Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Good Timing at Swinderby Station

 We are just back from a few days away in Lincoln. One of the highlights of our stay was a cycle ride we made on Sunday covering thirty-eight miles of old railway lines and quiet country roads to the south and west of the city.

One railway line we came across was very much still in use - the line from Lincoln to Newark and on to Nottingham - which we crossed at Swinderby station.  The station isn't very convenient for the village it purports to serve, being 1600m distant and seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

The first sight you get of it coming from the north is the signal box

Such boxes are increasingly rare, being replaced by large centralised control centres, but Swinderby's, built in 1901 by the Midland Railway, is a listed building and still very much in use.

Despite it being a Sunday, we had managed (without trying) to arrive at exactly the right moment. We heard the bells ring out in the box, then the signalman pulling his levers, which meant a train was approaching. What I wasn't prepared for was what happened next:

He came out of the box and manually opened (or closed, depending on your point of view) the crossing gates.

There was then quite a gap before the train arrived, which gave us a chance to admire the rest of the station buildings and the former station-master's house behind that are also listed.

The train was a "semi-fast" Lincoln to Nottingham service and not due to call at Swinderby, which on a Sunday has a better evening service than a daytime one.

There was then another delay, whilst the signalman attended to more bells and levers before he emerged from the box to open the gates again. 

Despite a closure of at least five minutes there were no vehicles waiting to come across from the Lincoln direction and only two waiting on the other side. As you can see in the photo above there is a handy bus stop serving the station, although the service using it runs from er...Lincoln to er...Newark and there are rather more trains to those places than there are buses, especially on a Sunday when there are no buses at all.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

Town Halls, Stagecoaches and Boating Magazines

 A visit to my local Oxfam bookshop to see if they would be interested in taking a collection of waterway magazines off my hands as part of a general clear out to create a bit of space on the bookshelves here in Starcross Towers was only partially successful: yes, they would take them, but then I bought three books on the way out!

Two were Pevsners:

Having bought my first ever Pevsner during last year's lockdown, which covered my home area of North Lancashire, I was pleased to obtain these neighbouring volumes at about 10% of the price of new ones. They are a different edition to one I already have and a different size - smaller and more portable for taking with me on bus trips or cycle rides.

The "South Lancashire" volume covers Bury (Pevsner's volumes were originally published before the invention of concepts such as Greater Manchester or Merseyside) so I was able to discover that the imposing Town Hall I photographed on a bus day out in April was built in 1936 and has "little in the way of decoration or individuality".

Bury Town Hall - ceremonial entrance

That's a matter of opinion, but Pevsner is nothing if not opinionated when it comes to architecture.

Here's another view

Bury Town Hall (and everyday entrance)

It was Sarah on Chertsey that started me on photographing town halls. When I posted a photo of Warrington Town Hall that I'd noticed when walking from Warrington bus station to the railway station on my way home from Starcross' mooring at Anderton she commented that she did "like a bit of municipal grandeur".  Read the post to see why.  The north of England seems to specialise in such "grandeur" and I now have a growing collection.

The third book was on Stagecoaches:

Although I take an interest in all forms of transport, I am particularly fascinated by the Stagecoach era. Very little seems to have been written about it, which is a shame as for almost 100 years coinciding with the golden age of canals it was the backbone of the country's passenger transport system.

I'd love to know more about how it was organised and run. Just how did a multitude of small scale individual proprietors - and one large national undertaking, the Post Office, manage to run a network of services that covered the country, year-in, year out, providing scheduled services that were advertised with departure times down to the last minute on the primitive roads of the day with similarly primitive technology involving wooden-wheeled vehicles reliant on horse power? 

Drivers, guards and horses were all managed separately. Horses had to be changed every dozen or so miles and drivers and guards were also relieved en-route although not necessarily at the same points, after which they presumably had to get home again. It must have been a nightmare to organise.

And what of the passengers? The carrying capacity of the coaches, especially the Mail Coaches, was small, necessitating people booking in advance. "Bookings" would have had to be recorded, by writing the passengers' names in a "book" held at a central point, but how did the names get into the book, which was held perhaps several hundred miles away? And how did the drivers know who had "booked" and was therefore entitled to be picked up bearing in mind that the fastest means of communication between places in those days was the coach itself?

