had bought in 1949. Continental tours took off in the mid 1950s, mostly utilising Bedfords, Harry pioneering the fitting of Telma retarders. It was a significant additional cost at the time, £300 on the price of an £11,000 coach.

In 1976 by now what was Roy Grindle & Sons was sold to Warners of Tewkesbury. Harry’s office manager wanted to retire and a lot of his driving staff had reached the age where they would be following. It was a decision he later came to regret. The new owners carried on with the Grindles name in Cinderford for a further six years before changing it to Warners. Not long after, they closed the garage and the vehicles were disposed of.

TND 420X was a relatively unusual DAF MB200 with Plaxton Supreme body. GRINDLES

Are you enjoying this feature? Why not subscribe to continue reading?

Subscribe for 6 issues/weeks from only £6Or login if you are already a subscriber

By subscribing you will benefit from:

  • Operator & Supplier Profiles
  • Face-to-Face Interviews
  • Lastest News
  • Test Drives and Reviews
  • Legal Updates
  • Route Focus
  • Industry Insider Opinions
  • Passenger Perspective
  • Vehicle Launches
  • and much more!
The Setra S250 Special is retained as a heritage vehicle. ADRIAN MORTON

A revival

Harry and his son Phil instead started a car servicing and repair business but in 1989 Phil, who had already taken his PCV and HGV driving licences, persuaded his father to buy Forest Greyhound, the three-vehicle coach company that Percy Grindle’s children had continued to operate in the town. Grindles Coaches, now a partnership between Harry and Phil, was reborn, soon moving to spacious new premises on the Forest Vale Industrial Estate. It was here that I caught up with Phil and his three young sons who are all now involved in the business. Though that was after the mistake of just putting their address into Google Maps and firstly ending up at the town centre travel shop!

Harry sadly passed away some years ago but Phil recited that he did a very good job of running coaches and for him it is personal; coaching is the life he wanted to lead and he couldn’t imagine doing anything else. His father’s 1972 Plaxton Elite bodied Bedford is still retained in his memory and used for special events.

After acquisition Phil soon started to re-establish a small programme of day trips, holiday tours and weekend breaks, synonymous with the old Grindles name. The recession of the early nineties was not an easy time to develop and grow but the father and son team pulled through. Phil spent a great deal of time looking for potential customers and assessing their needs, his catchment area a 15-20 mile radius of Cinderford.

Their initial fleet comprised a contingent of Bedford’s acquired with Forest Greyhound, a Ford and an ex-Shearings DAF, which paved the way for a more modern fleet and subsequently became the first in a long line of DAFs to be operated, latterly bodied by Van Hool.

Talking to Phil it was clear that we were very much in agreement that the DAF/Van Hool combination is one of the best coaches ever made. Although Phil thinks highly of the pairing, back in 2002 he realised his dream of having a Setra S250 Special, although unfortunately it suffered damage in a depot fire and was replaced with an S415 HD from City Circle, which Phil says was immaculate, an attribute of the company’s fleet which continues today.

Afterwards, the opportunity was taken to refurbish and extend the garage, so although the fire was a huge shock at the time, some positives came out of it. Phil said he enjoys buying coaches; it gives him a certain buzz, something I can empathise with. He looks for, in the main, one-owner vehicles and studies their history carefully before moving to the next stage and going to view. 2024 is coincidently a milestone for the business with Phil purchasing his first ever brand-new coach, a 53-seat Yutong GT12, for which he has nothing but praise. The Setra S250 Special has since been repurchased and is also retained as a heritage vehicle.

The Tourismo became the new standard fleet vehicle when Setras were no longer available. ADRIAN MORTON

Current fleet

Today the fleet stands at 14, with a variety of vehicle types, probably the most common and which Phil sees as an evolution to running Setras, is the Mercedes-Benz Tourismo. There are also two former Blackpool East Lancs-bodied Dennis Tridents for school commitments and a Plaxton Cheetah, Beluga and Sprinter for smaller groups.

All three of Phil’s sons – Tom, Jason and Edward – are now involved in the business, with Tom being the first to join the company. All left school and college and sought other careers first but over time Phil has encouraged and persuaded them that this is where they need to be. To use his words, he’s not getting any younger and really needed the help. Tom comes from an IT background and covers a multitude of roles, including driving. Jason looks after the workshop with his dad, after previously completing a car apprenticeship course at college, before going on to work for a nearby firm which manufactures road sweepers. Edward, who drives and does the allocations, formerly worked for a Cinderford based construction company.

