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Thames Valley Bristol Ls


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Last updated 16 February 2017

Another look at some delightful vehicles from the past. Here we pay a visit to Thames Valley and remember some of their Bristol single deckers from the 1940s and 1950s.

Preserved No.616 at the Thames Valley 100th event, Reading in August 2015. Photo by kind permission of Ken Jones.

Thames Valley Traction Company can trace its origins to 1915, although it only became a fully-fledged and independent operation from July 1920. They were controlled by the Tilling Group from 1935, and operated services to and from Reading, Bracknell, Maidenhead, Newbury, Wycombe and Oxford and surrounding areas.

A varied pre-war fleet standardised towards Bristol products from the 1940s onwards, although the acquisition of a host of smaller local operators added some non-standard vehicles at times. Among the Bristol single deckers were many LS-type vehicles, and also a variety of full-fronted machines, some of which arrived with the absorption of South Midland Motor Services in 1950. However, LSs are not included in this review.

Many moved on to other work after retirement, and details are shown below when known. Among their varied duties, one wound up being operated by Rev.Ian Paisley in Northern Ireland.

The chassis and engine manufacturer Bristol named each new model with a consecutive alphabetical letter. Thus, the 'K' double decker of the mid-1930s was followed by its single-deck equivalent, the 'L'. Bristol Ls with Eastern Coach Works ('ECW') bodies were built in huge numbers and served all over Britain. At first glance they all appeared absolutely identical, but there were in fact several versions with visible differences.

The basic 'L' was launched in 1937, and reappeared after the war in 1946 as an improved model. It had a 16 ft. 2 inch wheelbase and was 7 ft. 6 inches wide. In 1950 a longer version was introduced with a 19 ft. long wheelbase, increasing the capacity of the bus by one seat row - i.e. 4 seats. This typically meant an increase from 35 seats to 39, and the model was named the 'LL' (for 'L' Long). In 1951 an 8 ft wide version became available, and this was known as the 'LW' (for 'L' Wide). An example that was both long and wide was designated the 'LWL'.

The designation also showed the number of cylinders and the manufacturer of the engine. So, an LWL6B was a Bristol 'L', 8 feet wide, with a lengthened wheelbase, and a 6-cylinder Bristol engine. Whereas an LL5G was a Bristol 'L', with a long wheelbase, (but only 7 ft 6 inches wide) and a 5-cylinder Gardner engine.

Six of the vehicles reviewed here have survived to the present day, including some outstanding restorations. A visitor would be quite likely to see one at any summer bus rally west of London.

As for Thames Valley, it eventually came under the control of the National Bus Company, and was amalgamated with Aldershot & District in 1972. The new operation was daftly christened "Alder Valley", a title which did not correspond to any place to be found on the map! In the 1980s the combine collapsed and was sold off.

As with any list, the odd mistake is bound to creep in, and some relevant information may be missing so, in order to make it as accurate a reference as possible, I would of course welcome any additions or corrections.

My sincere thanks to Mac Head, Phil Cross and Nigel Lemon, who have provided a wealth of new information, correcting much of the original data and supplying me with details of many vehicles I had no idea existed.


FLEET LIST

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BRISTOL L6A    -     455 - 459 (Total 5)

Built in 1947.

Chassis: Bristol L6A with 6-cylinder AEC-built oil engines.

Body: Eastern Coach Works (ECW) rear entrance 35-seat bus bodies.



BRISTOL L6B   -   460 - 465 (later 794-799) (Total 6)

Thames Valley No.461

Vincent-bodied No.461 (DMO 665) on a private hire in the early 1950s, before conversion to bus configuration. Photo: unknown.

No.464 (DMO 668) seen on a private hire to a coastal resort in the 1950s also has a Vincent body. Photo from the Roy Marshall collection via the East Pennine Transport Group.

Built in 1947-48 (Windover-bodied vehicles entered service in 1947, Vincent bodies in 1948).

Chassis: Bristol L6B with 6-cylinder 8-litre Bristol oil engines. All rebuilt and lengthened to 30 feet in 1958 as Bristol LL5G with 5-cylinder Gardner engines, and renumbered.

Body: Windover 'Huntingdon' or Vincent front entrance 32-seat coach bodies, painted cream with green mudguards and radiators. All rebuilt to 30ft in 1958 with ECW full-fronted 39-seat PAYE front entrance bus bodies, and renumbered.



BRISTOL L6A   -   472 - 486 (Total 15)

Built in 1948 (Note: 472-477 were delivered in 1947, but did not enter service until Jan 1948).

Chassis: Bristol L6A with 6-cylinder AEC-built oil engines.

