A Tour of Shropshire and North East Wales

A Tour of Shropshire and North East Wales

In early 1970 some enthusiast friends and I travelled over from Halifax to Manchester to join a PSV Circle tour of Shropshire and North East Wales. The vehicle hired for the trip was KMB 603G - an AEC Reliance 691 with Plaxton Panorama Elite body belonging to Godfrey Abbott of Timperley. This was quite new and one of the very first 12 metre long PSV's to enter service.

Brown's, Donington Wood - HAW 374 - Sentinel SLC4-35/Beadle DP35C - new to Brown's in 1951 as C35C.

Our first visit was to Brown's who were enthusiastic users of the Sentinel, having bought no fewer than five new and one ex-demonstrator Beadle-bodied coaches and a Sentinel-bodied bus in 1951, followed by another second hand bus later. Brown's had become heavily involved in forces' leave services in the early postwar period - hence the sudden influx of so many at once. Once National Service ended these services had diminished, and during the 1960's the remaining Sentinels (two had been sold early on) were demoted to bus work, fitted with bus seating and all but one converted from centre entrance to front entrance. This was the one that got away, retaining its original centre entrance to the end.

Brown's, Donington Wood - HNT 49 - Sentinel SLC4-35/Beadle DP41F - new to Brown's in 1951 as C35C.

This was another of the original 1951 batch, converted to front entrance and bus seating in 1966. Brown's then provided this to accompany us for most of the rest of the tour, the fortunate participants being able to switch from one vehicle to the other at will - needless to say which was the fullest ! Brown's hung on to their Sentinels longer than any other operator - indeed they were quite a rarity by 1969. This was my only experience of riding on one, it rode really well and performed surprisingly competently considering it had a four cylinder engine and was having to keep up with an 11.3 litre Reliance, the only downside being a rather irritating whine when at speed in top gear.
Because they lasted so long, several of them have survived into preservation.

Midland Red - 5586 - AHA 186B - BMMO S17 - New 1964.

We made an unscheduled stop to peer into the Midland Red depot in Wellington and this passed by as we did so.

Vagg's, Knockin Heath - 601/2/4 JPU - Bristol SC4LK/ECW B35F - New 1957 as Eastern National 424/5/7 - Acquired 1964.

In Shrewsbury we parked at the bottom end of the town (our Abbott's coach is just visible in the background) on what appeared to be a bus park as well as the terminus for Vagg's services. Bristol SC's were popular with Vagg's. I visited Shrewsbury many years later and this area had changed a lot, but reckoned that this is now the site of the current (and on my last visit, very chaotic and cramped) Bus Station for all operators' services.

Midland Red 4498 - XHA 498 - BMMO D7/Metro Cammell H63RD - New 1957.

Midland Red services then terminated nearer the town centre, and there were plenty of them being a Saturday. I always felt that this is what Metro Cammell's Orion body ought to have looked like.

Midland Red 5976 - UHA 976H - BMMO S23/BMMO-Plaxton - New 1969

A slightly later version of the standard Midland Red single decker, by then featuring the fashionable peaked dome, and a less mournful but more gaping grille. BMMO vehicles were classic examples of an operator having what they really wanted in a bus, rather than what the manufacturer wanted them to have. To me the double deckers were nicely styled and shapely, but the single deckers................well, they were different to anyone else's I suppose.

Boulton's, Cardington - LNT 263 - Bedford SBG/Duple Vega C41F - New 1956 to Hoggins, Wrockwardine Wood. Acquired 1957.
Crosville - SMG 585 - HFM 585D - Bristol MW6G/ECW DP41F - New 1966

Seen in Barker Street, Shrewsbury. The Boulton's SB was a late registered example of the 1955 season Vega model, to the shorter length with a slightly stepped waist, and with the original plainer 'butterfly' grille with the separate winged motif above (the 1956-58 season models were longer, with a continuous waistline and had a flashier grille mounted slightly higher, and with the wings incorporated into the top of it).

Midland Red 4810 - 810 HHA - BMMO C5A/BMMO DP37F

This former CM5 coach (it may even have once been a CM5T Motorway coach), had been demoted to bus work and didn't quite look right without its black roof, but I must confess to always liking the look of these very much. Maybe my treasured Corgi Toys model played a part in this. I still have it and, unlike most of my other models, it's still in its original box ! I never demoted mine to bus work though.

Vagg's, Knockin Heath - UWL 938 - AEC Regent III 9613S/Weymann H30/26RD - New to City of Oxford H938. Acquired 1967. On the right is the Godfrey Abbott Reliance employed on our tour.
Godfrey Abbott, Timperley - KMB 603G - AEC Reliance 6U3ZR/Plaxton Panorama Elite C53F - New 1969

Back at Vagg's terminus this double decker of their's had turned up. One of a pair, these had replaced a pair of Leyland-bodied PD2's that had been bought new by Vagg's.

