Monday, 16 September 2019

The Evans Bus Story

Evans 'weapon of choice' in the 1970s was the Bedford SB, several 
appearing in this unendearing livery.  This is 458 GEV, a 1956 Bedford 
SBG/Duple Vega C41F which had been new to an operator in Essex, 
then operated in Jersey and finally reached Evans in 1975.

During my mis-spent youth, I survived four years as a student in Wrexham, where Evans buses were familiar to all who went to the esteemed institution of which I was to become a part, providing the essential link between the college and the town centre.


The story of the M. A Evans bus company started around 1919 when Robert Daniel Evans started a hackney cab service between Brook Street and Rhos.  In 1928 the operation was transferred from Wrexham-Rhos to Wrexham-Acton/Rhosnesni. The first bus was a Dodge 14 seater bought new in London.

Family Affair

Robert died in 1933 and the company was transferred to his wife, Martha Anne Evans (hence M. A. Evans). Their son Clifford Arthur Evans (known as Arthur) had his own garage until he was 18 and then worked as a conductor and assisted the business.

The company developed very successfully and in 1930 services were extended to Maesydre. In 1948 a further extension to Cartrefle College was introduced and in 1962 to Borras.
544 NUO, a  1963 Bedford SB3/Duple Bella Vega C41F obtained in 1978 from Blue Coaches, St Helier, Jersey


At the peak of the operation six buses (all Bedfords) were maintained with three running on any one day on two trips per hour over six different routes. There were also a number of variations at different times, which explains why the buses from Cartrefle College to town never seemed to go the same way!

As well as the local services, the company held a number of school contracts and special work for the college. 

Evans's staff all seemed to be on the 'senior' side of 60, which led to the comment that it took 50 years to train an Evans conductor! Old Bell Punch tickets were used which, even in the 1970s, seemed to be from another era. Some may remember Arthur’s brother in law, George who was responsible for maintenance. George had been a gunner in WWII, flying over 30 missions over Germany before being invalided out. He became the company fitter in 1985 a post he held until the company finished. 
- And of course there was driver Wilf who referred to female passengers as ‘lipstick’!
Withdrawn at Chapel St garage is TUN 548, 
a 1959.Bedford SB3/Duple Midland B42F.
End Game
In 1985 the routes and some six remaining buses were sold to E Jones and Sons, Rhosllanerchrugog. Arthur Evans died in January 2010 at the age of 92.

If you want more, there is a page on flickr showing Evans buses.
A full list of vehicles operated can be found on this page.

And a postscript: A 1950s Bedford OB (GCA 747) which once belonged to Evans has been preserved. So it’s still possible to ride on an Evans bus!

The Radio Caroline Story

1970s Radio Caroline Car Sticker: Under the Marine Offences Act, display of these was illegal while Caroline was still broadcasting from the North Sea.
Like it or loathe it, we all take commercial radio for granted. With hundreds of stations now on air across the UK and an even wider choice available by satellite and the internet, it’s easy to forget that forty years ago the choice of stations was extremely limited.

Then the BBC could only offer the ‘Light Programme’ (a precursor to the current Radio 2) as a source of popular music. There was Radio Luxembourg of course, but reception was often unreliable and many of its programmes were sponsored by the big record companies, limiting the opportunities for new artists’ music to be heard.

Ronan O’Rahilly was a music promoter trying to find airtime for up and coming artists such as Georgie Fame. The BBC wouldn’t play his records, and neither would Luxembourg – both organisations preferring to air established artists. O’Rahilly became frustrated and hit on an idea which would give him as much airtime for new artists as he would ever need – his own radio station, playing pop music all day.

The Mi Amigo in better times.  The vessel was originally a three-masted schooner, enlarged to a  motor vessel in 1927. Although very much a Caroline stalwart,  the ship saw service previously with Radio Nord and Radio Atlanta.
The station, he decided, would break the BBC monopoly by broadcasting from a ship anchored off the Essex coast. Having convinced investors of the value of the idea, a redundant ferry was purchased and fitted out in Ireland as a floating radio station and renamed the M.V. Caroline. O’Rahilly had seen a picture of John F Kennedy’s young daughter Caroline disrupting proceedings in the US Government and felt that this was symbolic of what he was trying to achieve – hence the name.

