Can you help record the history of Harpers Buses?

BDJ 807

Once a familiar sight on local roads, the light green Harpers busses. This one is taken outside Aldridge Post Office in 1974 by reader and friend of the blog Tony Martin, who kindly supplied the picture.

We’ve talked about Harpers busses here on the blog a lot over the years – many of us have fond memories of catching these distinctive green double deckers and coaches to popular local destinations, like Birmingham, Lichfield and Cannock.

I think most of us smile at the memory of the Clippies, hopping on via the rear door, and the thick fug of smoke on the top deck.

Well, Philip Burton has recently been in touch and asked me to see if any readers can help with the following call for historical material, ephemera and memories of this once-iconic local bus company, for his friend Brian.

Philip wrote:

Hi Bob,

I have a friend, Brian Yates who is writing a book which is almost complete on the history of Harper Brothers, but he is looking for any information, memories or photos to help him tell the story.

Brian would like to publish it this year if he can – would it be at all possible to help him out and put his request out on your blog?

Any memories, photos and stories, anything that could help me to tell the story.

Contact Brian on byates08 at sky dot com

Cheers
Philip

If you feel you can help, please don’t hesitate to contact Brian on the above dress, or comment here and I’ll pass your messages on.

NRF 349F

Harper brothers Leyland double decker NDF349F waits at the bottom of The Parade, Brownhills, on it’s way to Birmingham on what would now be the 937 route (I think). The Fullelove shelter is in the background, and immediately behind that, the Hussey Arms. I’d say this is early 1970s. Image kindly supplied by Tony Martin.

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25 Responses to Can you help record the history of Harpers Buses?

  1. Thanks Bob, very much appreciated.

  2. aerreg says:

    hi philip if its of any help i have a list of nearly all harpers buses erg numbers where they came from etc to many for my one finger way he can have a copy if it will help my phone number is in the book aer reg

  3. Geoffrey Boulton says:

    My parents Amy Boulton (nee Perry) from Cheslyn Hay and Alf. Boulton from Norton Canes both talked about the Harper Bros. starting by running ex WW1 Ambulances with wooden bench seats from the villages into Cannock on Market day in the 1920s. My mother was secretary to Evelyn Boot the auctioneer. They had a story (possibly apocryphal !) about Rupert Harper who liked a drink trying to take their first double decker under the bridge by Cannock Gas works.
    My memories were of the 1940’s. Harpers had adopted a made up motto of “Gloria de luxe” which was a mixture of latin and French ! People would say they were “gooin’ to ketch a Gloria” as opposed to a “blue buz” (Walsall Corporation).
    We lived in Aldridge and had relations in Cannock so used the Aldridge to Cannock service regularly. It left the corner of Walsall Wood Road in Aldridge at half past the hour and arrived in Cannock at a quarter past the next hour. It had to be a single decker to get under the bridge by Cannock Gas works. Harpers was late on the scene so had to fit around routes already claimed by Walsall Corporation. It left Aldridge along Walsall Wood Road to the Vigo then along to “Streets corner”. I thought this was a peculiar place name because of course the street had a corner ! It is only recently that I realised that it was named after someone called Street. The “low” road to Brownhills had already been claimed by Walsall Corp. so Harpers had to climb up the steep hill on Lichfield Road to the top of Shire Oak then turn onto the Chester Road and go down the equally steep slope into Brownhills. During the war the loading limitations on buses were suspended so they often had very full loads (the “last bus” had people on the step) and made very heavy weather of these hills in bottom gear. After Brownhills it cut across the common the Brownhills West and at the Rehoaboth Chapel turned to go down to the Wilkin. The pit of that name where my great-grandfather Turner once worked was long closed but the pit heap was still there. Then on to Norton past the Beehive Stores which my grandparents Boulton had kept until 1937, to the stop by the green painted “tin tabernacle” which was the Methodist church. The last part of the road into Heath Hayes was steadily subsiding because of the coal mining . Council labour was short for permanent road resurfacing so the surface was regularly topped up with red ash from a pit heap. In summer when it was dry we travelled in cloud of red dust ! Turning left at the Memorial playing fields we went on to Cannock past Leacroft Colliery, where my Uncle, Harry Saffhill was a deputy, and the Gas Works where children with whooping cough were taken to inhale the fumes. This was an important route for Harpers. In winter 1948 Aldridge was cut off by snow . After 3 days the Walsall – Sutton Road was cleared because it was an A road but Walsall Wood road was still covered with snow drifts. Harpers paid men – with their own shovels – £1 a day (plus refreshments) to get the road open.
    During the war there were extensive munitions factories in Birmingham which were short of labour. On the Chase most of the men were occupied in the coal industry but there was a pool of female labour. Harpers got the contract to carry them to the ICI using their idle coach fleet. This was a regular feature passing through Aldridge at shift change. After the war this flow continued as the Kingstanding service. Another factor was that both Aldridge UDC and Brownhills UDC signed “overspill” agreements with Birmingham City Council who paid for new council houses. The Government gave grants for firms like McKechny’s and Birlec to move their factories. Many young families moved from Birmingham and provided an extra loading when “going home”. Harpers added a new section of route from Aldridge to Kingstanding on to the existing Aldridge – Cannock service but in order to use double deckers they had to divert the Cannock – Heath Hayes section via Cross Keys to avoid the Gas Works bridge. They had to share the Aldridge – Kingstanding section with Walsall Corporation who linked their service to the single-deck Aldridge – Bloxwich service via Shelfield which had to be diverted via Rushall to accommodate double deckers. I used this service in the early ’50s to get to Birmingham and it was quite a contrast to change from a Harpers second-hand London Transport vehicle “past its sell-by date” to a superior fitted Birmingham Corporation bus with a purring Daimler engine. For many years Birmingham did not give running rights to “foreign” services to run right into the City Centre – hence the terminous at Kingstanding. A few years ago in Holland I met a woman who was brought up in Kingstanding until she left to marry a Dutch man. She remembered how as a girl they thought how exotic these new blue and green buses were when they came to stand on Kingstanding Circle.
    Harpers had a garage in Aldridge on Anchor Road near the railway station. This housed a “reserve” vehicle to cover breakdowns and an office for booking excursions etc.. In the late ’40s this was a 32 seat Leyland half-cab coach in the original cream and green livery with a fleet number 32. The manager of the garage was a Mr. Howarth who seemed to spend his time polishing the couch and driving it for excursions for such as football teams, Sunday Schools and Mothers Unions.
    I hope this has not been too long and that my memories have been accurate. I would be happy to discuss any points which need clarifying.