Vagg's, Knockin Heath
WRF 641 - Bedford SB/Duple Vega C33F - New 1952 - Acquired 1967 from Parry, Llithfaen.
MXB 504 - Bedford SB/Duple Vega C33F - New 1952 - Acquired 1963 from Thurgood (dealer), Ware.

Vagg's depot at Knockin Heath housed many interesting secondhand vehicles - both operational and withdrawn. Here are a pair of early Vegas of the original 27ft 7in variety with the short rear overhang, the one on the right being 7ft 6in wide, the one on the left being 8ft, distinguishable, apart from any obvious difference in width, by the positioning of the small air intake grilles - almost beneath the headlights on the narrow one and offset towards the radiator grille on the wide one. Sometimes referred to as the 'Elephant's Ears' Vega because of the style of the air scoops above the front corner windows. (Sorry - I'm a bit of a Duple nut !).

Vagg's, Knockin Heath - KFM 429 - Bedford OB/Duple Vista C29F - New 1949 to Crosville (SL30) - Acquired 1960.

Before the Vegas, the OB/Vista had been very popular - as with most country independents. Several BTC ex-Tilling companies had bought them then sold them off still in very good condition in the 1950's whereupon they were snapped up at bargain prices by companies like Vagg's for whom they were ideal. An absolute classic if ever there was one. Sadly this one had reached the end of the road, but there must be hundreds preserved today.

Vagg's, Knockin Heath
GVA 462 - Bedford SB/Duple Vega C33F - New 1951 - Acquired from Jones, Market Drayton 1957.
TVF 871/869 - Bristol SC4LK/ECW C33F - New to Eastern Counties

Two of the coach version of the SC, with the different grille and a more rounded rear dome. Most had a more decorative grille, but these just had a sort of hole with a coarse grille inside - a bit like a Triumph TR2 sports car. The SC was otherwise a very neat and tidy looking vehicle and looked quite impressive until one actually came to ride on one (or I imagine worse still - to drive one). The reality then hit hard. They were extremely noisy, slow and unpleasant, and whilst this might have been tolerated in the bus version in flat country areas they were hardly the thing for any sort of coaching work. Yet Crosville had loads of them and thought nothing of imposing them on an unsuspecting travelling public on quite lengthy express services whenever they thought the need arose. (Their performance was not at all like a Triumph TR2 sports car).

Vagg's, Knockin Heath - LOU 69 - Dennis Falcon P5/Strachan B30F - New 1954 to Aldershot & District (241) - Acquired 1967.

Aldershot & District had 15 of these LOU-registered Falcons and Vagg's bought no fewer than ten of them. Like the Bristol SC's they too had Gardner 4LK engines which though featuring the legendary Gardner quality and reliability were never famed for their quietness or smooth running. I never rode on one of these, so am unable to say if they were as unrefined as the SC's, but at least any racket would be contained out front under the bonnet. Aldershot & District also took a second smaller batch, some - if not all - of which later ran for Isle of Man Road Services, one now being preserved in A&D livery and therefore looking great.

Vagg's, Knockin Heath - 724 APU - Bristol SCX/ECW B35F - New 1954 to Eastern National (395) - Acquired 1964.

Yet another SC - this one had met its demise in an accident. One of a pair (724/725 APU) these were interesting as they were the two original SC prototypes - hence the SCX designation.

Roberts / Vale of Llangollen Tours, Cefn Mawr
EX 6562/6570 - Leyland PD2/1 / Leyland H56R - New 1949/50 to Great Yarmouth Corporation (62/70)
EX 7550 - Leyland PD2/10 / Leyland H56R - New 1952 to Great Yarmouth Corporation (50)

On to Roberts of Cefn Mawr. Vale of Llangollen Tours was formed from the takeover by Roberts of the coaching interests of Bryn Melyn Motor Services, Llangollen in 1965. Vehicles belonged to one or the other.

Williams, Ponciau - NUN 7G - Bedford SB5/Duple - New 1969 to Williams.

A stop was made in Wrexham Bus Station where this typical independent's Bedford bus of the period was on a local service.

Wright's, Penycae - PUN 273H - Seddon Pennine IV/Seddon B48F - New 1970 to Wright's.

Also in Wrexham Bus Station, this had only just entered service and I believe was the first of its kind anywhere - hence all the interested enthusiasts. It had replaced Wright's ex-Bury Guy Wulfrunian LEN 101, which had passed to Berresford's of Cheddleton. Seddon were trying to break into the Bedford YRQ/Ford R192 market with this model, but operators quickly realised that it was a thoroughly unpleasant item and not many were sold. The Pennine IV chassis did rather better as a coach - especially when the Perkins V8 was installed.

