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Gloucestershire’s buses in Stroud since the 1900s
Bristol SUS
The tiny and indeed rather quaint Bristol SU—an Albion Nimbus clone—was associated more with Western and Southern National bus companies than Bristol Omnibus. Between them, Western & Southern National operated over a hundred of these vehicles and most were the “longer” SULs. Bristol Omnibus, on the other hand, found homes for just nine short versions, designated SUS. Two batches were delivered to Bristol Omnibus: 300 to 306 and 1962 and the remaining two followed two years later. Of these vehicles, three were based at Stroud and replaced the only non-Bristol vehicles in the town at the time, the Bedford OBs. While the SUs were withdrawn elsewhere, two of Stroud’s three lingered on as unique to Bristol Omninus, till 1978. The reasons for this were the vehicles’ short wheelbase, short overall length and narrow width that made them ideal for a number of routes in the Five Valleys. In 1962, when the SUSes were new, and throughout the sixties, Stroud operated 56 and 58 seat Ks, 60 seat LDs, 68 seat FLFs, 53 seat REs and 45 seat MWs. Compared to all these, the tiny SUSes, with their narrow body and 30 seats, seemed out of place. Compare their capacity, however, with a more recent mainstay of Stroud’s rural services, the 25 and 33 seat minibuses and similarly-sized Solos, not to mention modern saloons seating less than 40. The ECW bodied four cylinder Albion engined SUSes could see work on any service upon which the passenger might expect an MW but in reality they spent their lives mostly on the Nailsworth local services, 430A to Ruscombe, 563 to Cheltenham, 452 to Cranham, 446 to Kingscourt and 438 to Uplands, although latterly they would tend to appear solely at Nailsworth, Uplands and to Cheltenham. Service 563 - the scenic route to Cheltenham Seen in 2001 on the 2nd Stroud Classic Running Day is this ex-Southern National example. As an SUL rather than SUS, it seated 36 but other than increased length and seats was the same as those operating in Stroud, including the string pull passenger bell system similar to the two earlier Stroud examples. The above SUL on 12 August 2001 travelled between Stroud and Sheepscombe on a short working of the 563 between Stroud and Cheltenham and proved popular. This route converted itself briefly to LH operation following the withdrawal in 1978 of the SUes but would also see MWs throughout the sixties and seventies. The indirect route to Cheltenham meandered scenically through villages such as Slad, Sheepscombe, Miserden, Whiteway and Birdlip before descending down the impressive Leckhampton Hill into Cheltenham. This route was therefore a real treat: the struggle up and down the Slad Valley, ascent from Leckhampton, impressive views from many points including at Sheepscombe and Birdlip plus unspoiled Cotswold villages such as Miserden and Birdlip. During its history, the route has seen many vehicle types including Ls, LSs, MWs, SUs and Bedford OBs. In partnership with Gloucestershire County Council, in 1979, Bristol Omnibus purchased two Ford Transit minibuses with Reeve Burgess DP17F bodies, one of which operated consistently on the 563. Nevertheless, at peak times on Mondays to Fridays, the company would (generally!) schedule REs on the journeys between Stroud and Whiteway to accommodate school loadings. 563 has seen significant cut backs over the years. Villages along its length are classic examples of settlements where for decades the private car has held sway. With many twists and turns to accommodate villages on the routes; diffeent villages served on different days; and confusing short or special workings, even buses in the 1960s could not
compete with the car. Even so, by 1975, there were sill seven departures per day from Stroud (some of them short workings). This was half the 1960 departures; and figure halved again in 1981 and reduced further during the 80s and 90s. After the advent of the Cheltenham and Gloucester Omnibus Company in 1983, the one remaining Saturday short between Stroud and Whiteway in 1984 was operated directly by Gloucestershire County Council. Monday to Friday journeys at peak times and off-peak on Thursdays and Fridays only were operated by Cheltenham and Gloucester's locally branded Stroud Valleys buses. The peak arrivals and departures were maintained for many years, coinciding with