Monday, 26 March 2018

Porlock's Persistent Problems (1)

In May last year, the fbbs plus chum Julia were holidaying (briefly) in Minehead, North Somerset. Released from domestic duties whilst "the girls" took a tour of the town's retail experience, your author took the opportunity to enjoy a round trip to Porlock Weir on the Buses of Somerset service 10. This was duly recorded in a blog which the keen reader can enjoy again (here).

In recent months things omnibological have been happening in picturesque Porlock which, as well as being blogworthy, are, in many ways, a microcosm of the ups and (usually) downs of the bus industry over the last 50 or so years.

fbb is extremely grateful to a North Somerset resident, bus watcher, blog reader and jolly good egg for supply the text of an article he has written for a learned local group. In the style of the much-loved Readers Digest, your author has "condensed" the original oeuvre.
Our story opens in 1966 when the Porlock Weir service was operated by Western National, then part of the THC before the formation of the NBC, as their 267.
Even then it was past its peak of the 1950s but the 1966 timetable comprised a winter service, up to 11th June, of 10 round trips Monday to Saturday plus a Wenesdays and Saturdays trip from Minehead at 2225 returning from Porlock Weir at 2310.

Most of these journeys operated via the main A39 but 4 journeys in each direction ran via Bossington Green. Here, at the eponymous green, stands a shelter unserved by bus, but reminiscent of days gone by.
There was a Sunday service of 5 round trips.

The summer service ran from 12th June to 10th September and was increased to an amazing 21 round trips, plus the WSO 2225 from Minehead. The Sunday service was similarly increased from the winter 5 to 12 round trips.

Minehead in 1966 had a large bus station/garage ...
... but the 267 started from the railway station, still with BR trains at the time, calling at the bus station en route to Porlock Weir. A typical bus might have been a Bristol SU ...
... this particular vehicle being beautifully preserved.
21st century timetable planners who love ‘clock face’ timings would look aghast at the 1966 summer timetable with departures from Minehead at:-
And possibly, reflecting the then stronger influence of trades unions, the running times were the same on every journey, even the 2310 WSO back from ‘The Weir’ which was surely little more than an empty run, had the same running times as the busy 0945.

So that was the scene some 50 years ago. The relative stability of, not just the Porlock  route, but bus services in general under the major Tilling and BET groups, then under the National Bus Company, all changed in the 1980s.

The Western National service decreased over the years until in 1980 the axe fell and all services in West Somerset were withdrawn, except the 218 – Minehead - Taunton.
Local ‘independent’ operators took up the gauntlet and it fell to Scarlet Coaches of Minehead to take over, amongst other services, the Porlock route.
The timetable was very basic, compared with that which we saw in 1966 and the essence of its viability was that the fixed costs of the service were covered by a vehicle doing the school journeys into Minehead senior school with the other journeys of the day being operated by the same vehicle – normally initially a Bedford YRQ/Plaxton 45 seat coach (or similar?) – which would otherwise have stood idle all day.
Destination indicators were, sort of, nominal!

Loadings were never great but the service did not loose money and, if the vehicle would be considered unsuitable for bus service by 21st century standards, the communities served had a service accessible by the majority of the population. What was wrong with a driver getting out of his seat to help a passenger board with bags of shopping?

Scarlet’s withdrew from the service in January 1995 by which time Western National had ‘morphed’ into Southern National and it was they who took on the service. This followed a brief period of competition in the area between Southern National and Scarlets although both saw the futility of this and a compromise was reached which ultimately saw Scarlets sell out to the, by then, First subsidiary.
Southern National/First in one of its guises ran the 38 bus to Porlock Weir until May 2006 when Quantock Motor Services took over running as 39.
This developed into a much better timetable for Porlock as Quantock also ran the 300 from Minehead through to Lynmouth, which traversed the same route to Porlock although, it has to be said that, the 300 was so popular that there were frequently no seats for short riding passengers.
Rarely has competition in rural areas benefited the travelling public in the long run and so the arrival of a competitor on the Porlock road did not bode well.
This competition was in the form of Webberbus who started their 10 between Minehead and Porlock on 28th August 2012, running all their journeys, commercially, just a few minutes in front of the established Quantock service.
Competition did not exist long as Quantock ceased after operation on 4th September 2014. This left Webberbus to run the service but the lucrative school journeys were won on tender by Buses of Somerset. Was there really sufficient traffic for the Porlock Weir service to be totally commercial? Webberbus built up a large network across Somerset but very little carried ‘commercial’ numbers of passengers and it came as no surprise when Webberbus ceased operation on 12th May 2016.
The author(s) will ring the story up-to-date tomorrow.
 Next Porlock blog : Tuesday 27th March  
Luke probably wrote his Gospel a generation or so after the events described, basing his narrative loosely on Mark's writing enhanced by his own research. As a doctor he was particularly interested in the people and their reactions to Jesus. Palm Sunday appeared positive ...
... but the stones (of the Temple walls) would be witness to a particular horror.

Jesus came closer to the city, and when he saw it, he wept over it, saying, “If you only knew today what is needed for peace! But now you cannot see it! The time will come when your enemies will surround you with barricades, blockade you, and close in on you from every side. They will completely destroy you and the people within your walls; not a single stone will they leave in its place, because you did not recognise the time when God came to save you!”
And in AD70, the city and Temple of Jerusalem were destroyed by the Romans.

Palm Sunday offered great news ...
... but before the good news was revealed, Jesus would explain the bad news. 
And Jesus was not slow to point it out


  1. The 1957 timetables for the Minehead area are displayed on a Western National timetable board within the waiting room of Dunster Station on the West Somerset Railway. The summer weekday (Mon- Sat!) service was about every 25 minutes.

    In 1977 the summer uplift comprised only an 11:00 from Minehead to break the gap between the 09:00 and the 12:30 and also the afternoon schooldays only service ran through the holidays. A summer Sunday service was provided 2 hourly-ish from 12:30 to 19:10.

    No buses went west of Porlock as the 1:4 Porlock Hill on the A39 was then an impassable barrier.

  2. It's not true to say 'no buses went west of Porlock'. The 260 to Lynmouth did; I'm not sure whteher it used Porlock Hill or the toll road alternative. This was an unusual service; it ran under an express licence at premium fares, and it was possible, at least until the 1960s, to book thorough rail tickets from Paddington to Lynton this way! Quantock's 300 was its descendant. When I last went this way in 2003 First weree running it with an ex-London Dart.

    1. Thanks. I can't find the 260, but in the pink pages for 1977 is a Scarlet Coaches summer service from Minehead to Lynmouth of 2 round trips M-F and 3 trips on Saturdays. This became the 300 Minehead to Ilfracombe run jointly by Southern national and Red Bus with extensions to Barnstaple, Bridgwater or Taunton over the years.

    2. The Scarlet Coaches service to Lynmouth replaced WN 260 circa 1971.

  3. I remember from 50s holidays in North Devon those timetable posters on yellow paper with "BUS STOP" overprinted in red - more local information than on any present-day stop. How much of the page would be filled these days?!

  4. Andrew Kleissner26 March 2018 at 18:35

    Conversely I remember living in Glasgow in the mid-70s where most stops had no information at all, not even the numbers of the routes served.