Ribble Motor Services was a large regional bus operator in the North West of England, based in Preston. The company was started in 1919, and grew to be the largest operator in the region, with a territory stretching from Carlisle to south Lancashire. Ribble were one of the first companies to pass into the hands of the emerging Stagecoach on privatisation in 1988.
Ribble operated red liveried buses, a colour that was retained through BET Group ownership, and then as the standard poppy red in the ownership of the nationalised operator National Bus Company, retaining the Ribble identity.
On approach to deregulation of bus services, Ribble's territory was reduced with the company's north Cumbrian operations passing to Cumberland, and the Merseyside operations to the re-animated company North Western, in 1986. The company had also operated subsidiaries Standerwick and Scout.
Scout went on to become Scout Computer Services, the IT arm of Ribble that operated out of the Frenchwood Avenue offices until around 1977 when it became National Bus Company Computer Services (NBCCS) Preston and moved into the ground floor of the GUS Building on London Road. NBCCS Preston closed in 1984 when most operation stransferred to Birmingham in what was Midland Red's offices in Edgbaston.
As in all operations, there were exceptions to the fleet being one hundred per cent Leyland manufacture, in 1948/9 Sentinel had developed an underfloor-engined single deck bus, which increased the seating capacity significantly. Ribble took two batches of these buses (Ian Allan abc Ribble 2nd edition 1952). They were purchased specifically to spur Leyland into producing such a model and early deliveries were run through Leyland town. The Sentinels were based mainly at Carlisle and Penrith depots for the majority of their lives. Leyland at the time were two years behind in getting their underfloor engined single deck vehicles on the road.
In the sixties Ribble ordered ten Bedford coaches, for their extended tour fleet. An unusual choice, as they were lightweight machines.
A batch of Bristol single deck vehicles was ordered, by choice and not National Bus Company dictat, before the government brought together Leyland Bus and National Bus Company into the plan to build the "Leyland National" bus factory in Cumberland. After the first batch of 10 fitted with Leyland engines showed poor fuel economy, a larger batch of 30 was delivered with Gardner diesel engines, which had better fuel efficiency. Hardly had the first vehicles been delivered when the freedom for bus companies to decide on vehicle purchases was restricted due to poor availability from the sole manufacturer. There was a limit on the number of Gardner engines that were available in any case from the Manchester works and Ribble were then allocated Leyland engines in future Bristol deliveries "because they are used to them". Bristol VRT/SL double decks with Gardner engines also entered the fleet at about the same time.
Another double deck coach was developed around 1968 for motorway running by Standerwick within Ribble ownership. This time a 60 seater built on a Bristol VRL/LH chassis driven by a Leyland Power Plus 680 engine mounted vertically and logitudinally behind the off-side rear axle. In total 30 were delivered starting with vehicle 50, which was used for trials; and followed by three batches, given fleet numbers 51 to 61, 62 to 71 and finally 72 to 79.
Ribble engineers were responsible for specifying and maintaining coaches for Standerwick and North Western (the coach fleet in Manchester left over when the original North Western Road Car Company was split between the SELNEC PTE and Crosville) even after they were transferred and became National Travel (North West) Ltd.
Ribble were leaders as regards the introduction of double-deck coaches, after the Second World War when demand was very heavy for express services - the single deck coach with the engine at the front would seat 35 passengers. In the early fifties Leyland introduced the Royal Tiger underfloor coach, which increased the number of passengers to 41.
However, Ribble went one step further and introduced the 'White Lady' double-deck coach. Painted in coach livery, these lowbridge buses had 49 seats (Ian Allan abc Ribble 2nd. Edition 1952); and were used on Blackpool and Morecambe services. There were two batches of 'White Lady' 1201 - 1230 with Burlingham 5 bay window arrangement downstairs bodywork; and 1231 - 1250 with East Lancs bodywork with a very attractive four bay window arrangement.
The initial batch were downgraded to red liveried service buses in the mid fifties, and were mostly to be found round Dalton-in-Furness and Ulverston depots. The East Lancs double deck coaches operated as such into the sixties.
Throughout the Fifties the "White Ladies" ran on all the major express and limited stop services out of Lower Mosley Street, Manchester. In particular they served the routes due north including X3 & X13 to Great Harwood, X23 Clitheroe, X43 Skipton and Colne, X53 Burnley, and X66 Blackburn. The upper deck configuration of a sunken side aisle with four seats all together on one side was an unusual combination. (source - personal first hand experience and Ian Allan Ribble Buses & Coaches 3rd & 4th editions, 1953 & 1956).
Motorways were developed in the late 1950s – in 1958 the M6 Preston Bypass was the first motorway in the UK. Arrangements were in hand for a totally new double deck coach, based on the Leyland Atlantean, 50 reclining seats, toilet and plenty of room for luggage. Christened 'Gay Hostess', these coaches were a common sight on the M6 and the M1 in the sixties. One was at the opening of the M1, and Ribble milked the publicity for all it was worth.
The 'Gay Hostess' operated into London's Victoria Coach Station, and stood out from all the other operator's vehicles - their application of the cream and maroon red was carefully applied, to give a coach of distinction. When introduced in the sixties, these vehicles were icons of the bus industry; yet during the winter months the majority were laid up for six months delicensed (Ribble Allocation Lists 1960's).
