Christmas and new year seasonal greetings

We can’t bring you snow in this year’s Christmas photograph, but we thought we would at least bring you a Christmas bus, even although it’s a little bit un-VCH!

Our 2023 Christmas offering is this photograph of a seasonally decorated Chesterfield bus taken sometime during the November 1981 to January 1982 period. (Collection P Cousins).

Our picture tells a story

The bus is pictured at the top of Ashgate Road, heading into the town. This Chesterfield Borough Council Transport Department Leyland Panther (fleet number 89), was first registered in early 1968.  Seating 49 passengers, like most ‘modern’ buses in the Chesterfield fleet, they featured dual doors – one for entry and a separate one for exit.

Behind the bus, to the left, is the Friends Meeting House. This replaced their Saltergate building which had opened in 1697. The latter was demolished in the early 1970s and is now covered by the Saltergate multi-storey car park – there’s a plaque marking its site – a sad loss.

Specially decorated Christmas buses used to be a feature of the Chesterfield concern and other operators across the country. They haven’t disappeared either. Chances are that if you live in the Chesterfield vicinity you may see Stagecoach’s Christmas bus.

Finally, a quick example of inflation. At the beginning of the 1980s, on the route pictured, a ride from Chesterfield town centre to Walton Top Road would cost 14 pence!

Chesterfield Transport

Chesterfield’s municipal transport undertaking grew out of the council’s purchase of a horse-drawn tram line in 1897. The line was first established in 1882 by a private company, but the company had to be reconstituted a few years afterwards. Electric trams were operated from December 1904, with an extension opened a month later. Motorbuses first ran in 1914, but the trams went in 1927 being replaced by electrically powered trolley buses, but they only lasted until March 1938.

In those days having a well run and equipped municipal transport undertaking, with its own distinctive livery and perhaps even a unique interior upholstery seat pattern, was seen as an important contributor to municipal pride.

The ability of a council to run services meant that it could pursue a deliberate policy of providing stimulus to industry, commerce and leisure, through its network of bus services – including special services to local industrial concerns coordinated with shift patterns. This was a policy adopted by many councils up and down the country regardless of their political control. But it did mean that rate-payers would have to directly subsidise any losses and local councils could be quite protective of their operating territory. For example, it could be difficult for private operators to drop off and pick-up passengers in town centres.

Like most other council owned bus operators, the Chesterfield undertaking saw changes in the 1980s. This was as a result of the relaxation (privatisation) in the bus transport industry. In 1986 an ‘arms length company’ from the council was formed, with an employee buy-out following in 1990. The new company, however, over-reached itself and met with lots of competition. It was taken over by Stagecoach plc in 1995, reportedly only days away from collapse.

So, one might say that at least one major player in Chesterfield’s public transport network went from private enterprise, through to municipal enterprise and back again into the private sector. This is echoed by the fate of the area’s other major operator – East Midland Motor Services, though its period of public ownership was latterly with the National Bus Company. It too is now owned by Stagecoach plc.

Our plans for 2024

We are excited about 2024, as this should see the publication of our next VCH spin-off series – on Wingerworth. We will be bringing you news about this in the coming months and preview some of its content. The book is primarily written by local historian David Edwards – a familiar figure in Wingerworth and district. More about this important new book in 2024.

Our best wishes

We hope that you have enjoyed our posts during 2023. We will be returning in the new year with some more.

Wherever you are this season we hope you have a lovely time and wish you all the best for 2024.