Washington History Society
On The Buses
100 Passengers on a 26-Seater Bus!
Ernie Guy, a member of Washington History Society, recently came across a newspaper cutting dated 1941 saved by his Grandfather, Martin Guy, who was also a keen local historian.
The cutting referred to a court case in which Hunter's Bus Company of Washington was fined for operating an overloaded bus. According to the article, the bus was seen by the local policeman with the conductor hanging precariously from the outside rail. When the bus was stopped, out trooped 100 passengers – 22 adults and 78 children!
The proprietors, Frank, Thomas & John Hunter were fined £5 for overcrowding the bus, and 10 shillings each for employing an under-age and unlicensed conductor. The conductor, aged 17, was fined 5 shillings for the overcrowding and a further 5 shillings for being unlicensed.
Ernie was not surprised about the charge of overcrowding. As a child in the late 1940s and the 1950s he lived at Usworth Green, a couple of hundred yards from Usworth Colliery, in one of the “Prefabs” built to ease the post war housing shortage, and he regularly used Hunters buses. Even more than 15 years after the newspaper report, the buses regularly bulged at the seams, and Ernie never saw anyone turned away because the bus was full.
The buses used by the Hunters were 26 seat Bedfords, and were given various nicknames by the locals, such as “The Looey” (the terminus was Waterloo) or “The Yellow Peril”-they were a creamy yellow in colour. The drivers, Jackie and Tommy Hunter were colourful local characters, known by everyone. The buses were garaged on the Hostel Estate, a former Army camp at the top of Edith Ave, which was occupied by “Squatters” after the Second World War.
The bus route ran from Waterloo (near Usworth Hall) to Washington Waterside and return. Fare stages printed on Hunters bus tickets were: Waterloo, Thompsons Red Stamp Stores (at the top of Edith Avenue), The New Inn, The Village, The Glebe, The Mission Hall and Waterside, but in practice the driver would stop for a passenger anywhere along the route! Fares were modest, ranging from 1d to 6d. The tickets were hand -punched by the “Clippies” or bus conductresses, in particular Nellie Longworth and Mrs Cowan, whose main task appeared to be keeping unruly children in check, which they did very successfully!
On Saturdays, when Sunderland football Club were playing at home, one of the buses would pick up at The Stile Inn on Front Street, Washington and drive to Roker Park, where it would be waiting for its passengers at the end of the game. During these trips it was alarming to see Jackie or Tommy Hunter turning around whilst driving and having heated arguments with passengers about the performance of the players. The roads, however, weren't quite as busy in those days.
During the Summer months Ernie's grandparents and their neighbours regularly booked the coaches for trips to Roker or Seaburn. The whole street would turn out on a Saturday morning to be collected and driven to the beach, and returned to their doorstep at teatime.
Transport in the town may have improved a lot since the 1950s, but older residents of Washington still remember Hunters buses with affection, despite the overcrowding!