Memories from a 1960s BH&D conductor: Part 2

There was a career progression of sorts, through the Spare List to the Relief List and finally on to obtaining a Service. In older times this would have taken years but, with the rapid staff turnover of the late Sixties, I found myself on the Relief List after just two weeks and with my own Service at the end of just two months.

The Relief List introduced an element of predictability into the proceedings in that as a Relief you stood in for a preallocated group of staff on their weekly rest days, usually on a single route. All staff worked six days a week with a rotating rest day so as a Relief you had a weekly schedule of six different duties with six different drivers on the one route (taking into account your own leave day), repeating in the second week but on the opposite shift, late for early or vice versa. My Relief period was spent completely on the rather dreary Service 3 from Wilson Avenue, Whitehawk, to the uppermost reaches of Dyke Road.

As staff members left, you gradually ascended through the Relief List until, as head of it, a Service became available to you. Getting a Service meant that you again operated one route only as a conductor, albeit rotating on a weekly basis through all the duties comprising that route so that each week you worked with a different driver. I was fortunate enough to be allocated Service 5, which was regarded as rather a ‘plum’ route, in part because of the excellent unofficial teashop and toilet facilities provided by a lady called Mary in her wool and haberdashery shop on the parade at Mackie Avenue, Patcham.

Tea and toilet
The provision of tea and toilet facilities was important to staff on a shift that could be up to ten hours long. Only a minority of routes terminated at bus stations, railway stations or other sites providing these facilities. Routes passing Whitehawk Garage enabled the staff to make an unofficial stop outside the garage and scurry in to use the toilets while an enterprising café opposite provided cans of tea which could be picked up as you passed, carried to the terminus for consumption during stopover and dropped off empty on the way back. Most routes had something of this sort, but I recall Service 3 terminating in the remote vastness of Wilson Avenue and upper Dyke Road with no tea or toilet facilities, thus necessitating an unscheduled stop at Hove Station for the latter and at a nearby café for the former. This was where I learned to drink tea from the saucer, to shorten the unannounced stoppage, while the passengers wondered to where the crew had suddenly disappeared.

A bunch of Fives
Service 5/5B connected two of the twin towns’ largest suburban estates, Patcham and Hangleton, via its two largest and busiest shopping centres, London Road and Western Road/Church Road, and the busy axis of Old Steine. (The B suffix indicated slight variations at the two termini, and each duty alternated 5 and 5B runs.) It was the busiest service in the company and on weekdays and Saturdays ran at a seven-minute frequency from the start of the morning rush hour to the end of the evening one. In rush hour traffic, it was not uncommon to see two or even three Service 5 buses ‘staircasing’ (closely following) each other, as the first bus became progressively more and more delayed with its heavy load while the next one or two followed closely behind carrying minimal passengers (even if three buses appeared together, passengers would invariably try to board the first, despite the obvious crush on board). The more assiduous following drivers would overtake and thus relieve the load on the first bus, whilst those less sympathetic would hang back and let the hapless first bus crew suffer.

‘Staircasing’ also took place between buses of rival companies, in which case it was carried out with no sympathy whatsoever. If you found yourself hard up behind a Corporation or Southdown bus that followed your route for some distance, you might well let him ‘take the strain’ to the extent of hanging back and allowing him to take the lead, even if you were scheduled to run in front of him. This was particularly prevalent on the long linear routes through Kemp Town and Western Road/Church Road. Service 3 drivers would regularly hide in waiting until the Corporation 47 crept over the hump of Roedean Road and then slot in behind it all the way to Old Steine, and Service 5 crews would do the same to the Southdown 15 as it appeared from London Road, Patcham.

Comments about this page

  • I well remember the 5/5B service; we lived in Hardwick Road in the 1960s, and the 5 was ‘our’ bus. Not that it was a favourite of mine; my least pleasant part of the week was going shopping to George Street with my mother on a Saturday. I can’t stand shopping to this day! On a slightly more sinister note, the number 5 bus has featured in one of my more unpleasant and recurring nightmares; the one with me in the middle of Hardwick road, attempting to cross and unable to move, with the number 5 having just started it’s (high speed) run towards Hangleton way, seemingly oblivious of the fact that it’s about to squash me! Ugh! Let the amateur psychologists among you make what you will of that!!

    By Paul Robinson (03/01/2008)
  • My father, Jim Griffiths drove Southdown buses during the 1940/50s. In the winter he was on the service runs from “Pool valley” bus station. During the summer months he, along with his friend Bert Eager, drove the day out excursions, for the holiday makers, from the Brighton/ Hove boundary on the sea front. A blackboard propped up by the front wheel of the coach informed the public what the excursion was for that day. The drivers, looking very smart, stood by their coach in their white hats and smocks. Alas, Father died during the 1980s.

