The Looey Bus
Hunters Bus Service in Washington
Ernie Guy, a member of Washington History Society, has come across a newspaper cutting dated 1941 saved by his Grandfather, Martin Guy, who was also a keen local historian.
The cutting referred to a court case in which Hunter's Bus Company of Washington was fined for operating an overloaded bus. According to the article, the bus was seen by the local policeman with the conductor hanging precariously from the outside rail. When the bus was stopped, out trooped 100 passengers – 22 adults and 78 children!
The proprietors, Frank, Thomas & John Hunter were fined £5 for overcrowding the bus, and 10 shillings each for employing an under-age and unlicensed conductor. The conductor, aged 17, was fined 5 shillings for the overcrowding and a further 5 shillings for being unlicensed.
Ernie was not surprised about the charge of overcrowding. As a child in the late 1940s and the 1950s he lived at Usworth Green, a couple of hundred yards from Usworth Colliery, in one of the 'Prefabs' built to ease the post war housing shortage, and he regularly used Hunters buses. Even more than 15 years after the newspaper report, the buses regularly bulged at the seams, and Ernie never saw anyone turned away because the bus was full.
The” fleet” comprised of two Bedford buses which were painted in a light yellow scheme with a brown “go faster” stripe down each side, which gave rise to the nickname of the Yellow Peril, although some referred to the service as the “Waterloo Bus” or the “Looey” The service was operated by brothers Tommy and Jackie Hunter, who were popular and colourful local characters. The buses were garaged on the Hostel Estate, a former army camp at the top of Edith Ave, which was occupied by squatters after World War 2.
The bus route ran from Waterloo (near to Usworth Hall) to the Waterside and return. Fare stages, shown on the photo of a Hunters bus ticket were : Waterloo, Thompsons (Red Stamp Stores), the New Inn, the Village, the Glebe, the Mission Hall and Waterside, but in practice the driver would stop almost anywhere along the route to pick up or drop a passenger. Bus stops were close together, so the bus would rarely get out of second or third gear. Ernie remembers being picked up near Usworth Colliery on weekday mornings to travel to Washington Grammar School. Fares were modest, ranging from 1d to 6d. Tickets were hand- punched by the “clippies” or bus conductresses, in particular Nellie Longworth, and Mrs Cowan, whose main task appeared to be keeping unruly children in check, which they did very successfully!
On Saturdays when Sunderland football club played at home one of the buses would pick up at the Stile Inn and drive to Roker Park where it would wait for its passengers at the end of the match. During these trips it could be was alarming to see Jackie or Tommy Hunter constantly turning around in the driving seat whilst having heated arguments about the merits of the football team with the passengers , without paying much attention to the road. Perhaps the traffic was less busy in those days.
During the summer months Ernie’s grandparents who lived in The Oval, and their neighbours, often booked the coaches for street trips to the seaside. The whole neighbourhood would turn out early on a Saturday morning to be collected and driven to Roker or Seaburn, and returned to their doorstep at teatime.
Those were the days! Wouldn’t it be great if such a cheap, user-friendly, and entertaining bus service existed in Washington today?