Body: Originally ECW B35R bodies (although some had 31 semi-luxury seats), but all converted in 1950 to dual-purpose DP35R configuration.



BRISTOL L6B   -   487 - 491 (Total 5)

Built in September 1948.

Chassis: Bristol L6B with 6-cylinder Bristol AVW oil engines.

Body: Windover 'Huntingdon' front entrance 32 seat coach bodies.

Notes: All withdrawn and sold in 1957.



BRISTOL L6B   -   521 - 523 (Total 3)

Built in 1949.

Chassis: Bristol L6B with 6-cylinder Bristol AVW oil engines.

Body: Eastern Coach Works (ECW) rear entrance 35-seat bus bodies.



BRISTOL L6B   -   534 - 544 (Total 11)

Thames Valley No.541

No.541 (FMO 16) on relief duties on the 1950s. Photo: unknown.

Built 1949-50

Chassis: Bristol L6B with 6-cylinder 8-litre Bristol AVW oil engines.

Body: Eastern Coach Works (ECW) 35-seat bus bodies with rear entrances, painted red with cream lining.

Notes: All were sold to United Welsh in 1960, retaining their Thames Valley fleet numbers with the new owner.



BRISTOL L6B   -   545 - 555 (Total 11)

Thames Valley No.546

No.546 (FMO 21) with its Windover 'Huntingdon' coach body in the early 1950s, before conversion to bus configuration. Photo: unknown.

John Bristow of Swansea, a former native of High Wycombe, kindly sent this photo. He says "I thought that you would like the attached shot of the rebodied FMO 23 in service with Express Motors at Caernarfon. I took the photo on 20 August 1968."

This fine photo kindly sent by Ray Soper shows FMO 934 working for Worth's of Enstone in the 1960s.

FMO 937 in South Midland livery at Victoria Coach Station in 1959, waiting for a late afternoon departure to Oxford. Photo by Robert Blackshaw.

Built in 1950.

Chassis: Bristol L6B with 6-cylinder Bristol AVW oil engines. Four (546-549) were later converted to LL5G buses (30 ft. long, with Gardner 5LW engines and full-front bodies) in 1958 and renumbered as 817-820.

Body: Windover 'Huntingdon' 33-seat front entrance coach bodies. Four (546-549) were later given full-fronted ECW FB39F bus bodies in 1958 and renumbered as 817-820.



BRISTOL LL6B   -   556 - 576 (Total 21)

Thames Valley No.556

Preserved No.556 (FMO 938) at the Thames Valley 100th event in Reading, August 2015. Photo by kind permission of Ken Jones.

Built 1950-51. Nos.556-563 were built and delivered in 1950, Nos.564-569 were delivered in 1950 but did not enter service until 1951, Nos. 570-576 delivered 1951.

Chassis: Bristol LL6B with 6-cylinder 8-litre Bristol AVW oil engines.

Body: All Eastern Coach Works (ECW) 30 feet long, 7 feet 6 inches wide 39-seat bus bodies with rear entrance. Numbers 564-568 were rebuilt by ECW in 1958 to "One Man Operated" (OMO) configuration with front entrances and angled nearside cab windows for fare collection.

Notes: Eleven of this batch were sold to United Welsh in 1960-61, retaining their Thames Valley fleet numbers with the new owner.



BRISTOL LWL6B   -   577 - 585 (Total 9)

Thames Valley No.582

No.582 (FMO 964) at Reading depot. Photo: unknown.

Built in 1951

Chassis: Bristol LWL6B with 6-cylinder 8-litre Bristol AVW oil engines.

Body: Eastern Coach Works (ECW) 30 feet long, 8 feet wide, 39-seat bus bodies with rear entrance.



BRISTOL LWL6B   -   607 - 612 (Total 6)

Thames Valley No.612 with Alexander (Greyhound)

Seen in Dundee in July 1962 is No.612 immediately after its sale to Alexander (Greyhound). Photo: George Bett

Built in 1951

Chassis: Bristol LWL6B with 6-cylinder 8-litre Bristol AVW oil engines.

Body: Eastern Coach Works (ECW) 30 feet long, 8 feet wide full-fronted 35-seat (later 37?) coach bodies with front entrance, painted cream.



BRISTOL LWL6B   -   613 - 633 (Total 21)

Preserved No.616 at the Thames Valley 100th event, Reading in August 2015. Photo by kind permission of Ken Jones.

Built in 1952 (except 613 and 614 which were built in 1951).

Chassis: Bristol LWL6B with 6-cylinder Bristol AVW oil engines.

Body: Eastern Coach Works (ECW) 30 feet long, 8 feet wide 39-seat bus bodies with rear entrance.

