Wanted an AEC, but ended up with an Albion

Wanted an AEC, but ended up with an Albion

From 1933-4 until 1949-50 Reading Corporation ran a batch of eight Park Royal 6-bay L26/25R AEC Regents, some petrol (mostly later coverted to 7.7 oiler) and some with 8.8 oil engine. The lowbridge bodies were most unusual in having straight staircases, of which you can see a skeletal view on p71 of Alan Townsin's 1979 book "Park Royal Coachworks, part 1, 1924-44". I missed them when they went, but a kid of ten can't just go out and buy a bus for posterity. It was frustrating too, in 1955, to see Reading TD1s mouldering in a scrapyard 6 miles SW of the town. Better luck came in 1963 when the vigilant John Whitehead tracked down an unexpected survival: Reading no 47, a 1935 Park Royal 5-bay L26/26R Regent 7.7 that had run until February 1956, now working on a mushroom farm in Sussex. Linfields the growers kindly gave it to our group, and we brought it "home" in the October.

I had heard that Reading no 10, RD 5361, of the 1934 6-bay batch, had gone to Williams (Pioneer) of Lacharn/Laugharne, Carmarthenshire, so in January 64 I set off, thumb in the air, for West Wales. Twice I got a lift in a police car, but they wouldn't let on who they were after! The last lift of all was in a Dennis Lancet, MPE 410, which I seem to recall had had a one-man conversion. Mr Williams ushered me into the Browns Hotel and proudly showed me a large photograph on the wall of the very bus I had come in search of. The bus itself had long gone, but I was made to feel very welcome---which was not a universal experience of enthusiasts in those days: we were mostly dismissed as eccentric time-wasters.

Next morning I was to head west to St David's, intending to hitch all the way, but thumb and jaw dropped in unison at what rolled up at the bus-stop: a magnificently prewar-looking MCW H30/26R Albion Venturer, FCY 766---something I had never before ridden on. It was the antiquated appearance that lured me aboard, but what really did the job was the sound: the nearest thing I'd ever heard to a petrol-engined TD1, with relatively little combustion noise and a ringing whine from the gearbox.

The first eastward lift out of St David's was clinging onto the back of a Fordson Major, with a muck-spreader right behind, but who cares?---I'd been on a Venturer, and was determined to save one. News reached my ears that Contract Bus Services, who were carrying construction workers from Bristol and elsewhere to Oldbury Power Station, were running some ex-United Welsh Albion Venturers, and in May '65 I thumbed my way over there just in time to catch the evening departure. I sat back and enjoyed the music of FCY 758, although the man sitting next to me was airing his view, in a loud voice and a thick somewhere-in-Europe accent, that there were too many ****** foreigners in Britain.

Also running that day were fellow MCW-bodied Albions FCY 409, FCY 764 and FCY 765, ECW-bodied Albion FCY 412 and lowbridge BBW-bodied Guy Arab EU 7840. Some time later that year a Welsh fellow bus enthusiast (whose name I recall as Huw Thomas---but the years play tricks on the memory) kindly told me of an ex-Cheltenham & District MCW-bodied Venturer no 72, HDG 448, that was carrying children for the Borough of Waltham Forest in north London, along with several Perkins-engined Dennis Storks. I wrote to them, heard that it was for sale, jumped on the train, paid 55 for it, and went up again by road a few days later with some friends, to drive it home to Reading.

I had nowhere of my own to keep 72, but Alf Smith and Eric Mills of Smith's Coaches, where I worked, were good enough to let me keep it at the back of the yard. I took it out on a few trips, but feeling that I might be overstaying my welcome I got in touch with Colin Shears, who gave me the hospitality of some space at Winkleigh for two or three years, in exchange for help towards his purchase of a Bristol L.

In 1970 Colin Martin and Fred Lloyd of Cheltenham heard that 72 was in Devon and brought it back to Gloucestershire, forming a society for its preservation. The group was active and energetic for many years, putting much work into 72 and taking it to numerous rallies. The resourceful and ever-competent Graham Green from Reading kept it mechanically up to scratch. When the Cheltenham group felt that it had achieved its aim it presented 72 to BaMMoT at Wythall, where it awaits work on the body. I'd love to see it back on the road, and to have one last drive of it, with that heavy steering, light clutch and---best of all---wonderful sound-effects.

I welcome comments and corrections, as my 1960s diaries are scrappy, and memory creep can also play a part.

Ian Thompson
03/2010


To see a photo of Ians Albion click here.


It was fascinatiing to read Ian's story. Until now I had never understood the reason for Ian's interest in 72, but now all has been revealed. My father and Colin Martin happened to work at the same establishment in Cheltenham and through that link I became member no. 6 of the Cheltenham Bus Preservation Group. A later move to London meant that I did not have much hands on involvement, but my fiancee and I contributed to the purchase of CBPG's second Cheltenham District vehicle Bristol RE 1003 in 1982 and were able to use it for our wedding. Hopefully BaMMOT will have the time and resources to get 72 back on the road before too long to join up with other CDT vehicles.

James Bunting

 


 

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