Manchester to Bristol

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A 1952 West Riding Roe-bodied Leyland Tiger PS2 of a similar type to that operated by Yelloway’s. JON BENNETT WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

In a two-part article, Alan Payling re-creates an express coach journey from Manchester to Torquay in the ‘good old days’ of coach travel

On the face of it, it was quite a straightforward question. I was talking to Frank Elliot of Memory Lane Holidays and Travel of Warrington when he was in Torquay recently. Because of the name of his company and the fact that Frank has been round the block once or twice, I asked him when he’d first travelled to Torquay on a coach. Frank’s answer certainly surprised me because it was so unexpected. But Frank’s reply also aroused my curiosity. Due to my inquisitive nature, that one question and the answer I received meant that I then started asking an awful lot more questions about Frank’s first journey by coach to Torquay. The rest, as they say, is history. [wlm_nonmember][…]

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It was 0800hrs on a Saturday morning sometime in July or August when Frank and his family got on a Yelloway Motor Services coach at the LMS coach station in East Street, Manchester – destination, Torquay. By spooky coincidence, Dave Haddock and his family also travelled to Torquay on a Yelloway coach during the same summer and for many summer holidays after that. Dave is, of course, well known as the founder of the Yelloway Motor Services mobile museum now safely located in Bury Transport Museum.

A 1953 Yelloway Leyland PSU 1 15, KDK63, similar to the one Dave Haddock travelled to Torquay on in the early 1950s. STUART BUCKLEY COLLECTION

The Yelloway coaches bound for Torquay left their Weir Street depot in Rochdale at 0715hrs every day from 1 June to 8 October at that time. On the way to Manchester, there were designated pick up points at Milnrow (0720hrs), Shaw (0727hrs), Oldham (0735hrs), Holinwood (0739hrs) and then on to Manchester for an 0800hrs departure. Dave recalls the passengers cheering when Yelloway’s bright orange and cream coaches arrived at East Street. With the drivers in their smart uniforms and pristine white dustcoats, it must have been a colourful sight in the smokey, industrial, war damaged Manchester of the day. The year would be 1948. Both Dave and Frank were six years of age.

Coach travel was experiencing something of a mega-boom just after the Second World War – if coach operators could get their hands on coaches that was. If they got them, they filled them. The Yellow Road, a history of Yelloway Motor Services, talks of up to 90 express coaches at a time heading to Torquay in the immediate post-war period. This was one of the most popular routes from Lancashire at the time which had been largely monopolised by Yelloway since the late 1920s. After the 1930 Road Traffic Act introduced Traffic Commissioners and a route licensing system, this new system saw the company dominate the route to the English Riviera thereafter.

When Frank and Dave set off for Torquay, they were in safe, experienced hands. In August 1913, one of the founders of Yelloway, Robert Holt, had been involved with Arthur Greenoff in one of the first long distance fare paying passenger carrying vehicle trips – in a real charabanc no less – from Rochdale to Torquay. One of the passengers on that two day journey was a young Gracie Fields – ask your granny. No, make that your great-granny.


By 1929, things had sped up quite a lot though. The then-regular daily service from Rochdale to Torquay – the ‘Devon Express’ – which was being run by Holt Bros.(Rochdale) Ltd, was taking 13 hours and 45 minutes to get there, leaving at 0715hrs from Rochdale and arriving at 2100hrs. In 1932, Yelloway Motor Services was formed and by 1936, it was taking from 0730hrs to 2030hrs to get to the English Riviera. By 1948, on the Yelloway ‘Devonian to Torquay’, things had actually slowed down a bit, reverting back to the timings of the 1929 timetable. Timings were still much the same in the 1956 timetable.

Flyer for the Yelloway coach service to Torquay. DAVE HADDOCK COLLECTION

Coach services had been suspended in 1942 to save fuel during the war. They started up again in 1946 at a time when millions of men were being reunited with their families after long service or incarceration overseas. Many were looking forward to getting away somewhere nice when they had a holiday. The opportunity for working class employees to take a week’s holiday with pay for the first time had been enshrined in law via the Holidays With Pay Act of 1938. The benefits of this piece of legislation were making themselves apparent, not just for people like Dave and Frank’s parents and coach operators, but Billy Butlin. While a week’s paid holiday was of benefit to lots of working class people, it also made Butlin a millionaire. For the price of a week’s pay – very canny – Butlin’s holiday camps, when they reopened and expanded after the war, provided a different type of holiday for those who didn’t want to be kicked out of their seaside boarding house when it rained.

