To School by Bus - Part One

To School by Bus - Part One

54 years ago few children were driven to school by their parents and most of those who, at ten or eleven, passed the Eleven Plus exam and went on to grammar school (and not a few who didn't and went to secondary or technical school) found themselves travelling by bus using normal services, often changing buses once or twice to complete their journey.

Some boys at my school in Victoria Park, Rusholme, Manchester, came in every day by bus, or train and bus, from as far as Glossop, Warrington and Macclesfield. My journey from and to Heaton Moor was far shorter but packed with interest for a transport enthusiast - especially in the late 1950s and early 1960s when the bus industry was changing, British Railways were using the Styal line for 25 kV electric traction trials, and the approach to Manchester Airport, whilst nowhere near as busy as today, could offer types as varied as the Miles Marathon, Lockheed Starliner and the Caravelle, not to mention the Boeing 707.

In September 1958 my starting point in all weathers was the shelterless bus stop at the junction of Mauldeth Rd and Didsbury Rd which was alongside a tall brick wall from which the rain would drip or bounce onto the queue.

The first part of the trip was to connect with services to Victoria Park, Rusholme and the logical point to change was Parrs Wood, then at the end of the Kingsway dual carriageway at the junction with the A34 in south Manchester - though for various reasons such as meeting friends or, later, spending more time with girlfriends on the journey, the change would be made in Didsbury.

Mornings would see me at the bus stop by 08:35 (school started at 09:15) and the trip to Parrs Wood could be completed on the #9 turnback (extended from Mauldeth Rd to Parrs Wood during the rush hour) or the #26 (similarly extended) which would both be serviced by either Massey utility bodied Guy Arabs or immediate post war all Crossley DD42s from Stockport's first two batches. Rare was the day when one of the 1940 batch of Leyland TD7s, complete with starting handle protruding from the bottom of the radiator, with Colin Bailey designed Leyland bodies would appear.

The #16 and #80 could also be used. The #16 turn at this time of day was also a Stockport preserve and would normally be worked by a 1948 vintage all Crossley DD42. The #80 to Altrincham was solely North Western's and the Willowbrook bodied Bristol K5Gs and lightweight Orion bodied PD2s would sometimes be replaced by all Leyland PD2s from the 1948/9 batches. From time to time one of the six with rear Doors, originally ordered for the X60 Manchester-Blackpool service, would appear when "running in" after work at Charles St. The feelings of the conductors who had to manually open and close the doors at each stop at rush hour, with a full bus of mostly short journey passengers (and the stops were around 600 yards apart throughout the route), have not been recorded.

One other type would be the 1948 PD2s with Weymann bodies which were similar to London Transport's RLH class with which I was familiar from my trips to the Harrow area.

Half fare from Mauldeth Rd to Parrs Wood was a penny halfpenny and would be collected by the conductor in between supervising loading and unloading at each stop. All Stockport's vehicles, with the exception of the utility Guys, were equipped with bell strips on both decks. These had wood frames and some form of flexible thin wooden push strips which ran the length of each deck. They were varnished in a dark brown finish. The conductor could supervise loading from the top deck by using the mirror at the stair head.

He was supposed to be close to the mirror if giving the signal to start and use a standard bell push button at the stair head to show the driver, by means of that push sounding a buzzer rather than a bell, that he had verified all was secure. This rule was more often than not honoured in the breach, any top deck bell being given the two bells "right away".

North Western's vehicles were equipped with bell push buttons dotted around the lower deck. On top, there was only the bell push at the top of the stairs (a similar situation to London Transport) but officialdom cannot always win and many a conductor gave the signal to start by stamping twice on the raised platform that carried the front four seats above the drivers cab. How many drivers were afflicted by headaches at the end of a shift isn't known but the racket created on a half full lightweight Orion body by such a procedure was something Ginger Baker never achieved.

Not that half full buses were something experienced during rush hours and it was often the case that the six minutes or so to Parrs Wood would be undertaken crammed into the standing space on the lower deck, with the conductor struggling past to collect fares, an unpleasant experience on a cold, wet, winter morning, sometimes on the second or third bus to have come to the stop - each bus reducing the queue by no more than for or five passengers. Fortunately with the four services available the gaps between buses were no more than a couple of minutes.

From 1960 until electrification was established on the Piccadilly - Euston route, crossing the Midland line from Manchester Central to St Pancras at the Stockport boundary would afford the site of the Midland Pullman diesel multiple unit, resplendent in blue and ivory livery, en route to London.

Back to September 1958. Parrs Wood was the location of one of Manchester Corporation's depots with a mainly Leyland contingent with a good number of Crossleys held for rush hour services. Wilmslow Rd, the Kingsway dual carriageway and School Lane (the extension of Didsbury Rd over the Manchester boundary) came together at this point and a triangle formed by School Lane, Wilmslow Rd and Kingsway formed a turn around for short workings along Wilmslow Rd from Manchester and for turn backs from Stockport.

Vehicles that had travelled out from Manchester on Kingsway turned back around the central reservation of the dual carriageway which still carried vestiges of the tramway infrastructure abandoned nine years previously. If there had been variety visible and available to travel on from Mauldeth Rd, the choice now became immense.

Getting from Parrs Wood to either Great Western St Rusholme or Denison Rd Victoria Park - either stop was adjacent to school - would take, traffic jams at Platt Fields or at Kingsway/Moseley Rd permitting, around 20 minutes leaving around 10 minutes to walk to school before assembly at 09:15 - at least that was the theory and, with four route numbers and buses at the rate of one a minute available, the theory normally transferred into practice.

Phil Blinkhorn

In the next part of 'To School by Bus' I'll talk about the journey to Denison Rd via Kingsway.


Click here to read To School by Bus - Part Two

12/11/12 - 11:04

William Hulme, Phil? Did my degree and then started teaching in Manchester and area. My memories are of the same area, but in the '70s. Left to come down south in January 1981 but my memories are of early SELNEC, Mancunians (but not the Crossley type) and NNB Daimler/MCCW on the Styal and Ringway (yes Ringway) routes. [.....and of course Renowns and Lolines charging south.....]

David Oldfield

12/11/12 - 14:25

No David, Xaverian College

Phil Blinkhorn

13/11/12 - 06:46

Ah. Forgot about that one, Phil.

David Oldfield

16/11/12 - 07:43

Phil’s article has stirred many fond memories of my travel to school by bus.
From early 1954 I travelled from Burley-in Wharfedale to Otley Grammar School by a West Yorkshire Road Car Company School Special service. This service was provided by the Harrogate Depot so it was possible to have the very newest Bristol KSW6B/6G with staggered upper deck seats and rear platform doors. I felt very superior on the School Special to the normal service buses running in Burley. However occasionally a wartime Bristol K5Gs with pre-war ECW would appear and for me this was a real treat as it was likely that it would overheat and boil and so I would be late for school with a good excuse. Only once did the Bristol Lodekka prototype 822 appear and this was a real treat. This bus was certainly well off its normal operating area. I shall be looking forward to reading Phil’s Part Two article.

Richard Fieldhouse



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