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St. Helen's AECs

The following article on AECs that ran with the St. Helens fleet, and with Merseyside PTE in St. Helens, was kindly written by G. Pulfer, with some additional information from Clive Greedus, Terry Stapley, Ken Mullaney and Jonathan Cadwallader. Much of the information has come from the Venture Publications book Local Transport in St. Helens 1879-1974, which is still available from Book Law Publications of Nottingham (0115 926 7311) for just 6.99 instead of the 11.95 cover price. Some reference has been made to Alan Townsin's book Blue Triangle, also available from Book Law. Where the two books differ in presentation of facts, the Alan Townsin book has been regarded as definitive. If anyone has any pics with which to illustrate it we would be grateful, so we can illustrate the forgotten fleet that is St.Helens.

St. Helens had a varied fleet over the years of its existence. Being northern, it invariably revolved around Leyland Products - but it did buy some AECs.

The first bought were some Regents bought in 1948. These were East Lancs. bodied versions. Registrations on these were ADJ193-6 with fleetnumbers B35-40. They lasted till 1957/8. They were low height bodied versions,L27/26R. Another batch of Regents bought in 1949 were registered ADJ828-835. They lasted until 1958/9.

These were followed by the first batch of the "St.Helens RT's". They were absolutely identical to London's and so make them totally unique in so much as they were the only RT's built for anywhere except London. The manager at the time was an ex-London Transport bloke, so I suppose that had a lot to do with it! Registrations were BDJ59-73. They were bought in 1950. Seating arrangement was H30/26R. A lot of these then went on for further service with Hull after 10-11 years with St. Helens.

A single decker was also bought. This too was a Regent. Seating arrangement was B42D. Registration being BDJ329, fleetnumbered 209. Bought in 1951, it lasted until 1965.

The next invasion from Southall was the second batch of RT's. 25 were bought in 1952. Fleet numbers were D1 - D25, registered BDJ801-825. They lasted until 1961/2. Again, a lot of these went to Hull, with BDJ818 becoming number 135 in the Hull fleet.

At least two of the RT style Regents are preserved - BDJ62 is in St.Helens Transport Museum, along with another one without a body on. Blue Triangle by A Townsin has a picture of preserved BDJ67 and comments that it was sold to Hull after 11 years service. EFE have also modelled one so you can get an idea of what they looked like. One of the second batch, BDJ807, is also still extant. It was being stored at the Trent Valley travel site near the railway station in August 2005.
[Update July 2015: BDJ 807 was acquired by dealer/preservationist Ensignbus in November 2014.]

The next southern influx occured in 1957. Regents again were bought. Weymann bodied GDJ434-9, fleetnumbered H134-139. They lasted until 1973/4. Next came J140-155 registered HDJ740-755 in 1958 which lasted until 1968-71. These were followed by J156-163, registrations being HDJ 756-763. Bought in 1958 also, they also lasted until 1968-1971. This batch differed from the others in being bodied by East Lancs. Weymann bodied K164-171 came next. These vehicles were registered KDJ364-371. They were bought in 1959 and lasted until 1970/1. All these regent seating arrangements were H36/28R.

The next AEC bought was one of our most unusual, as well as least successful buys. Regent KDJ999 was bought in 1959, fleenumbered 199. It had an East Lancs. H41/32F body. It was bought for the route 309/319/329 routes to Southport. Southport is the local seaside resort, being roughly 20 miles away. In summer the loadings could be horrendous, so this vehicle was bought to see if it could cope with the loadings, though in winter the loads could be fitted onto any single deck in the fleet so it was never used to its full potential. As this was the only large double deck bought, I think it is safe to say it was not a success!

Next AEC's were again Regents L1-7. Registered ODJ941-7. Bought in 1961, they lasted until 1973-6. Bodywork was by MCW this time - H36/28R. Regents were always altered with Leyland PD2's in years of purchase - e.g 1960 Leyland, 1961 was AEC's turn and so on.

L33-40 arrived in 1962. These Regents lasted until 1977-79. MCW bodywork fitted, they were H36/28R. Registrations were SDJ353-60.

Reliances came next. 210-2 were registered TDJ610-2. Bought in 1963, they lasted until 1973. Bodies were by Marshall and were B45F. These were followed by DDJ213/4 which were numbered 213/4. They had the same body work as the others, but unusually they were fitted with a centre door in 1966. This then made them B41D. This was used as an experiment to see if they would be suitable for one man operation on later purchases. It clearly worked as dual doored versions were bought from then on.

The next (and last double deck purchases for St.Helens until 1983!) were Regents 56-58. They were registered MDJ916-8E. MCW H37/28R bodies were fitted. EFE have modelled one of this batch for their range of models. 58 was preserved along with further examples of this fleet, in the St.Helens Transport Museum, but has returned to PSV use as a wedding hire and special events vehicle with Halifax Joint Committee in West yorkshire. The museum is not open to the public, but the vehicles in it frequently attend rallies.

