Another Lost Bus Routes of Greater Manchester special
The timing of this post coincides with one major bus-related event. That of Go-Goodwins’ revival of the Little Gem brand. With minibuses, in a version of the GMT orange, white, and brown livery. Most importantly, the return of Ken Mortimer’s Crillee Black logotype. Instead of the Dodge and Iveco minibuses of old, Optare Solos are the order of the day. With the excellent reputation of the Go-Goodwins brand, we at East of the M60 think they may well succeed.
The original Little Gem (GM Buses’ 1987 response to the arrival of the Bee Line Buzz Company) owe its existence to three footnotes of GMT’s history. One was the purchase of minibuses by Greater Manchester Transport for lightly used routes, as an alternative to withdrawing bus services.
Another was the development of new services to estates where the streets are too narrow for GMT standard double deckers. Thanks partly to the second footnote in Greater Manchester Transport’s history, the run-up to bus deregulation saw the arrival of locally branded minibus services. Inspired by Harry Blundred’s vision in Exeter, a minibus running every seven minutes would be a preferable alternative to a double decker every half hour.
Before 1987, Altrincham and Tameside garages were among the first in Greater Manchester to have the minibuses. In Ashton, they were known as Ashton Minilyne with the A1 being its first service (replacing the 337 from Crowhill to Hazelhurst via Ashton bus station). Altrincham’s came under the alias of Trafford Hopper with a little rabbit on the side. Altrincham’s minibus services owed their existence to the Interlink services, designed to meet up with electric trains bound for Manchester Piccadilly and Crewe or Stoke-on-Trent.
In 1987, the short lived local names were usurped by the Little Gem branding. It is said that the spouse of a GM Buses employee was asked for her remarks on their minibuses. She said it was “a little GM”. So ‘GM’ was changed to ‘Gem’, given that exaggerating one’s pronunciation of the letter ‘G’ meant ‘GM’ sounded like ‘Gem’ in a stereotypical American style accent.
Along the A6 to Ashton
In Tameside, the borough’s Little Gem routes were numbered from 1 to 9, and were prefaced with a letter ‘A’. Most of them were based along former GMT routes, but some offered new links to parts hitherto uncharted. Some form part of today’s routes; part of the A5 is on MCT Travel’s 395 and 396 services.
Ticking all the boxes of a Little Gem route which: 1) formed part of a previous GMT route; and 2) added a new link. The service was the short-lived A6 from Ashton-under-Lyne to Audenshaw and Denton. It was introduced by GM Buses on the 25 April 1988.
Most of the A6 had its roots in the infrequent 387 service from Ashton-under-Lyne to Denton (Crown Point). The only bus through Sandbrook Way had three return journeys, during shopping hours (Mondays to Saturdays). Plus a part route return works journey to the Pack Horse, Audenshaw. The 387 approached Dukinfield via The Globe Hotel, Globe Lane, White Bridge, and King Street, before continuing to Ashton bus station via Park Parade and Old Street.
Where the A6 differed were its approaches in Dukinfield. Globe Lane and King Street were snubbed in favour of Astley Street. Ashton town centre was reached via Crescent Road and Whitelands, following the 346 for part of its journey (then via Stamford Street and George Street). Instead of turning left at the Old General, it turned left at The Newborough, towards Hill Street (backing onto Lyndhurst Primary School), and Wharf Street.
Instead of the paltry frequency that 387 passengers enjoyed in March 1982, Little Gem minibuses had a bumper five return journeys on weekdays (plus two part route journeys to County Bridge). The first one would run empty from Tameside Garage to County Bridge, leaving Dukinfield at 0710 (arriving in Crown Point ten minutes later). Subsequent journeys were as follows:
- Ashton – Dukinfield – Denton: Monday to Saturday: 0830, 0945, 1135, 1245, and 1435 (arriving in Denton for 0845, 1000, 1150, 1300, and 1450). Saturdays only: 1545 (arriving at 1600).
- Denton – Dukinfield – Ashton: Monday to Saturday: 1015, 1205, 1315, 1505, and 1615 (arriving in Ashton bus station for 1030, 1220, 1315, 1505, and 1630). Saturdays only: 1545 (arriving at 1600).
The last part route journey to County Bridge left Denton at 1745, arriving in Dukinfield for 1755. Between Wharf Street in Dukinfield and Edward Street in Denton, the A6 was hail and ride.
The A6 also shared the same timetable leaflet as the A7. This service was a frequent town service, linking the southern parts of Denton, and part of Audenshaw with its town centre. Its frequency, every half hour in the morning peak, then every fifteen minutes till the 1552 journey from Crown Point. On Saturdays, four Little Gems per hour till 1707.
Unlike the standard GMPTE Bus Guides, the Little Gem guides were glossier and had more detailed local information. Pubs were marked with pint pots – and/or drawings of the public house. They still look effective by today’s standards.
Life after the A6: the 335 service
Both the A6 and A7 services were withdrawn on the 26 November 1988. Instead, they became part of today’s 335 service. There hasn’t been a bus via Hill Street since late 1988. Today’s 335 service operates once hourly along the most part of the former A6. It is a hail and ride service for most of its route, from Astley Street down to Crown Point. Then, along the former A7, around Town Lane and Linden Road. Hill Street and Crescent Road are eschewed in favour of King Street.
Though the present timetable is an improvement for Sandbrook Way residents (on 1988’s timetable), it is a far cry from the frequencies once enjoyed on Linden Road. Nevertheless, its operating hours are similar, but the Little Gems are no more on this run. MCT Travel (Manchester Community Transport to give you its Sunday name) are the sole operators. Enviro200 single deckers and Optare Solo SR minibuses (sometimes the odd 8m Dennis Dart SLF) play a regular part on the route.
The present operator has held the tender for today’s TfGM subsidised service since April 2015. It has previously been operated by JPT Travel, Stagecoach Manchester, Dennis’ Coaches, and Universal Buses.
As for the pubs detailed along the A6 timetable, only three remain open. The Chapel House, The Astley Arms, and The Commercial remain. The Park Hotel, a recent reopening and a more recent closure. The Newborough, now Raja Bros; The Globe Hotel, a café. Long may the 335 continue.
S.V., 18 November 2016.