Sunday, 27 March 2016

Ribble on the Fylde - Part 1: Origins

Ribble Fleetwood Depot in July 1981 with Leyland National 371 awaiting its next duty (Mike Rhodes)
Ribble Motor Services was formed in 1919 taking over a bus service from Preston to Gregson Lane - today part of Stagecoach services 150/1. The 1920s were a frantic period of bus operation. Licensing was in the hands of local authorities who took widely differing views of the process - especially where there were the incumbent local operator. Ribble grew rapidly by taking over operators who had developed new routes during the decade. By the end of the decade it would cover an area from Carlisle to Wigan and from Skipton to the west coast. 1929 saw LMS Railway take a shareholding.

Ribble's first venture onto the Fylde started in March 1922 when they started a service from Preston to Marshall Street Garage in Blackpool. This ran via Kirkham, Preston New Road, Whitegate Drive (stopping at Victoria Hospital and Devonshire Square), Talbot Mews (the site of the later Bus Station) and the Promeande/Princess Street to Marshall Street. This survives today as service 61. Local passengers were not permitted within Blackpool, to avoid competition with the Marton trams.

A service through Lytham St. Annes was applied for around the same time - but it is not known if this commenced. Certainly a Preston to Lytham service was provided, bolstered by the takeover of John Bull's similar service in 1925. This survives as route 68 today, but in the 1930s ran via Kirkham before this was split into separate routes (167 Lytham to Preston via Freckleton and 171 Lytham to Kirkham).

Meanwhile Lytham and Blackpool had stared municipal bus operations, evolving from their tram undertakings. Fleetwood considered municipal operation, but left matters to the private sector. William Smith started a Fleetwood to Queens Hotel service in 1925, later taken over by Blackpool Transport and incorporated into service 14 from Blackpool in 1929 - a service that continues as such today. Lawrence Motor Services joined the fray in 1925 with a Fleetwood to Poulton via Thornton service and followed this with a Cleveleys to Poulton via Thornton service. They took over the local Fleetwood-Cemetery and Fleetwood seafront services from Fleetwood and Knott End Motors in 1928.

In January 1931 Lawrence sold out to Ribble who entered the Fleetwood market for the first time (save for a short lived Preston to Fleetwood service). Route numbers were allocated including 179 for the Cemetery service and 180 for the Fleetwood/Poulton route. In 1933 this was extended hourly to Preston via Elswick and Kirkham - this becoming the trunk 162/4 route which lasted until the early 1980s.

Ribble developed the Cleveleys/Thornton locals - taking over Blackpool's loss making pioneer service from Cleveleys-Thornton Station, introduced in 1921 as an alternative to LMS constructing a railway line! A local provider S Snape competed until 1937 when Ribble bought him out. The development of the Wyre local services will feature in a future segment.

Today's 42 to Garstang (and Lancaster) has origins with TE Smith Pilgrim Motors to started the link in the early 1920s and sold out to Ribble in July 1927. Ribble had taken over EW Lewis's Blackpool to Knott End route earlier in the year - which became their 85 service - today its covered by Blackpool's 2C - the 85 having ended in 2003 when replaced by the 158 - itself ending in October 2005. These actions gave Ribble the direct Blackpool to Poulton route - with Blackpool (through its take-over of William Smith) left to approach the town via Castle Gardens (north) and Newton Drive (south).

So by 1931 Ribble could consolidate its position as the main Fylde Coast operator with a mix of local, rural and interurban services. Competition continued on the Preston to Blackpool road - Majestic Motors was a shortlived operator in 1929/30 - but Scout Motors entered the fray in 1930 providing a 30 minute service to Ribble's 15 minute and proved long lived - entering into a co-ordination deal in wartime 1939 and lasting until Ribble finally took it over in 1961. A further purchase in 1952 was Viking Motors which brought the Preston to Great Eccleston service into the fold - today's service 80 operated by Preston Bus.

Ribble became part of the National Bus Company in 1969 and was privatised by sale to its management in 1987 and was sold on to Stagecoach in 1989. The operation has been split between its North Lancashire and Cumbria and its Merseyside and South Lancashire businesses.

Further posts will follow covering the Fleetwood and Cleveleys local services, operations in Blackpool and in the Fylde area.