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On the buses in the 1950s/60s

Bus in Western Road 1955
Image reproduced with kind permission of The Regency Society and The James Gray Collection

Waiting for ages

Brighton could be very busy at times and it was very possible to queue for a bus, for what seemed like an age, and then be told by the conductor the bus was too full to take any more on board. At times like this they were stopping only to let out someone from an already overcrowded bus. This event took place many times at The Level stop, as by then the bus had collected people from work from several stops already.

Cold windy bus-stops

There never seemed enough buses in my growing and working years and bus stops were often cold, windy and not such friendly places to be in. After a shopping visit to Western Road or a long work day mum and I would walk down North Street and head for the bus terminus. The wind from the sea could be cutting, but as the 26 bus pulled in for its ‘tea’ stop we hopped in.

Away from the winter chills

Having boarded the bus, not only were we inside and away from the winter chills, but we had secured ourselves a place before anyone else. The whole bus was ours to choose from. That meant sitting the whole way to Hollingbury rather than possibly standing till Fiveways till the bus emptied somewhat and left available seats. This terminus stop was not used by many. We always seemed to be there by ourselves. Then as the bus took off round the Old Steine to its first pick up stop at Electricity House a whole surge of bodies clambered for places.

A scrum at the bus-stop

There were no real queues in those days, and often the ones standing outside the proposed queue were first on. Many a time the outsiders pushed forward disregarding any sign of a queue, and often those of us who may have waited already twenty minutes or so were held back by the conductor announcing, ‘Only 2 more inside’ , and ringing the bell for the driver to set off.

Conductor’s ticket machines

I well remember the conductor’s little ticket machines. A small silver coloured contraption with a wheel that was turned to the required price, then a handle at the side that was turned and would roll out your ticket. Those poor guys, they did not have an easy job, they were very busy times. I am talking here 1950s through the 1960s. I am afraid I am not certain at which stage the more modern buses were introduced, without the conductor system.

A wild bus chase

Then there were the days you just came round the corner to see your bus pulling away from the stop. That led to a wild chase after the bus and the very dangerous act of grabbing the pole at the back step board, running along for a couple of steps or so in time with the bus, then jumping on board with a sigh of relief.

The drawbacks of fashion

Running after a bus was a very tricky thing to attempt in high heels and a skinny tight skirt. Fashions in those days were not made for long steps or high jumps whatsoever. Not very lady-like either, but better than another 20 minute wait; especially if you had a date that night and had to be back in town again shortly after a meal and a quick change. I think this is why they designed the closed door buses, they were much safer.

A charming whistler

My mother had another tactic. If we arrived as a bus was pulling away she performed a rather high pitched whistle which drew everyone’s attention. But unfortunately not always the attention of the conductor though. This was another un-ladylike act of ours. Somewhat confusing really as mum was quite a lady and always dressed like real lady in velvet hats and beautiful clothing. She was very charming and maybe not recognised as the whistler at the time of event?

‘Those big red things!’

My father worked in Lancing and had trains and buses to catch. There were times when he had to let a full bus go and wait in the rain for the next. His entry into the house after a long days work, cold, wet and hungry, was followed by the words, ‘Don’t mention those big red things!’ meaning buses of course. Still miss Brighton….just hope the system is a better one nowadays. Happy journeys.

Comments about this page

  • Used to catch No 6 bus from Woodingdean to Clock Tower when I worked in Queen’s Road. Nip upstairs and have a nice peaceful smoke. That was in 1962.

    By Iris Gilman (17/10/2011)
  • Its almost unbelievable now, when you think back to the smokey atomosphere on the upper deck of a bus, years ago. How non-smokers put up with it is hard to imagine, but they did, as it was the accepted norm.

    By Peter Groves (17/10/2011)
  • Great page. Love the shot of the much missed southern side of Western Road that became Churchill Square. The ticket machine Sandra refers to was called the Setright and was the conductor’s main tool; an electrically-operated version of it was used on the one-man-operated buses when they were introduced. For a conductor’s view of the period, see my pages elsewhere on MyB&H.

    By Len Liechti (18/10/2011)
  • I was a conductor in the 1970s and I must say the early morning works buses were the worst – everyone on the top deck had a fag lit up and you could barely see from the front to the rear.

    By John Wilkin (18/10/2011)
  • Totally agree John, I started as a conductor in 1965 aged 19 and the top deck smog was ever present!

    By Den Mackey (11/01/2014)

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