These two books were essential holiday reading for me. Originally published in 1948, “The Sowing And The Harvest” was the story of the growth of the Crosville bus company, written by W J Crosland Taylor, the youngest son of it’s original founder, George Crosland Taylor. The company was originally a Chester based car importing company that decided to improve it’s fortunes in 1911 (motor cars then being merely a rich man’s toy) by commencing a bus service between Chester & Ellesmere Port, taking advantage of the fact that a journey by train between the two involved a change (as indeed, it still does, though both train services are now much more frequent). The car business would subsequently be ditched and the bus network expanded rapidly to cover a large portion of Cheshire, reaching into neighbouring Lancashire in Warrington, Widnes & Liverpool, and an even greater chunk of North Wales, including becoming the main bus company on the all important North Wales coast corridor, heading west from Chester, out through Rhyl, Llandudno, Bangor and onto Anglesey.
On 31st May 1929, the company sold out to the London Midland Scottish Railway which, like all of the big four railway companies, was actively buying into the bus industry, recognising that here was a significant new competitor for the rail industry that needed to be controlled. By this time, W.J Crosland Taylor was high up in the management structure, with his Father having passed away and the company controlled by W.J’s (William James) older brother Claude, who himself passed away tragically young in 1935, leaving W.J in the top spot. The railways had also invested in the larger bus owning groups and it was felt prudent for the railways to place all their bus interests into these groups whilst, of course, retaining a profitable shareholding large enough to retain an influence! So Crosville soon found itself part of the British Automobile Traction (BAT) group, which itself was a combination of companies owned jointly by British Electric Traction (BET) and Tilling. In 1942, BAT was disbanded, with the companies concerned passing to either one or the other of the two groups, Crosville passing to Tilling, who would later sell out to the state formed British Transport Commission in 1948, the same time as the railways were nationalised. Following this, like the other former Tilling fleets, Crosville standardised on Bristol chassis with ECW bodies.
“The Sowing And The Harvest” was published just before nationalisation and W.J is full of gloom over this. But things initially didn’t turn out so bad, with the state placing very little interference into the running of the company. This persuaded W.J to write a sequel to his first book, which would be entitled “State Owned Without Tears” published in 1953 and thus providing a very detailed account over those five years. Both books were republished in 1987, which is how I obtained my two copies. I haven’t read these since first purchasing them in the early nineties, so it’s been interesting reading the perspective of a manager from the forties & fifties within the territory that his company once operated.
Since the books were written, Crosville would, in 1969, become part of the National Bus Company (NBC), following BET selling it’s bus operations to the state in 1967, by which time the good times for the bus industry had well and truly passed. 1986 saw the company split into two, Crosville England and Crosville Wales, in time for the deregulation of the bus industry in October of that year. The privatisation of the two companies followed a complex course, which I’ll refer to throughout this blog but basically, the vast majority of both companies have become part of Arriva, ironically a company formed from a car dealership (Cowie) who spread into buses (by the acquisition of coach company Grey Green with the purchase of the George Ewer group) and found them to be more viable than the highly competitive world of selling cars. Shades of Crosville’s origins?
Being already fairly familiar with Crosville’s former English territory, I thought it was time to get to know the Welsh side a little better, a task made easier with Arriva’s excellent value £5.50 Day Ticket, valid on all Arriva services throughout Wales and the North West, surely the cheapest priced ticket in the UK valid over such a large area? So it was that on the first Monday of my holiday, I found myself rising bright and early and walking around the corner to the Gloddaeth Street bus stop to wait for the next number 12, which soon turned up in the shape of Sapphire branded Enviro 400 4543;
Sapphire is Arriva’s luxury brand, featuring leather seats, good legroom and wifi (though the latter feature appears on most of the Wales based fleet) and the Wales version of Sapphire is the most luxurious of them all;
I managed to bag the front seat to enjoy the views of the long route ahead. As I’ve explained in Part One, the 12 roughly follows the route of the former Llandudno & Colwyn Bay Tramway on it’s first section, heading out of Llandudno along the busy Mostyn Street but, whilst the former tramway headed over Bodofan fields on it’s private right of way, the 12 headed onto the Promenade, passing a rather delightful children’s paddling pool and the town’s new Lifeboat Station before heading over the Little Orme. Heading through Penrhyn Bay, this area had become increasingly suburbanised since the demise of the tramway. Also present was the local college, which saw several of our mostly young passengers alight. We then briefly headed onto Rhos On Sea Promenade before heading inland again to serve the town of Colwyn Bay. Onwards to Abegele, we then passed into the caravan land of Towyn before reaching the outskirts of Rhyl, passing the miniature railway around the marine lake before heading into the town, where we terminated at the bus station, handily sited next to the railway station.