After a short period of test transmissions, on Easter Saturday 1964, presenter Simon Dee opened the microphone and made the first announcement; Radio Caroline was on air and British broadcasting would never be the same again.

The postwar change in youth culture with its new-found freedoms and musical soundtrack, plus the availability of a new invention, the transistor radio, meant that Radio Caroline had an audience hungry for its output. Audiences were soon measured in several millions and advertisers were keen to buy airtime to promote their products.

Very quickly, more offshore stations came on the air, following Caroline’s example, and each of them broadcasting virtually non-stop pop music, although some also tried a ‘sweet music’ format. Stations such as Radio London, Radio England, Britain Radio, Radio 270 and Radio Scotland were immensely popular with their audiences and their presenters became household names; forty years on, some of them still are. Some stations were even set up in former wartime forts in the Thames Estuary, of which Radio City achieved infamy, as we shall see.

Radio Caroline later merged with its competitor, Radio Atlanta – the original Caroline ship sailing to a point near the Isle of Man to broadcast as Radio Caroline North and the Atlanta ship, the M.V. Mi Amigo, taking up residence in the North Sea as Caroline South.

But all was not well. The Government quickly became concerned about the number of ships – nicknamed the ’beat fleet’ – anchored off the UK coastline. Although not strictly illegal, the offshore stations fell outside the existing laws and there were issues surrounding non-payment of copyright fees. The ships also presented a danger to those on board and to the rescue services when they got into difficulties following long periods at sea; in June 1966 for example, the anchor chain of the Mi Amigo broke and the ship ran aground at Frinton-on Sea.

The emergency services and foreign broadcasters also claimed that the unlicensed stations interfered with their radio frequencies, although this has never been satisfactorily proven to be the case.


Rumours circulated about ‘dodgy dealing’ by owners of the stations, brought to a head that same month in 1966 when a dispute at Radio City over transmission equipment resulted in the death at gunpoint of a former Radio Atlanta official.

On 15th August 1967, the Marine etc. Broadcasting (Offences) Act became law, legislation which was intended to bring to an end this chapter of broadcasting history. As part of the overall plan, the BBC had woken up to the new audience and later reorganised its radio business, launching Radio 1 in September 1967 with many former offshore presenters and their slick presentation techniques. 

 One by one, the offshore stations went off the air and by the evening of 14th August 1967 Radio Caroline, defiantly, remained on air with presenters Johnnie Walker and Robbie Dale on board the stalwart Mi Amigo, playing the civil rights anthem, ‘We shall Overcome’ at midnight.

Caroline continued until March 1968 when, in a dispute over unpaid debts, the ships were towed to the Netherlands and that seemed to be the end.

A new owner for the ageing M.V. Mi Amigo – originally built as a three-masted schooner in 1921 - emerged in 1972 and Caroline returned to the air, anchored off and supplied from, Holland. When the Dutch government passed its own offshore broadcasting act in 1974, the Mi Amigo sailed to an anchorage18 miles from the British coast, broadcasting from then onwards as ‘Europe’s first and only album station’ in contrast to many of the emerging UK commercial stations which relied on a repetitive top 40 format.
By this time servicing the ship was difficult; tenders were sent out secretly in the dead of night and those on board often endured discomfort for long periods when supplies failed to arrive. Arrests were made on both sides of the channel as a succession of suppliers was tracked down and broadcasts were sometimes broken for lengthy periods as generators broke down.


Above: Pictures of the M.V. Mi Amigo towards the end of its career  when it was clearly in poor shape.  The ship sank in a storm in March 1980.
The Mi Amigo was clearly in very poor condition by January 1979 when it began to take water. Incredibly, it survived a force 7 gale on 17th January and eventually Radio Caroline began broadcasting again on 15th April. Throughout the troubled times, certain records and a series of code numbers were broadcast to inform those ashore of the condition of the ship and which provisions were in short supply.

