The First PTEs – The Beginning of the End for the Corporation Bus - SELNEC

The First PTEs - The Beginning of the End for the Corporation Bus - SELNEC

 

Introduction

For almost 80 years the Corporation Bus was a fixture in many cities, towns and even rural areas around the United Kingdom. A low cost social transport service providing for many councils a nett income generator, the colour schemes and coats of arms carried were as much an identifier of the locale as the buildings and infrastructure they passed and used every day. The vehicles were often the objects of civic pride and, certainly, rivalry - sometimes friendly, sometimes not - between General Managers and Engineers in adjoining areas.
Some Corporations were loyal to a chassis builder and a body builder, often for many years. Others spread their custom, sometimes to deal with specific operational needs where a favoured builder couldn't meet these from its catalogue, sometimes to ensure continuity of supply in an industry where vehicle builders came and went and sometimes because General Managers were true innovators and experimenters such as George Hilditch and Edgley Cox.
I was born and brought up in the conurbation that became Greater Manchester. The area was rich in operators and even the relatively small town of Ashton under Lyne where I spent the first nine years of my life, had regular services provided by no fewer than six Corporations, two BET operators, one Joint Committee and its roads also hosted a number of coaches passing through on services where the operators had no licence to pick up or drop off in the Borough. The colour schemes alone were enough to attract the attention of a four year old. Ashton had its patriotic dark blue, white and red. Stockport's smart red and off white was almost duplicated by North Western' s red and off white. Manchester's red and cream was almost as predominant as Ashton's blue, mainly on trolleybuses with just the long distance number 6 joint service between Manchester and Glossop being motor bus operated.
The dark green, cream and silver of what everyone called the "Joint Board", though the word "Joint" never appeared in the official title of what was originally the Stalybridge, Hyde, Mossley and Dukinfield Tramways and Electricity Board - later to have the word "Tramways" replaced by "Transport" - contrasted with the maroon and white of Oldham and the blue and cream streamlined Rochdale scheme whilst, from over the hills in Yorkshire, the Borough was treated to the red and cream of Yorkshire Traction and the cream with a dash of blue from Sheffield.
The sense of permanence generated by these operators, particularly the local Corporations, was solid by the time I started school in 1952 but change was not long in coming. Just 26 months after my starting school a new General Manager arrived at Ashton and swept away the patriotic scheme with a peacock blue and cream design. SHMD shortly afterwards changed their scheme to an overall lighter green with scant cream relief and Manchester, Rochdale, North Western and, finally, Oldham all succumbed to the needs of the hot spray paint booth and simplified, and in most cases, downgraded their schemes. Only Stockport, to where we had moved in 1956, maintained its traditional scheme - the only nod to modernity being the replacement of the light brown lining out with black.
As the private car, diesel prices, wages, changes in entertainment, not to mention the cost of new buses impacted the industry as the 1950s gave way to the seeming new era of the 1960s, many Corporations started to find their bus operations were becoming less profitable - though by no means something to be given up.
National Government thought otherwise and the 1968 Transport Act established five Passenger Transport Executives in Glasgow, Tyneside, Merseyside, West Midlands and the largest, SELNEC PTE, which stood for South East Lancashire and North East Cheshire Passenger Transport Executive, based on Manchester.
There are many arguments for and against the formation of the PTEs. I've no intention of examining them here. Suffice to say that what came into effect between October 1 1968 and June 1 1973 was the beginning of the end for the Corporation bus in all but a few municipalities in the United Kingdom - and the few that are left are "arms length" organisations after the disastrous interference of Nicholas Ridley's bus deregulation under Thatcher in 1986 - proving both major parties are more interested in dogma than reality when it comes to transport.
Whilst between before 1968 few people would have given more than a passing glance to the buses on their streets, the advent of the PTEs generated quite a reaction in terms of loss of local identity - and this still pertains to some extent with today's monolithic operators regularly inventing logos or variations on their national schemes to engender local loyalty, with varying degrees of success.
One area worthy of looking at is what happened to some of the vehicles involved, many of which faced shortened lives, radically altered colour schemes and, in the run up to, and often for a good while after vesting day, a reduction in maintenance, running in partial colour schemes and transfer from the depots of original owners to those in far flung parts of their new operator.
Roger Cox recorded this period in parts of the SELNEC area in which I lived and went to school. The following photographs illustrate not only the period but some of the schemes that were lost, the standard of vehicle maintenance and the effect of the new sunglow orange and cream on a number of very familiar types.

Copy by Phil Blinkhorn - Photographs by Roger Cox
08/2013

 

Click here to view Part One - Ashton under Lyne

 


 

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