Of course, the coach industry underwent continuous improvement during its lifetime with journey times coming down from days to hours and the comfort of vehicles increasing. By the 1830s it must have seemed as if the improvements would continue and the coaches would go on for ever: a little over 10 years later they were finished!

I don't know if my new volume will throw any light on these questions, but one thing I do like about it is the Directory of Coaches from Yorkshire Towns. In 1827 the "Comet" left Leeds at 12.45pm and ran via Wakefield, Barnsley, Sheffield, Nottingham, Loughborough, Leicester, Market Harborough, Northampton, Dunstable, St. Albans and Barnet and arrived at the "Bull & Mouth" hotel in London the following afternoon at 3pm.  Twelve years earlier, the "Eclipse", running via Ferrybridge and Doncaster (and down the Great North Road) had taken seven hours longer and required two nights aboard the coach!

Some coaches operated in conjunction with packet boats.    The "Aire & Calder", the "Blucher" and the "Ebor" all  ran daily between Leeds and Selby "in connection with the Hull packets" 

There was even competiton akin to the early days of bus deregulation. When in 1838 the "British Queen" began running between Leeds and Manchester at a fare of 12/- (inside) and 8/- (outside) the existing proprietors banded together to run the "Victoria" at the same times and route but at half the fare.

No doubt there is much more of interest within and I will have to judge whether I can justify bumping "The Old Coaching Days in Yorkshire" up the queue of books waiting to be read "during lockdown" that includes a 447 page volume on the history of "The Manchester Bus".

In the meantime, if anyone wants a set of "Narrowboat" magazines from Issue 1 up until Winter 2014, some bound, some not and can either collect them from Lancaster or meet the cost of getting them to you, please get in touch soon.

Thursday, 22 April 2021

Back to Bus


It's been a while - a very long while, what with one thing and another - since I last had a day out on the buses.  I've caught the bus back from town a few times and I did manage a ride to Morecambe and back (all of six km. each way) but  Tuesday saw the longest bus journey I've made in over a year!

As well as buses (and canals of course) one of my interests is street markets, so where better to head for on a Tuesday than "Lancashire's Market Town"

I can get there on just two buses from the end of the road, although I must admit that given the choice  from Preston of the direct bus along the A6 or the alternative that wanders around Leyland and South Ribble those who know me will be able to guess which one I took.

Chorley is a great place for a street market fan especially on a Tuesday, the town's main market day. Last time I went, a few years ago now, the market was being held in a rather windswept car park on the edge of town and consequently I was disappointed. But that was presumably a temporary occurrence as this time it filled the main streets including, naturally, Market Street, which was once part of the A6.

Market Street, once part of the A6

The market extends to several side streets as well

As well as the street stalls, there's also a market hall.

Much as I enjoy markets and try to support them, it can be difficult to find things to buy. Chorley market, especially the indoor bit, must be heaven for women seeking cheap clothes, but there wasn't much for me. There was a cheese stall - and a fishmonger  - but I still had quite a bit of bus riding to do and the thought of lugging  several hundred grams of Tasty Lancashire and smoked Haddock around on the buses for the rest of the day didn't appeal.  The fruit and veg stall was tempting. . .

. . . I really fancied some Rufford potatoes!  But again they would have been heavy to carry and I usually do the veg shopping on Lancaster market on a Wednesday anyway.  I did manage to get a bag of Uncle Joe's Mint Balls ( a famous Wigan delicacy) from the sweet stall though.

As you can see from the photos, shoppers have returned to Chorley's streets with a vengeance, which might be why the mannequin outside Slack's Farm Butcher's shop was dressed this way:
Slack's Farm Butcher's Mannequin.

Two hours passed quickly enough before it was time to return to the bus station for the next stage of the journey - on the Blackburn Bus Company's service 24 which would take me back to its home town.

The 24: Chorley to Blackburn - every hour.