Ribble had fifteen, but their sister operation Standerwick had 22. All were transferred to Standerwick/Scout to operate on Motorway express services. Only one 'Gay Hostess' is in preservation. but costs and time appear to be excessive to get the vehicle back into an as new condition, , as the vehicle pioneered so much for Ribble/Standerwick and coaching in general.
On the Ribble homeground, in the early sixties, another generation of 'White Lady' was about to emerge, this was the 59 coach seat body on a Leyland Atlantean chassis; twenty of these were built. As the journeys would be shorter, no toilet facility was carried. These 'White Ladies' survived into National Bus ownership, but eventually they were downgraded to service buses.
Ribble operated the service X60 and X70 between Manchester, Bolton, Chorley, Preston and Blackpool and this service was known as the world's most frequent express service in the sixties. A scheduled departure every fifteen minutes in the summer - with duplicates. Ribble, North Western, and Lancashire United were the most regular performers on this joint service.
The L3/L30 Liverpool, Bootle, Waterloo to Crosby stage carriage service was the most frequent in its class. Operating for seventeen hours a day, in the fifties and sixties a five minute interval peak hour service with a duplicate or two thrown in as well. Bootle depot operated the service, generally using the highest capacity double deckers on the route.
Bootle depot never received any allocation of the first generation of Leyland Atlanteans, this all double-deck stage carriage service depot stayed loyal to the Leyland Titan PD2 and the PD3. In early seventies a downgraded 'White Lady' Atlantean was allocated to the depot. On Merseyside Aintree Depot had two Atlanteans allocated for the 101 service to Preston from Liverpool (1629/1630). In 1974 Bootle received a large batch of the Park Royal bodied Atlanteans, and from then on the Leyland Titan PD3's were in decline.
The least used Liverpool local service was the L11, introduced during the Second World War, the bus operated three times daily (twice on Sundays) from Crosby Bus Station through Little Crosby to Fort Crosby. Fort Crosby being a prison camp for the duration of the War. Little Crosby never had a bus service up till then.
After the war, the L11 was cut back to the section from Crosby Bus Station to Little Crosby (Dibb Lane), operating three times daily, and twice on Sundays. The service was mainly used by schoolchildren attending secondary school in Crosby. The L11 was the only service to leave Crosby Bus Station, turning left into Little Crosby Road. Ribble threatened to withdraw the service on several occasions, but the L11 survived into the seventies.
An unusual arrangement was made at Maghull, service 411 Liverpool, Crosby, Maghull, Ormskirk would meet an Ormskirk to Liverpool (311) at Hall Lane, Maghull. To ensure the two buses linked, the conductors had to obtain the signature of their counterpart from the other bus. Prior to the introduction of the 411 service, service 303 operated from Crosby, via Aintree to Liverpool; and the link was to ensure through passengers from Crosby to Aintree had their connection.
Liverpool Corporation operated several joint services with Ribble in the Bootle area of the city. Service 28 Old Haymarket to Netherton was a joint operation; but operated solely by the Corporation buses (Ribble and Merseyside Transport timetables).
Considered to be one of the most scenic termini in the British Isles is the Ribble service 667 Ambleside - Dungeon Ghyll; the service became 516 in the shake ups of the late sixties and early seventies; and the service passed to Stagecoach Cumberland in the 1990s. Dungeon Ghyll is at the head of the Langdale Valley, and is popular with hikers, and climbers. Towards the end of the route there was a short section of road where buses could become grounded, Ribble would send a delegation in the latest single deck vehicle down the valley, to test if the vehicle was suitable for the route.
In the eighties when the current Bus Station in Ormskirk replaced the Ribble one, the first bus to arrive at the interchange,scraped the ground. The engineers discovered that there was insufficient clearance for certain types of buses.
Ribble's Head Office was in Frenchwood Avenue, Preston.
However, their depots varied in size from Preston, Selbourne Street, and Bootle Depots, which both accommodated close on one hundred vehicles; to small depots like Dalton-in-Furness with a handful. There were out-stations too, at Appleby, Bowness on Solway and Sedbergh, the out-station never having a particular vehicle allocated permanently.
One depot was a former railway terminus, and that was the Cheshire Lines Railway station on Lord Street, Southport; Ribble turned the former railway building into a Bus Station and Depot.
Ambleside depot was built of local Lakeland Stone, and was situated below the bus station; the depot entrance being in the next street. The final new depot before Bus Deregulation, was situated in Skelmersdale (New Town), and replaced Ormskirk Depot. Services in the New Town area had expanded, and the Ormskirk site was believed to be inadequate for the task.
The original Bootle Depot, in Hawthorn Road was fully covered. In the late seventies a new open plan depot was brought into use a few yards away from the original garage. The maintenance building on the far side of the site, featured the pits and all the equipment in a modern environment for servicing buses.
Garstang Depot had a regular vehicle allocation until the late fifties, when it became an out-station. A bus would work out to Garstang for an over night garaging, then the following day return to its home depot.