Gosport and Fareham (Provincial)

Gosport and Fareham (Provincial)

I first experienced the fascinating fleet of Gosport and Fareham, otherwise known as “Provincial”, when I moved from rural Kent to the Gosport area as an eight year old in the summer of 1949. Some of the Provincial AEC Regents and Regals seemed to me to be a bit elderly – I did not then appreciate their redoubtable qualities - and I greatly preferred the smart, and, at that time, very new Guy Arab III double deckers with handsome Guy built, Park Royal designed bodywork, which worked the Haslar (HMS Dolphin) route 11 on which I lived. Previously, my only experience of Guys had been occasional trips on the Maidstone and District utility Arabs, and I can still recall the curious whistle that those buses would emit in the course of gear changes. The G&F Guys were altogether more stylish, and the PRV/Guy bodied Arab III is still my favourite double decker of all time, though, sadly, I have never driven one. For years, the Gosport – Fareham peninsula resounded to the ringing tones of AEC Regents and Regals, and to the stutter of Gardner 5LW powered Arabs. How I wish now that I had had a camera in those far off days.

Provincial Tramways was founded on 10th July 1872, with its Head Office at 224-228 Moorgate Station Chambers, London. It originally owned considerable tramway and other transport enterprises, and sometimes the electricity supply system also, in Gosport and Fareham, Portsmouth, Portsmouth and Horndean, Plymouth, Grimsby and Cardiff. The history of each of these systems is rather complicated, but, in the course of time, these operations were taken over, usually under the relevant Tramways Acts, by the local authorities, with Grimsby being handed over in 1936. This left only Gosport and Fareham in the Provincial fold, and the name of the parent company was then changed to the Provincial Traction Company.

The individuality of the Gosport and Fareham fleet is inextricably bound up with the name of the manager and engineer, Mr. H. Orme White, who took over the day to day running of the Provincial business from his father, H. L. White, in 1936. In that year orders were placed with AEC for the supply of four new 7.7 litre Regents with teak framed Park Royal H30/26R bodies, which complemented the eight Regal 4s with 6.6 litre four cylinder engines and Harrington B32R bodies that had arrived two years earlier in 1934. In the years immediately following WW2, the Regals were re-engined with standard 7.7 litre engines consistent with the power units in the Regents The AECs proved to be sound, reliable purchases, many of which went on to have very long lives, albeit, in some cases, in rebuilt form. In 1940, six secondhand Regents were obtained from City of Oxford. New Regents continued to be supplied until 1947, and further secondhand examples were bought up to 1957, in part to replace buses lost in the disastrous fire at Hoeford depot on the 18th June 1957. This fire led to the complete loss of four Regents, one Regal, and the company's Dennis EV preserved vehicle. Two Regals had their bodies destroyed, but the chassis were reconditioned and rebodied by Reading.

In 1942, the first Guy Arab I was received, and this had Weymann H30/26R utility bodywork. It was followed by a further ten Arab IIs with Park Royal bodies, the last of which was delivered in 1945. The Arab/Gardner 5LW combination clearly impressed Mr. Orme White, because, from 1948 to 1953, ten Arab IIIs were delivered, in part to enable the tramway system to be abandoned. The first two had Reading H30/26R bodies, but then came eight with the classic H30/26R Park Royal designed bodies, the first seven being built by Guy themselves, and the last one by PRV. In 1958 two Arab IV 5LW with Reading FH30/26R bodies were purchased, and these became the last new buses bought by Gosport and Fareham under the management of Mr. Orme White. From 1962 Southampton began withdrawing its Park Royal bodied Arab IIIs, and eleven of these buses, very similar to G&F's existing fleet of eight Arab IIIs apart from the 6LW engine, were snapped up by Provincial. Six more Arabs all with lowbridge L27/28R bodywork, were obtained from Red and White in 1966/67, and three Bristol LS6G C39F coaches came from the same source in 1969. Twelve other secondhand Arabs were bought from various sources, and these were ultimately (and rather famously) extensively rebuilt with Deutz air cooled engines. Rather surprisingly, one of these received a somewhat odd single deck body and a new registration number, HOR 676E. Another air cooled engine experiment involved the installation of a Ruston and Hornsby unit in a reconditioned AEC Regent chassis re-registered as 270 MHO. This engine proved to be unreliable and was replaced after five years with an AEC 7.7 unit.

