Return Journey


AEC no 40We begin our time tour of Northampton in 1930 with this AEC publicity shot of no40 (VV 119), a Grose-bodied AEC Renown. At that time, Northampton had a clear penchant for six-wheel doubledeckers, but no40 was the only Renown - other deliveries at the time comprising Guy FCXs. With allegiance switching to Crossley in 1932, and subsequently Daimler, no40 was in fact to earn the distinction of being the only AEC ever purchased new by the undertaking. Sold in 1945 to celebrated local independent Wesleys, this grand old lady went on to end her days as a mobile café.


The story of motorbuses in Northampton begins in 1928 when a clutch of six-wheeled Guy double-deckers was ordered to supplement trams on Wellingborough Road services. By the following year, the Guys had proved so successful that the trams were withdrawn. Trams were replaced next on the Kettering Road in 1930, whilst the last tram to Kingsthorpe ran on 27 September 1933. By the end of 1934, motorbuses reigned supreme. As the town and thus bus routes expanded, an extension to the extensive workshop and garage facilities at St James was opened in 1937 to accommodate the extra buses needed. 

Seen standing on the forecourt of the depot at St James are 1939 Daimler COG5/Roe no102 (VV 7874) and 1953 Daimler CVG6/Roe no192 (DNH 192). In 1936 two demonstrators were acquired for evaluation - an all-Leyland TD4c and a Strachansbodied Daimler COG5. Neither vehicle had in fact previously run elsewhere, and both Daimler and Leyland were hopeful for further orders. In the event, Daimler triumphed thus beginning an association with the make which would endure until 1968. From 1939, almost all ‘peacetime’ Daimlers carried Roe bodies. No102 was to last in service until 1960 - an excellent record indeed.

Apart from a batch of 20 CVG6s
with NCB bodywork, of which no154 is preserved. Roe or part-Roe bodywork became standard after World War 2. No188 (ANH 188) seen here is a 1950 CVG6/Roe, one of 10 delivered that year. It was sold for scrap in 1969.

1953 saw the arrival of 10 more
CVG6s including no192 seen here for the second time. On this occasion the Daimler passing the town’s railway station. No192’s bodywork was similar to that of the previous batch, but five of the 1953 deliveries had a different look, having been completed by Roe on Park Royal frames. Of these no197 is preserved. No192 was also withdrawn in 1969 went on to see service with a couple of minor operators before ending its days in a Barnsley scrapyard, arriving there in 1973.

Traditionally the centre of Britain’s boot and shoe manufacturing industry, Northampton had an important contribution to make to the war effort, and so was favourably looked upon by the Ministry of Supply receiving one ‘unfrozen’ Leyland TD7 and no fewer than 28 Utility Daimlers. 

These fitted well into a fleet which had benefited from the purchase of 27 Daimler  COG5s in the years leading up to World War 2. Crossleys had been in favour prior to the Daimler invasion and 10 further Crossleys, with Roe bodies comprised the first postwar deliveries. After that, as we shall see it was Daimlers all the way, the spell not being broken until 1974 with the arrival of 12 Leyland Nationals. 

Ten ‘tin-fronted’ Daimlers in ‘Birmingham’ style arrived in 1957, but two years later, Northampton was in the vanguard of deliveries featuring the second generation Daimler ‘tin front’ (in reality moulded in fibreglass), which soon became known as the ‘Manchester’ front reflecting its first customer. Here, in this 1959 publicity shot, representatives of Daimler, Northampton Town Councillors and Transport Department chiefs gather at St James to welcome four of these significant buses. Six in total were delivered in 1959, but between then and 1968 a further 53 broadly similar buses arrived on the streets of Northampton. Most were to give sterling service well into the rear-engined era gripping other parts of Britain, with no214 (JVV 214) nearest the camera seeing 18 years service before passing to a Rotherham dealer for scrap. Similar bus no211 is still extant in Germany as a museum exhibit.

The Roe bodywork fitted to Northampton’s ‘Manchester’- fronted Daimler CVG6s was very traditional in outline and very similar to earlier examples of the bodybuilder’s craftsmanship already on strength. Here in 1962, in a standard Roe publicity shot at Crossgates, Leeds, is no233 (ONH 233). Throughout the 1960s, new Daimlers arrived like clockwork — six a year right up until 1968, when the order was cut to five. No233 remained in service until 1974, a short life by Northampton standards. It went straight to Barnsley to be broken up.

