A look at past attempts to introduce buses to Park Bridge
Park Bridge is as much a cradle of the Industrial Revolution as Ironbridge and Coalport in Shropshire. Also its much bigger brother on the banks of the River Medlock, further downstream. According to tradition, the iron from the Park Bridge Iron Works were used for the rivets of the Eiffel Tower.
Among one of Park Bridge’s icons was its viaduct, demolished in 1971. This carried passenger trains and goods trains over the River Medlock. Part of the Oldham, Ashton-under-Lyne and Guide Bridge Railway, there was passenger trains from Oldham Clegg Street to Stockport, via Guide Bridge. The line closed to passenger use in 1959, with its final closure to all traffic in 1967.
Today, the former railway line is an attractive cycle route to Oldham and Ashton-under-Lyne. It is a popular place for dog walkers. Today, foot or 4×4 (well, other forms of private transport may be just as effective) is the only way of getting to Tameside’s once-industrial village. Before the late 1980s, you could even get a bus to Park Bridge, from Ashton-under-Lyne via Oldham Road.
1947 to 1974: Before GMT
Ashton-under-Lyne Corporation started the first service to Park Bridge, taking in a route that would be unchanged throughout its operational life. The route followed Oldham and Rochdale bound buses up to the River Medlock and Fairbottom Canal bridges. A few yards later, it would turn right onto Park Bridge Road, before leading to Waggon Road. The service terminated outside the Iron Works.
Its original service number was 4 with the first version of the Ashton – Park Bridge inaugurated in 1947. The original frequency was a single return journey. In 1959, the closure of Park Bridge railway station meant a boost for the service. Frequencies were extended to levels beyond the original service. Journeys would synchronise with shift patterns at the Iron Works and market days at Ashton-under-Lyne market.
During the 1960s, Park Bridge’s raison d’etre as an industrial village was over. Its iron works closed in 1963. The village started to lose its character; 1967’s closure of the OA&GB line meant the loss of its viaduct in 1971. In spite of its industrial heritage, dereliction set in. By the 1970s, attitudes started changing: there was talk of Country Parks and Linear Parks. Canals were restored instead of being left to rot.
Amid the hubbub, Park Bridge retained its modest bus route. Change was on the horizon, and the possibility of Park Bridge being a tourist attraction could boost the route.
1974 to 1986: slight changes afoot
During the 1973 – 74 renumbering scheme, the Ashton-under-Lyne to Park Bridge route was renumbered 336. This was consistent with Ashton’s local services: for example, the 1 and 3 becoming the 331 and 333 services.
In 1977, the year when Greater Manchester Transport’s Tameside Garage opened, the 336 had three return journeys, six days a week (no Sunday service). Its times were geared towards shopping hours, or anyone who worked in Ashton. Each journey took ten minutes to complete. It shared the same GMT Bus Guide as the 335 service from Droylsden to Smallshaw.
From Ashton, its weekday departures were 0815, 1630, and 1750. In the reverse direction, 0830, 1645, and 1805. Okay for local scholars, so long as they didn’t need to change buses, or didn’t mind calling in Ashton Central Library to do some of their homework.
On Saturdays, its times were more amenable for shoppers. From Ashton, it left for Park Bridge at 0945, 1245, and 1515. In the reverse direction, 1000, 1300, and 1530. No good if you wanted to watch a local football match but good enough for going to the market and the town’s other delights.
In 1980, its times were unchanged. This time, it shared its Bus Guide with the 409 and 410 services.
1986 – 1990: Swansong
Prior to deregulation, the 336 service disappeared. Shortly after deregulation, it reappeared as the 341 service as a tendered service. Then it was withdrawn. Then it reappeared, again as the 341 and as a subsidised route.
Introduced on the 21 November 1988, there was more than three times as many journeys as 1977’s 336 route. Weekdays saw the operation of ten journeys, scheduled as a short distance circular route. They left Ashton bus station at 0750, 0820, 0950, 1120, 1250, 1420, 1550, 1620, 1650, and 1720. On Saturdays, there was no departures at 0750, 0820, 1620, 1650, and 1720.
The enhanced times could have reflected Park Bridge’s new status as part of the Daisy Nook Country Park. The Stables became an attractive visitor centre. There was also a change of route: buses reached Park Bridge via Keb Lane, terminating at a turning circle. Today, this option is no longer possible as the road is closed to motor vehicles east of Medlock Drive, Bardsley.
Another reason for the enhanced times were the rolling stock. Whereas full size buses were previously used, minibuses – as seen on Little Gem routes – were the norm.
In spite of the enhanced service, the people of Park Bridge didn’t support the new route. Nor, it seemed, was there any great support from the rest of Tameside’s bus users. By 1990, it had gone for the last time.
Life after the 341
Today, passengers heading to Park Bridge need to catch the 409 to the River Medlock bridge by Kerfoots’ works. He or she may continue their journey along the bridleway or Waggon Road.
The closest route to the 4, 336, and 341 of old, is MCT Travel’s 395 service to Limehurst Farm Estate. Access to Park Bridge is available via Belfairs Close and a footpath leading to the former OA&GB line. Another footpath, off Meadowbank (itself off the hail and ride section on Camberwell Drive), heads to the same line.
Park Bridge isn’t even on a LocalLink route. Only the physically fit and agile, or motorists, are able to take in its splendour. For the carless and less physically fit people, this means your local taxi operator or an Uber cab. Perhaps someone in the near and distant future might propose a new bus route to Park Bridge, but there’s more chance of Stalybridge Celtic winning the UEFA Champions League.
S.V., 04 November 2016.