In 1967 Mr. Orme White retired at the age of 81, and his replacement, Mr. Woolford, embarked upon a complete change of vehicle policy. In 1968 came nine Seddon Pennine IV/Strachans B40D with provision for 15 standees; a further batch of six with Seddon's own Pennine bodywork followed in 1969. In March 1969 Provincial was taken over by the Swain Group, which was soon renamed the Wiles Group, but on 1st January 1970 the entire business was sold to The National Bus Company. Thereafter came the merger with Hants and Dorset, though the name “New Provincial” was applied to the buses, then deregulation and privatisation as “Peoples Provincial” and ultimately the sale to First Group in the 1990s. Today the gruesome purple, pink and pap of First now assaults the eye in the streets of the Gosport peninsula one graced by the emerald green of Provincial.

Roger Cox

The oldest vehicles in this gallery are the AEC Regal 4s, eight of which arrived in 1934. This picture of No.27 was taken in Walpole Road, Gosport, on Sunday 25th June 1967. The original four cylinder 6.6 litre engines in these buses were replaced by six cylinder 7.7 litre units in 1945/6. The Harrington B32R bodies on this bus, No.27, CG 9612, and on similar bus No. 24, CG 9607 (see below), were destroyed in the Hoeford depot fire of 1957, but the chassis were reconditioned for further service. The entire class of eight buses received new Reading full fronted bodies of the type shown, though those on Nos. 24 and 27 were partly constructed by the Gosport and Fareham company itself. The seating capacity varied between individual examples from FB33F to FB34F and FB35F. The Regals were ultimately withdrawn between 1966 and 1970. Nos.27 and 24 had 35 seats, and both survived until 1970, by which time the chassis were 36 years old.

The four AEC Regents of 1936 had teak framed H56R Park Royal bodies of outstanding quality. Sadly, Nos. 36 and 37 were completely destroyed in the 1957 Hoeford fire, but No. 35, BOR 767, served the company until 1967, a remarkable 31 years. Fellow Regent No.34, BOR 766 lasted even longer until 1970. Thankfully, stalwart veteran No.35 still exists today in the meticulous care of David Whitaker. It is seen here in South Croydon on 7th May 1972 on the HCVC Brighton Rally.

The first Guy Arab No.55, EHO 228, came in 1942 with a Weymann H30/26R utility body. This was replaced by a Reading H56R body in 1955, when the chassis was given the lower bonnet line of the Arab III. The short bonnet length for the 5LW engine was retained. Here is this bus at South Croydon on the 1972 HCVC Rally. No. 57, an Arab II with a similar Reading body, is being restored by the Provincial Society. No.17, EOR 875, a 1945 Arab II, had its Park Royal utility H56R body replaced in 1958 with a full fronted Reading body, similar to those on the Deutz engine rebuilds, and this bus is also preserved.

From 1949 to 1953, eight 5LW powered Arab IIIs were delivered with Park Royal designed bodies, the first seven of which were built by Guy themselves. These were the buses that I greatly admired as a child. This is No. No.4, JHO 129 at South Street, Gosport, on 25th June 1967.

In 1957, Mr. Orme White became interested in the Deutz F6L514 air cooled engine. This indirect injection unit had a capacity of 7.2 litres, similar to the 7.0 litres of the 5LW, but it developed 125 bhp at 2300 rpm against the 85 bhp at 1700 rpm of the Gardner (though in its post 1954 “K” type form the 5LW gave 94 bhp). The first bus to be so fitted was 1943 Arab II No. 59, which received a new Reading FH30/26R body in place of the Park Royal utility H56R. The success of this experiment led to more conversions, always with Arab chassis, but sometimes using secondhand vehicles. This is No.2 which began life as Yorkshire Woollen District Roe bodied Arab II No.524, HD 7657. In recognition of the extensive chassis modifications and the new Reading H56R body, the Licensing Authority insisted upon a new registration number, 884 HHO. It is seen here on 25th June 1967 in Walpole Road, Gosport.

In 1963, Provincial took advantage of the disposal by Southampton of its early fleet of Arab IIIs with Park Royal H30/26R bodies, which dated from 1948. Apart from their Gardner 6LW engines, these were essentially similar to the eight Provincial Arabs of 1949-53. The first four were numbered 62 to 65, FCR 198 to 201. No.62 is seen here in Walpole Road, Gosport on 25th June 1967.