I’ve visited Rhyl on day trips on several occasions throughout my life! The first time would have been in 1975, with my Mum on a Manns Coaches of Smethwick excursion. It was a nice day in what was then a vibrant resort but sadly, we didn’t have time to sample what was then the M87 open top bus service along the front (operated by Bristol Lodekkas). Second visit was with two branches of the family in a hired minibus in 1980. It was a blissfully sunny day, which was mainly spent on the beach in the western side of town. All good fun, with the added bonus of watching Class 40 & 47 hauled trains passing nearby on the North Wales Coast Mainline. But again, no chance to ride on the open toppers. Following this, the Lodekkas were replaced by one man operated ex Southdown Daimler Fleetlines, with the service extended over what’s now the 12 route to Llandudno. This lengthy run would cease after deregulation, with the open top service truncated back to Abegele, the Fleetlines having being replaced by ECW bodied Bristol VRs. This was how the open topper looked upon my next visit, with my then new wife Lynn on a daytrip in 1997. Unfortunately, upon hitting Wales, it seemed to rain incessantly during our stay, so heading into the new seafront cinema to see Rowan Atkinson in “Bean” overtook my desire to sample the open toppers. Finally, those who’ve read my “Rhyl & Llandudno 2015” blog will realise that I once again failed to find the open toppers in Rhyl! So I badly wanted to ride on a Rhyl Open Topper!
But this year, now a bit more experienced with the internet, I’d done my research! Arriva run open top route 1 eastward through Prestatyn to a point called Talacre. It was a good job that I had done my research because, once again, publicity for the service was virtually non existent! The only reference to the route was on a “Where to find your bus” list, which pointed to the stand where the 11 to Chester started from. I made my way to the stand but only the 11 and the local services to Prestatyn featured in the stop’s timetable case! It’s a pity really, as Arriva’s publicity of it’s other services from the bus station was absolutely exemplary;
Fortunately though, I had my smart phone with me and looked up the service. The 1 runs hourly during the school summer holidays, reducing to two hourly at the shoulders of the season, which I was now in. And I was on the wrong hour! I considered dropping my plans to ride the service, maybe coming back for it later in the holiday but today was such a nice day that an open top bus ride was positively irresistible! So I decided to have a little wander around Rhyl, still sadly as run down as I described in the 2015 blog with some dubious looking individuals supping from white lightening cider bottles not exactly adding to the seaside charm. A shame as the town had once been so nice!
“State Owned Without Tears” states that it’s a close run thing between Rhyl & Brighton as to which resort introduced a sea front open top bus service first (note I said bus service, as both Blackpool and Weston Super Mare both already had seafront tramways, and there were probably others), the Rhyl service having been started by one Joe Brookes around 1928, an operator subsequently acquired by Crosville.
I arrived back at the bus station in good time for the departure of open top Alexander ALX400 bodied DAF 3990, it’s staircase position betraying it’s origins as a former dual door Arriva London bus;
I made my way to the back seat upstairs for maximum fresh air effects and settled down to enjoy the two hour round trip! Despite the route heading eastwards, the bus actually turned out of the bus station in a westward direction, enabling the route to complete a full run of Rhyl’s Promenade. The funfair that once existed at the far end of the Prom has now sadly gone, replaced by new flats. The various amusement arcades were gradually opening up for the day, hoping to attract the custom of day trippers. Some rather pleasant children’s amusements near to the cinema where Lynn and I had seen “Bean” all those years ago, were doing likewise. At the end of the Prom, we joined the bungalow clad main road to Prestatyn, where we did a double run around the Town Centre to serve the bus station, passing the Scrappy Doo Dog Grooming parlour, named after the irritating pup that bought to an end the glory days of the cartoon TV series “Scooby Doo!” Shades of a metaphor concerning this part of the North Wales Coast? I’d been alone up until this point but was now joined an elderly lady who was taking her two young (presumably) Grand Children for an open top ride, something that they took to with innocent enthusiasm! Surely this is the sort of thing that makes such ventures worthwhile!
We left Prestatyn to serve the Pontins camp, followed by a series of caravan parks, not dissimilar to Towyn, though, of course, these parks lacked the convenience of a ten minute frequency trunk route such as the 12, making the need for a more dedicated bus service on this side more of a necessity, hence the demise of the open top service on Rhyl’s western fringes. Many of the caravan parks were owned by a firm called Lyons, including a particularly large one called Robin Hood Holiday Park. The final section of the route included a fast stretch along the A55 dual carriageway, the bus being put through it’s paces on this stretch, meaning the ride certainly lived up to it’s “Roller Coaster” branding! We turned off the A55 to reach the village of Talacre which, without the presence of various caravan parks, could barely be said to exist!