    By Sidney Griffiths (22/01/2008)
  • I remember the utter hatred between United Counties and Northampton Corporation; back in the sixties Northampton Corporation received a substantial wage increase which had been backdated for three months, nothing wrong in that but here comes the rub so they didn’t have to pay tax on it they refused to work overtime for roughly a month so you can imagine the hammering we were taking when working over the Northampton area.

    By John Wignall (08/04/2008)
  • Anyone remember the quirky number 19 route down Surrenden Road and up to the Seven Dials – my favourite from Dorothy Stringer back to Springfield Road and home.

    By Martin Scrace (08/09/2011)
  • I could never forget the No 19 route, it brings back many memories, but one in particular. From the early 1960s the number 19 route terminated right outside where I lived in Amberley Drive Hangleton. The other end of its route was Wilmington Way in Patcham/Hollingbury, although as a kid I had no idea where that was. Anyway with little to do but play in the streets us kids soon got to know all the bus drives and conductors. In really cold weather, mum, or one of the neighbours, would always make them a cup of tea in the evening. During the summer holiday 3 of us, myself, brother Tim and best mate Eddie, sat in the bus as they had their 15 min termination tea break, chatting. I can’t remember how it came about, but a plan was worked out, with their agreement, for the 3 of us to hide in the luggage storage area, under the spiral stairs, for the whole of the journey to Wilmington Way! All went well till we got to Brighton Station, where lots of suitcases were piled on top of us. Its amazing that still we were not detected, and continued on to the Wilmington Way termination, where the conductor gave us a “tap-up” that all was the all-clear to come out of hiding! A true tale!

    By Peter Groves (08/09/2011)
  • On the mention of not knowing where Wilmington Way was (announced proudly on the front of the eastbound 19 services), here’s a question. When I was a puppy all the BH&D buses had destination blinds ‘Lintott Avenue’, ‘Hardwick Road’ etc, but in a big box below they had the service number and alongside it all the principal streets on the way. e.g. “WHITEHAWK ….3 Goldstone Villas, Church Road, Western Road, Clock Tower, Kemp Town”. Why on earth did the company paint over most of this box leaving just a small rectangle on which only the number appeared? I can’t think of any rational or logical reason for this backward step…

    By Tony Hagon (08/10/2011)
  • I remember Mary’s wool shop at Mackie Avenue & I have the distinction of being barred from it at just 12 years old!. Throughout 1968 & 1969 I was a bus freak & spent all weekends and holidays hanging about the Old Steine, probably irking the crews on the 26/46s, although 95% of them were great blokes & took care of me. I got about a bit & was riding 5×12 one morning with a student conductor who I think was named Mick Miller. As there was only 4 minutes to drink a mug of piping hot tea I secretly disposed of it, but instead of tipping it down the sink it went into the washing up bowl. After that I was persona non gratis in Mary’s wool/tea shop. At least, I think that was the reason – I can’t think of anything else.

    By Rod Shaw (31/10/2011)
  • I started with Southdown BH&D as was known then in Feb 1975, I spent two week in the training school at Conway Street. Then did my on bus training from Whitehawk on the no 2 route. I lived at Preston Circus so had to walk to Edward Street depot to catch the staff bus, hard at 4.30 in the morning in winter, so once qualified KK67717, I asked if I could work from Conway Street as it was closer. I started on the spare list on B shift. I realy enjoyed working with some of the old drivers. I can remember people like Yorkie Graham, Ship, Potter, and the Berry brothers, Sid and Bob, plus many more. After I had been a conductor for a year I was offered a service on the 5/5b route. This consisted of 8 buses 5×4 to 5×11. I rotated though these buses twice before I was offered a position in the driver training school. I learned in one of the Queen Mary Yellow Perils. This was ok untill I had to take my test as my instructor was off sick so I ended up taking my test in a PD2 Yellow Peril, I past KK60660. I drove buses for about 2 years before leaving, of all the types I loved driving the Lodekkas I enjoyed the challenge of the crash box. I was offerd a summer service on the no 17 from King Alfred to Rottingdean with Frankie Newbold as my conductor. I now live in Queensland, Australia but often look back on my days at BH&D with fond memories. I stayed a member of the social club up until I moved to Australia.

    By Geoff Fleet (27/02/2012)
  • Sorry, I’ve just noticed a mistake I made in my last story. My drivers badge no. is KK61660, not KK60660 as I wrote. Sorry again. Geoff.

    By Geoff Fleet (28/02/2012)
  • I agree with John Wignall ( above ), I too worked on the United Counties in Northampton in the ’60s at the Derngate depot and there was always bad feeling between the two companies. As new a driver I was told, within the confines of the canteen walls, that after passing the city boundary I should not stop to pick up waiting passengers when heading towards town. I used to get some strange bell signals from the conductor when I did. And then had to pay for my own tea in the canteen! 

    By Jim Stapleton (09/04/2014)

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