How the passion began . . .
Blissful childhood and school days...
My earliest recollection of contact with Eastern Counties vehicles was way back in 1967 when I stood by my open junior school gate and watched an aged half cab saloon make its weary way along Great Yarmouth’s St Peters Road.
The Eastern Counties bus depot was located just around the corner in Wellington Road and all departing buses had to pass by my school as they made their way out into the East Anglian countryside to such far flung places as Norwich, Cromer, North Walsham, Martham, Hemsby, Winterton, Bradwell, Stokesby, Belton, Burgh Castle, Beccles, Loddon and Lowestoft.
This must have been the time when the crucial seed was sown which would one day see me acquire and restore three classic examples from the ‘50s and ‘60s ('Tilling') Eastern Counties fleet. By the time I was old enough to possess any degree of understanding of the various vehicle types, routes and timetables, most of the half cab, exposed radiator type buses had all but disappeared, save for one solitary double decker of this ilk, namely, LKH 341 (NAH 941), a 1952 built high-bridge Bristol KSW5G, which was retained at Yarmouth depot as a driver training vehicle. (Pictured right: LKH 341 parked on the front yard of Yarmouth's Wellington Road Bus Station in the late 1960s) This fine vehicle was later acquired by the Eastern Counties Omnibus Society (now the Eastern Transport Collection Society) and is currently undergoing major restoration with a target date for it to return to the road sometime towards the end of 2015.
Prior to 1971, the fleet was predominantly in the original ‘Tilling’ red and cream livery, but with the Company's full assimilation into the National Bus Company during this year, the traditional colours gradually gave way to a much less attractive ‘Poppy’ red and white scheme. The old style gold, black edged fleetnames were replaced with white block letters, complimented with the National reflected 'N' symbol, indicating Eastern Counties’ membership of the new much larger corporate concern. By the mid 1970s, most of the fleet had been so treated, with only vehicles due for imminent withdrawal remaining in the old 'Tilling' livery.
It was around this time that my interest in buses grew considerably and it wasn’t too long before I became well acquainted with the many platform staff, inspectors, fitters and cleaners based at the friendly Wellington Road garage (alas, sadly now demolished).
Many happy non-school days were spent riding the red and white buses through the pleasant Norfolk and Suffolk countryside with a ‘Wanderbus’ ticket clutched tightly in my warm sweaty hand! Every route was meticulously explored and quickly memorised and the now familiar Eastern Coach Works bodied vehicles became my firm friends. Each vehicle possessed its own idiosyncrasies and despite models being of similar age and design, to quote a seasoned driver’s words “no two buses are ever the same to drive”. (Pictured left: 1970s handbill advertising 'Wanderbus' tickets)
After a long, quiet winter, the summer time in Yarmouth was extremely busy in the 1970s, when a huge influx of holidaymakers descended on the famous East Anglian seaside resort to enjoy their annual holidays. To cope with the heavy demand for buses on the busy holiday camp workings to Caister, California, Scratby, Hemsby, Newport and perhaps to a lesser extent, Belton, Burgh Castle, Corton and Hopton-on-Sea, the Yarmouth fleet had to almost double in strength.
Many of the relief vehicles came from the main Company depot in Norwich. These were nearly always aging double deckers of the LKD (Bristol LD) and LFS (Bristol FS) classes with the occasional LM (Bristol MW) type saloon and downgraded LS (Bristol LS or MW) coach thrown in for good measure! Needless to say, I soon acquainted myself with these newcomers and felt very sad when the holiday season finally drew to a close towards the end of September and these faithful old beasts were finally consigned to Norwich’s Silver Road ‘tram sheds’ to await collection, often by erstwhile dealer and breaker, Ben Jordan of Coltishall.
Witnessing these sad annual departures from the fleet, made me quickly realise that the ‘Tilling’ vehicles were not going to be around forever and this is when I set my heart on saving one of these fine old stagers for future posterity. Once I had secured my first summer holiday job, I started saving every spare penny that came my way to raise the necessary funds required to realise this ambitious dream.
