Saturday May 2nd 2015 will always be a landmark day in the life of Exeter Corporation No 5. However, on the day the bus was due to meet the Lord Mayor of Exeter, the weather refused to play ball.
Mrs Busman John and I arrived at the Exeter City Council depot early in the morning to help prepare the Maudslay ML3 for her big day. Our Chairman had arrived even earlier and we found that everything had already been checked and all I needed to do was to climb into the tiny cab (good job I have short legs…) and start her up.
Soon we were out on the city streets again, making our way into the city centre for our rendezvous with the Lord Mayor. This time there was no escort car so the Maudslay had to fight its own battles in the busy city traffic. Again, I was glad to have had the chance to get to know the bus really well on the journey down to Exeter the previous day as this allowed me to focus on navigating my route to the coach station. I chose the wrong lane once at a busy junction but, in my defence, I’m sure the road markings are misleading!
The weather was atrocious and our arrival at the coach station – surely its most elderly visitor yet – was made in very grey and dismal conditions. We had allowed for all sorts of delays but fortunately there were none so we arrived with plenty of time to spare. I parked the bus near the exit onto Paris Street and we waited in the dry interior while the rain dribbled down the windows from the canvas covered roof. It has not been re-covered so is the original but it has been thoroughly waterproofed.
The time ticked by and gradually people started arriving, including other WHOTT members, amateur photographers and invited guests. But of the Lord Mayor there was no sign. The time we had been told to expect him came and went, as did the time we were due to deliver him to the Guildhall. We were worried by this time and sent Mrs Busman John off in search of him. She found him walking towards the coach station underneath an umbrella held by his Mace Sergeant. It turned out that it was a case of ‘crossed wires’ as he had gone to open the Coffee Morning (a regular charity event at the Guildhall) first before joining the bus for its journey around the city and back to the Guildhall. So, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, Councillor Percy Prowse arrived with his Mace Sergeant and posed for some photos with the bus before boarding.
As you can imagine, it was rather daunting to have such high profile passengers on board and I did my best to provide them with as smooth a ride as possible. We drove along Western Way and Magdalen Street before turning onto South Street and, eventually, High Street. Drivers and pedestrians alike were doing double-takes as we passed by, which was quite amusing. I’m sure we looked like a ghost from the very distant past as we mixed with the modern traffic.
It felt very strange to be exchanging waves from the Maudslay’s cab with the drivers of the current Exeter city buses as we passed each other in the city centre. I wonder if they realised how significant No 5’s reappearance was? Soon we pulled up outside the Guildhall, an equally historic building and of course much older even than the Maudslay, being more than 800 years old. The Lord Mayor seemed to be enjoying the limelight and we spent some time waiting (as did several buses which were waiting to pass by) while many photographs were taken.
Eventually we were allowed to move on and so, at the Lord Mayor’s request, I gave the old bulb horn a mighty squeeze as we drew away. I drove a short distance up the High Street and turned right into what remains of Bedford Street. The area is now part of a modern pedestrian precinct and we had been given permission to park the bus there on public display for the afternoon.
Behind the lady with the black umbrella in this photo is the former location of Bedford Circus, which once upon a time was a large roundabout encompassed by smart Georgian town houses. Very appropriately, ‘Bedford Circus’ was set on the Maudslay’s destination blind.
Though the rain persisted, many people came to view the bus. Some climbed the steps to view the gloomy interior and chat to some folk from WHOTT who had turned up to help. Meanwhile, Mrs Busman John and I wandered off to have a celebratory lunch. Not to mark No 5’s return to the city centre, although that would have been nice, but because that day was our wedding anniversary! Mrs Busman John was very generous in letting me ‘play buses’ on this particular day. What she didn’t know was that I’d long ago bought tickets for a concert in the Cathedral the following Saturday so all’s well.
By about 4pm the flow of visitors had dried up, unlike the rain which continued to fall. With the flashing amber beacon switched on again and accompanied by an obligatory parp on the horn, we pulled slowly forward to rejoin the High Street traffic. At the top of Fore Street Hill I remained in second gear to prevent the bus from running away and falling into the River Exe at the bottom. We negotiated the busy Exe Bridges roundabout and drove back to the City Council storage shed for one more overnight stay in the city. The Maudslay had another corporation vehicle for company but this one was rather less glamourous, being a street sweeper!
Look out for the next post, which describes our journey back to base.
Top and middle left (Guildhall) – WHOTT
Upper right – Adrian Roberts