 By March 1980, things had not improved and on the afternoon of the 19th it became apparent that the ship was drifting. By 9.30pm the ship had reached a sandbank and was being pounded by a force 9 gale, with water pouring in through holes in her hull. Those on board were taken off by lifeboat and by the following morning, 20th March 1980, the Mi Amigo had sunk, although the huge transmitter mast could be seen above the water for a further six years; a sad end to an amazing piece of radio and maritime history.

Goodbye, Caroline!  Following its demise in the Thames Estuary, the Mi Amigo’s mast  could be seen pointing skyward for a further six years.  But it wasn't the end...
As ever, and undaunted by the political odds being stacked against it, the Caroline organisation soon picked itself up. In 1981 a former Icelandic trawler the Ross Revenge was purchased and secretly fitted out in a Spanish port. Its most striking feature was a 300 foot mast, the tallest structure ever fitted to a ship.
The MV Ross Revenge moored at Chatham in 1996.  Originally an Icelandic trawler, the ship passed to Ross Trawlers Ltd., Grimsby, in 1963.
 It was sold to a breaker's yard at Teeside in 1977.
 It then passed to Coastal Marine Services, Plymouth, as a salvage vessel (1977) 
and to the Caroline Organisation in 1981 as a replacement  for the Mi Amigo which had foundered the previous year.  Overall length is 72.64 metres.
Once back in the North Sea, Caroline returned to the air in August 1983, much to the chagrin of the authorities who managed to track down and prosecute certain key individuals.

The weather, rather that the authorities, continued to cause problems for the station. The ship broke adrift in 1986 and the following year, on 24th November the 300 foot mast came crashing down, again putting Caroline off air. A more modest replacement system was later installed.

The Dutch authorities raided the ship in 1989, destroying much of the on-board broadcast equipment – a minor setback compared with what had gone before.

The main Caroline broadcast studio on board the Ross Revenge.
Transmitter cabinets and Optimod.
In 1991 the Ross Revenge went aground on the Goodwin Sands and, notably, became one of the few ships ever to be rescued from that perilous location. The ship was later towed to Dover where it was impounded.

Today, as Radio Caroline continues, the station is still going. Not from the threatening and dangerous environment of the North Sea, but from a little land based studio at Maidstone. The spirit of Radio Caroline lives on, through the quality of its musical output and the dedicated team of broadcasters, several of whom are stalwarts from the days at sea.

New technology means that Caroline can now broadcast – perfectly legally – to a small but committed audience via Worldspace and the internet, without putting lives at risk. Plans are afoot to widen the scope of these broadcasts in the near future so we may well see Radio Caroline in the running as a ‘national’ station again.

And the ship? The Ross Revenge survives, currently moored off Rochester, looked after by the Caroline Supporters Association. It is currently being restored and occasionally sees service on restricted service broadcasts. To go aboard is an awesome feeling, bearing in mind the history associated with this amazing radio station, which has survived against all the odds. What for many years was the symbol of defiance is now considered to be a national treasure.

The legend lives on!

1970s Lapel Badge: Promotional badge showing a silhouette  of the MV MiAmigo and the wavelength of 259 metres.
Lapel Badge: More recent  Radio Caroline promotional item, featuring the Ross Revenge.
Liverpool Roadshow Poster:  One of those old '70s Liverpool Radio Caroline Roadshow posters.
Note the reference to 259 metres - which dates it.
Ahhh....the good old days...!  

Mi Amigo Poster: 1970s poster with a view of the MV Mi Amigo in the North Sea.
Audio Files:
 Radio Caroline, 1979: Off-air recordings of Radio Caroline from the MV Mi Amigo in 1979.

Time to Meet Caroline: Promotional 7" produced by Bulova Watches in the 'sixties. 
This primarily was to promote Bulova to the Jewellery trade and included several references to Bulova's advertising and sponsorship on Caroline...thereby indirectly promoting the station!