Here is ex Southampton Arab III No.63, FCR 199, in Foster Road, Gosport in the autumn of 1969. The gaunt building that the bus is passing is the telephone exchange. This was built on the site of the old Gosport Road & Alverstoke railway station on the 1863 line to Stokes Bay pier for the Isle of Wight steamers. The line was closed to passengers in 1915, and in 1922 the line from Gosport Road to Stokes Bay and the pier into the Solent were sold to the Admiralty. The Admiralty retained the pier – I remember it being used by MTBs on exercises in the early 1950s – but the line was lifted entirely by 1930, though the sleepers and level crossing gates were still in place when I went to Stone Lane Primary School up to 1952.

A view, taken on 25th June 1967, of another ex Southampton Arab III, No.64, FCR 200, in Foster Road, again with the telephone exchange behind it.

The last example of the first batch of four Arab IIIs from Southampton was No.65, FCR 201, seen here going towards Gosport in Foster Road in the autumn of 1969.

A second batch of 1948 vintage Guy Arab IIIs was purchased from Southampton in 1965. Unlike the earlier ones, these were numbered in a curiously random sequence by Provincial. Their registrations were FCR 440/441/442/445/446/447, to which were allocated fleet numbers 48/16/19/40/41/49. Another Arab bought from Southampton, FCR 443, was given the fleet number 39, but it was found to have a cracked chassis and did not enter service. No.48, FCR 440, is seen turning the corner in Foster Road opposite the telephone exchange en route to Gosport in late evening during the autumn of 1969.

Lined up at the bus terminus at Gosport Ferry on 25th June 1967 (from left to right) are the following.
No.61, EHO 966 dating from 1959, the second Deutz engined, Reading H56R bodied Guy Arab rebuild using Provincial's own Arab II chassis of 1943. This bus retained its original registration.
No.41, FCR 446, another of the ex Southampton Arabs bought in 1965.
No.24, CG 9607, one of the Reading FB35F rebodied Regal 4s of 1934. This bus is also preserved today by David Whitaker.

This is No.33, a Guy Arab II of 1945. This bus originally had a Northern Counties “relaxed” utility H56R body, and was delivered to London Transport as G276, GYL 416. In June 1952 the bus passed into the ownership of the Ministry of Supply, who eventually sold it on in 1959 to Hawkins, a Gosport contractor, who kept it for four years. Provincial bought it in 1963, and, in 1965, it emerged as No.33 with a Deutz engine, a new Reading H30/26R body, and a new registration mark CHO 449C. Here it is in the autumn of 1969 in Stoke Road, Gosport outside the closed “Forum” cinema, a site now occupied by a Waitrose supermarket.

FCR 452, fleet number 11, was the last Southampton Arab III to be bought by Gosport and Fareham. It arrived in 1966 to fill the gap caused by the defective FCR 443 (cracked chassis). In the autumn of 1969 it is seen emerging from the south end of the High Street, Gosport, to reach the Gosport Ferry terminal point. High Street is now fully pedestrianised.

The last Guy/Deutz rebuilt was rather unusual. It utilised the chassis of ex United Welsh 1951 Arab III HCY 296, which originally carried a BBW H30/26R body. It was sold by United Welsh in 1963, and Provincial bought it from a Cardiff dealer in the following year. It reappeared in 1967 with a Deutz engine and an angular single deck body with perimeter seating built jointly by Reading and Gosport and Fareham. On 25th June 1967, when it was still quite new, it is seen in Stoke Road proceeding to Gosport Ferry.

The retirement of Mr. Orme White in 1967 and the appointment of Mr. Woolford as manager brought about a total change of engineering policy. In came dual doorway Seddon Pennine IV buses with Perkins 6.354 engines. The first batch of nine came in 1968 with Strachan B40D bodies. One of these, No.46, is emerging from Gosport High Street, and in another shot, the same vehicle is in Bury Lane at the point where it once crossed the Stokes Bay railway line by bridge. No doubt The Pennine IV has its devotees, but I am emphatically not one of them. I consider the one I delivered from Gomshall to Loughborough to have been possibly the nastiest bus that I have ever driven.

Pennine/Strachan No.50, MHO 197F, the last of the first batch, is seen leaving the Gosport Ferry terminal and about to turn left into the High Street.

