All Aboard For Town's First Bus Service (8 June 1973)
A reporter in a growing town is bound to be in at the birth of many things, some of which live on and others which die almost as soon as they are born.
It was thus that I became the very first passenger on the Bletchley town bus service when it came into operation on December 19, 1949.
Up to then, only two bus services touched the town. One ran between Bletchley and Luton railway stations twice a day. The other ran from Aylesbury Street, Fenny, to North Street, Leighton, rather more times a day.
Both were single deckers, firstly because the number of passengers rarely warranted anything larger, and secondly because no double decker could pass under the old main line railway bridge. A double decker, which might not have belonged to either of these services, did once try to go under either forwards or backwards. Its top deck was wrecked, but no passengers were involved. Frequently, other vehicles got stuck there and had to be extricated by letting their tyres down.
The bus ride to Leighton and back of a morning could be rather pleasant, if you had the time. You admired Newton village green. Then you waited a minute or two at a little place in Drayton into which the driver and conductor sometimes went and then came out again. Thence to Stewkley, where you eventually took the road to Wing. But when you reached the offshoot to Dunton, you turned about and went back to Stewkley’s Norman church where you took the road to Soulbury, Linslade and Leighton, just as though you had made a mistake at the fork.
After much prodding by Bletchley Council, the bus company agreed that perhaps the time had come to run a town bus as a trial. Bus stops were marked out and a starting date and time were fixed.
At that time, I lived in Bletchley Road (Queensway) so it was no hardship to be outside St. Martin’s Church for about 8.15a.m., ready to board the first town bus and to see what happened.
Sure enough, the bus turned up, its destination panel inscribed “Newton Longville and Old Bletchley.” It came from the Stony Stratford depot and had an inspector as well as a driver.
At Fenny they handed the bus over to Bletchley’s own driver and conductress, but stayed on it for its first run.
The driver was Mr. Fred Congo, who for 20 years had been a lorry driver, and the conductress was Miss May Wright, who had had a fortnight’s practice at Stony.
Miss Jean Carter, who was to be on the local buses for nearly 20 years, replaced Miss Wright for the second shift.
Miss Wright punched my ticket, the bus set off at 8.25 and not another passenger got on until we reached the outward journey’s terminus at Newton Green. The route was via Vicarage Road, Bletchley Road, Buckingham Road and Newton Road. I kept that first ticket for quite a while and might still have it somewhere.
At Newton, three adults and a child got on for the return journey over the same route, but by the time it reached Aylesbury Street 53 passengers had used it. Over half of them were children, who got off at the Bletchley Road Schools, which then included the only senior school in the town. My report says that as they alighted, P.C. Walter Barringham – now an ex-chief inspector – surveyed the scene with a twinkling eye.
At 9.15 we set off again on the next outward journey, this time for Old Bletchley (Shoulder of Mutton) but via Manor Road, Water Eaton Road and Brooklands Road to get into Bletchley Road. As on the previous outward journey, I was the only passenger, but again there were several for the return journey, which was along Bletchley Road.
Unfortunately, I have no record of the fares unless I can find that ticket.
The bus spent its first night in the council yard, and its second at Stony for servicing, a routine that was followed for some time.
Over the following months, there were complaints from the company that the service would have to be discontinued unless it was better supported, but it never was discontinued, although I believe the number of journeys was reduced. Years passed before the company, by putting on more buses, tacitly admitted that the service might not be making a loss.
Aylesbury Street was soon found unsuitable as a terminus, and the present small affair at George Street was established instead. Shelters at bus stops were slow-a-coming, and some bus stops which have been established almost as long as the service and are well used are still wide open to the elements.
On the whole, however, I had little cause to complain about the service during the time I was using it intensively. The drivers often carried on in road and weather conditions which would have baulked me personally.
In 1949, the Saints Estate had not been built. Early in 1953 I became a saint myself and found the bus most useful for conveying me from that heaven to the other place called town. A frequent bus companion was Mr. R.L. Sherwood, clerk of the Bletchley Council, after whom Sherwood Drive is named. Another user was Mr. Ken Fuller, who lived in the house which became the new Shoulder of Mutton when the old one across the road was pulled down.
With the development of the Whaddon Way area, some of the single deckers became terribly crowded. Then the new main line railway bridge was built and the road beneath it lowered and double deckers at last appeared on all local roads.