Fleet Notes & Observations, 1980-1983

An illustrated review of the SWT fleet, 1980-1983.

(Large Scrollable pdf file - please allow time for pages to load).

Aspects of Swansea's Forgotten History

Like any city, there are aspects of Swansea's heritage which are often overlooked. Here are a few reminders of the past, many of which are in high profile locations, but are passed unnoticed by thousands of people daily.

Sir Arthur Whitten Brown:
Plaque commemorating Sir Arthur Whitten Brown at Belgrave Court, Uplands.
It is not generally realised that Sir Arthur Whitten Brown lived at Belgrave Court in Swansea; he is believed to have had a home also at Langland. Sir Arthur Whitten Brown made history when he completed the first non-stop transatlantic flight from Newfoundland to Ireland in 1919 along with the late Sir John Alcock. The flight, which took place between St John's in Newfoundland, Canada, and Clifden in County Galway, Ireland, took 16 hours and 27 minutes and culminated in their Vickers Vimy biplane crash-landing on Derrygimla bog in Clifden. Both men were knighted after the flight.


Walter Road Boundary

Nicholson Place Boundary 

These two boundary markers can be found embedded in the pavement in Walter Road. But who was Walter and, for that matter who was Nicholson?
They were clearly very territorial...

While we're in Walter Road, this plaque on the front of a Solicitors' office at no. 141 commemorates Poet David Vaughan Thomas. Thousands of people pass this spot daily, but how many notice the plaque?

The Last Part of the Empire:


In its day the Swansea Empire Theatre was legendary, attracting many big-name acts, including a youthful Morecambe & Wise who are reported to have established their double act while performing in Swansea.

Demolished in the 1960s, a very small part of one wall remains, including one of the roses from which the canopy was suspended.

Wartime reminders:


Swansea was severely damaged in the blitz of 1941, with much of what is now the City Centre totally destroyed. Consequently, comparatively few pre-war buildings survive in the City Centre, but here are some reminders of wartime damage.

The former Police Station (above) still shows the scars of shrapnel from wartime bombing in this view taken in Orchard Street which serves as a reminder of an unfortunate era in Swansea's history.

This plaque in College Street commemorates the bombing of a Wesley Chapel in February 1941.

Dynevor School:
Dynevor School August 2004 - 1
Dynevor School August 2004 - 2

Dynevor School August 2004 - 3
Dynevor School in De la Beche Street (above) still looked like a bomb-damaged building until very recently.
During 1941 the top floor was completely destroyed, hence the newer upper section to the main building. The centre photograph illustrates the cut-off window sills on this part of the structure. Recent work has seen this part of the building demolished for redevelopment as a state of the art media centre as part of Swansea Institute of Higher Education, obliterating forever the blitz-damaged section.

High Street:

Recently refurbished buildings in High Street include that occupied in the 1930s by artists and photographers, Chapman's and a former cinema building.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Found in the USA: JWN 908

 Advertised on eBay on 30th June 2005 was this open top double decker, situated in Bayonne, New Jersey, USA. Pictures courtesy Alex Hall, NY.
Closer inspection of the photographs revealed that it is the last survivor of fifteen Weymann L30/26RD bodied lowbridge AEC Regent IIIs supplied to South Wales Transport in 1954; (425 - 439 JWN 901 - 915), later renumbered 1174-88. These distinctive vehicles had 'new look' tin fronts, based on a Birmingham City Transport design.
This amazing survivor is former 1181 (JWN 908) which was reported as sold to an owner in New Jersey, USA in 1969 and hadn't been heard of since!

The bus left New York by ship on 16th August, arriving back in the UK approximately 7 days later. The vehicle is now in store at Swansea Bus Museum pending restoration.

Now, thanks to the efforts of Alex Hall in New York, it has been possible for the first time to piece together some of the gaps in 1181's history:
JWN 908 in better days. Photographed at St. Mary's Church, Swansea
when still quite new and displaying its original fleet number, 432.
The bus was allocated to Pontardawe depot for most of its life with SWT
and was used on Swansea Valley services.

