Take a bus ride through time

WELCOME ADDITION: one of the new FirstGreatYarmouth single-deckers in service in the town.

WELCOME ADDITION: one of the new FirstGreatYarmouth single-deckers in service in the town. - Credit: Archant

THERE was a time when news that Great Yarmouth was expecting half a-dozen new buses would have given me some welcome pre-Christmas cheer. Yet when a mini-fleet of spanking new swish single-deckers made its debut on our streets a fortnight ago, scarcely a ripple of excitement stirred me.

SURVIVOR: a former Yarmouth bus currently stored on a Hopton site.Picture: CHRIS HOPKINS

SURVIVOR: a former Yarmouth bus currently stored on a Hopton site.Picture: CHRIS HOPKINS - Credit: Archant

If only the newcomers could have been those much-loved ratepayer-funded elegant blue-and-cream Yarmouth Corporation Transport vehicles bearing the borough coat-of-arms which had a near monopoly hereabouts for much of the 20th century, I mused, a bout of nostalgia blurring reality.

When the council’s bus undertaking was sold in the 1980s, the buyer pledged to retain the familiar livery...but nobody seriously expected that promise to endure forever.

Passengers surely will welcome the new arrivals and, although FirstGreatYarmouth occasionally gives me and others the bus blues when there are the inevitable hiccoughs (often reported in the Mercury), overall it provides a reliable service for which we should be grateful.

Local bus enthusiasts had been discussing the imminence of these additions to the fleet, speculation confirmed by the on-line East Norfolk Bus Blog which reported that a dozen Wright Streetlifes were expected, six for the Yarmouth depot and the rest allocated to Norwich. All have 64 registration plates, and first indications were that they would primarily be used on Yarmouth area services 4, 5, 6 and 7.

JUST VISITING: a postwar Great Yarmouth Corporation bus in Green Lane, Bradwell, in 2003. In its wor

JUST VISITING: a postwar Great Yarmouth Corporation bus in Green Lane, Bradwell, in 2003. In its working days it would not have operated across the county boundary into Bradwell. It is now a museum piece.Picture: PETER ALLARD - Credit: Archant

I was pleased to see one pass through the Market Gates terminus on its debut day despite the fact that it bore the “Sorry - not in Service” legend. Then Zak Nelson, who runs the www.norwichbuspage.com website came here to photograph them on service and snapped one on my regular number 2 route (James Paget Hospital-Barrack Estate)!

Bus fans have also told me that FirstBus has a programme for restoring to original livery one vehicle from each of some of the fleets it has acquired. And yes, there are plans for a re-creation of a Yarmouth Corporation bus.

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We old-timers who travelled on them will, I reckon, embark on a transport of delight if and when we catch sight of the refurbished vehicle. All praise to FirstBus for the gesture.

Colin White, of Magdalen Way, Gorleston, joint editor of the Terminus magazine for bus enthusiasts, and Chris Hopkins, of Laburnum Close, Bradwell, are also looking forward to the day when a blue-and-cream vehicle returns to familiar territory hereabouts.

“There is already a bus in heritage livery in Ipswich,” reports Colin. That is a double-decker in Eastern Counties red, reminding me of the old days when our highly-regulated transport undertaking blue buses operated within Yarmouth and Gorleston, crossing into the rural district only to serve Caister, and left other services to Eastern Counties.

The red Eastern Counties fleet had a long-gone depot in Wellington Road, Yarmouth, and its routes included Lowestoft and the hinterland villages like Bradwell and Belton (then part of East Suffolk) which were incorporated into Yarmouth under local government reorganisation in 1974.

Adds Colin White: “There is also one from Norwich which is away at Rotherham at the moment being refurbished and repainted, and hopefully one from Great Yarmouth...when they can find the right paint (GYT Blue) for the job.”

Chris Hopkins confirms that FirstBus is seeking the precise shade of blue we remember on our corporation buses to use on its heritage vehicle. And he reports that former Yarmouth Corporation single-decker GEX740F, still “looking quite tidy inside”, is in retirement on a storage site in Hopton.

If any Yarmouthians want to see one of our traditional fleet, they have to travel only as far as Carlton Colville, outside Lowestoft, home of the East Anglian Transport Museum. Its worthy collection includes no fewer than three: double-decker fleet number 66 (EX6566), built in 1949, and single-deckers AEX85B (1964) and K62KEX (1995).

I boarded the long-retired EX6566 when it visited the borough from its Suffolk rest home in 2003 to participate in the Yarmouth carnival procession. Then it stopped off in Green Lane, Bradwell, outside the home of bus fan Ray Allard who gave the driver a cup of tea before he resumed his journey to the vehicle’s Suffolk base.

I think this was when it belonged to a private owner before becoming a museum exhibit. The delight at seeing the pristine advertisement-free bus was tinged with some concern by a rumour that it might be sold by its private owner to an American enthusiast and shipped to Florida.

Luckily that proved a false alarm.

Fleet number 66, with its open rear platform where the conductor stood and passengers boarded and alighted, had been part of a 10-vehicle order placed by the corporation in 1946, but postwar delays meant that by three years later only two had been delivered and were on our streets.

Finally, a poser I cannot fathom about the praiseworthy XI service with its “all mod cons”. Mrs Peggotty and I recently boarded one in Norwich bus station for our journey home to Gorleston. The destination blind read “Great Yarmouth” - OK for us, although it would involve transferring to our Gorleston bus at Market Gates and probably getting wet in the pouring rain.

On drawing up outside the Bhs store in Yarmouth, we began to disembark but noticed passengers were still on board, with others queuing to board in the downpour. I asked the driver if he was continuing to Lowestoft, which he said he was, so we sat down again and stayed on until the Magdalen Arms in Gorleston.

I only half caught the driver’s hurried explanation, but it was something about rules forbidding “Lowestoft” being displayed until the bus had passed a boundary in Acle.

We vaguely remembered changing buses in similar circumstances in summer. Perhaps that, too, was unnecessary and “Yarmouth” had already changed to “Lowestoft” on the destination blind and we could have stayed on board.

Finally, a recent column about Dinky Toys was illustrated by a picture of line-up of different models of Yarmouth Corporation buses. They were wrongly captioned as Dinkys, being made by a different specialist firm. But according to the models’ owner, Dinky has become a generic term for these scale replicas regardless of maker.