Memories of West Yorkshire Road Car Company buses that were once part of daily life across West Yorkshire

WITH their distinctive red and cream livery they once were a familiar sight across West and North Yorkshire. The West Yorkshire Road Car Company’s buses and coaches were last seen on our roads 30 years ago this week. What had been one of the country’s most successful and innovative operators was taken out of service and sold off as the Government of the day sought to deregulate the bus industry to open it up to competition.

On August 12, 1989, the company that began in November 1906 as the Harrogate Road Car Company with one Clarkson steam bus, completed its final journey. Then a journalist with the Telegraph & Argus, Alan Whitaker volunteered to work on Saturday, his day off, to be on that bus – the 10.45pm from Bradford Interchange to Baildon and the 11.12pm return. The packed double decker that made that journey is among dozens featured in a new book marking the 30th anniversary of the demise of the West Yorkshire Road Car Company.

The smartly produced paperback, West Yorkshire Thirty Years Gone, is filled with colour photographs of buses and coaches in urban and rural settings throughout the company’s operating area, which stretches from the East Coast to the Yorkshire Dales and includes route networks in Bradford, Keighley, Ilkley, Skipton, Harrogate, Leeds, York and Scarborough areas. The last run was an emotional occasion. ‘The bus was fully loaded – mainly by enthusiasts – and ‘normal’ passengers who boarded were astonished to find themselves in the middle of a party,’ writes Alan, ‘For the most part, it was a party of defiance as West Yorkshire staff, past and present, expressed anger at what had happened to their company.’ Three drivers shared the honour of operating the last service, Brian Middleton, the company’s oldest driver Les Arnold and Leo Shackleton.

Ivor Williams came out of retirement to resume his role as conductor. Off-duty conductor Gillian Carr also went along. Observations as to the politics behind the company’s demise are kept brief in the book.

Alan’s intention, as he says, was “never to assess or comment on what led to the company being carved up and sold off, whether the reasons were valid or otherwise, or who benefitted most from what happened.” He adds: “Nor was the book ever intended as a history of the company. That story has already been well covered by people with much more knowledge than I have.

“However I felt that something should be done to commemorate the 30th anniversary of that last West Yorkshire bus to Baildon so I decided to compile a selection of images to give a flavour of the company’s operations in the 30 years prior to its demise.” He adds: “Quite apart from the buses, many of the street scenes that would have been familiar to those of us who were around during that period have long since vanished so the bus is rich in nostalgia.” One picture, from 1973, shows a coach parked on Bradford’s Morley Street, outside Metropolis Coffee Bar, where its driver had gone for a break.

Other vehicles in the photographs are also interesting. There’s a great picture of a very precarious-looking three-wheeler which looks like a Bond Minicar, trundling behind a special service bus on its way to High Royds psychiatric hospital in Menston. Also of note are the adverts on the sides of the buses, bringing memories of days gone by: there’s Mivvi ice cream lollies which, writes Alan, ‘suits the mood well on what is clearly a sunny day’, stretching along the side of a prototype double decker built by Eastern Coach Works, which ran from 1949 to 1966, the only one of its kind operated by the West Yorkshire Road Car Company.

An advert you would never see on public transport today, for Silk Cut cigarettes, graces the side of a Bristol K6B lowbridge, one of 57 ‘handsome vehicles’ delivered to West Yorkshire between 1948 and 1950, giving ‘years of sterling service to the company’ before being withdrawn in 1969. The last ever service to Baildon sports an advert for the ‘New look Telegraph & Argus’. The bus bears the number 61, the old route number before the West Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive demanded that all operators in the country adopted three-digit numbers.

And a wonderful shot of no less than three double deckers approaching Fox Corner in Shipley in April 1974, are led by bus FS6B number 1788, bearing an advert for the delights of Skegness. Although better known for his railway books, Alan, who worked for many years as the T&A’s transport reporter, says his first love was the West Yorkshire Road Car Company’s vehicles on which, as a child in the 1950s, he travelled on service number 57, from his home in Thornton to Keighley via Cullingworth, to visit his grandparents. Then, between 1960 and 1964, he used West Yorkshire buses almost daily to travel the three miles from his home in Thornton to Fairweather Green School.

“We also had Bradford Corporation trolleybuses on the Thornton route but I used to give them a miss so I could travel on a West Yorkshire bus,” he says. “They went to places beyond our village so seemed more exotic than what Bradford City Transport had to offer!” This well-researched book is a fascinating read. “I would not have been able to cover the later years without the help of other West Yorkshire bus enthusiasts, especially Trevor Leach, of Keighley, who wrote the Introduction, and Neil Halliday, of Shipley,” says Alan. Other vehicles featured including a stubby-shaped AEC Matador breakdown truck.

One of its jobs involved recovering a double decker which ended up in its side after skidding in heavy snow. Fortunately all its passengers and crew escaped serious injury. The book also features a number of old bus stop signs, number plates and covers of tour and excursion leaflets, including one from Shipley and Idle and daily coach services to Whitby and Morecambe.

*West Yorkshire Thirty Years Gone by Alan Whitaker, with an introduction by Trevor M Leach is published by Willowherb Publishing and costs GBP16.95.

Visit willowherbpublishing.co.uk.

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