Early on in the life of MPTE, buses with open rear platforms became surplus in St. Helens following a combination of the introduction of new vehicles, conversion to one person operation and service reductions. Several Regents were transferred to Liverpool, where they replaced older ex- Liverpool Corporation Leyland Titans and AEC Regents. In the mid-1970s, peak hour additional services in Liverpool were still crew operated on split shifts, so could make use of rear platform fitted buses.

Then, in 1968 came the first Swifts, 215-223, registered RDJ215-223E. All Swifts were bodied by Marshalls's to a B44D format. This batch lasted until 1981. Then came 224-232. Registered TDJ224-232E, they lasted until 1982/3. These were followed by 233-241. Registered XDJ233-241H. They were withdrawn in 1983-1984. As far as I am aware, none of these survive. 242-259 came next, registered EDJ242-259J. These had a more modern body style fitted to them. All of these were withdrawn 1983-4 and at least 248 has made it into preservation.

260-68 were 1972's additions. Withdrawn in 1984-6, they were registered JDJ260-68K. 269-277, PDJ269-277L came in 1973. They had all gone by 1984-6. 260 and 269 have been preserved. These and the next batch differed slightly from the rest, in so much as they had a small luggage bin fitted next to the rear door. This reduced the seating by 2, so they became B42D. The final batch was delivered to MPTE in 1976. Originally ordered by St.Helens, 278-86 were registered GEM598-606N, and all had gone by 1984-6. Some of this last batch ended their days as police buses for Merseyside Police. As such they ended up being painted allover blue, not the most attractive livery ever put on one.

Three further Swifts were purchased second hand from Lancashire United, with Alexander B43D bodies. They were numbered 291-3, registered NTC108-110G, and lasted until 1981.

One or two ended up becoming airport transfer buses at Liverpool Airport. 248 was at least one of these. 283/5 ended up with an operator in Liverpool after they were withdrawn. 278 ended up with Knotty Bus in Staffordshire for a time. 253 was destroyed at an open day at the local St.Helens depot. It was used as a demonstration vehicle, showing the public how they righted an overturned bus.

The original livery on all vehicles was an attractive red and cream. This was simple on the single decks-red up to the window level, then black lining, then cream. A bit more complicated for the double decks. I will get a picture to you on how they looked. When MPTE took over the fleet in 1974, the buses all got painted green and cream. From around around 1977/8, the livery changed. It didn't on the rear door double decks, as they were slated for withdrawal anyway. The Swifts went from basically an allover green, to an allover green with a broad cream band across the middle. They kept this to the end of their lives with MPTE. The first Swift painted was 255, and the last was 241 in around 1980.

The Swifts operated on all routes in St.Helens. This varied from once a day works services such as the 108 St.Helens - Ravenhead glass works, to the 23/24 Clinkham Wood to Sutton Manor Circulars. Back in 1977 on its core section from St.Helens to Clinkham Wood it was every 10 minutes (23 every 20 mins, 24 every 20 mins- combined every 10 mins on this section). Even today it is still the same. It has a couple of nasty hills on it, and it made the Swifts crawl in first gear to get to the top with a full load on. It used to be fun!

In 1982/3 the Swifts still appeared on the majority of routes including:

  • 1 (St.Helens - Atherton, jointly with Lancashire United)
  • 3/A,5A/B/D,6 7/8, 13/A/B,15/A/B/16/A/B
  • 22/A, 23/A/E/24/A,26,27/A,28
  • 33-35 (joint with Halton)
  • 43/4,47,50,51/A,52,53,54,55,57/8
  • 79,89,90,92,93,95,97,98,98
  • 101-116 (works)
  • 329 (short working of Ribble's 309/319 Southport - Warrington)
  • 342/52/62/72 (St.Helens - Wigan via various routes)
  • 601-629 (schools)

They also ran duplicates whenever necessary.

The typical workings of Swifts in their last days tended to be as follows:

  • 13A Chain Lane - St.Helens (extra morning rush hour turn)
  • 98 St.Helens - Grange Park (extra working for school kids, it used to be my school run which is how I know about it !), then the return 98 to town
  • 92 from St. Helens to Prescot and return. The drivers shift ended and he took the bus back to the depot.

This also applied to the batch of Bristol RE's (2146-2155 which were bought by the MPTE at the same time as the last Swifts). The Swifts were replaced by the Leyland National, and later on by the National 2. On schools, they were replaced by elderly Leyland Atlanteans transferred in from other MPTE depots.

Preserved AEC's from St.Helens:

  • 67 AEC RT BDJ67
  • 135 Regent GDJ435
  • 153 Regent HDJ753
  • 199 Regent KDJ999
  • 212 Reliance TDJ612
  • 58 Regent MDJ918E
  • Swifts EDJ244/8J JDJ260K PDJ269L(244/48/60/69)
  • 1unbodied RT
  • 1 RT in the Midlands somewhere

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