Monday, 27 April 2020

Around the Routes

Around twenty years ago former Blackpool conductor Peter Makinson submitted this article for a book I was drafting that has never seen the light of day. Much of the research has formed posts on this blog and having found the original text, Peter has agreed for me to post it here. This is part two of three.

An extensive network of, mostly, frequent services was operated during the 1960s. This snapshot looks at the operation of the routes in a bit more detail.
Approaching the Bus Station, PD2 334 will next work a 15B to Staining Road End, followed by PD3s on the 12 and 22. (Brian Turner)
Service 1 (Poulton) was run in conjunction with the Newton Drive services 2 (Poulton) and 15 (Staining) and they generally ran on one timecard. During the day the services inter-worked from the bus station end, but in the evening service 1 and 2 occasionally changed over in Poulton. Service 1 ran from Talbot Road Bus Station (TRBS) to Poulton via Carleton and Castle Gardens. As far as Castle Gardens the route duplicated the 14/14A Thornton and Fleetwood services. Unlike the 14/14A there was no minimum fare applied from the bus station in the evening so theoretically local passengers for Layton could be carried, but in practice the intensive services on the 22/23 axis carried all this traffic. Much of the route lay outside the borough boundary, and in the 60's it had a definitely rural feel to it. The same could also be said of the 2 to Poulton via Hardhorn and the 15 Staining services, both via Newton Drive. In spite of the high quality housing along Newton Drive both these services could be very busy, and demanded some quite smart timekeeping at the inner end. The were some short turnbacks on the 15 to Staining Road End as service 15B, and specials ran to Newton Hall Camp on Staining Lane as 15C. It was not until the late 1980s that the Newton Drive services all took the short diversion into Victoria Hospital.

Service 15A ran independently from Victoria Hospital to Bispham Depot, still known as that in 1966 and 1967 although by that time it had closed to trams. The route from Victoria Hospital followed that of the 2 and 15 via Newton Drive, Church Street, Abingdon Street, and Talbot Road to North Station. It then turned left into Dickson Road as far as Gynn Square, before turning inland again all the way up Warbreck Hill Road, then onto Bispham Road as far as Bispham Clinic and finally up Red Bank Road to turn in what was then the former forecourt of Bispham depot. The 15A was noted for its particularly high percentage of elderly and infirm passengers, earning for itself in the process the rather unkind nickname of "Cripple Creek". 

The next group of routes to consider were the Park Road services 3/3A which ran from Westminster Road, North Shore via the town centre to either Newhouse Road or Cherry Tree Gardens in Marton. For three summer seasons in the mid 60s, both services were linked to run in conjunction with the 16/16B Tower to Stanley Park and Marton via Hornby Road and West Park Drive. Both portions of the route were generally regarded as being among the quieter routes on the system, and were normally the home of the centre entrance PD2/5's. The 16 and 16B had been the last resting place of the pre-war TD4s and TD5s in the 1950s.

The Mereside estate services 4 and 6 were interworked with service 13 Lindale Gardens, starting in the town centre, and then via Tower, Central Drive, Grasmere Road, the 4 diverging to operate via Penrose Avenue and the the 6 providing the main service to Mereside. The 13 followed the 6 to Spen Corner, before turning down Marton Drive to reach St. Annes Road. A feature of the Mereside services was that the maximum fare was pegged at a sub-standard rate in comparison with the number of stages travelled. Ribble offered a much more direct service along Preston New Road, but this did not penetrate the estate, but it seems that the fare was kept at the low level to be competitive with Ribble. Service 6 could be very busy at times, and required some smart work on the bell to keep time. The ideal bus was a PD2/27 in good condition, as the shorter vehicles seemed better suited to the estate roads. Sticking with Mereside there was also the odd service 19 which ran from South Pier to Mereside, with just one bus allocated. I was quite surprised at the level of business on this run, and a PD3 was normally allocated, often one of the 371-380 batch with St. Helens fronts but full front cabs. These odd looking vehicles were known as ‘Half-Moons’ amongst the staff.

