LUPTS history: bus tours 

Recognising that another railtour was out of the question after the experiences ‘The Mancunian’, but still wanting a flagship event for the 1976/77 academic year, the Committee turned their attentions towards running a bus tour.    

LUPTS was not new to the bus tour concept.   Arguably the first bus tour had been over the weekend of 20/21 March 1960 when Ted Gahan, a founder member of the Merseyside Tramway Preservation Society, had driven a Ribble Leyland Tiger Cub from Liverpool to Glasgow and back to coincide with the tram tour on 869 at a cost to LUPTS of £45.   The bus element was merely peripheral to the main event and it was to be another six years before buses, albeit of the overhead wire type, took centre stage in a LUPTS event. 

By the mid 1960s, all tramway systems (with the exception of Blackpool and the Great Orme) had closed down and interest in electric road passenger transport was limited to a dwindling number of trolleybus systems.   LUPTS decided to run, on 12 June 1966, a tour of the connected Manchester and Ashton-under-Lyne systems.   The tour was advertised at both ends of the East Lancashire Road and offered fares of 15/- (75p) from Liverpool and 7/6 (37½p) from Manchester.   Transport from Liverpool to Manchester Corporation’s Hyde Road depot was advertised to be by Liverpool Corporation’s unique 1959 Atlantean E2 (372BKA), the experimental vehicle they bought before placing orders for 380 further Atlanteans to the characteristic Liverpool style over the next ten years. 

In the event E2 was not available, a recurring theme for LUPTS bus tours to come.   Instead, one of Liverpool’s unpainted double deckers, 1953 Saunders Roe bodied AEC Regent III A40 (NKD540) was used to get the Liverpool passengers over to Manchester where Manchester’s BUT 1336 (ONE736), a Burlingham bodied BUT, was waiting.   The tour covered the majority of Manchester’s surviving trolleybus network before reaching Ashton where the party changed over to Ashton 82 (YTE821), a similar Bond bodied vehicle, for the second part of the trolleybus tour.   Finances for bus tours were, pro rata, barely any better than rail tours.   This trip lost £5/6/8 (£5.33½). 

By 1969, there were only four surviving trolleybus systems in the UK: Walsall, Teesside, Cardiff and Bradford.   Alan Atkinson, as newly elected Secretary, decided to run tours on all four remaining systems during his term of office.   He recounted the story of how he intended to do this in his 1982 Journal article entitled “On the trail of the trackless”. 

Of the four systems, Walsall was the closest.   Alan duly wrote to Walsall Corporation, unaware that it had been absorbed into the West Midlands Passenger Transport Executive, and received a reply from the General Manager, the legendary Edgley Cox.   A tour was arranged for 31 January 1970.   The small LUPTS party arrived on the day, which turned out to be cold and wet, to be met by the sight of WMPTE’s 850 (HBE451) waiting on the forecourt ready to start the tour.   850 had been bought secondhand by Walsall from Grimsby-Cleethorpes and was of particular interest because it was, by that time, the only Crossley trolleybus operating in Britain. 

Displaying LUPTS TOUR in the blind box, the vehicle travelled on virtually the whole of the Walsall system.   In a way which was to become common over the years when taking buses to unusual locations, it proved difficult to convince the locals that LUPTS TOUR was not a destination and the then treasurer, Steve Poole, was detailed to tell this to any ‘normal’ person trying to board the vehicle.   Amazingly, this tour ran at a profit. 

Cardiff’s trolleybus system closed in January 1970 so the committee was left with a choice of two.   Bradford was chosen on the grounds that it was nearer and much more extensive than the one at Teesside.   Bradford were much more used to the enthusiast fraternity and sent LUPTS a copy of their standard tour itinerary.   The LUPTS tour was to take place on Sunday 15 March 1970.   Bradford were happy to accede to LUPTS’ request for one of their ex St Helens vehicles, only three of which were in service at the time of system closure. 