Once free of the Chorley urban area, the 24 follows a scenic route along the edge of the West Pennine Moors, with distant views of the higher moorland to the east. Fortunately I had a double-decker on which to appreciate it fully.  The intermediate villages are typical moorland stone-built affairs, in contrast to the brick found in lowland Lancashire. Wheelton was particularly attractive, but most fascinating was Abbey Village, an isolated community in the middle of the moors, where an enormous former mill dominates the scenery, whilst the former mill workers' houses are strung out along both sides of the main road.
Abbey Village (from Street View)

We crossed the Leeds & Liverpool no fewer than four times on the journey. Once on the outskirts of Chorley at Botany Bay, where there was a pub called "The Lock and Quay" (but no lock or quay!);  twice in Feniscowles and finally once again towards the top of the locks in Blackburn.

I'd never been on the 24 before, but I was glad I had - a classic example of a bus route that takes you to places you would never see if you travelled between the two towns by any other means.

From Blackburn I had a choice of no fewer than three routes back to Preston. The most scenic was Preston Bus service 45, which followed an even more meandering route through the Ribble Valley. Stagecoach's 59 was the most direct - along the Preston New Road  - but when that hadn't turned up by its scheduled time, the "First Rule of Public Transport" (If it's there - and it's going your way - get on it!) applied and I took the Burnley Bus Co.'s 152, itself running eight minutes late, back to Preston.

By the time we got there, we were even later than we had been leaving Blackburn, not helped by sitting on the stop before the bus station for several minutes whilst my comfortable 20 minute connection for the Lancaster bus became a potentially nail-biting four minute one!

Preston's bus station is huge, although these days buses only use the far side of it. 

Inevitably, the 152 arrived at one end of it, whilst the Lancaster bus left from the very farthest stop at the other one. Helpfully, the powers that be had put a Covid-secure one-way system in place, enforced by tape and barriers, which meant I couldn't follow the obvious and direct route through the station, but I made it with under a minute to spare, although I don't think I stuck strictly to the rules.

The 16.45hrs service 41 from Preston to Lancaster is a most frustrating bus!  To start with, it gets an additional ten minutes running time to get out of the city due to expected traffic congestion. This it doesn't really need and consequently we spent about seven minutes waiting at the side of the road in Broughton until it was time to proceed.  The first time this happened, I wrote to Stagecoach and suggested that this was a bit silly and that they could reduce the extra running time. They replied saying that they had asked the drivers if they always had to hang around in Broughton and they had all said that they didn't!  (They could have also told me that the Pope was a Roman Catholic and that they were well aware of what bears did in the woods!)

Anyway, while we were waiting a 41 bus going the other way appeared, so I took its photo.
The view from the timing point stop in Broughton

Despite - or possibly because - the road through the village having been traffic-calmed the bus stops are directly opposite each other, but when one is occupied by a bus waiting time for seven minutes, buses coming the other way have to stop back from their stop, otherwise the road would be completely blocked.

Once moving again, our driver hammered along the A6 to Garstang, where we had another few minutes to wait, and then again to Galgate by which time I was nearly home. But the 16.45 had another trick up its sleeve. Lancaster University is 4.5km south of the city just off the A6. Despite having a local service of 12 buses an hour to and from the city centre it is still necessary for some long-distance buses to be diverted via the campus to cater for the numbers travelling. Service 41 is one of these and again, extra running time is allowed for buses to follow the diversion. The 16.45 from Preston gets to the University at around 18.00, which is a peak "going home time" for the many hundreds (thousands?) of students who live in the city centre. At "normal" times, the queues for buses can look like this:

and even more time is allowed to get them all on board with fares collected or tickets and passes checked. At the moment, of course, there are hardly any students travelling, so the 16.45 sat on the stop for another 8 minutes!  I eventually got off at my local stop exactly 90 minutes after leaving Preston. We were exactly on time as far as the timetable went, but as at other times of day the journey can take an hour-and-ten (and in the evenings under an hour) it had seemed a long and tedious journey.

Still, it was good to be back on the buses after a long time and I'm looking forward to doing it again soon.