Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
If you were wandering the streets of Carlisle early on a Tuesday morning in September, 1974, you would have seen a red Ribble bus departing from Carlisle Bus Station on its journey to Liverpool. In a further twenty minutes, 2.10, a second bus would pull out of the station on its way to Manchester. At two minutes before 4 o’clock two further buses would leave, one for Glasgow and one for Edinburgh.
Before 7 o’clock, buses were on their way to Hallbankgate, Hethersgill, Cotehill, Dalston, Halton-le-Gate, Newcastle, Bowness on Solway, Brampton and Kendal.
This was, perhaps, the last great age for the bus. In 1968, four years before the Ribble Bus Company became part of the nationalised National Bus Company, Ribble had built “a state of the art garage” on the Willowholme Industrial Estate. It had the capacity to take 72 buses.
Preston-based “Ribble had first gained a foothold in the city in 1929 when they acquired local operator Adair Brothers in December of that year”. They had a fleet of three buses in those days, but there were other companies, United Automobile, Cumberland and Caledonian, who operated in the city as part of the Carlisle Joint Transaction. From 1931 Ribble’s buses were kept in the former Carlisle and District Transport Garage in Corporation Road. Twenty years later, there were 58 buses garaged on the site.
When the NBC was formed the people of Carlisle were served by “Burlingham-bodied PD3/4s, MCCW-bodied Leyland PD3/5s”, and the more exotically named, “Leyland Leopards and some of the last operational Tiger Cubs”. Over the following years Bristol LS5gs and MW s and later Atlanteans were to be seen on the streets of Carlisle and the roads of the surrounding district.
One coloured photograph shows a Bristol MW6G waiting at the Lowther Street Bus Station. It has just arrived from Sebergham on the 696 route. This bus had previously belonged to the United Automobile company, but it is now, though a little muddied by the country miles it has already covered, proudly sporting the poppy red livery of Ribble. Beneath the two square windscreens – each is split horizontally by a chrome strip, is a large aspirational winged badge and below that is the new Ribble logo in its clear, modern lettering.
In another photograph from 18th January, 1986, a double-decker bus, a Leyland Atlantean no. 1469, is to be seen in English Street. Decked-out all over in a collage of words and pictures celebrating the new Lanes Shopping Centre.
A damp October day in Bank Street in 1980 saw three red double-deckers – the new Bristol VRTs, Nos. 1448, 64, 57 – queueing up. In those days Bank Street carried traffic in both directions and Ribble’s red buses were to be seen travelling through the city centre along English Street and Scotch Street.
On 23rd February, 1986, Ribble’s bus services were transferred to Cumberland Motor Services and bus services were in the process of being de-nationalised.
Mike Rhodes has been a bus enthusiast since the days, when as a small boy in the sixties, he used to make a fortnightly bus trip to see his grandmother in Burnley. He remembers riding the new Atlantean, sitting on the upper deck on the transverse seats. Later, he would visit the company’s works at Frenchwood to “see if a Carlisle-based Sentinel or Olympic might be on view”.
That boyhood passion has continued to this day. The result is this superbly illustrated book – to the non-bus enthusiast the pictures will seem very much the same. There is a wealth of technical detail on vehicles and bus-routes and Ribble’s operations throughout the North-West from Carlisle down to Merseyside and to Manchester.