The LUPTS party, slightly larger in size than had been the case with the Walsall tour, travelled across in a Bedford OB.   Bradford provided 799 (BDJ87), a 1951 East Lancs bodied BUT 9611T which had been St Helens 187 until withdrawn at the end of trolleybus operation in St Helens in 1958.   The tour, as with Walsall, covered virtually the entire operational system, and some other sections, as Alan Atkinson related in 1982:


“As we headed to Five Lane Ends, those that knew about such things suggested that it would be a good idea to try and persuade the driver to go to Saltaire instead of turning at Thackley.   With a little friendly argument he readily agreed and so we didn’t turn at the roundabout at Thackley but headed west along Leeds Road to Saltaire where, instead of turning on the roundabout, we ran into the depot and back out of the northernmost exit.   On the way back, someone asked the driver to do a few circuits of the roundabout at Thackley.   Again he was most obliging and so the locals were treated to the spectacle of a bunch of loonies standing in the middle of a roundabout taking pictures of a trolleybus which just kept going round while sparks flew off the seldom used overhead!”


The financial inducement to the driver to undertake the manoeuvres described above became part of LUPTS legend.   LUPTS never did get to the Teesside system before it closed in April 1971 but, as Alan wrote in 1982, “... it did seem a long way to go for such a small system and it would have been an anti climax after Bradford”. 

As mentioned above, the problems encountered with the previous year’s railtour would have left LUPTS without a flagship event for the 1976/77 academic year.   Through Peter Gascoine, then Manager of Merseyside PTE’s Southport District, enquiries were made about running a bus tour early in 1977.   The event took place on Saturday 5 February, using ex Southport Corporation Leyland PD2 No 44 (UWM44).   In the style of the railtours which it superseded, the tour had a name - ‘The White Rose’.   Thus was instigated an event which took place every year until LUPTS’ demise, and which has continued subsequently as a reunion occasion.   A list of the annual bus tours from 1977 to 1998 appears in a table at the end of this booklet. 

The 1977 tour on the PD2 took the vehicle over the Pennines to Halifax, Wakefield and Ravensthorpe.   At Wakefield, arrangements had been made for one of the National Bus Company’s few remaining Guy Arabs to be made available for photography, courtesy of ex LUPTS Secretary Chris Moyes who was working for National Travel at the time. 

For the 1978 tour LUPTS again tried to hire Atlantean E2, by now in the possession of the Merseyside PTE.   Arrangements were fairly advanced when LUPTS was advised that the vehicle was unfit for service.   A letter from Ken Hannis of the PTE to LUPTS Chairman Andy Babbs, only a couple of weeks before the tour was due to run, reads:


“E2 has developed a serious engine disorder which ... is not worth rectifying ... would [you] prefer L500 or perhaps a Metropolitan or other more modern vehicle?”


The PTE’s offer was declined on that occasion although, ironically, on the day of the tour, several LUPTS members saw E2 in passenger service as they made their way into central Liverpool to be picked up. 

For the tour itself, attention had been turned to Chester Corporation who provided a more modern vehicle.   In fact the vehicle, Leyland Fleetline 85 (CFM85S), was so modern that it had been seen under construction on a LUPTS Wednesday afternoon trip only four weeks before the bus tour.   When used by LUPTS, it had never previously run in passenger service and LUPTS had trebled its mileage by the end of the day.   Events were repeated in 1989 when Chester provided Olympian 10 (F210JMB) for its first ever trip.   On that occasion there was a bit of insider trading, LUPTS Chairman Will Clark being not entirely unrelated to Chester’s General Manager David Clark. 

1978 was in fact a year of many bus tours.   The inaugural trip on Chester 85 was followed two months later by a Saturday visit to Chester and a tour round the city on two of the municipality’s Guy Arabs.   37 (FFM137D) was photographed by David Clark near Mollington and the picture appeared in his history of transport in Chester.   Although there is no mention of LUPTS, the ‘21’ displayed in the route box is a reference to LUPTS’ 21st anniversary (actually a year early).   After the summer exams, a similar event was organised in Southport using a Leyland PD2 and an Atlantean, the total cost of the hire being a mere £8.50. 

At the start of the 1978/79 session a tour, the ‘Fylde and Pendle Wanderer’, was arranged to attract new students although in fact it is believed that no freshers actually travelled.   The Merseyside PTE were asked to provide either a MCW Metrobus or a Leyland Titan but, in the event, neither of these vehicle types were delivered to the PTE by the date of the tour, the order for Titans eventually being cancelled altogether.   Metropolitan 4021 (OKD479M), which still bore Liverpool Division green livery, was promised but in the event 4040 (RKA440N), fresh from filming duty for The Liver Birds, was provided instead.   Travellers were impressed by the performance of the vehicle although they would have preferred to have travelled beyond the Liverpool Dock Road before being shown that the vehicle could easily do 60mph.   The following month, a Saturday trip to the Runcorn Busway included a trip on Crosville’s unique battery electric Leyland National XEB461 (OTF354M), believed to be the only time that this vehicle operated a private hire. 