Other factors helped coach operators to sell tickets for coach journeys to places like Torquay. There were few cars on the road in 1948, few cars were available for sale and even if you had a car, petrol was still rationed until 1950, so travelling any distance by car could be risky. So, many turned to the coach to get them to the Devon paradise of Torbay. The lack of cars on the road also had the advantage, in the immediate post-war years, of leaving the roads clear apart from commercial traffic. As Frank recalls, the drivers could really get their toes down on the open road. That might only have been about 45mph on the flat or going downhill, as Dave recalls, but in the coaches of the day, that was a fair old speed. Probably an illegal speed too. The Road Traffic Act of 1930 had also introduced speed limits for coaches of 30 mph which would stay at that level until 1961.

So, Frank’s father, who worked for L. Gardner & Sons of Patricroft – the famous diesel engine builder – and Dave’s dad, who worked for Massey Ferguson of Trafford Park, Manchester, spent some of their holiday pay on buying tickets from Yelloway for ‘The Devonian’, their X5 service to Torquay. For adults, the fare was 52/6p return and half fare for Dave and Frank as they were between three and 14 years of age, and charged: ‘to the nearest 3d’. Having handed their tickets to the driver, they boarded the coach and at 0800hrs sharp left Manchester far behind in what was known as the ‘mass exodus’ as dozens of coaches set off.

By 1948 when Dave and Frank’s families headed south, Yelloway had started to get hold of a few new coaches. Dave recalls that he travelled south that year in a 33-seater Leyland Tiger PS1 half-cab with Burlingham bodywork. The registration number of the PS1, as noted by his father, was GDK 11, that had been purchased new in 1947. In addition to PS1s, Dave also recalls Yelloway operated Leyland Tiger PS2/3s and AEC Regals on the Torquay run. They also ran Bedford OBs, but Dave is of the view that they were used mainly on journeys to Scotland. In total, in 1947/8, Yelloway managed to add 18 new coaches to its fleet. If Dave could, he always wanted to sit behind the driver while most of the other children on the coach would bag the rear seats, the coaches being full of families.

After leaving East Street in the centre of Manchester, the coach then headed out through Altrincham (0825hrs) and Knutsford (0840hrs) before it picked up the A34 and made its way through the smoke and fire of the Potteries, stopping at Newcastle-under-Lyme for a 0945hrs departure. Here the passengers could take a 30 minute break. Dave recalls that in 1948, they would stop at Shaw’s Cafe in Market Place but in later years, the coach would stop for a break at the ‘4 In Hand’ cafe.

A John Woodhams-owned 1949 Bedford OB 27 seater with Duple body of the type operated by Yelloway after the war. GORDON JOY WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

The driver liked to see a bit of the countryside, it must be said, and on this journey, the passengers were going to see a lot of it. After leaving Newcastle-under-Lyme, once the coach passed through Stafford at 1025hrs, the driver headed off down the A449 to avoid going through Birmingham. Even though they had to go through the industrial delights of Wolverhampton at 1105hrs, they were soon clear of the Black Country and speeding off down to Kidderminster for 1145hrs and then on through the rural beauty of Worcestershire. After the cathedral city of Worcester at 1225hrs, they finally picked up the main highway to the west country, the A38, which meant that the driver could really get moving and the party were soon whizzing along the main road to Devon.

Listening to Dave’s account of the journeys he made, they were very jolly affairs due to the sing songs en route. People singing together was not unusual then, particularly in the pubs and factories. The war time BBC had broadcast radio programmes like Worker’s Playtime for factory workers working long hours to support the war effort. Sing songs and things that were never rationed like beer, fish and chips and cigarettes helped make life bearable on the home front. So having a sing song on the coach to Torquay was just part of the normal fabric of life then.