Phillips, Holywell - TDM 855 - Seddon Mk 17/Seddon B35F - New 1959 to Phillips.

An earlier example of a Seddon with their own bodywork, seen at Phillips depot. I am lead to believe this was probably the only Mk 17 supplied in the UK for PSV use - though there others used by local authorities for welfare use, and more were supplied to overseas customers, Seddon were doing quite reasonably in the export market at the time. Like Vagg's SC coaches it too had the big-hole-for-a grille-covered-up-by-a badge styling - standard on Seddon trucks of the period. Hardly a looker, but unusual. It was withdrawn and sold later in the year.

Lloyd's, Bagillt - RKP 917 - Leyland PD2/12 / Metro Cammell Orion - New to and ex-Maidstone & District.

Pictured outside Lloyd's depot, the weather having turned rather inclement. Lloyd's had bought a number of fine double deckers new, but this secondhand purchase did not quite have the same charisma as their wellknown PD3, Arab and Foden. Compare the austere lines of this early Orion body with the shapely derivative on the BMMO D7 shown previously.

On the way back to Manchester we stopped off at the premises of Tom Hollis at Queensferry, where we were able to scramble around his fascinating collection of elderly buses awaiting eventual restoration. I recall the ex-Pritchard of Newborough (Anglesey) former West Riding Roe-bodied Leyland Cub, whose previous regular driver was reckoned to be the oldest still holding a PSV licence, being about 84, and which did eventually appear on the rally scene (The bus - not him !). Also a 6-wheel single decker ex-Liverpool Corporation - possibly a Thornycroft, or was it a Guy, or even a Karrier..............can't be certain now. They were all packed tightly inside their shed and the light was too far gone by then for any more photographs. And a great day was had by all.

I must acknowledge reference to the PSV Circle's publication PD5 'The Small Stage Carriage Operators of Shropshire', and also to Neville Mercer's excellent books 'Independent Buses in Shropshire', 'Independent Buses in North Wales' and the joint collaboration with John Howie 'Sentinel' - all in the Venture Publishing Super Prestige Series and all three thoroughly recommended.


John Stringer

07/12/12 - 08:14

An excellent gallery John, highlighting just how interesting the scene had been and still was at that time compared to today's corporate blandness.
For a relatively rural part of the country the Shropshire/Welsh border had a fascinating mix of operators.
Couldn't agree more about your comments on the D7 and C5 and I always thought BMMO single deckers were far more interesting than most of their contemporaries.
The Bristol SC4 was a truly horrible vehicle once on board - I was subjected to them from time to time as a child on holiday in North Wales when Dad decided he wanted a day without driving.
The Seddon Mk17s window arrangement is strongly reminiscent of the window/pillar and rear dome shape of Manchester's unloved and unwanted Seddon bodied Albion Aberdonians.

Phil Blinkhorn

08/12/12 - 14:19

The thing about this site is the widely differing opinions of like-minded people who share a common interset. As ever, I found John's gallery and comments to be very interesting and informative, but on one subject we will have to agree to disagree. Personally, I have never been a fan of 'tin fronts' some were less brutal in appearance than others, but on the whole I thought they looked cheap and nasty. With to my mind the BMMO version being possibly the worst of the lot, but it wouldn't do for us all to be the same and it's the differences in opinion that make the site so interesting.

Ronnie Hoye

09/12/12 - 11:49

We didn't have any Bristol SC in Somerest so have only experienced them in preservation. I've been in touch with Gerry Tormey who has an excellent site on Bristol SC. His main comment regarding this great article is - For info the vehicle shown as 721 APU is actually “724 APU”.

Ken Jones

Thanks for that Ken I have changed the copy

09/12/12 - 18:09

As for liking 'tin fronts', I never actually mentioned liking them, it was more a case of preferring the D7 style of Metro Cammell bodywork to the standard Orion. I too generally much preferred the traditional exposed radiator, and from a sheer practical point of view believe they must have been far better. Aesthetically I don't especially dislike them though, and I think the AEC Regent V/Bridgemaster/Renown fronts looked rather good. It would be rather boring if we all had the same opinions.

John Stringer

10/12/12 - 07:23

The 6-wheeler ex Liverpool Corporation at Tom Hollis was indeed a Thorneycroft, reg KF 1040. Some more details of it available here. I remember seeing it at much the same period, or perhaps a bit earlier, and it was one that Tom was definitely keen to get to work on, although in practice I don't think he ever did. Nevertheless, his keenness for obtaining wrecks did at least ensure the survival of more that one interesting bus.