The Chairman, Andy Babbs, perhaps began to regret running the annual tour in the middle of winter.   The tour, ‘The Trent Valley Bus Tour’ was intended to cross the Pennines via the Snake Pass but weather conditions dictated otherwise.   On reaching Glossop in Merseyside PTE ex Southport Atlantean 82 (UWM82L), the signs said that the Snake Pass was closed because of snow.   Hence, a meticulously planned timetable had to be abandoned and an alternative trip made up on the spur of the moment.   It was testament to the organisers that the majority of the places on the itinerary were actually visited, albeit for shorter periods than planned.    

It was more by default than design that the 1980 tour moved to what then became the accepted date of late April/early May.   1980’s tour, The ‘Worth Valley Venturer’ on Ribble Leyland PD3 1829 (TCK829), also introduced a tie in with other modes of transport by visiting the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway.    

The bus tour always took a fair amount of planning.   Usually a group of members would travel the route to make sure that there were no problems with low bridges or parking difficulties and, even though things might have been a bit tight at times, any damage to bus tour vehicles was of a minor nature.   The author remembers a sleepless night prior to the bus tour he organised wondering whether a Crosville Bristol VR would fit under a particularly ominous looking oak tree in the Worcestershire village of Chaddesley Corbett. 

The annual LUPTS bus tour thus became a fixed date in people’s diaries and, although advertised quite widely in the early days, could eventually rely on a regular clientèle of current students, Old Fogeys and friends of the society, some of whom became gluttons for punishment by returning year after year.   Vehicles from the majority of local operators were used over the years and a variety of destinations visited - Yorkshire, the West Midlands and North Wales being the places most frequently visited. 

A trend in LUPTS’ latter years was the use of preserved vehicles on a no fare/donation only basis for local and for longer trips.   If the Chairman had done his job well, the ‘official’ trip would produce some degree of profit which could then be used to pay the cost of diesel on an after exam trip.   Roly Williams’ ex Crosville Bristol SC SSG668 (241SFM), itself ‘discovered’ on a LUPTS minibus trip to North Wales in October 1980, fulfilled this role on a number of occasions.   Roly’s dad, Bob, provided his ex Lincolnshire Bristol MW on a couple of occasions and also treated passengers to some entertaining driving when he drove the Mersey and Calder’s ex Barrow PD2 back from Manchester in October 1983.    

Ex Southport PD2 106 (GFY406) from Steamport was used for a number of trips, the final time being when it disgraced itself with fuel trouble en route from Southport to Blackpool in November 1982, the trip having to be completed by cars.   It is believed that 106 has never run on the road since.   Following the 600th OGM in 1987, ex Liverpool AEC Regent III A344 (HKF820) was used for a trip to Bury.   Passing through the outskirts of Liverpool towards the end of the trip, David Armstrong’s brolley was put to good use preventing the vehicle being overrun by the local scalls. 

LUPTS never actually had its own vehicle although a group of LUPTS members bought Widnes Corporation’s 1935 Leyland LT7 39 (ATD683) in the late 1960s.   Geoff Thorne, the retiring Chairman at the 1968 AGM, expressed the hope that “... the vehicle would in time provide transport for LUPTS activities”.   At the time of writing, the vehicle has not yet been restored.   In 1981, tentative enquiries were made about ex Wallasey Bedford J2 minibus 99 (DHF192E) but it was sold quickly by the Merseyside PTE before LUPTS could pursue their enquiry further. 

Even after the demise of LUPTS as a student society in 1991, the bus tour continued.   Someone once asked how this was possible without a committee to organise it.   It just seems to happen - someone always seems to step forward to take on the responsibility, sometimes with a bit of gentle persuasion.   Hence 1998 will not only see the 40th anniversary of LUPTS’ formation but should see the 22nd consecutive year in which a bus tour has run. 

Some years after their use by LUPTS, the ex St Helens trolleybus, Liverpool A40 and ex Southport Atlantean 82 passed into private preservation.   So did Atlantean E2 so, one day, it might be possible for LUPTS finally to use this vehicle.

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Last updated: 04 March 2002

© Charles Roberts/LUPTS 2001/2002

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