Before 1975, the Bristol Omnibus Company showed little interest in the Bristol LH bus chassis, having purchased new just six examples, three each for Weston-super-Mare and Wells depots. These early vehicles benefited from semi-automatic gear boxes. From 1975, things were very different. That year, the first of 89 new LH6Ls arrived. Of these, 22 were delivered in 1975 and a consecutive batch of four allocated to Stroud. More were to follow to 1980, when Stroud had no fewer than 12 on its strength. The initial batch of four caused drivers some problems. With FLFs confined to two routes by this time with their own drivers’ roster, it took Stroud’s drivers some weeks to become acquainted with the LH clutch and Chinese gearbox, some drivers continually stalling the LHs at the then set of traffic lights some 100 yards from the bus station at the old Petty Sessional Court (now a mini-roundabout—and recently Stagecoach operational office). And neither were passengers used to the choppy ride! With 43 passenger seats, the LH was a direct replacement for the MWs serving rural routes in the Stroud area. Even so, it is interesting to note that, as late as 1978, MWs still outnumbered LHs at Stroud, there being 26 in the town in the mid-1970s. In addition to the new LHs, Stroud operated an ex-Alder Valley flat-fronted example, numbered 347 in the Bristol fleet. This was one of five from Alder Valley, arriving in 1977 to cover vehicle shortages. The bus spent some while at Stroud in Alder Valley’s poppy red livery. The LH was destined not to last long, either at Stroud or with the Bristol Omnibus Company, becoming a victim of circumstance. By 1981, all had gone.First, Bristol Omnibus’ major network reassessments between February 1981 and April 1982 saw to it that buses of higher capacity were required to ensure flexibility with peak loadings. This was certainly the case in Stroud. Secondly, in what might be described as a “political” move, Bristol Omnibus began purchasing instead short Leyland Nationals for lighter-loaded routes in spite of the superior build, mechanical simplicity and
economy of the Bristol LH. Thirdly, it might be argued that NBC took full advantage of the Bus Grant scheme before its withdrawal by replacing vehicles irrespective of age or type with newer stock. These factors combined to see off the LH at Bristol garages well before its time. At the time of Stroud’s MAP network reassessment exercise in 1981, examples from as new as 1979 and 1980 began to be withdrawn or stored. The bodywork by ECW with its bowed BET style front was similar to that on the later RELLs. It did not appear, however, in the same pleasing proportions. The Leyland 401 engines were raucous rather than powerful and the ride choppy, earning the LH the nickname “Jack in the Box”. The story of Stroud’s LHs did not quite finish in the early 1980s. Long after the LH was withdrawn at Stroud by Bristol Omnibus, Swindon municipal Thamesdown Transport examples could be seen working to the town from Cirencester, under contract. Thamesdown expanded beyond Swindon and Wiltshire following success in tendering at deregulation, operating a number of Gloucestershire County Council contracts, including the example above from Cirencester to Stroud via Chalford and Sapperton (then, service 65). It invariably used ex-London Transport LHS variants such as the 39 seater shown until their withdrawal in 1989.
The drawing, from a photograph taken by the site author, shows Thamesdown no. 43 (OJD 92R) in Cirencester market place in 1987. The drawing featured on the cover of the May 1989 edition of the Swindon Vintage Omnibus Society's magazine which coincided with news of Thamesdown’s withdrawal of its LHSs
One of the initial batch of new LHs at Stroud, no. 361, at Stroud Depôt in 1979 parked next to a recently withdrawn FLF
Stroud LH 448 seen in Cheltenham Bus Station in 1979. By this time, most journeys on the troubled 563 between Stroud, Slad, Sheepscombe, Birdlip and Cheltenham were operated by Ford Transits. Phot: Stephen Dowle (used with permission)