Notes: Five of those still in service in 1969 were renumbered in a '2xx' series.



BRISTOL L6B   -   71 - 74 (Total 4)

Built in 1948 for United Counties

Chassis: Bristol L6B with 6-cylinder 8-litre Bristol AVW oil engines.

Body: Eastern Coach Works (ECW) 30 feet long, 7 feet 6 inches wide 31-seat bodies with front entrance, painted cream.



BRISTOL LL6B / LWL6B   -   75 - 78 (Total 4)

Built in 1951 for United Counties, acquired by Thames Valley in 1952.

Chassis: Bristol LL6B or LWL6B with 6-cylinder Bristol AVW oil engines.

Body: Eastern Coach Works (ECW) full-fronted 30 foot long 37-seat coach bodies with front entrance.



BRISTOL LWL6B   -   823 (Total 9)

South Midland No.822

Thames Valley (South Midland) No.822 at Victoria Coach Station, 26 May 1961. Photo by kind permission of Nigel Lemon.

Built in 1951 for United Counties, acquired by Thames Valley in 1959.

Chassis: Bristol LWL6B with 6-cylinder Bristol AVW oil engines.

Body: Eastern Coach Works (ECW) full-fronted 30 foot long 37-seat coach body with front entrance.

Notes: Used under "South Midland" fleetname, replacing withdrawn AEC Regals.



BRISTOL L6A   -   S301 - S305 (Total 5)

Thames Valley No.S302

Bristol L6A No.S302 (GFM 882) is seen here during its very short life with Thames Valley in the early 1960s. It had previously been SLA73 with Crosville but has now been restored to its Thames Valley livery.

Chris Vaughan kindly added more information; "Just to confirm that the location of your photo of S302, GFM 882 is Reading General station. GFM 882 is parked in the holding area between Reading General station and Reading Southern, next to the 'fish dock', a small bay platform at the east end of Reading General's platform 4. At one time the bay was used for fish traffic but after WW2 was used for stabling parcels vans to be attached to westbound trains calling at Reading. The holding area was not hard surfaced and was pot holed and puddled when it rained. The buses would be stored here before moving out to Reading General's forecourt to board passengers and depart on service. The date is before 1965. The bay was demolished to make way for a much longer platform to accommodate Southern electrics from Reading South station which was demolished the same year. Opposite the location of GFM 882 was a cafe of the taxi driver type and behind GFM 882's location was a corrugated iron hut with a curved roof (a bit like a large Anderson shelter) which was an oil store for TV buses. After 1965 the far end of the holding area became a small car park and a track where GFM 882 is standing was put in so that cars could gain access. The track and car park was fenced off from the TV holding area by a fence of horizontal metal poles painted white. Eventually the whole of the holding area became a car parking when the new TV bus station was opened in station approach."

GFM 882 in MacEwan livery.

The same vehicle in MacEwan's livery at Dumfries in 1993. Photo by kind permission of Murdock Currie via Richard McLoughlin. It still survives in preservation.

A picture of it in Crosville livery in 1985 can be seen here.

Built in 1948 for Crosville Motor Services, acquired by Thames Valley in 1963.

Chassis: Bristol L6A with 6-cylinder AEC-built oil engines.

Body: Eastern Coach Works (ECW) 35-seat bus bodies with front entrance (originally rear entrance, but converted by Crosville to front entrance for one-man operation in 1958).

Notes: From a batch of 82 Bristol L6A buses built for Crosville Motor Services between 1946 and 1949. These buses were acquired from Crosville in 1963 for use on Thames Valley's one-man-operated services replacing their more modern Bristol SC4LK buses, as the latter were found to be underpowered for these routes, some of which were quite hilly, and the older L6A model was found to cope better.

Update: Nigel Purssell kindly wrote in May 2014 to correct the above information. He said "Sorry but that isn't right - the L6As were acquired to meet a need for one man operated single decks on rural routes from Reading, while the SCs were always at Maidenhead for use on route 18 which crossed the severely weight-restricted Marlow Bridge. These buses were, at the time, numbered 774-8 and only became S301-4 after withdrawal of the former Crosville machines. (They latterly became 155-8 until finally replaced in 1969 by five Bristol SUS4As from Bristol O.C. and Western National.)"

"The ironic thing about the ex-Crosville L6As was that, only three years earlier, Thames Valley had sold a number of similar L6Bs to United Welsh and, had they retained them, the non-standard AEC-engined version may never have appeared in the Thames Valley fleet." Many thanks for that information Nigel.



TOTAL 131 ( with 6 Survivors - 556, 567, 616, 620, 627, S302 )

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