We picked up a fair number of families with young children (older children, of course, being at school) for the run into the fleshpots of Rhyl. It’s been very good to hear this year that the open top seafront service is enjoying a renaissance in places such as Southend and Torbay but also good to see that the long established service in Rhyl is still going. (Unfortunately no longer, as Arriva put the open top DAFs up for sale the following year. Great shame.)
The 51 & X51
Returning to Rhyl, I was slightly disappointed to just miss a Sapphire Enviro 400 on the 51 to Denbigh, my next planned route. However, this is a twenty minute service, so I didn’t have to wait to long for the next one, although that was a single decker, Wright bodied VDL 2654, upgraded to MAX specification, basically Sapphire (although the seats are more akin to the slightly less luxurious English Sapphire specification) though without the UCB charging sockets. Despite it’s MAX spec, the bus has been recently repainted in the latest Arriva livery. 2654 dates from 2007, which means the leather seats and wifi were fitted later. 2654 was a pleasant bus to travel on, leaving Rhyl over the railway bridge and heading inland, past a typically identikit retail park and calling at the area’s main hospital. The countryside on this route seemed to be constantly interrupted by retail and business parks before we arrived at Denbigh. Considering it’s the county town of Denbighshire, the town was smaller than I expected but so quintessentially Welsh, nothing indicating this more than the rather quaint little bus terminus being situated outside the Welsh Language Centre;
I waited twenty minutes for the arrival of the next X51 to Wrexham. To be honest, I’m unsure as to whether that X51 had actually ran through from Rhyl as a 51, as I’d seen a Sapphire Enviro 400 heading into Rhyl as I’d left on 2654 and an identical bus now arrived on the X51, in the form of bus 4407, one of the Wrexham allocated Sapphire E400s originally allocated there for route 1 to Chester. Anyhow, I boarded 4407 for a delightful run through gorgeous countryside, passing through towns with names that I couldn’t pronounce. Hills lingered in the distance, all so quintessentially Welsh!
The sight of an Arriva bus garage hidden behind a clutch of trees signalled that the rural ride was over and that we were entering the outskirts of Wrexham. Soon, we were at the recently constructed bus station, well, more recently than when I was last in the town some ten years ago! That was when my old friend John Batchelor and I had rode the railway line from Bidston, on the Wirral, to Wrexham Central. We’d briefly had some chips from a chippy by the original, more basic bus station before making our way to General station for a train to Chester. Before that, I’d visited the town around 1999, on a Midland Red North bash via Telford, Shrewsbury, Oswestry & Wrexham, continuing on the trunk number 1 to Chester, then recently upgraded with brand new Northern Counties bodied Volvo Olympians, though I was lucky enough to travel on an older ECW bodied Leyland Olympian. I then returned to the West Midlands via Crewe, Hanley & Stafford (must blog that bash up sometime!). The reign of the Northern Counties Olympians on the 1 was relatively short, with low floor single deckers replacing them in the early years of this century. That was until Sapphire happened around 2009, when 4407 and it’s sisters saw double deckers return to the 1 with a previously unknown level of luxury!
Now, the 1 has been upgraded again, with a batch of MMC Enviro 400 Cities, which I was keen to sample, this basically being my main purpose in visiting Wrexham;
So it was that I joined a brace of home going College students and boarded 1005 (as seen above). The bus was quite full and I sat in an available seat but felt that the legroom wasn’t a patch on the buses they had replaced. This seemed to be to accommodate a few table seats, which seem to be a popular trend at the moment. I therefore decided to sample one of the tables at the back, which was still free. Don’t get me wrong, the general ambiance of the bus was very impressive, I’m just not convinced that this table thing (Blackpool’s latest Cities have a similar feature-see blog “Blackpool with Phil”) is necessarily the way to go, particularly if it means sacrificing leg room; The 1 is another traditional Crosville trunk route, though originally, two routes provided a combined Chester-Wrexham frequency, with the D1 then carrying on to Llangollen, whilst the D2 nipped back into England to terminate at Oswestry. The through services were split in the seventies and the outer sections are now covered by Arriva routes 5 & 2 respectively. A very healthy fifteen minute service is still maintained on the 1 though, with the loadings appearing to justify this, although most of our young passengers had alighted in the Wrexham suburbs. Then it was a brief rural interlude before serving the Chester Business Park, close to which is one of the Chester Park & Ride. sites, currently operated by Stagecoach using new MMC Enviro 200s;
Perhaps now would be a good time to explain what happened to Crosville post deregulation. The two 1986 created companies both passed into privatisation, with Crosville Wales passing to a management buy out which sold out to National Express in 1989. Crosville England, meanwhile, was sold to the ATL group, which also owned Yelloways Coaches. This group was very troubled and 1989 saw Crosville England sold to the Drawlane group, who said that Crosville had a bright future with them….and then promptly split the company up! Crewe passed to fellow Drawlane subsidiary Midland Red North, whilst Winsford, Runcorn & Warrington went to North Western, another subsidiary. Macclesfield passed to the group’s Manchester based Beeline operation. The remaining rump, centred around Chester and the Wirral, was sold to Potteries based company PMT, who adopted the Crosville name.