My first love was LKD 201 (VVF 201), a somewhat faded and battered Bristol LD type Lodekka, dating from 1958, which had carried its last fare paying passengers towards the end of the 1975 Yarmouth summer season. Like many other aged buses, LKD 201 was sent from Norwich as a relief vehicle to handle the heavy Yarmouth holiday traffic and in typical form, was rendered ‘delicensed for disposal’ when the season drew to a close. (Pictured right: LKD 201 parked on the 'front yard' at Yarmouth bus station in September 1975 at the end of her service life) This fine old workhorse was relegated to a corner of the ‘front yard’ of the Wellington Road depot to await her fate and I well remember paying regular visits to her in between journeys. I often sat inside her upper and lower saloons, pondering what may happen to her and wishing I had the means to rescue her from her uncertain fate. There was very little I wouldn’t have done to have had a sympathetic father or uncle to have arranged her purchase! Sadly, this wasn’t to be and I was nowhere near old enough to raise the necessary funds myself, being still at school, studying for my GCE 'O' levels. The next thing I knew, she had disappeared from the corner of the depot's front yard and I never saw her again. Thankfully, I had taken a photograph of her, so her memory can live on. A year or two later, I learnt that she had been acquired by a Barnsley breaker and cut up for scrap . . . poor old 201. Now, if only I'd been born a few years earlier!!
Leaving school and a move to Essex...
Upon leaving school in 1977, I moved from Great Yarmouth to the Essex town of Westcliff-on-Sea for three years, where I took up a post with Her Majesty's Customs & Excise at their headquarters offices in nearby Southend-on-Sea. Whilst I was here, I joined the Eastern National Preservation Group (now known as the Castle Point Transport Museum Society) based in the former Canvey & District (later Westcliff-on-Sea Motor Services and Eastern National) bus garage at the far eastern tip of Canvey Island and became very familiar with the mainly green and white Bristol fleet operated by the Eastern National Omnibus Company of Chelmsford and enjoyed many trips out on their vehicles all over the Essex countryside during my days off. However, the mainly Leyland and Daimler fleet of Southend Corporation Transport did not escape my attention. Their large fleet of very well turned out vehicles were a familiar daily sight on the roads of this large Essex resort and its extensive environs. I was particularly drawn to the six 1958 built lowbridge Leyland PD3/6's with their very attractive Massey bodies. Four of these buses had been converted to open top to operate route 68 along the extensive sea front, stretching from Shoeburyness to Leigh-on-Sea, before turning inland to Leigh Highlands (Thames Drive) and I had many an enjoyable ride on these fine vehicles, as I also did on Eastern National's splendid route 67, which was also open top operated, serving the sea front with four tastefully converted and very characterful 1953 Bristol KSW5Gs! Of the six aforementioned Leyland PD3s of Southend Corporation, two remained as original with closed tops and I grew rather fond of the last member of the batch, namely, fleet number 316 (PHJ 955) and I came very close to acquiring this fine old workhorse when she was withdrawn from service and subsequently came up for tender towards the end of April 1978. Sadly, I was outbid by fifty pounds on the sealed tendering process by Peter Newman (later of EnsignBus fame) who later exported the vehicle to a buyer in Germany and as far as I'm aware, that buyer still has the bus to this day! This was my first attempt at acquiring a bus, sadly unsuccessful, but I'm pleased to note that sister vehicle, 315 (PHJ 954) (pictured left), was subsequently acquired for preservation by the Castle Point Transport Museum Society of Canvey Island, Essex. Click here to view a selection of photographs taken by Richard Delahoy on the occasion of 316's farewell run on service 7 from Shoeburyness to Rayleigh Station which I attended on the 8th of April 1978.
(Pictured above left: I tried to buy this one!! A Massey bodied 1958 lowbridge Leyland PD3-6, seen here departing Southend Corporation's London Road depot on driver training duties in 1977)
The acquisition of my first bus...
