To the south of Great Bridgewater Street things were less precise. The central “island” shelter carried signs indicating stands 18-21, but as far as I can remember there were no destination signs. Generally speaking the area to the west of the “island” was North Western territory while that to the east was a Ribble zone, but this applied only to departures and vehicles merely using the south side as an arrival point or for temporary parking fitted in wherever there was space available. Entry to this part of the bus station was via Trumpet Street with vehicles parking “nose-on” to Great Bridgewater Street.
The North Western side was used by departures on the X5 London services (although technically a joint service the only regular Midland Red working on this operation was a lunchtime rotation from and to Birmingham). By 1965 the variations on this service had expanded to include the X5B (via Buxton and the M1), and the X5Z (via Altrincham, the newly opened M6 and the M1), with the X5Z establishing a new fastest journey of just over five hours – half the time taken by the original London service back in 1929. The London route was always operated by North Western’s newest coaches, which from 1963 meant Leopards with Alexander Y-type bodywork.
Other North Western schedules on the south side included those to Rhyl and Llandudno (X24/34/44, operated with slightly older front-line coaches), to Chesterfield (X67, operated by a wide variety of North Western single-deckers plus miscellaneous East Midland vehicles of more recent vintage – they seemed to think the route more prestigious than did North Western), and to Nottingham (the X2 which went from “Black Top” dual-purpose vehicles to coach-liveried Alexander bodied Reliances in the mid-1960s, counterpointed by similar semi-coach types from joint operator Trent. As noted earlier the X2 was something of a nomad and at weekends could frequently be found operating from the Barnsley stand on the original site. Its place was taken at weekends (until 1968) by the X39 and X72 summer-only services to Sheffield, joint with Sheffield JOC which used early production 30-foot Leopards with bodywork by Burlingham, ECW, and Weymann. Another service which allegedly operated from this area (stand 21) was the 12A works service to Carrington and Partington, but in reality the double-deckers operating these infrequent journeys would usually pull up briefly on Great Bridgewater Street itself to collect the few (if any) passengers involved.
This North Western area was also used by Bristol/ECW coaches of Crosville on the X75 from Llanidloes in mid-Wales, basically a shopping excursion converted into an express service, and by vehicles of PMT on the three times daily run from Hanley. This was (confusingly) another X2 which may account for North Western/Trent’s X2 migrating to the north side. PMT’s version was operated by a diverse mixture ranging from brand-new coaches to equally recent double-decker buses at times of peak demand.
Services using the Ribble side included the various Scottish services, operated by the newest coaches of Ribble and Western SMT – in theory Scottish Omnibuses were also a joint operator on the Edinburgh run but in more than a decade I only saw one non-Ribble vehicle on this variation and that was a Reliance of SOL subsidiary Starks of Dunbar. Other schedules from this area included the X40 to Keswick (a variety of coaches including “White Lady” double-deckers) and the X66 to Darwen and Blackburn. The latter service was joint with Lancashire United and – in theory – Bolton Corporation, although I never saw any of their vehicles at Lower Mosley Street and believe that their participation was limited to duplicates between Bolton and Blackburn. Ribble used a variety of coaches on the route while Lancashire United usually fielded dual-purpose vehicles or single-deck buses.
Mention should be made at this point of the Golden Horse Cafe, the former Finglands coach station. Crews tended to prefer this establishment to either the staff canteen or the Bus Station Cafe in the warehouse at the other side of the southern area, and I can personally vouch for the food in here being of a better quality (by greasy spoon standards). One day I witnessed a near catastrophe here when a North Western Loline, left unattended on the Macclesfield stand with its engine running, lurched inexplicably across Great Bridgewater Street towards the Golden Horse. Miraculously the kerb on the south side of the road managed to bring it to a halt before it demolished the cafe, and even more miraculously there were no vehicles passing by on Great Bridgewater Street at the time. The name of Jesus Christ was invoked by many of the bus crews in the cafe!
To the east of the Blackpool platform lay Calder Street, and between that and the canal a fairly extensive car park. During the week this was used by commuting office-workers on monthly parking contracts, but on summer weekends it became an extension to the bus station and offered accommodation to various summer-only North Western express services. These included the X3 to Barmouth, the X4 to Aberystwyth, the X7 to Southport, X13 to Cleethorpes, X15 to Whitby, X23/33 to Skegness, X25 to Scarborough, and X74 to Pwllheli. As well as a cross-section of North Western’s own coaches vehicles were hired in from many other coach operators to help cover the seasonal demand. Vehicles of Altrincham Coachways (a North Western subsidiary), Pride of Sale, and other Manchester area independents were the most common offerings, but more unusual hirings made a visit to this area essential. My personal favourite was WWV 564, a Harrington Cavalier bodied Leopard which was fleet number 39 of Silver Star Motor Services, the famous Salisbury Plain independent. In August 1962 this turned up behind Isherwoods with windscreen stickers proclaiming “On hire to North Western” and “Scarborough”. Confusingly the vehicle’s own destination blind read “Salisbury Plain” and at the time I couldn’t understand why the driver hadn’t rolled the blind around until it displayed a “blank”. Since then I’ve seen almost a dozen photographs of this vehicle in various locations, both in its original livery and later Wilts & Dorset colour scheme, and in every one the blind reads “Salisbury Plain”. Was it stuck? I presume that there was some connection with Pride of Sale here (as an intermediary) as Silver Star coaches bound for Manchester on “Forces Leave” express workings were garaged with that operator during their layover and Tiger Cubs MMR 552/553 (and possibly others) had “On hire to Pride of Sale” on their destination blinds.