Late 1992 would see a complex share exchange between Drawlane and National Express, which saw the latter company concentrate on it’s coach network (not getting involved with buses again until it’s “merger” with West Midlands Travel in 1996) whilst Crosville Wales passed to the new British Bus Group, along with the former Drawlane subsidiaries, bringing much of Crosville back into the same group! British Bus would later sell out to Cowie who would then rebrand themselves as Arriva.
PMT meanwhile, sold out to Badgerline, which in turn merged with GRT to create First Bus, later known as First. Recent years have seen First rid itself of some of it’s operations, including Chester and the Wirral which have now passed to Stagecoach. This also includes the former Chester City Transport operations, which had sold out to First in 2006. Hence Stagecoach was now the dominant operator in Chester, although Arriva also have a garage there, where some local former Crosville Wales routes are based, as well as routes like the 84 to Crewe (where Arriva closed the garage some years back). In addition, a battle emerged between Arriva and First for Chester City Transport (CCT), which resulted in both operators ending up competing with each other on the Blacon corridor, CCT’s busiest route, serving the city’s largest council estate. The competition continues today!
I alighted from the 1 in the City Centre, before the route’s ultimate terminus at the railway station. I then attempted to search for the new bus station, the previous Bus Exchange having been closed. After a brief search, I was successful, finding a modern facility rather similar to Wrexham, only larger!
As can be seen above, the new facility is known as the Chester Bus Interchange and, although completely new, the block of flats that can be seen to the right of the photo gives away the fact that the new station is virtually on the site of the former Crosville bus station that opened in the early seventies and closed some years back! Close by is a chip shop known as “Chip A Dee” (the Dee being the river through Chester-get it?) so I treated myself to battered sausage and chips before my next bus!
The direct service back to Rhyl is the 11, operated by Wright Gemini bodied VDL double deckers branded Cymru Coastliner (a name once used for a Crosville Limited Stop service from Chester-Caernarfan). I’d done that route on my 2015 bash. Therefore, I decided to leave Chester on the 10A to Hollywell, where I could transfer onto the 11. The 10A and it’s 10 sister service to Connah’s Quay are operated with Sapphire E400s and serve areas to the south of the main road. It was now the middle of the evening peak and a good queue had formed for the next departure, which I joined. In front of me was a girl who was busy watching something on her i Pad. I could see American actor Ron Perlman on her screen, which told me that this was an episode of the biker drama “Sons of Anarchy”. As soon as E400 4638 appeared, we all boarded, the girl in front flashing her weekly pass at the driver and instantly connecting into the bus’s wifi, with barely a flicker of the picture she was watching! Such is the importance of wifi in this hi tech world!
We left the city and soon found ourselves in a heavy traffic jam close to a retail park. Once free of this, we were treated to some serious fast running but we were unable to make up time. So we arrived at Holywell, the driver clearly frustrated by the fact that motorists wouldn’t let him out of the junction needed to gain access to the small bus station. Unfortunately, this delay caused me to miss an 11G (what the 11 changes to when reaching this point! More pointless EU rules!) so I was forced to wait half an hour for the next one, which turned out to be Wright Gemini/VDL 4488;
Although not as luxurious as the Sapphire spec, these are also quite comfortable. I suppose the 11 will be upgraded to Sapphire at some point, but these are just fine until then. I decided to alight at Prestatyn, in order to get route 13 in the book. This takes the back roads to Llandudno and getting it in the book now would save me a trip later in the holiday. During the day, the forty minute frequency route uses full size Wright/VDL saloons but the basic evening service (this was the last but one journey to venture further east than Llanwrst) is home to an Optare Solo, 665 tonight, that is making it’s way from it’s Rhyl home to Arriva’s Llandudno out station at Alpine Coaches premises, where it would then spend a few days operating Llandudno local service 26. Here’s a photo of 665 on that route taken on the Great Orme;
The first stretch of the route is quite rural and this evening journey was poorly loaded, though it looked a lifeline to the two other passengers on board. We then hit the Hospital that I’d passed on the 51 earlier, where we picked up more passengers, making the service viable. It then began to go dark and I failed to see too much of the route through Colwyn Bay and around the back of Llandudno. I alighted at the Glodeath Street terminus and went into the Palladium, a Weatherspoons converted from a theatre of the same name, treating myself to a pint of “I Am Froot” a local raspberry scented beer named in honour of the character of Root from the “Guardians of the Galaxy” films! A civilised end to an interesting day!