    • Geoffrey Boulton says:

      There is photo of Harpers Aldridge garage in” Aldridge Yesterday and Today Feb. 27th 2016.” It is not very clear but shows its situation in relation to the surrounding shops.

      • Geoffp says:

        The building is still in existence, although it was re-clad about a year or two ago. It is on the corner of Anchor Road and Portland Road and is now used as a carpet warehouse.

  4. stuart says:

    Evening chap,
    I have an aunt in her 80s now who used to live with her parents in a butchers shop over the road from Harpers garage in Heath Hayes. Apart from being a butcher her dad drove part time for Harpers and my aunt would at times help out in the office,I’m sure she would have some tales to tell if needed,their surname was Lomas.
    Regards
    Stuart

  5. captainocd says:

    Sadly I can’t help, but I remember them well. As a young boy in Lichfield in the 50’s, I used to collect the ‘bus tickets!
    🙂

    • captainocd says:

      There used to be 3 different colour buses in Lichfield, when I was a lad, with the Midland Red and the Walsall blue, but only the Harpers Green issued the cinema-type tickets. Collecting these made me want to be a clippie, when I grew up! I even asked for ( and got! ) a bus conductor’s outfit for Christmas!
      🙂
      Anyway, does anybody know, were the light green tram buses of Wolverhampton also Harpers?

  6. Brian Ansell says:

    My favourite memories of Harpers Gloria were the Mystery Tours which ran from a small paddock to the right of Walsall Bus Station, (afraid I cant remember the street names). The last one that we went on was a trip to Ashbourne and Dove Dale with a stop at a pub on the way home for a pint and a bite to eat. The wonderment was the setting out and not knowing where one was headed whilst also sitting high up above hedgerows and fences. We always headed for an upstairs seat with the cost for this trip being but one pound.
    Kindest Regards, Brian.

