Southend Corporation Bus Fleet
AEC Bridgemaster with Park Royal H45/31R bodies, new in 1959 (317/8) and 1960.
Lowbridge buses were never popular with passengers or conductors - the long bench seats had limited headroom and visibility and were difficult to get into and out of, and not every lower deck passenger heeded the warning to lower your head when leaving your seat when sitting under the sunken offside gangway! The problem was made more obvious in Southend because Eastern National, being a nationalised company, were able to buy the Bristol Lodekka which offered highbridge bus comfort within an overall height of only 13' 6". Consequently the introduction of a similar model from the AEC Group was of great interest to Southend's management.
The second Bridgemaster prototype, Crossley built 9JML was demonstrated in August 1957 and a decision made in November 1958 to order two, following a visit by various officials and committee members to the Commercial Motor Show at Earls Court.
Delivery of the first two were due in 1959 but there was a delay and there was discussion on cancelling the order. However the Transport Committee minutes of 16th June 1959 records that 'The Transport Manager reported that the manufacturers had agreed to make available to him, without charge, a prototype vehicle pending delivery of the vehicles ordered by the Council'. This vehicle was 116JMD which was on loan during July and August.
In all six production Bridgemasters, which used AEC running units in an integrally built Park Royal body, were purchased. The first two, 317/8, entered service on 1st September 1959 and were followed by 319-22 in June 1960. Although no longer than 311-6, the improved interior layout and more upright front gave a seating capacity of 76. They were the first SCT buses to have air suspension (on the rear axle only) which at times resulted in a very bouncy ride but when properly adjusted gave the smoothest ride in the fleet.
In their first few years in service, they were often to be found on route 5A from Southend to Shoebury and the 3 from Southend to Benfleet and later on the 3/3A when the 3 and the 5A were combined and extended to Canvey Island. Then for a time in the mid sixties they formed the backbone of route 29 before moving to the 1/7/8 group.
Sadly the Bridgemaster did not emulate the reliability of its stablemate the Routemaster, and all Southend's examples were withdrawn in 1972 and scrapped in 1973. (Incidentally, consideration had been given to converting some of the Bridgemasters to open top in 1971, but it was decided that the structural difficulties associated with removing the roof of an integral vehicle were too great, and so PD3s 311-4 were converted instead).
Many thanks to Richard Delahoy for his kind permission to include extracts from his book in this page and also to Richard, Brian Pask, Cliff Essex, Ian Banks, Peter Green and Doug Nicholson for supplying some of the pictures.