A multitude of work is undertaken, as is common in most family run coach operations, including schools, corporate work, general private hire and extended touring for a select group of operators. Their own in-house holiday and day excursion program is still thriving to an extent but Phil is conscious that the younger generation aren’t there locally to replace those who come of age or become too infirm to travel.

Although school contracts are undertaken for Gloucestershire County Council, the two double-deckers are used on their own commercial school services, which they have operated successfully for a good number of years. Between the two vehicles there is capacity for around 150 passengers, with the local authority purchasing 100 of those seats. Technology certainly isn’t behind the times in this quite remote area of the country, with Phil choosing to use Shuttle ID as a platform to manage ticketing and payments. Reading between the lines though, with Tom’s background in IT, I would image this to have been formulated under his direction!

Modern workshop

The workshop facilities were spacious and modern, my eyes drawn to a rolling road brake tester that looked so clean I could have eaten my dinner off it. I later found out it had only been commissioned two days prior, so they were still getting to grips with it but have been suitably impressed so far. I must show my naivety here and say I had never heard of the manufacturer until this encounter. Made by Saxon, it was supplied and installed by RS Workshop Equipment in Peterborough.

From an operator’s viewpoint rolling road brake testers are a significant investment but from my own perspective it was one of the best purchases I ever made.

There is undoubtedly the additional security surrounding safety and to know it is available to you at any time is invaluable. When you look at the costs involved in using someone else’s facility, it soon adds up; it’s not just the price itself, which is close to £20 an axle nowadays but consider the fuel to get there, as well as the driver cost if you wouldn’t have needed to have been paying them at that time. Housed in an adjacent unit was something altogether older: Phil’s grandfathers Bedford VAL.

Phil is a very competent engineer and was immensely keen to show me a project he had completed during the Covid pandemic, when the business was somewhat quieter. This materialised to be a full PSVAR conversion on a Mercedes Tourismo. I have to say I was truly taken back by the quality of the workmanship; it looked as good as if it had left the factory that way. Please don’t all start ringing up though – Danny Henshaw has already tried – as Phil says if he ever does another it will be on one of his own vehicles!

Former Blackpool Transport PJ03 TFU is one of a pair of vehicles in the fleet. ADRIAN MORTON

Classic Neoplan

Now for the real reason I came: to view Phil’s latest restoration project, the Neoplan Cityliner. I have to say getting inside evoked so many memories. Before I stared my own company, I used to drive an identical former Parrys vehicle, albeit two years older, but the interior – in fact everything about it – looked identical.

It took me back nearly 25 years. It was like it had just rolled out of the factory and even the smell was the same, and the roar of the Mercedes V8 unforgettable. I absolutely loved driving the one I had, even though during a 28-day tour of Europe the air-conditioning failed and the radiator sprung a leak. Nothing a competent driver couldn’t cope with though, after purchasing a few bottles of Radweld, opening the skylights and remembering to draw the curtains each time I stopped. Invariably things do go wrong – you’ll never be able to fully prevent such events where mechanical components are concerned – but if you keep passengers informed, show them you are doing your best and look after them, what reason do they have to complain?

All about people

That ethos is echoed in Phil and indeed his sons too, they really do care about people, not just their customers but anyone that may be fortunate to cross their paths. I remember quite recently Phil having a coach at Reading Services with a fault that meant it couldn’t continue. My brother’s company didn’t have a spare driver to assist at the time but he ran a coach down there for them to use and get the passengers to their destination.

It wasn’t a hard decision to make, because those who know the Grindles will agree that if ever they were in the same situation, Phil wouldn’t think twice about offering his support, be that day or night. That approach probably shines through to the driving staff too, as retention and turnover is extremely low when compared to others in the industry.

That brings me onto Phil’s wife Jo, who is the office manager and looks after the business from their town centre office and travel shop, ably assisted by Phil’s mother-in-law, who still works part-time and his wife’s niece. Jo is also from a coaching background so understands her husband’s commitment to the business and the long hours that invariably result.

The arrival of the new Yutong GT12 is testament to Phil’s success since the start of his journey in 1989, and also of his love affair with DAF, ever since the first, an ex-Shearings Plaxton Supreme V purchased just after he started. Another coach of note was a relatively rare Plaxton 3500-bodied MB200 example, new to Rambler of Hastings and which stayed for a noteworthy 14 years. The DAF-powered Yutong is an impressive machine and has been suitably adorned with a crest signifying the company’s 35 years in business.

My visit was most enjoyable – save for the four-hour motorway closure I got stuck in on my home – and I wish Phil and his family all the very best for the future. If I’m still around, I look forward to seeing the company still thriving in another 35 years.

A Neoplan Cityliner new to Parry’s is part of the preserved fleet and currently being restored. ADRIAN MORTON