Southdown express

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Eastern Coachworks dual-door Bristol RESL6G PPM 210G looks splendid heading towards Waterlooville on route 740. STEVE FOSTER

Adrian Morton reports from a recent South Coast running day, recreating memories of a limited-stop Portsmouth route

Bank Holiday Sunday 6 May a saw small enthusiast running day take place at Hilsea near Portsmouth, the objective to celebrate 50 years since the start of limited stop services by the renowned Southdown Motor Services. The event was organised by Hampshire Bus Preservation.

You may be forgiven for thinking this an organisation perhaps made up of many members but in reality it’s a the Rayner family from Fareham with a genuine interest in buses and coaches that operated in the Portsmouth and Fareham area during the 1970s and 1980s. Their aim is to preserve examples of such vehicles as Bristol REs, Bristol VRs and Leyland Nationals that once graced the fleets of Portsmouth Corporation, Provincial, Hants & Dorset and of course Southdown.

Jason Rayner’s interest in buses started at a young age, and came from regular rides on Southdown buses from Waterlooville into Portsmouth, changing onto a Corporation vehicle to see family and friends. “Southdown’s Queen Marys were mostly withdrawn whilst Bristol REs were slowly being replaced with Leyland Nationals, Bristol VRs and the Leyland Atlantean; they were the regular performers on my local route,” enthused Jason.


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On leaving school Jason joined the local bus company and started his career in the industry. During this time he has witnessed many changes to the local services and operating practices but for him the National Bus Company era was the best. Jason continues to work in the transport industry, now as Engineering Works Planning Manager for South Western Railway. Jason’s wife Heather and son Daniel share his passion and together they have built up a sizeable collection of vehicles that they enjoy maintaining, displaying at rallies and holding running days where others get to sample their pride and joys. Heather started her career in the bus industry but is now a fully-fledged train driver for South Western Railway, and Dan is following in his father’s footsteps too, now holding the position of General Manager at Xelabus; I’ve known Dan from a young age, and he has grown to be an extremely talented individual in the industry and of huge credit to his parents and employers.

Expansion needs new services

Portsmouth being an island has nowhere to expand. In the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s and 1960s Portsmouth’s overspill area was Leigh Park, north of Havant. Later in the 1960s and early 1970s Portsmouth City Council looked for further land outside of the city to build homes to ease the city’s ever increasing housing shortage. Weacock Farm was subsequently purchased to build further homes for the council. The nearest bus service to the new development was along Milton Road and as the estate grew, its own service was required. As this was a Portsmouth City Council development, residents would want a connection to Portsmouth, so there was a need for a service to the city.

Another dual-door vehicle was Leyland National RUF 37R. STEVE FOSTER

On Sunday 5 May 1974 service 740 commenced operation with the first journey to Weacock Farm departing Hilsea Garage at 0920hrs, and the first journey from Weacock Farm departing the terminus at 0948hrs.

The service required three vehicles to operate the daytime frequency. Northern Counties Leyland Leopard dual purpose vehicles were used. The thought was as this was a limited stop service a coach type vehicle would be more appropriate. During the late summer of 1974 and the summer of 1975 the 740 was extended from the city to Southsea, South Parade Pier, providing a link down to the seaside.

Whilst the 740 proved popular, the Leopards were not, the reason being many young mothers with children and buggies coupled with very high steps and a lack of luggage pens. To address this Bristol REs were transferred from Brighton. They were affectionately know as ‘cattle trucks’ due to their large standee area. Examples of both the Leopards and REs used were represented at the event, the Leyland Leopard courtesy of Mike Elkin of Portsmouth City Coaches.

3 March 1976 saw the arrival of other new limited stop services to compliment the 740. The timetable changed during the daytime and the frequency increased. The frequency was purposely uneven as it would combine to give a six to eight minute frequency between the city and Waterlooville with new limited stop services 741 to 745.

The NBC Market Analysis Project of 1981 saw further changes to timing and routing with additional changes to the route on Sundays to serve Clarence Pier. Deregulation from 26 October 1986 saw revisions once more to services and timetables, with competition arriving form Portsmouth City Transport on 16 June 1987.

In October 1989 Southdown was acquired by the Stagecoach group and shortly afterwards Portsmouth CityBus (formerly Portsmouth City Transport) was also acquired. On Monday 22 January 1990 Southdown Portsmouth was born which combined both operators’ service. The 740 limited stop service came to an end, being replaced by new stopping service 40. Not quite reaching its 16 birthday, the 740 was no more.

Former Southdown Leyland Leopard PUG 165H carries bodywork by Northern Counties. STEVE FOSTER

Heritage running day

Ten vehicles were in service throughout the day between 1000 and 1600hrs, four owned by the Rayner family and others by friends who share the same passion. Buses operated every 15 minutes between Hilsea Bus Garage and Waterlooville. In addition to the aforementioned, there were further examples of the Leyland Leopard, albeit not bodied by Northern Counties, three Leyland Nationals, two Bristol VRs, a Leyland Tiger and a Leyland Titan PD3, affectionately known as a ‘Queen Mary,’ which were synonymous with the erstwhile Southdown Motor Services.

The day saw a mixed bag of weather but in general showers were the short and light kind which did not impede what was otherwise a very pleasant day.

Born in the late 1970s, Jason grew up in a house on the 740 route. “The day brought back many fond childhood memories,” he said.

It’s by no means the first successful vintage bus running day the Rayner family have staged, so I’m sure there will be other similar themed events over the coming years to come. It was also a great opportunity for friends, acquaintances, former employees and colleagues to get together and have a catch up as well as showcasing the past to the many of the general public that took an interest.