JWN 908 a few years later at Kingsway Roundabout, Swansea, carrying fleet number 1181.
All of SWT's lowbridge double deckers were renumbered in the 11XX series
from 1958 onwards. Picture: R.H.G.Simpson

Sister bus 1182 (JWN 909) during its final days with SWT
illustrating the later condition of these vehicles, with a modified radiator grille.

JWN 908 was withdrawn from service in 1965, being sold to Safford & Son, Little Gransden (Cambridgeshire)in December of that year. In December 1968 it passed to dealer Passenger Vehicle Sales at Canvey Island and from there it was exported, being acquired by Nancy Taylor Career Courses, Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey, USA by August 1969.

By June 1978 it had passed to Jane Boehmer, General Learning Press, Morristown, New Jersey and then in April 1979 to Eric A Friis, Oak Ridge, New Jersey.

By March 1980 it was in the ownership of Don J. Roe, of Landing, also New Jersey. It was used as a shuttle bus for an Irish bar named Muldoon's Saloon somewhere in the Lake Hopatcong area. It was probably at this time that it was painted green. Latterly it was apparently laid up as an 'eyecatcher' for the bar by the side of Route 10, probably from about 1988 which was when the licence plate expired.

In May 1996 it passed to George Dolan of Gasoline Alley, Kennedy Boulevard, Bayonne, New Jersey. Under this ownership the roof and upper window pillars were removed, the intention was to replace it with a canvas roof. The rear window was also replaced with a larger sliding one.
JWN 908 is loaded onto a truck at Southampton
by somewhat unconventional means...
..and arrives safely at its new home in South Wales,
19th September 2005. Pictures courtesy Ray Evans.

Townhill Trails

A look back at the buses which operated on 'The Hill'

(First published in the South Wales Evening Post, Monday 20 September 2004.)

In the rough and tumble of daily life, it is doubtful whether many people have the time to consider the origins and history of their local bus route. After all, most people’s interests in such matters are understandably utilitarian.

One of Swansea’s busiest routes, however, does warrant special consideration – that serving the Townhill area via the very steep Mount Pleasant Hill.

Exactly how to provide public transport on Swansea’s steepest hills had exercised minds for a number of years. At the turn of the last century a cable tramway on Constitution Hill had ended in financial failure and the electric street tramway network could only handle relatively easy gradients.

Swansea Council’s substantial housing developments at Townhill and Mayhill put further pressure on transport operators and eventually, in the early ‘twenties, SWT identified a solution – in Switzerland.

One of the Swiss built Saurer buses near the bottom of Mount Pleasant Hill.

In 1926 the company purchased a batch of Swiss-built Saurer buses which were fitted with ratchet brakes to prevent them running backwards. Public concerns over safety resulted in the company offering free travel for the first three days of the new service, in a bid to entice people to travel. Further similar vehicles were added into the fleet in 1930.
From those days until relatively recently, the single deck buses used on Townhill have been types which have been specially modified to suit the gradient which varies from 1 in 13 to 1 in 5.6 at its steepest. These vehicles, therefore, hold special interest although the extra wear and tear on brakes and transmission units has always meant higher running costs.
An AEC Renown six-wheeler. Poor road holding meant that Swansea Council
had to grit the roads on wet days.

Following on from the Swiss Saurers, British built AEC Renown six-wheelers were purchased in 1933 and 1934. These were the first diesels delivered new to SWT and were fitted with 8.8 litre “oil engines”. The lower axle weight of the six wheelers presented an additional problem in wet weather as they were prone to loss of traction on the greasy surfaces. The Borough Engineers Department attempted to resolve the issue by gritting the road on wet days!

A rare shot of one of the Daimlers. This is a former demonstrator,
but these were recorded to be reliable buses.

A SWT AEC Q. Note the single rear wheels – these also had problems gripping the road.

