Remembering Manchester’s express route to Chesterfield which, at one time, continued to Lincoln
Once upon a time, almost fifty years ago, it was possible to cross the Pennines by bus from Manchester, via a number of different routes. Without a change of bus en route. Today, there are only three routes where you can do just that. Two of which are National Express coach services: the 351 to Sheffield, and the 060 to Leeds via the M62. The only proper service bus to do that is First Greater Manchester’s 184 service to Huddersfield.
Back in 1967, you could get the following trans-Pennine bus routes from Manchester city centre:
- X39: Manchester [Lower Mosley Street] – Sheffield (via Denton, Hyde, and Snake Pass);
- X48: Manchester [Exchange railway station] – Sheffield (via Stalybridge, Woodhead Pass, and Stocksbridge);
- X67: Manchester [Lower Mosley Street] – Chesterfield (via Sparrowpit, Peak Forest, and Stoney Middleton);
- X72: Manchester [Lower Mosley Street] – Sheffield (via Chapel-en-le-Frith, Mam Tor, and Castleton);
- X19: Manchester [Lower Mosley Street] – Barnsley (via Stalybridge and Holmfirth);
- X20: Manchester [Lower Mosley Street] – Barnsley (via Stalybridge and Penistone).
By 1968, the X39 and X72 services were withdrawn. In 1971, the X20 was withdrawn, with parts of its service covered by a remodelled X19 service. The X67 was extended from Chesterfield to Mansfield. Of the trans-Pennine bus routes seen above, the X67 saw continued service well into the 21st century. Service cuts, which affected a number of Derbyshire County Council tendered services (including the 239, funded by GMPTE and DCC), saw to its demise.
At one time, it was a spinal bus route between Manchester and Chesterfield. Before direct trains to Norwich and Peterborough were added to Manchester Piccadilly, you had to change at Sheffield [Midland] for Chesterfield. It also added an important local link for passengers living in Sparrowpit or Stoney Middleton. To attempt the same journey by bus, in 2017, will be a real test of patience.
The X67 route
The X67 route, right up to the early years of bus deregulation, was a joint undertaking. In 1967, it was a joint service between the North Western Road Car Company and East Midland Motor Services.
1968 timetable (North Western Road Car Company/East Midland Motor Services)
In 1968, it took two hours and eight minutes to complete the full journey from Chesterfield to Manchester [Lower Mosley Street]. Departing from the East Midland Bus Station at 0800, it arrived at Lower Mosley Street for 1008. From Monday to Thursday, the next bus departed for Manchester at 1800 (arr. 2008). In the opposite direction, from Manchester, 1045 (arr. 1253) and 2015 (arr. 2223) respectively.
Where it came into its own was on Fridays and weekends: four buses a day in each direction: 1100 and 2015 from Chesterfield (arr. 1308 and 2223 respectively). From Manchester, 0845 and 1800 (arriving at 1053 and 2008 respectively).
It was a limited stop route between Manchester and Barmoor Clough, then all stops to Tideswell. Then it was limited stop from Tideswell to Baslow, all stops from there up to Belmont, before being limited stop again till Chesterfield.
From 1971 to 1973, North Western Road Car Company’s Death By Reorganisation was met with such resentment. Firstly, its stage carriage operations within the SELNEC PTE boundaries were absorbed by SELNEC in 1972. They came under the SELNEC Cheshire banner with a brown version of the Lazy ‘S’. As a consequence, NWRCC’s stage carriage operations outside the boundary were taken over by NBC’s Crosville and Trent undertakings.
Then, the express coaches which North Western Road Car Company made their name with, became part of National Travel North West. After being run from Stockport, they would subsequently be run by Ribble. On the 13 May 1973, the end of an era came when the last coach left Lower Mosley Street coach station. All future National Bus Company express routes moved to Chorlton Street Coach Station, a newer structure made dingier by Leach Rhodes Walker’s multi-storey car park.
How did this affect the X67? Apart from moving to Chorlton Street, it was given an extension. An eastward one to Mansfield, and a change of partner from NWRCC to Ribble.
1976 timetable (Ribble/East Midland)
The basic journey from Mansfield [Westgate] to Manchester [Chorlton Street Coach Station] added twelve minutes to the clock: 2 hours, 20 minutes from Nottinghamshire to Greater Manchester.