  7. Lorraine Seager says:

    Don’t know weather it’s just the buses your interested in but My memories of Harper’s are the great family sports days at Drayton manner park that Harper’s social club put on for their workers families, the wonderful Christmas party’s and I remember one night worrying why our Dad was very late home from a social event at Twy Cross country club, they had all been arrested by police who turned up to the club on a Harper’s bus. We were a family of 6 children and when our Dad came home from a day trip he had driven he would leave his tips on the table for us all to share the next morning

  8. Androo says:

    Being a pedant the registration number is not NDF (that would be Gloucestershire); it is NRF which is Staffordshire

  9. Ian Preece says:

    We used to go from Chase Terrace (by the cemetery!) to Central Birmingham every day on a Harpers bus, from Feb 1976 to Sep 1977. It was such a long way on a bus. We were newly married, and broke, spending all our earning on a mortgage, so couldn’t afford a car. I think we used to leave about 7am, and got home about 7pm. We were so poor, I used to sell shellfish in the pubs and clubs around Cannock at a weekend, and my wife worked in a fish and chip shop in Chase Terrace village. Harpers was our lifeline….

  10. aerreg says:

    on the subject of harpers another important member of the family not to be overlooked is MARY who spent her working life organizing and planning pantomime theatre football school and social trips for all and sunder from her tiny office in hednesford road heath hayes you name it she sorted it a great person

  11. Ade Reid says:

    Think we used to pay about 10 new pence into Birmingham from the Parade in 1976 ? Happy days going into brum for the day and we were only about 12 years old then.Times where much simpler and easier then when we were growing up. Mind you i suppose every generation could say that? Perhaps not todays kids though ?

    • Hi

      Yeah. We had a period in the early 80s when it was just 2p!

      One thing I’ve learned here is that if you talk to a 30 year old, or a 90 year old, the best times, the best period, was usually when they were kids.

      I’m the same, although I try to fight it – but as I get older that’s increasingly difficult.
      I think it’s natural, and happens to everyone to some degree!

      best wishes
      Bob

  12. Graeme Fisher says:

    Primary school trips to London and the Isle of Wight, the school run to Lichfield with a coach and double decker…..OLD 820, one of the ex-London transport buses broke down outside Stonnall school, conductor leans over wall and asks if anyone has a six inch nail…. Mark Thorley produces a six inch nail and bus is mended and away….One of the rebuilt Burlingham Seagulls broke down outside our house, the driver came in to phone the depot. A replacement bus rolled up driven by a mechanic, passengers transferred and left, and this little seven year old lad watched as the mechanic pulled up the floor to access the engine. He got it running, looked at me and said “do you want to test it?” Hopped on the bus, sat next to a hole in the floor watching the propshaft go round, and we did a circuit of Stonnall to test the bus. Got off, went in the house, perfectly normal thing to happen… These days the driver would be arrested for abduction and a million health and safety issues, the bus would be coned off and towed away, the police would be all over the village…. Happy days…..

  13. Some great stories on here, thanks for all your input, its brilliant.

  14. I like the pictures of the buses (:xxx

  15. MC says:

    If you want to see more pictures of Harper Bros, have you tried looking for a book by Irvin publications called “Harper Bus Memories in Colour” written by one our former drivers and once school teacher Paul Roberts

  16. Back in 1960 and still at school Three of us local lads got together to form a group called the Sundowners from Aldridge – Myself Colin Corbett – Drummer – Lived on Brookfield Road – Roger Mosedale – Lead Guitarist – Lived on Walsall wood Road and Terry Lea – Rhythm Guitar – lived on Salters Road – but we had no Transport but were booked for our first Gig at Top Club Brownhills Working men’s club ( became the Huntsman ). We decided to see if Harpers Bus would let us get on at Walton Road Aldridge and drop us in Brownhills with all our Gear – Set of Drums, Two Amplifiers, Two guitars and a box of Accessories ! Well I can always remember the driver and conductor were great as were all the passengers helping with all the gear – the drums and amplifiers on the seats. The conductor asked where we were playing and when we told him – he had a word with the driver and when we arrived in Brownhills the Bus turned into the Lichfield road and onto the club car park – helped us with our gear getting off and said when we finish on the night to wait outside and he would pick us up to go back to Aldridge – then proceeded to get back onto the bus route.
    So Harpers ran a taxi business as well !!!
    Many thanks to those who were involved – Harpers buses were Great
    Thought you might like the story.
    For a couple of years after I used to get the bus from Norton Bridge to Aldridge as my now Wife lived in Norton Canes and used to catch the last bus home and they always used to wait for me if I was a few minutes late having my goodnight kiss. How things have changed !!
    Colin

  17. Pedro says:

    There is a picture of a Harper’s bus on the Birmingham History Forum, Post 69 link below. It shows outside the old Birchfield Harriers Stadium…

    http://birminghamhistory.co.uk/forum/index.php?threads/aldridge-road.37492/page-4#post-604170

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