CHELMSFORD TO BRENTWOOD – 80 years of service


By Chris Stewart


Ambitions and Origins


The National Omnibus & Transport Co undertook some trial operations of buses in Brentwood during 1920/21, and already had a network of routes based on Chelmsford. Previously, from about 1912 the National Steam Car Company had run a Monday to Saturday service between Chelmsford and Widford. Sometime in either late 1913 or 1914 prior to the First World War the service was extended to Margaretting.  The service ceased some time during the early part of the First World War.


It was not surprising, therefore, that NOTC applied for a Chelmsford-Brentwood-Romford route in 1921. Unfortunately the establishment of a much wider operating area than previously by the London General Omnibus Co thwarted this, limiting National to a Chelmsford-Brentwood service although from May 1921 this offered an onward connection by General 26 to Stratford. National’s route was un-numbered when it started on Wednesday 23 March 1921, but it soon became the 10. The very first timetable shows three return journeys from Chelmsford on Mons-Fris, with 4 on Saturdays and Sundays; the additional workings provided vehicles for the Brentwood-Ongar service, one of the trial routes which was reduced to run only at weekends after March 1921. By June 1921, service 10 consisted of four return journeys on weekdays (3 on Sundays), with one extra on Saturday evenings and a short Saturday morning working from Chelmsford to Ingatestone. Surprisingly these all had only a 5-minute turnaround at Brentwood’s Yorkshire Grey after a journey time of roughly an hour. I have a very early photograph of double-deck AEC 2001 (HK4689) at Chelmsford on this service, these open-top vehicles being the normal buses from the outset; West Country-allocated National vehicles were also apparently used occasionally following overhaul at Chelmsford. The regular vehicles for the 10 were garaged at Chelmsford, the 2-vehicle Brentwood outstation having closed again by then.


From September 1926 to August 1927, the 10 was extended at the Brentwood end to Great Warley, while on Summer Sundays in 1927 it ran through to Maldon – an extension which was not repeated. By 1928, the frequency had reached 16 weekday departures from Chelmsford (with 22 on Sundays) at fares of 1/2d single, 1/9d (9p) return to Brentwood and 8d single, 1s (5p) return to Ingatestone. I have seen little photographic evidence from this period, but from what there is Leyland Lions and Dennis Lancets would seem the most usual vehicles until the arrival of the first Bristol JO5G’s in 1936. The second half of the 1920’s, incidentally, saw the advent of long-distance coaches on the same road - National themselves following the formation of London Coastal Coaches in 1924, together with those belonging to United (later Eastern Counties), Grey-Green, Primrose and Hillman.


London at Last


The biggest change of all to service 10 came on 18 March 1934, when the Hillman’s Coaches empire was acquired compulsorily by the London Passenger Transport Board. While the main Bow to Brentwood service became a Green Line route from Aldgate, the Bow-Chelmsford workings were handed to Eastern National and the 10 extended (at last) through Romford to Bow, albeit with restrictions on the carriage of local passengers within the LPTB area. At the same time, Chelmsford-Brentwood journeys became service 10A, and on 14 June 1935 the market-day Chelmsford-Mill Green 10B began (lasting, as the 40A, until 15 May 1970). In October 1936, the timetable shows a 30-minute interval service starting at 5.55am from Chelmsford, with the last journey being the 9.55pm from Chelmsford and 11.40pm return (arriving Chelmsford 1.08am!). The Chelmsford-Brentwood section had a 15-minute interval service and some fares were actually lower in 1936 than they had been in 1928, presumably part of Hillman’s legacy. Chelmsford-Bow return was 3/6d (17.5p), Shenfield-Bow 2/2d and Chelmsford-Brentwood 1/6d. These fares were basically unchanged in the June 1949 timetable, as was the service.


Pre-War photographs I have seen show 1933 Tiger TS3 3453 (GK443) at Brentwood Station, and a publicity shot which includes 1933 Lancet 3490 (AVW468) with side destination boards for the through London service. Bristol JO saloons 3667 (ENO445) and 3714 (FHK751) also figure. Immediately post-War, double-deckers re-emerge; rebodied AEC Regents 3030  (TM6308), 3078 (TM8794) and 3082 (TM8798), MPU-registered ECW-bodied Leyland PD1’s and NNO-registered Bristol K’s. Beadle-Bedford saloons were used on the 10, as well as the 10B to Mill Green (which later had Bristol LWL’s).  Former City Coach Co Leyland Titans of the FJN batch became quite common until the early 1960’s, and from 1954 Bristol Lodekkas arrived in large numbers. I also have a photograph of one of the dual-door Bristol LS’s in London (showing 10A). To add further variety, the sole LDL prototype, 236LNO (1541, later 2510), became a fairly regular performer on the 30 from about 1963.