Another gem to be found in this area on a more regular basis was the pre-war TD5/ECW double-decker DDK 117 which North Western had acquired from Rochdale Corporation in 1956. Equipped as a staff canteen in a pleasing green and cream livery, it commuted in every morning from North Western’s Hulme Hall Road garage and was the only double-decker of conventional highbridge layout (as opposed to low-height) ever owned by the company.
I could go on at greater length about this superb bus station, but my computer tells me that I have already exceeded my original word-count target so rather than digress with mention of the nearby East Street Coach Station used by independents such as Abbotts and Yelloway (and confusingly owned by a company called LMS Coachways), I’d better bring the Lower Mosley Street story to its unhappy ending.
The decline began with the formation of the National Bus Company in 1968, the poorly run state-owned monopoly which absorbed B.E.T. and its subsidiaries including North Western and Ribble. Service cuts and “rationalisation” were the order of the day. First to go were the X39 and X72 to Sheffield. As a pathetic attempt at compensation for these losses the surviving Manchester to Sheffield service, the daily year-round X48 which used Exchange Station as its Manchester terminus and operated via Woodhead, was diverted into Lower Mosley Street. Originally a railway operated service (thus the use of Exchange Station) the route had passed to Sheffield JOC upon its formation and was the odd man out in having no North Western involvement. It could never hope to replace the X39 or X72 as it offered no facilities to Sheffield for the inhabitants of Denton, Hyde, and Glossop (X39) or Stockport, New Mills, and Chapel-en-le-Frith (X72) nor any opportunities to hikers and other leisure passengers bound for the picturesque Snake Pass and Ladybower reservoir (X39) or Mam Tor and Castleton (X72). The withdrawal of these two services was the coaching equivalent of British Rail’s (mercifully unsuccessful) attempt to close the Settle-Carlisle line. A disgrace. The excuse was that they were “less profitable” than the X48.
Further meddling with the scenic trans-Pennine routes soon followed. In 1971 the X67 to Chesterfield was extended to Mansfield at the eastern end (it would later become Liverpool-Manchester-Chesterfield-Mansfield-Lincoln). These extensions might sound like a positive development but they destroyed the service’s punctuality and made it much less attractive to its original coterie of fiercely loyal users. In the same year the popular X19/X20 to Barnsley were combined into a single service (X19) which omitted much of the mileage of the earlier versions and yet took a far more convolute route in an attempt to replace the remainder.
Much worse vandalism was already on the horizon. NBC’s Stalinist managers had decided that the creation of the SELNEC PTE would destroy the financial viability of North Western and voluntarily sold the company’s stage-carriage assets within the SELNEC area to the PTE on 4th March 1972. The remainder of North Western’s stage carriage services were divided between neighbouring NBC subsidiaries Crosville and Trent. The company remained in existence as an express service operator but its fate was already written down and it was soon merged into National Travel West along with Ribble subsidiary WC Standerwick.
With North Western’s magnificent express network already in the process of being destroyed there seemed little benefit in spending money to update Lower Mosley Street. On 13th May 1973 the bus station witnessed its final departure, a 2330 hrs run to London, and from the following day all surviving express routes were transferred to Chorlton Street. This was a thoroughly unpleasant fume-ridden site beneath a multi-storey car park which had all the charm of a lab-rat’s cage. It still does despite the “modernisation” programme of recent years (modernisation in this case meant cutting it down to half of its previous size, giving it a waiting area which resembled a very small and cheaply built airport terminal somewhere in rural America, and installing beeping “level crossing” style gates to control coach access to the few stands remaining in use). Meanwhile the old Lower Mosley Street site is now a concert hall where the middle classes can go to make themselves feel culturally superior. Personally I would prefer to see the Halle Orchestra playing beneath the car park at Chorlton Street. Complete with beeping gate accompaniment. But that might just be me!
Lower Mosley Street may have had its faults (the totally inadequate toilet facilities spring to mind) but it also had character and charm. For those of us who loved the place its closure, descent into dereliction, and eventual demolition was nothing short of barbarism. NBC’s excuse was that the bus station was too far from the city centre, an asinine statement if ever there was one. Is Victoria Coach Station in London too far from Trafalgar Square? At that time remarkably few people actually lived in the city centre so the vast majority of passengers using Lower Mosley Street were transferring between express services, arriving by bus routes which terminated there, or travelling in from the suburbs on corporation services (many of which, including two cross-city runs, passed the bus station). Chorlton Street actually had fewer local connections, not more, as all of its previous local services were evicted before it became the new coach station.
So the next time you visit Manchester by coach, presuming that you haven’t given up in disgust and bought a car instead, spare a thought for a time when things were less sterile, more chaotic, and yet somehow so much better. Lower Mosley Street, we still miss you terribly after all these years and regularly curse the mindless bureaucrats in the PTE and NBC who ordained your closure. We will never see your like again.
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Old Bus Photos from 11:53 Saturday 25th April 2009 to 10:29 Wednesday 22nd May 2013