Service 5, Grange Park Estate to Halfway House was another busy service. Grange Park is a council estate located off the Garstang Road, which had been expanded considerably in the 1950s and 1960s. The 5 had been gradually extended through the estate to its final terminus near to Garstang Road at Pilling Crescent. Upon leaving the estate from Chepstow Road, onto Garstang Road, then into Layton then via Layton Road and Caunce Street to the town centre, passing en route my old primary school on the corner of Caunce Street and Devonshire Road. From the town centre it duplicated the Lytham Road tram replacement service 12 as far as Watson Road, then via Watson Road and St. Annes Road to Halfway House. PD2s were used in the 1966 and 1967 season but as new deliveries of PD3s arrived these started to appear on this service as well.       
PD2 298 on the 6A from Midgeland Road to Grange Park about to turn from School Road into Common Edge Road (Peter Makinson)

One of the more obscure services was the 6A operating from Midgeland Road, Marton and replacing the one-person operated service 18, which had been the home of the 3 pre-war TS8 saloons that survived into the 1960's. From the Welcome Inn it duplicated the 6 for much of its route into the town centre then picking up the route of the 5 via Caunce Street to Layton and then as far as Chepstow Road in Grange Park. As one of the lighter used routes, it too was the home of the centre entrance PD2/5s.

The Bispham circulars, 7/7A could be very intense. A complete 8 hour shift on these services involved 16 round trips, as the service needed only 30 minutes to complete a round trip back to the bus station. Short distance riders were a feature of these services, which provided the main local service along Dickson Road once the North Station trams had gone. Beyond Gynn Square the service ran parallel to the Promenade, and tended to be favoured by local people for short journeys, who would then avoid the minimum fare charged on the trams. Service 7C was a variation, which extended northwards to serve Norbreck, Little Bispham and terminated in the middle of nowhere at Anchorsholme Lane East.

The 9, together with the 9A, had once been the trunk route to Cleveleys from Talbot Road Bus Station, but that role had been taken over by the extended 22/22A. The 9 gradually drifted into obscurity, again the preserve of the PD2/5s, and in 1966 and 1967 it was providing a link into the newly developed areas east of Bispham along Ashfield Road. These areas are now served by some of Blackpool's trunk services, but in the 1960's this was a relatively unknown backwater, with a bus perhaps once every half hour.

The Lytham St. Annes services operated on a separate rota involving the more senior crews who rather tended to keep themselves to themselves and usually drove the newest buses. The 11 and 11A ran to a combined ten minute headway and were jointly licensed with Lytham St. Annes Corporation. Their blue buses operated most workings, with Blackpool providing two buses. During the summer Lytham extended a local route through to Blackpool duplicating the existing services to provided extra capacity. Both routes left town via Central Drive, the 11 continuing to the Halfway House, then Squires Gate Lane and Clifton Drive North before following the back route from St. Annes through Ansdell to Lytham. The 11A was the Lytham tram replacement dating from 1937 and ran down Bloomfield Road to Lytham Road joining the 11 at the Airport. 11A workings took the more direct route along Clifton Drive South to Lytham, both terminating at Meadow Lane in the east end of the town.

Service 11C took the back road following the 6 to Hawes Side Lane then Common Edge Road and Queensway. After disappearing down some of estate in the north of St. Annes it terminated at the towns Square. Although jointly licensed with Lytham St. Annes only Blackpool buses operated the service on a twenty minute headway. Until 1958 all joint services buses stopped at the borough boundary and all passengers were re-booked by the conductor to points across the boundary. Through fares were then introduced and conductors split their waybills on the boundary which was a more satisfactory method, operationally at least.

Service 12, Lytham Road, was perhaps the most unpopular service of all with the crews. It was tightly timed, but also subject to congestion along Lytham Road and the Promenade. There was an apocryphal story going around once that the bus station inspectors were having apoplexy when they realised on one occasion that every bus allocated to the 12 was somewhere in the immediate vicinity of the bus station. As well as local traffic, the 12 also carried a considerable volume of visitors, who were unfamiliar with the destinations and fares. This is the same problem as the trams, but on the 12 you had a 71 seater on your own moving at a pace considerably faster than that normal on the trams. The problem was recognised, and at busy times jumper conductors were employed to assist, boarding vehicles at Talbot Square or the Tower and helping the normal conductor as far as Waterloo Road. 
6 July 1968 and brand new PD3 537 is captured on Garstang Road heading to Blackpool from Thornton on a 14A (Peter Makinson)
As with the Lytham runs, the 14/14A ran on a separate rota. The route took some learning for a new conductor, who had to learn the regulations concerning return fares and also the peculiarities of the Ribble fare structure beyond Castle Gardens, it was hard to see the logic behind offering return fares for adults but not making them available for children, and many of the customers were bemused by this as well. A very high proportion of the clientele were regular customers, and the regular conductors got to know many of them by sight if not by name. Even in the space of a short summer seasons you could get something of an insight into the lives of your regulars, where they worked, where they lived, and how they spent their leisure time in what was by today's standards a much simpler age.