In 1969 six more Seddon Pennine IV buses were bought, this time with Pennine B40D bodywork. Seen at the south end of Gosport High Street in the autumn of that year is No.52, RAA 20G. The Pennines were fragile beasts compared with the AECs and Guys of the past, and all were withdrawn between 1975 and 1977, after lives with Provincial of six to eight years. By this time the Gosport and Fareham company had long since lost its individuality under the corporate grasp of NBC.

This link to the 'Provincial Enthusiasts' website gives comprehensive information about Gosport and Fareham (Provincial). Just click on the rotating arrow.
Yet more information may be found at this link to the Provincial page on the 'Countrybus' website.

19/08/12 - 08:30

Thank you Roger for posting your very interesting text and excellent photos of the Provincial fleet. I have visited Gosport regularly since first moving down to Hampshire in 1970, and I visit Fareham occasionally, too. I note there are references to HMS DOLPHIN which, as some readers will know already, was the Royal Navy's submarine training base. I once worked with a retired submariner, and we were somewhat amused one day when he recited the text of a newspaper article about a charitable donation from "The Officers and Men, HMS DOLPHIN, Gosport." Some days later, an acknowledgement letter had arrived, addressed to HMS Dolphin, Esq" and the letter started "Dear Mr Dolphin". Ah, well!

Pete Davies

19/08/12 - 12:18

What a superb set of pictures illustrating the "atmosphere and appeal" of a most fascinating and enterprising operator. I've admired Gosport and Fareham in print from afar for as long as I can remember, but never thought I'd ever drive one of their vehicles - well, in a remote kind of way!!
While working for South Yorkshire Road Transport of Pontefract, our little Firm experienced so many changes of ownership that we scarcely knew which uniform to wear from one week to the next so to speak.
In early 2000 I had an operation which meant being off work for over eight weeks - quite reasonably Arriva insisted that any such employee had to go for re-assessment in the Driver Training School before resuming.
So it was that one Monday morning I found myself at 0800 hours at Belle Isle Depot at the wheel of one of the learner buses - emblazoned with "L" plates and "Driver under instruction" etc etc, but even worse with an audience of "civilians" on their first day as recruits watching my every move - it was rather like an audition for a West End show with impresarios on the front row. So, off into the Wakefield Monday morning rush hour and the instructor took me up every awkward back alley in the City - many were not bus routes - and out into the suburbs - and after half an hour said "OK Go back to Pontefract - you'll do !!." After four decades of bus and coach driving of every kind I was very relieved to find that "I'll do."
Sorry, I've wandered a long way from the Solent here. The superb bus was a withdrawn second hand (or "previously owned" as slick car salesmen say these days) Leyland National which was in really fine order bodily and mechanically and behaved like a dream. It was C104 UHO originally with "Provincial."

Chris Youhill

20/08/12 - 08:12

Thx Roger, for your fascinating gallery, with some superb photos of old favourites from my days living in Pompey. Both Portsmouth Corporation and Provincial had interesting fleets, whose managers got good value out of their charges. Both used Reading & Co bodied vehicles and both used Pennine-bodied vehicles, but Provincial went in for eccentricity, too, and we British love eccentrics! I have one query - why is 33 painted with a white roof, the only such example I've ever seen?

Chris Hebbron

20/08/12 - 12:17

Chris, the revised livery with the increased white area seems to have come in with the appointment of Mr Woolford as Manager. Certainly, no buses were so painted whilst Mr Orme White was in charge, but the Seddons were delivered in the revised livery, and some other buses in the fleet were repainted in the new style. Personally, I prefer the original. From 1970, the somewhat haphazard numbering sequence of the fleet was reorganised, though most of the recipients of the new numbers did not survive long under NBC.

Roger Cox

21/08/12 - 07:45

In his very interesting galley, Roger Cox makes mention of the Swain Group and the Wiles Group. Although these companies have had a brief mention in various articles over the years there never seems to have been much hard detail about them.
However a search around the internet has revealed that in 1965 control of the Wiles Group was gained by one Mr. (later Lord) Hanson whose family owned a significant bus operation in Huddersfield. In 1969 the Wiles Group acquired the Provincial Traction Group aka the Swain Group who were mainly car dealers. Hanson then renamed the Wiles Group to Hanson Trust and sold most of the parts of the Swain Group off including G & F to NBC.

Nigel Turner



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