Alan Murray-Rust

10/12/12 - 07:25

In respect of Bristol SCs in Somerset, I do remember Brutonian having one c1979, although I can't now remember who the original operator had been.
BTW, I was on the said PSV Circle tour! I remember us going to Brown's, and Vagg's, and to Shrewsbury, and Wrexham, but I can't remember anything about Vale of Llangollen, Lloyd's, Phillips, or Hollis - did we really visit those operators? It doesn't help that I did visit the last three of those on a different occasion. One thing I do remember about the trip was the famous umpteen-point turn made by the Abbott's coach in the main street of - was it Wellington?
Other PSV Circle trips I went on were to South Wales (on a Seddon, I think), and to Cambridge - I believe on a Ribble Leopard.

David Call

10/12/12 - 09:00

Brutonian did have one Bristol SC from Lincolnshire - details at this link. However by then I had moved to the West Midlands so never saw it.

Ken Jones

11/12/12 - 07:24

I don't know how the mistake over the SC's registration cropped up - a typo by me obviously as my own scribbled notes clearly show the correct registrations.

John Stringer

11/12/12 - 10:59

Another excellent Gallery, John. When I first visited Shropshire I was living in Sale (Cheshire) and it was never the easiest county to get to by public transport, but the vehicles you could see (especially the Brown Sentinels) made it all worthwhile. Once again, I wish that I had known the contents of your photographic archive when I was doing my book on the area! I would have been pestering you non-stop for permission to use many of your shots. Don't suppose you've got anything hidden away covering Cumberland and Westmorland independents?? I've still not managed to find any photographs of Keswick Borrowdale Bus Service, McGregor of Ambleside, or the marvellously named Sim of Boot. Anybody else who can be persuaded to dig through their collections.....?

Neville Mercer

11/12/12 - 16:12

Sorry Neville, but I have no Cumberland/Westmorland operators' photos at all I'm afraid.

John Stringer

12/12/12 - 07:12

I believe Sim's are still in operation - would they not be able to help with old photos? They seem to currently trade as Sim's Travel, but for many years were known as Sim's of Eskdale. As far as I know the garage is still at Boot, a stone's throw from the R & E R Dalegarth station. I've always been puzzled as to where Boot ends and Dalegarth begins.

David Call

12/12/12 - 10:20

Thanks for the info, David, I'd presumed that they'd given up the ghost years ago. I'm afraid that my most recent copy of The Little Red Book is a 1967 edition - in my opinion it was all downhill from there! It seems strange to me that there are no pictures of Keswick Borrowdale to be found from the usual sources. Great background scenery, an owners' co-operative (plus Cumberland Motor Services), and bonneted Bedfords and Commers - you'd have thought that bus photographers would have been queuing up to take shots. I still live in hope!
If anybody needs more details about any of the operators visited on John's tour I may be able to help - I have complete fleet details for most of them.

Neville Mercer

06/08/13 - 08:19

Hello John Thanks for a view of your gallery. I spotted a photo of a coach I drove on Many occasions KMB 603G, an AEC Plaxton for Godfrey Abbott of Timperley, I drove part time for them for 19 years as the company expanded. I wonder who drove your party, I wish it had been me! That coach was well liked by all the Company, and was one of the "cream" to drive.

Alun B Powell

11/10/15 - 07:29

It is my loss that I am only a recent visitor to this site and I have very much enjoyed reading this article. I am currently working with David Donati and I am producing a web site www.ronsbusesandcoaches.com - involving historic fleet lists and details of operators - ceased and current - in the north east Wales area. My specific comment relates to the photo of Roberts / Vale of Llangollen Tours, Cefn Mawr and the ex Great Yarmouth PD2's. Two of the three are in my fleetlist but I have EX 6563 and not EX 6562 which is detailed in the caption. Unfortunately I am unable to read the registration in the photo - so can I ask if one of us has the incorrect vehicle? Can the number in the original photo be read please?

Ron Hughes

13/10/15 - 06:24

I only ever rode on one Sentinel - although many times on the same vehicle. It was the one bought brand new by Connor and Graham of Easington, Spurn, East Yorkshire - JWF 176.
I have a lasting impression of a very smooth running bus with excellent suspension and no significant movement or noise from its very slender light body. It often performed the 23:00 Sunday night journey from Leeds to RAF Patrington and did so in competent and comfortable style. At around 01:00 on the Monday on one occasion, while hurtling past Beverley Race Course, the silencer sprung a leak or fracture and must have aroused all those who slumbered in the town. The regular driver, Jock, paid no attention at all and carried on at maximum knots to our Camp - the residents of the peaceful hamlets twixt Hull and Withernsea were no doubt rudely aroused as had been those in Beverley.

Chris Youhill



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