- Monday – Friday: three return journeys (0745, 1435, and 1745 to Manchester; 1045, 1730, and 2020 to Mansfield);
- Saturday: three return journeys as Monday to Friday, plus extra Saturday journeys (1045 to Manchester, 0815 to Mansfield)
- Sunday: two return journeys in the winter (0745 and 1745 to Manchester; 1045 and 2020 to Mansfield) and four return journeys in the summer (as winter times with extra journeys at 1045 and 1435 to Manchester, and 0815 and 1730 to Mansfield).
1978 timetable (Ribble/East Midland)
Two years on, the basic journey time was unchanged at 2 hours, 20 minutes from Mansfield to Greater Manchester. In spite of advertising the fact that the X67 had connections with the Lake District, Lancashire, and Newark-on-Trent bound buses, cuts were made to the Sunday service.
- Monday – Thursday: two return journeys in the winter (0915 and 1435 to Manchester; 1200 and 1730 to Mansfield), and three return journeys in the summer (winter timetable plus 0745 journey to Manchester and 1045 journey to Mansfield);
- Friday: three return journeys in the winter (0915, 1435, and 1745 to Manchester; 1200, 1730, and 2020 to Mansfield), and four return journeys in the summer (winter timetable plus 0745 journey to Manchester and 1045 journey to Mansfield);
- Saturday: four return journeys (0745, 1115, 1435, and 1745 to Manchester; 0840, 1045, 1730, and 2020 to Mansfield);
- Sunday: two return journeys all year round (0915 and 1745 to Manchester; 1200 and 2020 to Mansfield).
As with North Western before then, coaches and dual purpose buses were the norm for this route. By the 1980s, the X67 would see a few more far reaching changes. Expansion instead of contraction was the order of the day.
By the early 1980s, Ribble pulled out of its share of the X67 service. The Preston-based constituent of NBC was reorganising its express routes. One example was the Timesaver branding it introduced for its urban express services. From Manchester to Burnley, 243 journeys which used the M66 motorway became part of the X43 route.
East Midland found a new partner for the X67 service: NBC’s Lincolnshire constituent. As a consequence, the X67’s terminus was extended to Lincoln. A trip from Manchester to Skegness meant changing in the county town. The supersize service was known as the Lincman, a portmanteau of the first four letters of Lincoln and the first three letters of Manchester. In 1985, the journey time between the two points was a staggering 4 hours and 41 minutes.
There was another new partner: long established private operator, J.H. Wooliscroft’s Silver Service. Situated in Baslow, they would help to beef up the service with extra coaches. Each participant had coaches with LINCMAN branding below the windows.
1985 timetable (East Midland/Mansfield/Lincolnshire/Silver Service)
- Monday – Saturday: every two hours from Manchester to Lincoln (1010 then 1215, 1415, 1615, and 1815 to Lincoln; 0655 then 0905, 1105, 1305, and 1505 to Manchester);
- Sunday: two return journeys (1305 and 1505 to Manchester; 1210 and 1815 to Lincoln).
There was also extra journeys between Mansfield and Newark-on-Trent, making for a hourly frequency till mid-evening. These departed at three minutes past the hour from Newark and three minutes to the hour from Mansfield.
Extra Sunday journeys made for a two hour frequency between Mansfield and Lincoln. Some part route journeys began and terminated at Calver Sough and Tideswell. Another striking detail about the timetable that was issues in 1985 were the potential connections it offered. For example (excluding transfer times):
- Doncaster to Newark-on-Trent: X22 to Mansfield then X67 to Newark-on-Trent (2 hours 25 minutes);
- Hanley to Lincoln: X23 to Baslow then X67 to Lincoln (4 hours 21 minutes);
- Manchester to Skegness: X67 to Lincoln then 6 to Skegness (6 hours 40 minutes).
What’s more, through ticketing was available between connecting buses. From Manchester to Skegness, let alone Baslow to Stockport on a Peak Wayfarer ticket. Surely, this level of cooperation and integration couldn’t last. Could it?
1986 timetable (East Midland/Silver Service)
Another change was around the corner and bus deregulation wasn’t the only issue. Firstly, the Lincolnshire section of the X67 was discontinued (hence the loss of Lincolnshire from the Lincman pool). Secondly, the two hourly frequency and additional part route journeys were ditched. Instead of Lincoln, the X67 was extended westward: to Liverpool.
After deregulation prompted the reorganisation of Ribble, its Merseyside operations were spun off. Ironically, and initially geographically incorrect, as North Western. Skelthorne Street was at one time Ribble territory, also the site of its Liverpool bus station, inherited by North Western.
