CHARACTERS from the BUSES Nick Turner, photos Peter Dann Click photos to enlarge
As has been mentioned elsewhere, buses were once an integral part of village life for most people, and the crews who staffed them were, to a large extent, locally sourced. Inevitably there were a number of characters amongst them, mostly drawn from the conductors who had most contact with the travelling public. After all, it was several years after the War before fares were collected by drivers, and most buses had their access doors at the back in the early days.
Joe Ellis from Dane Hill was a familiar face and eventually retired after thirty years on the 30 when Chelwood Gate ‘Depot’ closed. Ern Carter lived near the Coach & Horses and was equally well known. ‘Excitable’ wasn’t a description one could ever use for Ern, but occasionally a conductor had to restore law and order if, perhaps, school children began to get slightly out of control. On one such occasion Ern arrived back in the Bus Station canteen with a satisfied grin on his face, and recounted to those present what had gone on, culminating with the remark for which he was known thereafter – “I telled they old kiddies, they couldn’t come that old hookum with I!”
Conductor/driver partnerships were more or less constant, each working very much as a team, but it should be remembered that few people had house phones, let alone mobiles, so communication was often difficult. One morning in high summer, Stewie Riggs arrived at the garage in Chelwood Gate but, having completed his vehicle checks and started to warm the engine up, there was still no sign of his conductor, our own Charlie Carr who spent some time on the buses before embarking on a career with the railways. Charlie, it has to be said, didn’t have the best of reputations for getting up in the morning, but Stewie then had to decide what to do. The first bus was all important for local workers and London commuters, so the ‘show had to go on’. It was unthinkable to let everyone down.
Fortunately, Charlie’s ticket machine etc. had been left in the garage so Stewie set off, getting out of his cab at each stop, running round to the back to issue tickets, and then carrying on to the next stop. This happened all the way down to Horsted, where Stewie loaded the passengers before taking bus and customers round to Charlie’s home. Now it was Charlie who had the problem, a busful of passengers outside his bedroom window and him still in his pyjamas. With literally nil time at his disposal, Charlie quickly donned his uniform over his pyjamas, buttoned the jacket up to the top to hide the fact he was still wearing his PJ’s, and dashed out to the waiting bus. As he often recalled in later years, a blistering hot day, struggling up and down the aisle of a crowded bus, unable to even undo one button of his tunic as he worked up and down to Brighton, was one he’d never forget.
Another case of social responsibility involved Albert Croucher who lived with his wife and daughter, Maureen, in Wheelwright’s Cottages, just behind the British Legion, at the time. Again, the journey concerned was the 0704 into Haywards Heath. The waiting passengers got on and Albert took their fares – but didn’t give the required double ring on the bell to leave. People started looking at one another. Driver Jim Smith looked back through the dividing window from his cab, but still Albert did nothing. Eventually, someone asked ‘What are we waiting for, Albert?’, to which he replied with a face full of concern, ‘I can’t go yet. Ted’s not here.’
‘Ted’ was Ted Greenfield, a rather simple individual, often dubbed ‘Snodgrass’, who lived next to the Crouchers and always caught the early bus. Minutes seemed like hours, but suddenly Ted emerged from his gate and tore down the lane to the bus, coat and dinner bag blowing in all directions. Jumping on the bus, he plonked himself down in a seat inside the door, huffing and puffing with the exertion. Albert’s hand went up to the bell and was just about to ring it when Ted exclaimed ‘B****r! Forgot me bacca!’ whereupon the whole bus had to wait while he retraced his steps and retrieved the vital weed, before once more making it possible for the journey to commence.