The traffic levels on the 14 justified 4 buses an hour, but to integrate the timetable with Ribble's service 162 between Fleetwood and Castle Gardens, the 14 actually ran half hourly, but duplicated with two buses running theoretically 2 minutes apart. The 14A was a short working variant as far as Thornton Social Club, which operated in the alternate half hour slot between the through Fleetwood service. Like the Lytham services the 14 was always regarded as one of the premier services and in those days would be allocated the newest buses. The usual combination would be a PD3 as service bus with a PD2/27 as duplicate, providing a capacity of 130 seats with a crew of 4. If you were very unlucky you might end up with a PD2/5 as duplicate, but this was becoming a rarity by this time. The wheel has come full circle with the 14 now being the last bastion of conductor operation. The PD3s stayed on the service until the end of their lives, but now the service seems to be home to some of the older vehicles in the fleet. 

The 22/22A services were the mainline services. The origin goes back to the replacement of the Layton and Central Drive trams in 1936, though the circular service then operated bears only superficial resemblance to what developed in the postwar years. The services always operated in conjunction with the 23/23A between Layton and Waterloo Road, providing an intensive service between those two points via the town centre. In the 1950s the 22 had operated to the Hospital via Grange Road and the 23 ran to Bispham Clinic. However these two were swapped around and the 22 then operated through to Cleveleys via Devonshire Road and the 22A ran via Bispham Village, replacing the 9A and 9B. By the 1960's the 22/22A were allocated PD3s as trunk routes, and they carried intensive traffic.

By contrast the 23/23A was much quieter, although these workings provided part of the combined service along the old tram routes. The relatively short stretch from the Hospital to Layton generated some local and through traffic to town, then you were into the thick of the battle until Waterloo Road, where you turned right and ran down to South Pier to terminate as service 23A. As a 23 you then began what was in effect a completely different service from South Pier to Midgeland Road. PD2/5s were common on this route to the end of their days.

I mentioned earlier that much of the local traffic on Dickson Road which had once been carried on the North Station trams was by then being carried on the 7/7A circulars. The trams finished at the end of the 1963 season and during that winter no trams operated at all south of Cleveleys. In their place service 25 operated from Cleveleys to Starr Gate with short workings to the Tower showing 25A. When the trams resumed at Easter the 25A survived having been diverted down Dickson Road to provide a replacement link to Cleveleys for former tram passengers. By 1966 the 25A diverted at Norbreck to turn inland serving the estates there. It never carried the traffic levels of the old tram service, and it seems that visitors who might have used the North Station trams changed their travel patterns, and locals found alternative services such as the 7/7A/7C operating away from the promenade.

The remarks made about service 12 apply in equal part to service 26, the direct replacement of the Marton tram route. Marton had without doubt enjoyed a Rolls Royce service with the trams, with 48 comfortable seats in a single deck vehicle operating every three minutes. Those 48 seats were replaced by 71 seat double deck buses operating less frequently. The problem with the 26 was the very high proportion of short stage riders, and the relative age and infirmity of many of the regular clients. In reality the top deck of the bus was of marginal utility, and you would spend much of every trip in a battle of wills trying to persuade people travelling two or three stops to use the top deck, rather than crush in to the bottom, making it impossible to get round and collect fares.  The result of this was that the 26 also suffered from late running, and the constant battles and heavy loads made it very unpopular. 

As well as the main services described above there were of course a whole variety of extra services, including some which always came out as overtime working. Some of these ran in conjunction with works or offices, and these were known colloquially amongst the staff as "factories". Much of the work to Norcross came into this category, but some of the "factories"  were simple extra trips to provide some additional capacity at peak hours. There were extra workings between the town centre and Bispham operating as service 24. Some route numbers would be used for journeys in service to depot, such as 5A. 14X appeared on some blinds, and on at least one occasion was used for an extra working, Manchester style, on the 14.