Northampton’s dalliance with singledeckers in the early 1970s was shortlived, for in 1977, the first of a large fleet of Bristol VRTs bodied by Alexander and latterly East Lancs arrived. In 1984, the Leyland Olympian joined the fray, and in response to the Transport Act of 1985, Northampton Transport Limited was formed on 26 October 1986. The inevitable minibuses arrived in the shape of Renault S56s, but doubledeckers - Volvo Citybuses and a few Duple Dominant-bodied Volvo BIOM saloons were also placed in service.

 In October 1993 Northampton Transport was bought by Grampian Regional Transport, one of the ‘new groups’ rapidly expanding its sphere of influence following the Transport Act of 1985. GRT, already controlling Midland Bluebird, went on to acquire Leicester Citybus, Eastern Counties, SMT and Lowland, but at first life in Northampton continued much as before. The Olympians had by this time moved on, and the fleet had  standardised on the Volvo B10M/Citybus.

But there was worse to come. GRT merged with Badgerline in June 1995 to form at that time Britain’s largest bus operating company - First. Any remnants of municipal pride  were quite promptly consigned to the skip as fleet exchanges within the group brought all sorts of alien types to Northampton. Life as we knew it was over.

Northampton town centre in the early 1970s was still dominated by tin-fronted Daimlers, all with open rear platforms. Time though was beginning to run out. The arrival of 20 high-capacity dual-door single-deckers in 1973 followed by a further 12 the next year accelerated withdrawals considerably, and the end of the CVG6’s reign in Northampton was clearly nigh. Here though in this mid-1970s shot, CVG6s outnumber their usurpers two to one. Leading is no260 (GNH 260F) of 1967 with 1965 delivery no251 (BNH 251C) following.  No260 was to remain in service until June 1980, making the final journey to Barnsley later that year. No251, also withdrawn in 1980, was however sold for intended preservation, but this was not to be, and no251 passed instead to Wombwell Diesels for breaking. But all was not lost, nos246/50/8/61/7 all survive today in preservation, the last of which . . .

. . . No267, the doyen of the Northampton Daimlers is seen here sweeping into the ‘town’ side of Northampton’s Greyfriars bus station at around the same time as the previous picture.  Not only was no267 (JVV 267G) the last Northampton CVG6, it was the last CVG6 of all and would have been the last traditional half-cab built ever, had it not been for a handful of Leyland PD3s and the odd Bristol FLF. No267 along with nos261/6 survived the cull of 1980/1 and indeed lasted longer in service than the 1973 Daimler Fleetline single-deckers (see below)  No266 was withdrawn in 1984 to start a new life as a community toy library, whilst no261 finished in 1986 passing to the Langborough Volunteer Bureau, Redcar and subsequently into preservation. The cosseted 267 however was fully repainted in 1985 and re-upholstered in moquette. It was for many years retained for special duties and is today in the care of the Northampton 154 group.

Northampton’s story went on of course well beyond 1973, the late 1970s heralding the return to favour of the double-decker and  Northampton’s Bristol VRT era, but that’s another story for another day. We conclude this ‘Return Journey’ with a look at the mainstay of the fleet in the early 1970s, a batch of 20 Willowbrook-bodied single-deck Daimler SRL6-36 Fleetlines. Apart from being Daimlers, these were an unlikely choice for an undertaking such as Northampton. They were the first singledeckers (apart from a pair of former Merseyside AEC Swifts acquired for crew training in 1972) since 1932. To a degree these buses helped solve such problems as staff shortages, but enjoyed a relatively short life even by the standards of the day and had all gone by 1986. They were supplemented in 1974 by 12 Leyland Nationals which seemed to fare slightly better, seeing 14-16 years service apiece. This is Fleetline no13 (UNH 13L) which was withdrawn in early 1982. By 1984 it had been cannibalised for spares. None survive today.

But it is the memory of that municipal pride that many of us today find so fascinating. It was as much a part of life in town’s and cities everywhere that ran their own buses as the very streets themselves. Municipal buses were run as a service to the public, were often highly standardised and always there, reassuringly part of everyday life.

Remember late night trips home in dimly-lit saloons, ‘Spitting Prohibited’ signs, conductors with greatcoats, the smell of warm oil downstairs, the upper saloon laden with cigarette smoke, the familiar destinations - wherever you were it was all there.

Clean and smart the buses said all that needed to be said about their home town and wore their colours with pride. Nowhere was all this more true than Northampton, An undertaking which will always be remembered for its postwar fleet of Daimlers - half-cabbed and with open rear platforms to the last - now you really couldn’t get much more traditional than that could you?

Here then we remember that golden era - enjoy.

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The Tower Revisited  - The website for former Pupils of the Technical High School, Trinity High School & Trinity Grammar School, Northampton