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Southdown's 'Queen Marys'

As you might imagine, the ‘Queen Marys’ were large machines for their day. Seating sixty-nine people in thirty feet of bus, they were substantially larger than anything Brighton (or most of Sussex) had seen on their roads before. In particular, they contrasted with the much smaller red and cream rear-entrance double-deckers run in the Brighton area by Brighton Corporation Transport, and the Brighton Hove and District Omnibus Company. While nowadays all three operators have been absorbed into the Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company, then they operated as separate entities – largely co-ordinated rather than competing!

Green and cream monsters
Fifty years ago this year (2008) the first of what eventually turned out to be around 300 very different buses took to the road. They were green and cream “monsters” – but unlike the buses entering service in some other towns, they kept their engines at the front rather than the back. Entering service at around the same time as London Transport’s famous Routemasters, they set a higher standard of comfort. With full fronts instead of half cabs, forward entrances and heating, combined with the usual comfortable Southdown seats, they were worthy successors to Southdown’s existing double-deckers.

Common by the 1970s
Although only seen on a few Brighton-based services in the late 50s  and early 60s, by the early 1970s they gradually superseded the Brighton Hove and District Bristol buses on many town routes, and became well-known to most passengers. Brighton still had conductors at the time, as although experiments had been carried out on one vehicle (428, one of the convertible open-toppers), operation by one man was not agreed and not really feasible.

Lasting appeal for enthusiasts
The last ‘Queen Marys’ entered service in 1967, with each batch differing in a greater or lesser way from the previous; some were convertible to open top, some had twin headlights, some had panoramic windows and some had forced ventilation. Most were sold on for further service, some spent time in Hong Kong! And a substantial number have been rescued and restored by enthusiasts, who seem to hold the Queen Marys in high esteem. Every summer it is still possible for one day to ride these vehicles on a special running day based on Worthing.

Leaving Portslade Works in Victoria Road on its delivery in 1966 is Southdown 294
From the private collection of Martin Nimmo
Southdown 410, a convertible open-topper, passes Cedars Gardens on London Road on a summer Sunday bound for Devil's Dyke
From the private collection of Martin Nimmo

Comments about this page

  • HI Martin. They bring back memories of early youth employment – first job working at Gilletts Printers, next to Hadlows Printers both near the Town Hall. However that was much before those later monsters described above; the old double deckers with rear platform and ‘hanging pole’ which was very convenient because ‘the girls’ had kept me up very late so often and I was then very late each morning for work. Run like hell and hear the sound of the engine start up, then compete with the drivers as they set off at their fastest from the ‘island Moulsecoomb’ bus stop. Just making it, a fast run then leap at the pole and swing aboard like a circus act!
    A penny to the Arches stop by A.H. Cox’s factory and three half pence to the sea front in those days. When ‘the trolleys’ came along, there was no leaping at their platform poles anywhere in the town. Much too fast on takeoff.

    By Ron Spicer (28/09/2008)
  • Two things stand out in my mind about driving the Queen Mary’s. One was that, on leaving Churchill Square going to Old Steine, if you got too close to the traffic lights at Ship Street you had to stand up and put all you had on the foot brake in order not to over shoot (quite scarey). The other thing was when running a No.2 from Rottingdean to Shoreham you could wrap some fish or meat in tin foil, wire it to the exhaust manifold and have it cooked ready to eat on the Shoreham layover (thanks to Terry).

    By Bob Golby (psv KK57891) (20/08/2009)
  • Hi Martin, most respectfully, please allow me to correct you about 428 (FNJ 110) You wrote:- “Brighton still had conductors at the time, as although experiments had been carried out on one vehicle (428, one of the convertible open-toppers), operation by one man was not agreed and not really feasible.” You were relating to Circ 1970. FNJ 110 (428) was never a convertible open topper. In fact none of the K types were converted to one man or open top use from APN 207 (336) originally delivered in 1938 through to MPM 500 (500) delivered in 1957, excluding of course the cream livery or painted red and cream vehicles in the winter periods which was 348 (6348) CAP 221 and CAP 187 360 (6360) which were delivered in 1940. 428 for your interest was in a batch that was delivered in 1951. Nos. 6419-6429 re-numbered 419-429 in 1955.All of these vehicles were withdrawn from public service during 1965 (6419-6429[419-429]). So other than FNJ 110 (428) which ended its days as a learner bus, on which I passed my PSV test, I would assume that they were all melted down in the furnaces or gone to a bus heaven so to speak. I hope that this information is useful to you.

    By Sid Berry (01/10/2009)
  • Hi Martin, OK I will hold my hands up – I have made a faux pas. With reference to my recent comments I was assuming that you were referring to the BH&D (428) as there was no full bus registration number quoted in your statement, only a chassis number. In this case I am wrong to blurt on about correcting your information which still stands correct and intact as I can now see you are referring to the Southdown vehicle. My profuse apologies for misunderstanding your text. However saying this I hope that the info I wrote may be useful to you. Best Wishes Sid.