- Monday – Saturday: two return journeys from Liverpool to Mansfield (1320 and 1720 to Mansfield; 0915 and 1315 to Liverpool);
- Sunday: two return journeys from Manchester to Mansfield (0920 and 1715 to Manchester; 1210 and 2015 to Mansfield).
The journey time from Liverpool to Mansfield was 3 hours and 20 minutes. To do the same journey by rail today takes 3 hours 10 minutes. Almost 31 years later, a direct train from Liverpool Lime Street to Mansfield (departing at 1552, arriving at 1905) is only seven minutes faster than the 1986 timetable for the X67. By car, 2 hours and 30 minutes at best via the Peak District.
There was also additional journeys to Manchester on weekdays: one at 0725 from Mansfield, and a Fridays Only journey at 1715. In the opposite direction, a journey at 1010, and a part route journey to Chesterfield, departing at 2015. Again, Fridays Only.
1988 timetable (East Midland/Silver Service)
By 1988, some cutbacks were made in a way which reduced the attractiveness of the route. Liverpool would only be served on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays. On Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, only one return journey from Mansfield to Manchester. Enough for a brief shopping trip but nothing more.
Unchanged from the 1986 timetable was its Sunday service and the Fridays Only journeys at 1715 (to Manchester) and 2015 (to Mansfield).
- Monday, Friday, Saturday: two return journeys from Liverpool to Mansfield (1320 and 1720 to Mansfield; 0915 and 1315 to Liverpool);
- Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: one return journey from Manchester to Mansfield (0915 to Manchester; 1545 to Mansfield)
- Sunday: two return journeys from Manchester to Mansfield (0920 and 1715 to Manchester; 1210 and 2015 to Mansfield).
Decline and Fall
Come 1990, Silver Service’s share in the route was taken over by Hulley’s of Baslow. Instead of coaches, double decker buses and single decker buses took over. By 1998, minibuses became the norm, a comedown from the normal rolling stock thirty years before. The service’s Mansfield connection was withdrawn, with the X67 terminating at Chesterfield.
On the 18 October 1998, Hulley’s of Baslow pulled out of the X67 service. Instead of the usual minibuses, a restored Daimler Fleetline was used on its morning journey.
Though the X67 made its way into the 21st century, it was a shadow of its former self. It became a Derbyshire County Council tendered service, giving Sparrowpit its direct link to Manchester city centre. Its route changed in New Mills, taking in Marple instead of Hazel Grove. Operators changed, with one of the last companies to operate the service in limited stop form being Ringwood Coaches.
In May 2010, the X67 was no more. It had also lost its ‘X’ prefix and terminated at Tideswell. Its last operator was TM Travel.
Can 67 still have the ‘X’ factor in 2017?
Since the loss of the X67 and similar trans-Pennine routes in the last fifty years, there hasn’t been any adequate alternatives to the car or the train. If you wish to travel from Eyam to Manchester on public transport, forget it. The easiest way takes 2 hours and 21 minutes: a 65 bus to Buxton, then a train to Manchester Piccadilly. In 1988, on the X67 route, 1 hour and 20 minutes. Progress, my posterior.
What stands in the way of there ever being a future X67 service – or a network of express bus routes – is the patchiness of such service provision. Also that of funding, which ensures the service’s retention. Especially as a stage carriage journey from Manchester to Derby (on the TransPeak) entails passing three concessionary boundaries (including the chunk of Cheshire East covering Disley).
Also the lack of any transport policy for cross-boundary bus and coach routes. Which could be an affordable alternative to the train. It can build on best practice seen on the Witch Way, Red Express and Yorkshire Coastliner routes. There could be a network with through ticketing between express bus routes. You know what? We could call this body National Bus, and revive the shadowed ‘N’ logo.
Finally, if you decided to do the Manchester to Mansfield journey by bus alone, here’s how it would work out. You might need a stiff drink for this.
- 1115: TP: Manchester [Chorlton Street] – Matlock [Bakewell Road] (arr. 1330);
- 1410: X17: Matlock [Bakewell Road] – Chesterfield [West Bars Stand E] (arr. 1441);
- 1505: Pronto: Chesterfield [Coach Station Bay B] – Mansfield [Bus Station] (arr. 1555).
It’ll be a nice scenic run, but the journey is considerably slower than the X67 ever was. Or ever will be if it was resurrected.
S.V., 14 September 2017.