'˜Buses are an important part of Portsmouth's history'
Step on to a modern bus and you'll get comfort, a smooth ride and maybe even free Wi-fi.
But 50 years ago, bus travel was an entirely different experience.
Passengers would feel the bumps in the road, smell the engine oil and polished brass and feel the steady vibration as the mechanical beast trundled along its route.
Buses, says Phillip Marfleet, have always been far more than just a means of mass transport, bringing people together in more ways than one.
Phillip says: ‘We live in an age now where most families have cars. But if you go back a few decades their only means of transport was public transport, and that usually meant the bus.’
He says that as bus networks grew, so did Portsmouth because commuters could live farther and farther away.
People used to chat on buses and would form friendships with fellow passengers they might have sat next to twice a day for years on end.
Phillip says: ‘As communities grew up, social networks developed with the buses. You got to know the people you travelled on the bus with every day.
‘They’re an important part of Portsmouth’s story because they helped the city grow, but they’re also central to the history of Britain.’
Phillip, 53, from Clanfield, is the chairman of the City of Portsmouth Preserved Transport Depot (CPPTD), a charity made up of volunteers dedicated to keeping a fleet of magnificent old buses in working order.
There are two groups who meet weekly to work on the buses at a depot in Cranleigh Road, Portchester and at another near Petersfield.
Phillip says: ‘We’ve got about 30 to 40 active volunteers and about 160 overall members who support us financially.
‘We’ve got a group of mechanics that come down on Monday nights and there’s also a group of non-working people who come down on Tuesdays, so that tends to be retired people and so on.
‘They do everything from cleaning the buses to some pretty major mechanical work. For example, we’ve just put a new clutch into one of the buses. There’s really a whole range of works we do to keep the vehicles on the road.’
The vehicles in the group’s care range from a 1903 British Electric twin-deck tramcar, which used to trundle down the Portsdown and Horndean Light Railway, to a double-decker 1966 Leyland PDR1/1 bus that’s so tall it would struggle to fit under more than a few modern bridges.
Phillip says the tram showed how important the vehicles were to Portsmouth’s development.
He says: ‘The light railway tram used to run on the tram system that ran from Cosham all the way up to Horndean.
‘It was a way of getting out into the country and for the people of Horndean to come in to the town.’
The machines are regularly wheeled out for transport fairs and bus rallies across the south, and the group also has ‘running days’ throughout the summer on Sundays, when people can ride the buses along Southsea seafront for free.
The biggest event on the group’s calendar is a bus rally at Fort Nelson on Portsdown Hill, which will take place on May 30 this year.
Group members also visit schools to show today’s youngsters how their parents and grandparents got around.
Phillip says it’s easy to understand why people get nostalgic about old buses.
He says: ‘It’s interesting when you go into a school and you’re talking to a seven or an eight-year-old who might never have been on a bus.
‘The sensation of riding on one, the vibration, the noise, the smell, particularly on some of the older ones, is quite an experience.
‘It’s something you’re not going to get if you’re sitting in a two-year-old car with air conditioning and surround sound and all the other gadgets that go with it.
‘These are experiences you have to live, you can’t just hear about it.’
The CPPTD used to operate from a depot in Broad Street, Old Portsmouth, and Phillip says they aim to one day move back on to Portsea Island and open an historic bus museum.
He says: ‘We would absolutely love to get back to the Portsmouth area in a place we could be open to the public.’
CITY OF PORTSMOUTH PRESERVED TRANSPORT DEPOT
When: Group members meet on Mondays and Tuesdays and there are regular events where members of the public can see and ride the vintage buses
Where: The group meets at the depot in Cranleigh Road, Portchester
Contact: Anyone interested in getting involved can e-mail Philip Marfleet at [email protected]
May 1 - The buses will be run around Winchester
May 30 - The group’s biggest event of the year, the CPPTD Classic Buses Running Day will take place at Fort Nelson, Fareham
June 12 - The vehicles will take part in the ‘Southsea Spectacular’ bus rally
July 10 - The buses will take part in the ‘Hants and Dorset Centenary’ transport rally in Poole
‘IT’S IMPORTANT TO KEEP THEM PRESERVED’
It has fallen to the older generation, says John Bramble, to keep our bus heritage in good nick.
It’s something the 66-year-old from Cosham does gladly, as a member of the group of bus enthusiasts who gather at the CPPTD she each Tuesday.
He says: ‘A lot of young people today don’t want to know about the buses, so someone’s got to do it, otherwise they’d just all fall apart. It’s the same as the old railways, it’s mostly the retired people who keep the private lines going.
‘It’s important to keep them preserved.’
But John says there is some hope, as he has taken his grandson along to the group a couple of times and he enjoyed it.
‘You never know, he might get hooked on it,’ he says.
John has been involved in the group for about 15 years, and worked with other bus groups before that. He spent his career as a mechanic, after doing his apprenticeship as a shipwright at Portsmouth’s dockyards.
‘This is similar work to boats, in a way,’ he says.
John says he prefers the personality of the older buses to the impersonal nature of their modern equivalents. ‘I can remember going to school on these old buses,’ he says. ‘A proper bus has a platform so you could run along and jump on it. They’re all noise and shakes and vibrations, not like the modern buses that are all quiet.
‘Mind you, in those days the upstairs was full of smokers. When I went to work at the dockyard it was all smoke from the old boys coughing their lungs up!
‘So at least the modern buses are more healthy than they used to be.’