As things turned out, I had to wait
a further three years to realise my dream of owning my very own Eastern Counties
bus. After a long, seemingly interminable wait, my prayers were finally answered
when, lo and behold, in June 1978, I was contacted by the Eastern Counties
Omnibus Society who had recently acquired a 1958 built
Bristol MW5G saloon - ex Eastern Counties LM
452 (3014 AH), later renumbered to LM 952,
from a Cambridge building contractor. The Society's committee were considering
breaking this vehicle for spares for their preserved former ECOC Bristol MW5G
coach, LS 789 (5789 AH), having deemed the vehicle surplus to their
requirements. Was I interested in taking this on Bernard the treasurer asked?
Interested?!! Wow! Of course I was INTERESTED!! Two weeks later, a
deal was struck with the Society's treasurer, the late Bernard Watkin, and I
found myself the proud custodian of my very own Eastern Counties bus and I hadn't even had my first driving lesson! (Clicking on the
in this paragraph will download a .pdf format
potted history of LM 452).
LM 452 when first seen in June 1978.
Left: LM 452 when first seen in June 1978.
Right: The fully restored LM 452 gleaming in the September sunshine whilst attending the Norwich Bus Rally at the Royal Norfolk Showground in 2000.
Old and battered she may have been, but she immediately became my pride and joy and the first of many, many days of dedicated hard work to restore her to her former glory began in earnest! Six years later, she arose from the ashes, resplendent in original 1950s 'Tilling' livery, taking pride of place at the 1984 Norwich Bus & Coach Rally, organised by the Eastern Transport Collection Society at the Royal Norfolk Showground. I was completely overwhelmed when I learned she had won two prestigious awards at this event - 'Best Single Deck (1956-62)' and 'Best Former ECOC Vehicle'. This was indeed, the crowning glory after six long years of hard slog, most of it completely unaided!
It is now firmly believed that LM 452 is the sole survivor of the once extensive Eastern Counties stage carriage MW fleet, numbering 105 similar examples, making her a very valuable part of Eastern Counties history!
My second acquisition...
In the summer of 1982, another ex ECOC Bristol MW5G saloon, also dating from 1958, was acquired by the Eastern Counties Omnibus Society (now the Eastern Transport Collection Society) as a possible preservation project. LM 444 (3006 AH), later renumbered to LM 944, had been working for Garnham's Garage in Woodbridge, Suffolk as a school contract bus before acquisition by the Society. When the Society's committee decided not to go ahead with her restoration, I decided to step in and offer her a home! The transaction was successfully negotiated in the autumn of 1982 and the vehicle was moved to sit alongside her sister, LM 452, on a piece of hardstanding farmer's land on the former wartime Weston Longville airfield. In 1983, LM 452 was moved into undercover accommodation for the first time, in a farmer's barn in Blofield Heath, Norfolk, leaving her former fleet-mate, LM 444 parked alone at Weston Longville.
Left: LM 444 in service with ECOC, seen here in Ipswich, Old Cattle Market bus station in the late 1960s.
Right: LM 444 as acquired, standing at Woodforde Farm, Weston Longville in September 1983.
My third acquisition...
A year later, in November 1984, I learned of another fine old ex Eastern Counties vehicle which urgently required a new home. A very forlorn looking 1950 Bristol L5G saloon - ex ECOC LL 711 (KNG 711), was languishing in a motor dealer's yard in the village of Kessingland, a few miles south of Lowestoft. She instantly brought back memories of my very first sighting of an Eastern Counties bus all those years ago when I was in junior school. I had always longed to own an ex Eastern Counties half cab saloon with an exposed Bristol radiator, but never believed I would ever find one so late in time. Imagine my delight when I discovered this treasure was actually up for sale and an ex-ECOC example as well! I'd struck gold!
Left: LL 711 when first acquired in November 1984.
Right: The fully restored LL 711 at the East Anglia Transport Museum, Carlton Colville, Lowestoft, in July 2001.
Urgent negotiations with the owner quickly ensued and two weeks later, arrangements had been made to have her moved from her Kessingland resting place to a rented thatched barn located just outside the pretty Broadland village of South Walsham. Again, work on her restoration began almost immediately and culminated four years later when she made her proud debut appearance at the 1988 Norwich Bus & Coach Rally, resplendent once more in sparkling 'Tilling' red and cream livery. (Clicking on the blue text in the paragraph above will download a .pdf format potted history of LL 711).
