Like many other seaside towns Southend had its own open-top bus service running along the seafront.
The routing of the service has changed several times ran from Highlands Thames Drive, Leigh in the West run along the seafront under the pier past the Kursaal and on to Shoebury East beach in the East covering over seven miles.
Eastern National & Stephensons of Essex operated the open top service under the number 67 whilst Southend Corporation Transport operated the service under the number 68, the routes differed slightly but both routes serviced the Pier and the Kursaal.
The service has been operated by four bus companies over the time it was operating
After the end of the Second World War Westcliff-on-Sea Motor Services re-launched the seafront service, however at this time the route was operated by six Bristol JO5G single deck coaches it was not until 1949 that two 1936 AEC Regent open top busses were hired in to operate on the service alongside the coaches.
The two hired busses were bought by Westcliff in 1950, along with a Dennis Lance that was converted into an open top another AEC Regent was also bought and converted to an open top a fourth AEC Regent was bought a short time later and again was converted to an open top. By 1953 the Dennis was withdrawn wan replaced by a fifth AEC Regent. All the busses were painted in full Westcliff colours of cream with red trim.
In 1954 Westcliff was taken over by Eastern National, the open tops were all repainted into Eastern Nationals green & cream livery, for the 1955 season three more AEC Regents had been bought from the same source as the rest of the fleet Brighton Hove & District.
The first Southend Corporation Transport open top busses began running in 1956, the Southend Corporation fleet consisted of a number of Daimler CWA6’s ironically bought from Eastern National. Four were converted to open tops by Southend Corporation, all were painted cream with either one or two blue strips. Another bus was added to the fleet in 1957 this was one of the first to have an upper deck that incorporated a protective windshield for passengers on the upper deck now a standard feature with all open top busses across the world. The same year Eastern National begun updating its pre-war open top fleet, this saw the introduction of converted Leyland PD1 Beadle’s, two more Beadles and two Leyland Alexander’s were added to the Eastern National fleet in 1958, only one pre-war Bristol remained as a spare until it was disposed of in 1961.
The fleet of Southend Corporations Daimler CWA6’s had been retrofitted with upper front windscreens. In 1965 Eastern National sold one of its fleet of Beadles to an operator in America a replacement Beadle was bought from Clacton. The Eastern National fleet was withdrawn at the end of the 1965 season being replaced by Bristol KSW5G’s for the 1956 season.
At the end of the 1970 season Southend Corporation retired their fleet of 1943-1945 built Daimlers the oldest was 27 years. They were replaced for the 1971 season by four 1958 built Leyland PD3 Massey’s like the Daimlers the upper deck seats were slatted wood.
Eastern National had begun to retire its aging fleet of Bristol KSW5G’s in 1967 and by 1974 only four remained in service. In 1976 Eastern National staff had reworked one of the Bristol’s for rallying duties, and continued in public service in 1977 along with its three stalemates.
There was change in the air for the 1978 season when a new shape appeared on the streets of Southend, one of the Bristol’s was retired and replaced by a FLF6G this was the first front entrance open top bus and the first to feature doors! The rallying Bristol (WNO483) was retired from service whilst the last two Bristol’s and the sole FLF6G were hired to Southend Corporation by then known as Southend
Transport to complete the season.
The 1979 season Eastern National took back their FLF6G from Southend Corporation and converted three more to open top standard. Southend Transport undertook a fleet review before the start of the 1979 season they decided that they would release four 1971 Daimler Fleetline busses and duly set about decapitating them and converting them to open top standard instead of the slatted wooden seat it was decided that padded vinyl cushions would be used many a bottom was very grateful!
Sometime later Eastern National withdrew from the seafront service leaving only Southend Transport running the service they adopted the 67 operating number and ran a service from Thames Drive Leigh to Shoeburyness East beach via Leigh Railway Station, Chalkwell Railway Station, Chalkwell Shelter, The Pier Kursaal, Bus Station back past the Kursaal and along to Thorpe bay corner before turning to Shoeburyness East beach past Captain Manerring’s Public House.
As part of the operating licence the service had to have a conductor on board to ensure passengers remained seated as the busses passed under the 13ft 3inch Pier Bridge, however a change in the rules agreed with the traffic commissioners permitted the service could operate under OMO (One Man Operations) regulations providing that busses were fitted with a PA system & periscope, upon reaching Pier Bridge the driver had to slow to a crawl before going under the bridge he had to announce the immortal and unique line “Would all passengers please remain seated whilst passing under Pier Bridge” he then had to proceed slowly under the pier constantly checking the periscope until clear on the other side. 1993 Leaflet
The fleet was reduced to three busses each of these three carried a name over the front passenger door “Sea Fairer” “Sea Horse” & “Sea Breeze” however the steady decline in passenger numbers saw the service running at a loss throughout the summer.
The Eastern National Preservation Group arranged another “Farewell” day on Sunday 3rd September 1995, then event was held at Southchruch Park East in Lifstan Way the event was entitled “Passengers Must remain Seated”
During 2001 the service was operated by Stephensons of Essex with funding in part coming from Southend Borough Council.
The service was eventually taken over by Stephensons of Essex, in 2003 the service was still operated by Stephensons but it was run under the City Sightseeing banner, the £6 adult £3 child ticket was valid for 24 hours, the service took in the sights at:
Shorefields Palmera Avenue
Chalkwell Railway Station
Old Leigh (Ship Public House)
Leigh Railway Station
Thames Drive London Road
Marine Parade Thames Drive
Leigh Rectory Grove
Cliffs Pavilion Westcliff
Southend Central Bus Station
Southend Kursaal Marine Parade
Southchurch Hall Woodgrange Drive
Southchurch Park Lifstan Way
Shoebury Common Uncle Toms Cabbin
Shoeburyness East Beach
Southend Sea Life Aquarium Eastern Esplanade
Kursaal Marine Parade
Pier Western Esplanade
However with council support being withdrawn, rising costs and a general lack of patronage the service come to an end, and with it the tradition of open top busses running along Southend seafront.
To mark the passing of the seafront service Stephensons ran a commemorative “Farewell to open top busses” day on Sunday 5th June 2005 the route followed:
Shoeburyness East Beach
Shoebury The Cambridge
Southchurch Park East (Bus Rally site)
Shorefields Palmeira Arches
Highlands Thames Drive
Up to this point the open top service had ran for almost 80 years.
In 2007 SBC Leisure, based in Hillside Road, Eastwood re-launched the service. The re-launched service ran from Sutherland Boulevard, Leigh, and follow the coast roads to Shoebury East Beach.
The service operating schedule was:
Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, between June 1st and July 22nd
Tuesday-Sunday from July 22nd to September 16th
There was no service on Mondays except for the Bank Holiday Monday 27th August. The service only operated for one year before being abandoned as untenable.
However this was not the end of open top busses running on Southend seafront...
On Saturday 15th & Sunday 16th August 2009 the Castle Point Transport Museum celebrated its 30th Anniversary by operating a special vintage bus weekend this saw a number of ex-Southend busses operating a service along the seafront from Chalkwell Shelter to Shoebury East Beach. This included closed in coaches and the classic open top Bristol KSW.
A selection of photos of the 2009 running day.
After the 2009 running day the open top bus service ceased until 2012 when a new compnay launched a service with a half open half closed in bus.
Details of the 2012 service can be founf here: http://www.sabug.kk5.org/#/seafront-open-top/4564702727