It is clear that further attempts were being made to find suitable buses for Townhill and several different types of vehicle were tried in subsequent years. In 1935, five Daimler single deckers with low axle ratios and five speed gearboxes arrived, accompanied by five ground breaking AEC Qs. The jury is still out on whether the design of the latter was ahead of its time, or a dismal failure. Either way, the side mounted engine meant that modified suspension was required and this type again was prone to losing its feet on damp roads. The Daimlers are reputed to have been very reliable, although expensive buses.
More AEC Renowns appeared on the scene in 1939. This time, both rear axles were driven in a bid to resolve the traction problems. Preselective gearboxes had become standard by now, the philosophy being that this minimised the risk of a missed gear and therefore of the bus running backwards.

FWN 506 was one of the 9.6 litre engines AEC Regals purchased in 1949.
In the days before Orchard Street was constructed, services terminated at Dynevor Place
although at times this alternated with Trinity Place as postwar reconstruction progressed.

No further new vehicles for Townhill were purchased until well after the end of the war. In 1949 a batch of AEC Regal IIIs appeared on the scene. These were of a much more standard design when compared with the types that had been used hitherto, although when new their air brakes had a two-stage action for which drivers had to be specially trained. Poor driving usually led to fierce braking causing discomfort to passengers and heavy brake liner wear. Following an experiment with one vehicle in September 1949, all eighteen similar buses were subsequently modified to more conventional braking.

Another demonstration vehicle, on trial on the Townhill route.
NLP 635 was an AEC Park Royal Monocoach, predecessor to the Reliance.
Manufacturers were keen to see how new models could stand up to conditions on Townhill.

A splendid view across Swansea as 1955-built AEC Reliance 808
(renumbered 1808 in 1961) grinds up the grade. These buses did sterling service on
the hill day in and day out for many years and were a tribute to their manufacturer.
Note the lack of high-rise buildings in Swansea and the white bridges of
the large number of ships being worked at Swansea Docks.

In 1955 the new AEC Reliance design made its debut in the fleet. Eight were purchased and carried the distinctive cream Park Royal ‘wings’ on their fronts. These were of semi-automatic configuration, again, to allay fears about missed gear changes. These robust little 44-seat buses were arguably amongst the most successful ever operated on Townhill and became very much icons of the service; having battled up and down day in and day out, they lasted in the fleet until the early 1970s.

TCY 665 was a 1962 AEC Reliance with Marshall bodywork.
This was one of the last 30 footers built for Townhill.

Updated versions of the AEC Reliance, but with a much more plain 45 seat bodywork design, followed in 1960, 1961 and in 1962. For the technically minded, these were fitted with what was known as ‘dry sump’ lubrication with a separate lubricating oil tank, to prevent oil starvation on the hill. Curiously, certain of these vehicles later carried advertisements for a furniture store pasted flat on their roofs.

Also in 1961, the Reliances used on Townhill were renumbered in the 1800 series to distinguish them from similar buses not equipped for the hill.

A change to the law in 1961 meant that future single deckers could be of 36 foot (11 metres) length, as distinct from the 30 footers which had been permitted since 1950. Although several of this length appeared elsewhere in the SWT fleet, the first bought specifically for Townhill appeared in 1968-69 and were numbered in the 1900s.

One of the final batch of special vehicles built for Townhill; a 1968 Reliance 53 seater.
This vehicle displays the experimental livery and the grilles for the ventilation system
can be seen in the roofline.

A total of fifteen of these attractive Reliances were purchased and all were equipped to a Townhill specification with heavy-duty axles, even though several of them were allocated to depots away from Swansea. Certain of this type were used for an experimental livery incorporating white into the window surrounds and an innovative heating and ventilation system.
Modern refinements such as heating elements laminated in the windscreens were intended to make drivers’ lives easier and contribute to safety. Significantly, a couple of them later numbered amongst the last AEC single deckers in the fleet when withdrawn in the late 1970s.

These also were the very last specially built buses for Townhill. The more powerful engines fitted to the Leyland Nationals and Dennis Darts which succeeded them made the requirement for unique braking and transmission systems unnecessary.