Monday, 22 February 2016

How to Ruin a Bus Service - Historical Background

The A43 between Northampton and Oxford has never been home to a "good" bus service despite attempts to upgrade. The original road was painfully slow with a string of quaint villages to impede traffic. Most of these settlements are now bypassed and the A43 is now a major dual carriageway link to and from the M1 via Junction 11 just south of Northampton itself.

Before the advent of this improvements, the traffic lights at the main crossroads in Towcester were the bane of many a traveller as they did not speed northbound on the Watling Street! Not a lot has changed!
Post WW2, United Counties ran a bus servicer to Towcester numbered 53.
It was by no means "fixed interval" and occasional journeys continued southbound to Silverstone and Syresham.

By the 1960s, the service was numbered 345, part of a major re-jig of services as a result of transfer of routes from Eastern Counties and Luton Corporation.
A look at the Monday to Friday departures reveals that the timetable was much the same as the former 53. The only mention of Oxford in the copy of the company timetable in fbb's heap is service X14.
This was one of a large batch of "holiday" services running on certain days only. The X14 ran on Sundays and Wednesdays from May to September. The service departed from Oxford at 1730 (sorry, 5.30 p.m.) given a pleasant afternoon in the City of Dreaming Spires. Return fare from Northampton, for example, was 7/6 (27½ pence).

The 1970s saw big changes, prompted in part by the construction of the New City of Milton Keynes.

A through service to Oxford has appeared as service 338.
It was joint with the Oxford part of the National Bus Company and journeys were included in the Northampton Towcester table.
The service was still a hotchpotch as follows

333 : Northampton - Towcester via Gayton
335 : Northampton - Towcester Vernon Road direct
336 : Northampton - Towcester - Aylesbury
337 : Northampton - Towcester - Aylesbury
338 : Northampton - Towcester - Silverstone - Oxford

Note that there were only SIX trips to Silverstone, two on Sundays; all numbered 338. At some stage the 338 was numbered X38 but with no real change to the pattern of service.

We move on somewhat to the development of the Coachlinks network. Started by a pre-privatised United Counties, these routes were reputedly the inspiration for Sir Brian the Bearded to start his highly successful Fife Express network. Thus the X38 became the X6, but still with only four journeys Monday to Saturday.
The arrival of "ordinary" buses on this supposedly "coach route" was a sign of the end of any realistic retention of the Coachlinks principles.
Northampton to Oxford was back to being a bus.

And, of course, another set of route numbers would appear as new owners Stagecoach began to apply their tougher commercial principles.. 

Enter the X88.
Even less like a coach service!

But there was trouble ahead. Mr Stagecoach was not making any money from the through journeys to Oxford and a shock announcement was made.

We will take up the story tomorrow.

 Next 88 blog : Tuesday 23rd February 


  1. I think that
    7/6 = 37 1/2 P

  2. It is Keith. Stubby fingers when "running in" a new keyboard. Thanks for the correction. You can usually make Blogger print na half as the fraction by typing "& frac12 ;" but without gaps.