Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Man/Alexander Dennis Enviro/300 – a single decker bus to you and me – is on its way to Frizington. It is about to pull out from the stop next to the abandoned bus-station in Whitehaven.
Sometime, over a hundred years ago, another photograph, taken in almost the same place, shows a coach being drawn by four smart grey horses. The driver, Bill Grey, resplendent in top hat and smart coat waits, reins in hand, to give the single to start. Two passengers – there’s seating for ten – sit preparing for the journey ahead. It was 25th March, 1897, and the Whitehaven Cab and General Posting Co. Ltd. had “commenced running a ’bus (note the apostrophe), which will meet all trains.”
In October, 1912, the Whitehaven Motor Service Company started the first regular bus service between Whitehaven and Cleator Moor. The first buses were a second-hand Arrol Johnston and a Commercial Car charabanc. Their names were Lady Favourite and Lady Florence. Harry Postlethwaite even knows their numbers, AO 1636 and XS 102. .
On 1st June, 1921, the company became The Cumberland Motor Services Limited and ran services between Whitehaven and Carlisle, Keswick, Cleator Moor and Egremont and between Carlisle and Abbeytown and Maryport and Cockermouth.
The name Cumberland in capital letters with a large ‘C’ and a large ‘D’ and a line running between, was emblazoned on the sides of the vehicles. It can be seen on a 1921 Daimler Y-Type with a Massey Bros. body, on Leyland SGH7 No.56 and on another Daimler Y-type, this time with a Dodson body, photographed in Aspatria, with Joe Crellin at the wheel, about to set off for Carlisle.
By the 1930s, when they had acquired fast feline names like Leyland Lion and the heavier duty Tiger, the buses had taken on much the same overall shape as today’s vehicles, with the driver’s cab positioned right at the front.
The first double-deckers, the unsuccessful Guy FCX, were purchased in 1927, but the mainstay of the fleet throughout the thirties was the Leyland Titan, with its enclosed staircase and sloping windshields.
Buses were everywhere on Cumberland’s roads, taking workers to work and housewives to shop, and everyone about their business in the town or the country.
A picture taken in the Whitehaven bus station in 1996 on the day of the Rally at Lillyhall, evokes the nostalgia of the age. The modern buses in the white and striped livery of Stagecoach (North West) Limited are picking up passengers. They seem to ride a little lower, are sleeker, trimmer, - quiet, purring beasts. In front is a BRM596 number 132. It was renumbered 291 when it was rebuilt by the Eastern Coachworks in 1949, left Cumberland to serve in Barton on Humber and was later bought for preservation. It stands there, its large grill and heavy lights, give it all the personality of Thomas the Tank Engine. But it is ready to roar into service, to roll along the country roads, towering over the hedges, the king of the road.
It is very easy to see why Harry Postlethwaite is so passionate about buses. He has already written two authoritative books on the history of buses in Cumberland.
His latest book is more in the way of a celebration and a commemoration of those sturdy vehicles that have done this county proud service for a century. Here they are, page on page, in serried ranks, gleaming red buses in all the towns and villages of good old Cumberland. Each bus is treasured. Its name and number and model and destination are all known. We’re often told the name of the driver.
In its own peculiar way, this monumental work of obsessive scholarship, brings the past back to life.