school movements. Upon its retender in the early 2000s, the level of service was twice weekly, operated as service 23, in the early years of this decade by Cotswold Experience, through running to Cheltenham once a week only. Finally, the villages now see one bus a week, operated by Community Connections. Nailsworth Outstations One of Stroud’s Bristol SUs would invariably spend a day in Nailsworth working on the Nailsworth oustations (as the local services were called). Perhaps it is harsh to say but, even in the sixties, it was doubtful whether anything more than a motor car would have been required for most trips, let alone the SU's 30 seats, though there were connections at Nailsworth with buses to and from Stroud. The highest loads were taken up the hill between Nailsworth Bus Station and Forest Green, before and during the days of the 564 extensions beyond Nailsworth. Nailsworth local services were always very much a friendly affair. The same group of drivers would tend to be responsible for them. The few passengers there tended to be regular in their travelling habits and relationships would therefore build. During the fifties and sixties, there was quite an extensive network of services radiating to settlements from Nailsworth, each with reasonable departures—reasonable, at least, for the populations being served. Even in the mid-60s, Shortwood (455) and Newmarket (456) enjoyed at least six return trips to Nailsworth Mondays to Saturdays and Windsoredge (449) five. Forest Green, at that time served by stand alone local service 454, held down nine return trips on Mondays to Saturdays (two of which extended on Fridays and Saturdays to Nympsfield) and also a Sunday and bank holiday service as well. Five buses a day—one as late as 2000 hrs—operated between Nailsworth and Minchinhampton (467), with an extension to Cherrington on three days a week. Minchinhampton also saw Sunday services from Nailsworth. The seventies saw a gradual erosion of service levels from Nailsworth to its smaller fringe settlements. Further decline was inevitable and by the 1981’s Market Analysis Project, Nailsworth locals saw just 53 departures per week, with none at all on Saturdays. By this time, certain routes had been withdrawn altogether and others merged. SU Withdrawals The SUs were withdrawn in 1978. 1979 brought with it one of two regular minibus services on the Nailsworth locals, in partnership with Gloucestershire County Council. Painted green and yellow and with Bristol and Gloucestershire names on the sides, the B17F Ford Transits with Reeve Burgess Reebur DP17F bodywork were the first minibuses in the area and were also available during evenings and weekends for hire, to offset costs. Gloucestershire County Council manfully kept the services going but numbers—and departures—ever dwindled. Further decline followed in the 1990s though, by then, the pace had slowed. Services passed to Cotswold Experience (or Ebley Coaches to Minchinhampton, from April 2003) under contract to Gloucestershire County Council, and in the early years of this decade saw just 30 departures per week from Nailsworth bus station, equivalent to six departures per day Mondays to Fridays. All services save for that to and from Minchinhampton then operated less than five days a week.  The outstation services eventually passed to Stagecoach. Passengers and therefore departures ever dwindled to the point where they were all withdrawn. Forest Green continues half-hourly, as an adjunct to the 63 from Gloucester & Stroud.
This well-known and evocative picture taken by Stephen
Dowle and used with his permission is of SUS4A no. 303 at
Tiltups End, near Nailsworth, in 1977. The service’s
previous number had been 457. This was one service that
operated twice weekly in the sixties & seventies but sadly
the delightfully named Tiltups End on the A46 Bath Road
two miles from Nailsworth hasn’t been served for years.
For a while, Tiltups End was amalgamated into the Stroud
– Tetbury – Malmesbury service 424
Part of an SU's typical duties were shorts workings between Nailsworth and
Horsley on the 400. The same vehicle, 303, is seen at Nailsworth Bus Station
in 1977. Picture by Stephen Dowle, used with permission. In spite of more
descriptive blinds, Nailsworth locals tended to appear simply with the word
"Service", as here
Cotswold Green RED & WHITE RED BUS _____
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