As noted elsewhere on this site, after "Mac" took over the Letch’s Motor Service operation he renamed it Hedingham & District Motor Services (usually abbreviated to Hedingham Omnibus). I started driving for them just after Mac had taken over the Colchester – Great Bromley route, at which stage they still had the single depot tucked away down a country road near Sible Hedingham, the Insert Setrights (illustrated above) which were inherited from Letch had been replaced by Setright Speeds using titled rolls printed on green paper, and the two double deckers inherited from Letch had also gone. This was a real nuisance on the 5.30pm (or thereabouts) route 88 journey from Colchester to Halstead, which was worked by Hedingham rather than Eastern National, because this journey had needed both double deckers to cope with all the passengers, and by the time we had finished picking up at the bus station and the two or three other stops in the town I was praying that we were not checked by a Ministry inspector, as my 41-seat country bus must regularly have had at least 100 passengers crammed into it whenever I worked this journey. Indeed, they were crammed solid down the gangway from the very back to the front, and jammed solid on the front platform and entrance steps so that it was extremely difficult to get the entrance doors shut, and when I made a right turn I didn’t dare do it at more than a crawl in case the passengers burst out and cascaded onto the road. It was perfectly normal, by the time the few passengers who wanted to get off before we got out into the countryside had actually made it off the bus, for us to be running 20 minutes or more late. Indeed, it was not at all unusual for them to be completely unable to get off the bus until half the passengers had unloaded and patiently stood outside in the fresh air, waiting to get back on again.
It was a complete nightmare on rainy days when the passengers had wet clothes when they got on and then insisted on breathing, because the inside of the windscreen got so misted up – even with the demister going full blast – that the only way it was possible to drive was standing up, one hand holding the wheel and the other scrubbing furiously with a rag, trying to keep a 3-inch square of windscreen clear enough to be able to see a small patch of road immediately in front of the bus, so I didn’t run into the back of whatever was ahead of me.
In my experience you could normally issue tickets with a Setright Speed nearly as fast as the passengers could hoist themselves up the steps and into the bus, but after a week or two I got my passengers trained on this run so that instead of getting drowned waiting to get on in rainy weather, I’d get them inside as quickly as possible, and collect their fares in the dry as they got off. On wet days I’d also ignore the bus stops along the 88 route, set the passengers down at their gate, and make sure they’d got safely into the dry before I set off again. Otherwise, as they walked along the narrow grass verge from the stop to their gate, they stood a pretty good chance of getting completely drenched from water thrown up by the constant stream of heavy lorries pounding along this busy main road.
Not all the Hedingham routes were like this. One diverted off the main road to serve a small village, using a road that was nearly wide enough for a small car, and where the bus was pushing its way through the undergrowth as it went along. The first time I worked this route I was shown the gateway into a farm field (on the Ordnance Survey map that I carried) where the bus had to turn, half a mile short of the village, and warned in the strongest possible terms that I must not try to get any closer to the village, as they had found out the hard way that the bus would then get immovably jammed, and it would take two or three days to get it out again.
Another route went off the main road in a westerly direction at Great Yeldham and tacked about a bit before it arrived at (Stambourne? Or was it Toppesfield?). Where the village was I never did find out, because the only sign of habitation where we turned was an old cottage with a black and white enamelled Victorian sign over the door, saying that it was a post office where "Government Annuities" could be bought.
Another route was even more fun. It had two buses on a Saturday, and nothing the rest of the week. It was so popular that it wasn’t even on the destination blind. The first time I was told to work it I asked Mac to show me on my map where I was supposed to go and he said "I haven’t a clue – I’ve never worked that route. Just go to the yard at Halstead where we load up, in front of the old station. There will be passengers waiting for you there, and they’ll show you the way."
Mac was right. There were passengers waiting there. They all got off before the first of the two turnings that the map showed might be the right one, leaving me with just one passenger, a dear old lady who wanted me to set her down at Rose Cottage, as she was visiting her sister and had never been there in her life before. "You don’t need instructions", her sister had told her. "Just tell the bus driver to set you down at Rose Cottage. All the drivers know me, so they’ll all know where to set you down."
So we crawled along at walking speed, trying to read the names of the cottages as we went past. Not a sign of Rose Cottage until we reached a desolate cross roads in the middle of nowhere, where we turned round. I think the bus went there because in the distant past a long defunct bus operator had been based in a nearby orchard, and decades later Mac had inherited his bus route.
Having turned round we crawled back again, but fortunately her sister came out of her cottage and flagged us down as we approached, having wondered where her sister had got to. No Rose Cottage sign in sight, but her sister explained "It fell down last week and I haven’t got round to putting it back up again yet."
Country buses? In the Setright Speed era they were wonderful. Nowadays, in the rush and hurry and electronic ticket machine era I don’t suppose they’re nearly as much fun.
Copy contributed by Tony Adams
22/06/12 – 08:54
The machine number Z05 indicates that this is an ex Corona Coaches machine, a ticket issued on this machine is reproduced in the Corona History written by Prof John Hibbs.
The services of Dennis A. Beadle for plumbing were advertised for many years by Hedingham. Interestingly, when I last had my central heating serviced, the engineer had the surname Beadle and said his father used to be a plumber in Sible Hedingham so I guess there was a connection there.
Departing from the subject of tickets, I must admit to having wondered how Hedingham coped with the peak hour departure from Colchester to Halstead in the period after they had sold all their double deckers and before they acquired the 55 seater Leyland Leopard L84 (RGV 284N) in 1974. L84 remains in the fleet today, thirty eight years later, and is still in excellent condition.