Dave remembers that the songs of one of Wigan’s favourite sons, George Formby, were always popular on the coach, especially if there were any people from Blackpool on board as they had adopted George as their very own. Let me tell you, for people from Lancashire, George Formby, at the time, was ‘The King.’ Wartime songs went down well, so while there might have been a moment’s melancholia while everyone was singing Vera Lynn’s ‘We’ll Meet Again,’ ‘There’ll be Blue Birds Over the White Cliffs of Dover’ was sung with obvious pride. Flanagan and Allen songs were very popular with ‘Run Rabbit, Run’ no doubt helping the coach speed along while ‘Underneath the Arches’ went down a treat. And if George Formby was the king for Lancashire folks, Gracie Fields was the queen, particularly if anyone on board came from Rochdale, Gracie’s home town. So ‘Sally’, the pride of every alley in Rochdale, often rang loudly around the coach. Dave remembers people standing up at the front of the coach to ‘do a turn’ or to lead the singing.

GDK11, the 1947 Leyland PS1 that Dave Haddock first travelled to Torquay on in 1948. DR MA TAYLOR BCVM ARCHIVES

The jolly atmosphere on the trips Dave made was helped enormously by the fact that there was a fair bit of boozing happening on the coaches on the journeys south – and on the way back.

Nowadays, the drinking starts when people get to the airport. In 1948, the bottles were opened as soon as the coaches got going. ‘Cheers everyone, we’re on holiday!’ Dave recalls that when the families were getting on the coaches, the women would help load the cases and the kids while the men took great care loading the crates. These would be made up of bottles of Boddingtons or Threlfalls bitter for the men with bottles of Mackeson or a Guinness for the ladies. The women would then congregate together on the coach for a natter while the men got stuck in together enjoying a drink and, of course, a fag – smoking being very common in those days. The crates of empty bottles would be put to a good use on the return journey too.

The on-board boozing inevitably led to what is a nightmare for coach drivers to this day – high bladder pressure. So the driver would pull up in a lay-by. This was a time when a forward slash was where men pointed it – on the road to Torquay, into the hedge, probably. For the ladies, more sophisticated facilities were provided – but not by very much. Dave recalls that some of the Yelloway drivers had purloined those little red and white striped tents that GPO telephone engineers erected over open man holes to keep them dry and to stop people falling in. The driver would put up the tent at the rear of the coach, place the bucket he used to wash the coach down with inside the tent, and the ladies then formed an orderly and very patient queue. The driver then jumped on the coach and firmly instructed the kids on the back seat not to look out of the rear window. When everyone was suitably relieved, the tent was packed away, the bucket emptied and the coach and its happy passengers carried on their increasingly merry way.

The timetable for 1949 says that The Devonian was due in Cheltenham at the Black & White Coach Station in St Margaret’s Road, home of Black & White Motorways, by 1325hrs. This must have been a big event for young Frank and Dave as dozens of coaches arrived at more or less the same time. Cheltenham was the central hub for the six coach firms that were then part of Associated Motorways, the forerunner of National Express if you like. This was a consortium made up of Black & White Motorways, Bristol Greyhound, Midland Red, Red & White Services, Royal Blue and United Counties, all who ran in their own liveries. It was in Cheltenham that Yelloway’s passengers who were heading for south Wales jumped ship and boarded a Red & White Services coach that would take them into Wales on one of two routes. It must have been a frantic time in the coach station because by 1400hrs sharp when the garage inspector blew his whistle, everyone had to be ready for the off. There was another mass exodus and with a roar of engines and amid clouds of diesel fumes, Dave and his family were again heading off down the A38. When I was wondering why the coaches for south Wales drove all the way up to Cheltenham, I momentarily forgot we were back in 1948. At the time, the ‘Severn Bridge’ was Over Bridge across the river at Gloucester on the A40. It’s the single arch stone bridge that still stands next to where the A40 now crosses over the river Severn. Built by the famous road and bridge builder, Thomas Telford in 1830, it was still in use until 1974.

If there were any passengers to drop off or pick up in Gloucester, then the coach was scheduled to leave there at 1424hrs. However, I have included all the pickup/drop off points on the route to illustrate the nature of the service on offer. But if there was no one for Gloucester, the coach would speed off down the A38 for the next highlight of the trip – Bristol.

Next week, in the second part of his article re-creating an express coach journey from Manchester to Torquay in the ‘good old days’ of coach travel, Alan Payling covers the Bristol to Torquay section of the trip.