East of the M60 looks at the former base of North Manchester Travel
The 1980s was an amazing era for long distance coach travel. With a more extensive motorway network, the seemingly moribund industry was on the up. In the nationalised and privately-owned sectors of the bus and coach industry, the standards of comfort on long distance routes began to improve.
The first salvo was fired by the National Bus Company’s relaunch of its long distance services as National Express in 1978. Alongside NBC’s operations was a number of long-established independents, like Yelloway Coach Services and Premier Travel. Their use of the motorways increased the attractiveness of long-distance destinations. Not only Devon and Cornwall, but also mainland Europe.
Then came the 1980 Transport Act which offered some deregulation for the coach industry. One aim was to break National Bus Company’s stranglehold. This led to the 05 October 1980 formation of British Coachways, a consortium of privately-owned coach operators offering lower fares and a common ticketing system. Among the partners were Wallace Arnold, Shearings, and Grey-Green.
Outside of NBC and British Coachways’ pool of services, there was a number of emergent competitors. One, 36 years on from British Coachways’ launch, would have 750 buses in Greater Manchester alone and about 90 million passengers a year (they did an overnight service from Dundee to London). Another, carved out a niche in ferrying pop and rock groups, and worked on continental tours.
The latter company was Len Wright Travel of Isleworth, Middlesex. In competition with British Rail’s London Euston trains, and National Express’ journeys from Chorlton Street, they ran a low cost express coach service from Manchester to London. In 1981, Len Wright Travel ran holiday shuttle services. Other companies related to them were Buddens of Romsey and Cantabrica. Locally, Averoy Holidays and North Manchester Travel were linked to Len Wright Travel.
North Manchester Travel brings onto what is probably the most overlooked bus station in Central Manchester. To keep costs low, and avoid paying GMPTE or NBC rates for entering Piccadilly or Chorlton Street bus stations, Len Wright Travel used North Manchester Travel’s Ducie Street coach station.
Ducie Street Coach Station
Situated on the corner of Peak Street and Ducie Street, North Manchester Travel’s facility was ten minutes walk from Piccadilly Gardens or Chorlton Street. For anyone new to Manchester city centre, it wasn’t the easiest coach station to find. The setting, to say the least, was dank.
Its facilities comprised of toilets, a snack bar, booking office, and a shelter. The snack bar was popular with drivers and, unlike the one on Chorlton Street, is still in use to this day. The whole building is known as Linda’s Pantry, and offers traditional hot food, drinks, and sandwiches. The prices are more akin to Ashton-under-Lyne levels instead of Central Manchester Pret-a-Costabucks Express Eat prices.
Behind the terminus building was the forecourt. This is taken up by Sixt Self-Drive car rentals’ depot.
North Manchester Travel, the company who owned Ducie Street Coach Station ceased operations in 1986.
The London Statesman
With Len Wright Travel offering business class comfort at standard class prices for express services, their motives (alongside other rival companies) spurred National Express into action. Departing from Blackburn and Ducie Street was the London Statesman. Double decker coaches with reclining seats were standard, taking advantage of the M1 motorway.
Their London terminus was the coach station at Gloucester Road, Kensington. Though less convenient than Victoria Coach Station or the nearby Green Line Coach Station, at least the tube station was nearby.
Launched in January 1983, it had three return departures from Blackburn with additional stops at Accrington and Bury before calling at Ducie Street then continuing to London. Like the then recently introduced National Express Rapide services, hostess refreshment trolleys and video films added to the mix. Discounts were available for students and children.
By the end of the decade, the London Statesman had disappeared without trace. The newly privatised National Express expanded its London services from Chorlton Street, and British Rail’s Euston service succeeded. Changes in drivers’ hours would see Len Wright Travel increase its activities in ferrying bands across the UK.
Over in Greater London, they went into stage carriage operation, as the first independent company to win a London Regional Transport franchise. As London Buslines, the first contract they won was the 81 service to Hounslow. By 1996 – then known as Q-Drive, the bus operational side was sold to Firstbus – weeks after GM Buses North was swallowed by the Aberdonian giant.
Over to you
Did you ever use Ducie Street Bus Station or catch the London Statesman? Have you frequented Linda’s Pantry on many occasions, oblivious to its recent past? Did you work for Len Wright Travel or North Manchester Travel? Feel free to comment.
I have also stumbled across this Super8 film of Len Wright Travel’s Isleworth depot. There is also a cameo appearance of one of the coaches used on the London Statesman route to Manchester, Bury, Accrington and Blackburn. It appears three minutes and 51 seconds into the clip.
Please note, this clip has no sound (a nice bit of easy listening music from your PC, tablet or stereo system could complement this).
S.V., 18 May 2016.