    By Sid Berry (01/10/2009)
  • As a schoolboy I often went to Patcham Fawcett [1966-70] from Coldean on these Leyland “Queen Marys”. They struck me as being significantly underpowered for any hilly terrain. On one occasion the bus could not pull out from Hawhurst Road [upper] into Coldean Lane, despite numerous attempts. So we all had to get out of the bus and rejoin it once it had made the intitial climb. On another ocassion I was on the relief bus, a Bristol Lodekka [fully loaded] going up Coldean Lane and we overtook, [yes overtook going UP Coldean Lane!] the Leyland Queen Mary school bus. That Lodekka driver was my hero of the day.

    By David Scott (01/12/2011)
  • The Queen Marys were indeed quite variable in their ability to get up a hill at any speed. In his book ‘The Southdown PD3s’, Julian Osborne described the struggles of one or two to get up Bear Road on the 6 route. When I was a seasonal conductor with Southdown in the 1970s there were times when I half expected the driver to tell me to get out and push – going up Sutherland Road on the 2 route being one example.

    By John Wilkin (02/12/2011)
  • I joined Southdown as a driver at the tender age of 22 in 1972, the Queen Mary was the first bus I drove in service on no 55. I picked it up in Western Road knowing nothing at the time about boxing a person so I picked it up at the time I was given much to the anoyance of the driver I took off, but I then went onto the corporation buses, and was on the 45/58/block. My best mate and also best man when I married was Darrell Heyburgh.  It would be great to be contacted by anybody  I knew or worked with.

    By Cliff Pitam (11/04/2012)
  • I pased my psv as it was called then in 1990 on a Queen Mary, out of Conway Street.

    By Gary Tester (02/07/2012)
  • I was a driver at Conway Street 1976/77 and had a service on the 2, my service was 2×9 to be precise, and my particular duties ran between Portslade Station and Rottingdean, with some shorts to/from South Woodingdean or Race Hill. On the late shift I covered on the 5 in the late evening, taking over my bus at Coleridge Street, working the very busy last bus through Churchill Square (2330) to Hangleton at night. Our buses then were mainly Queen Marys at the time, but around the beginning of 1977 I think, they reinstated some of the ex BH&D Bristol FLFs which were great as well. I’ll never forget those happy times.

    By Patrick Hall (14/10/2012)
  • I worked as a conductor from Pool Valley in Brighton in the mid to late 70s. It would be nice to hear from anyone who I worked with. The 25 service was but one route that we did. My email address is

    By Fred Jelley (24/02/2015)
  • I formed a bus company in Brighton although our garage was in Newhaven after Haven Bus closed down. The first bus we had was a PD3 Fleet no 422 though it had lost its original reg of 422 DCD. It was bought from Southdown and recovered from being canalibised and repainted into Southdown colours with our fleet name in Southdown style. We grew to a run out of 17 with 5 spares and a load of East Sussex contracts. I was often pulled out of the office to do the 114 from Seaford which was a school contract to Cardinal Newman school along the coast road in service. We were the first bus to go to the railway station and it was always an experience with a standing load to turn right at the clock tower! It was the same every time a growl as it went into first then a Stagecoach bus would flash us and it was that crucial snatch change half way around the turn. I clipped it once in 2 years but it caused my wrist to ache and for a while but it went in. A fabulous bus to drive and I nearly always stayed out there for the rest of the shift on the 12’s.

    By Clifford Jones (25/05/2015)
  • I remember travelling to school in Eastbourne from Seaford on a number 12 bus in the early 60s and the struggle made by these to leave Eastdean, particularly in a westward direction. We often wondered whether they would make it to Friston Pond, but they always did.

    By Andrew Berry (09/03/2016)
  • Hi Martin. One or two of us are trying to research the PD3s that were converted to OMO – mainly unsuccessfully. They seem to have been used in service infrequently on school routes? But even Julian Osborn was vague about which ones. I know you have written on the Corporation PD2s in OMO format, but wonder if you have any information on the handful of PD3s (Southdown) and their use in service…. Can anyone help?

    By Malcolm (11/03/2016)
  • Bit of a bus family here. Grandad and great-uncle both drove for London Transport on Regents and RouteMasters. Grandad mainly drove the 19 route and occasionally the 39 route. Dad drove for Southdown as well as coach companies and at the airport for B-Cal and BA. One of my sons became a driver in the RAF, driving all manner of vehicles and coaches, and I became a mechanic and worked on coaches.

    I grew up in Crawley, and my Dad used to drive Queen Marys for Southdown in the mid-1960s.

    As a young boy, I’d meet him on his route, and the Clippy would pass me through the small opening by the doors into the cab. From that magical vantage point, I would sit over the engine and be next to my hero as he drove his route around Crawley. If I remember correctly, the door buttons were to the driver’s left, and I vaguely remember being allowed to open the doors at the stops.

    Occasionally, he had to ferry a bus or coach from Crawley to Brighton, and he’d pick me up from home in whatever he was driving and I had the whole out-of-service bus to myself. It was normally at night and I was allowed to stay up late when he did it.

    During breaks he would take me into the crew room at the old Crawley bus station to have a Coke and to play with the snooker table… I loved every minute.

    Dad died of Lung cancer back in 1999 but I still have his PSV disc in my keepsakes box.

    I doubt anyone would remember him as it was almost sixty years ago, but he was a red head and his name was Derek Hooper. Still my hero today.

    By Stephen Hooper (20/09/2023)

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