Relinquishing LM 444...
In the summer of 1985, LM 444 was moved from her Weston Longville home to an open air parking spot immediately adjacent to LL 711's thatched barn near South Walsham, where she remained in an unrestored state until 1987. With considerable financial resources being required to complete LL 711's restoration, a very reluctant decision was taken to sell LM 444 on to another preservationist and so, in the autumn of 1987, a large tow truck duly arrived from Bedford to remove her to a new home. Unfortunately, despite my request to be offered 'first refusal' on her should her new owner wish to sell her again, I later learnt that she had been sold to a Barnsley breaker without my knowledge! Tragedy!! Had I known this was to be her fate, I certainly would never have agreed to sell her! Learning this dreadful news was indeed the lowest point in my preservation career and I was determined that nothing like this should ever be allowed to happen again!
My fourth acquisition...
Anyway, life had to go on and with two superb fully restored examples from the Eastern Counties fleet now in the stable, the time was ripe to seek out another preservation project. Quite a few years passed by with very little in the way of an ex ECOC vehicle from the 'Tilling' era becoming available. At long last in July 1993, a very battered looking, semi derelict 1958 built Bristol SC4LK saloon was reported languishing in a motor dealer's yard near High Wycombe in Buckinghamshire. This vehicle turned out to be ex Eastern Counties LC 556 (3003 AH) which had been re-registered FRE 699A. This once fine lightweight saloon was delivered new to the company in January 1959, at the same time that LM 452 was delivered!
Left: LC 556 when first acquired in July 1993.
Right: The fully restored LC 556 posing perfectly in the bright summer sunshine whilst being road tested for the first time following her extensive restoration, on the former wartime Flixton Airfield in June 2005.
Following lengthy negotiations with the owner, I managed to secure a deal which included removal of the bus from High Wycombe to Norfolk. Two weeks later, the worn and battered LC 556 returned once again to her home territory, suspended behind a huge tow truck, following twenty odd years in exile! She was immediately placed undercover in a rented shed at Model Farm in the South Norfolk village of Aslacton. Close examination of the bus revealed much work to be done to bring her anywhere near back to her former glory and eleven years later, restoration was still very much in progress! Finally, in May 2005, LC 556 emerged from her garage resplendent in 'Tilling' ECOC livery to become the very first red and cream Bristol SC4LK saloon to be fully restored. She made her rally debut at the East Anglia Transport Museum's summer 'Bus Event' in July 2006 and took part in a '75th Anniversary of Eastern Counties Omnibus Company' road run from the museum at Carlton Colville to Beccles, Old Market Bus Terminal, accompanied by former fleet-mates, LL 744 (MAH 744) from the Ipswich Transport Museum and RS 658 (KVF 658E) from the Eastern Transport Collection Society. She attended the First Eastern Counties 'Vintage Bus Running Day' on 2nd September 2006 in Norwich to commemorate the ECOC 75th anniversary and subsequently won 'best in show' at the Norwich Bus Rally held at the Royal Norfolk Showground, the following day. A real crowning moment! (Clicking on the blue text in the previous paragraph will download a .pdf format potted history of LC 556).
Left: LM 452 attending the 2009 Showbus event where she became the proud recipient of the 'best single deck Doyen award'!
Right: LC 556 having won the Bernard Watkin trophy for 'best in show' at the Norwich Bus Rally in September 2006.
Well ... my ultimate ambition is to be instrumental in the establishment of a permanant 'Eastern Counties Bus Museum' to house a selection of fully restored former ECOC vehicles, together with a comprehensive collection of company artefacts, literature and memorabilia. Click here to read the progress so far...
And ... in case you are wondering ... Yes ... I'm still very interested to acquire one more 'Tilling' era Eastern Counties bus to join the trio and am currently investigating two possibilities ... So watch this space!
LM 452 was very successful at Showbus 2009, winning the prestigious Doyen award for best single deck! Well done LM 452!
LL 711 won the best ECW bodied vehicle award at Showbus 2013! Well done LL 711!
Patrick 'Wanderbus' Burnside (Lover of all things 'Eastern Counties')