The Tilbury Arm


But there is another arm of the 10/30 story, involving the Brentwood-Tilbury Ferry road. To trace this fully involves going back to 1924, when National opened a Grays garage (in Argent Street). On 1 October that year, they introduced a service to Upminster via the Ockendons, to be followed in 1925 by Wednesdays-only service 41 from Grays to Romford via Horndon, Laindon, Herongate and Brentwood. In July 1928, however, what later became the 40A started between Grays and Brentwood (via Ockendons), with one return trip each Thursday and Sunday afternoon (probably for visitors to Warley Mental Hospital). A daily Chelmsford to Tilbury Ferry service took this number in January 1931 (extending the route at both ends) and survived in this form until 1942; Wartime restrictions on the use of fuel and tyres led to the suspension of the main London service 10, which was diverted instead over the 40A route to Tilbury Ferry. As shortages eased, the 40A was reinstated (but not until 7 April 1946), only to be renumbered as the 40 two months later on 2 June. From 28 September 1947, some Monday to Friday journeys on the 40 operated through to Dunmow (changing to show service number 3A at Brentwood) over the route pioneered by Simpson’s of Leaden Roding in March 1929 and taken over by Eastern National on 24 March 1940. An early post-War photograph in Brentwood shows an express-liveried Bristol L (MPU-registered) on the 40. In May 1958, the 33A (as the 3A had become) was curtailed to run Dunmow-Ongar, leaving the 40 isolated again.


Frank Monck has kindly added some details about the 3A Dunmow extensions of the Tilbury Ferry – Brentwood service 40’s. These were all worked throughout by Bishop’s Stortford depot, firstly with Dennis Lancets 3483 (AVW461) & 3544 (BTW483) and AEC Regals 3510/20/62/77 (AEV88, AHK792, EV6296, MV2272). The Regals were an interesting secondhand selection, ex Bird, East Bergholt & District, Quest and Underwood respectively (and 3510/20 had been rebodied from coaches). These vehicles were followed by Bedford OB’s 3925/6 (LPU615/6) and Beadle-Bedford 4013 (NVX527) before a succession of Bristol L’s, LL’s and LWL’s. In fact 4077 (ONO991) was allocated brand new to BS for this route, and express-bodied 3970 (MPU31) was the one mentioned in the original article. Several of these buses (3510/20, 3926 and 4013 at least) were later allocated to Brentwood depot (3510, and presumably also 3520, for Tilbury Power Station construction contracts for which BD kept a number of elderly and secondhand vehicles).



The 40 continued largely unaltered until 5 September 1971, when the Chelmsford-Brentwood section was finally abandoned, leaving it in the sole charge of Brentwood depot. One-man operated since 1968, a succession of Bristol LS’s, MW’s and RE’s included the later 1974 MW6G coach conversions 1442/6/9 (NWC16, BNO116B and BPU23B). With the 1971 change, there were 7 weekday and 3 Sunday journeys to Tilbury Ferry (and a Schooldays only extension to Shenfield School). On 20 July 1975, the 40 was reduced again to 5 journeys on Weekdays only, and cut back to Grays bus station on 1 January 1976. The bus station had opened on 18 May 1975, but the 40 was not EN’s last service to Tilbury Ferry, as the 155 continued to serve it until 6 December 1976. The 40 was renumbered 269 (in the Brentwood area number series) on 21 May 1978, but did not survive long; further change took place on 1 September 1979 when Eastern National withdrew from it altogether and London Country’s new 369 replaced it. As a result, the North Ockendon to Warley section came into the hands of a London operator for the first time despite being in the London Passenger Transport Area, and the Schooldays only extensions to Shenfield School placed that destination within LC’s area for the first time. LC mostly used Bristol LHS’s, but Green Line liveried AEC Reliances and Leyland Nationals also appeared. After a period of operation by Harris Bus, however, the Brentwood to Grays road is back in the hands of Eastern National’s successor, First Thamesway, who operate it once again as the 269 (and 268).


Into the 1960’s


Back on the main London route, the 10/10A/10B became the 30/30A/30B under the 1955 renumbering. By the early 1960’s, the service was basically hourly to Bow with the intermediate journeys running alternately to Brentwood Station (30A) and Tilbury Ferry (40). One curiosity of the 40 was that the 07.55 from Tilbury Ferry to Brentwood and 09.10 return to Grays were worked by a Basildon bus at a time when they were not otherwise seen in Brentwood. In Summer 1963, the service was increased to quarter-hourly daily between Chelmsford and Brentwood, every other bus running through to Bow. At the same time, the first 30ft Lodekkas appeared – FLF 1590 (later 2719) and LDL 1541 (later 2510) for example, presumably spare off the 251. Shortly afterwards, Chelmsford’s first FLF (1632, later 2758 – JWC718) started on the 30 to be joined some weeks later by 1642 (later 2765 – VWC45). Brentwood received a batch of EOO-registered FLF’s at this time, but these seem to have been used either on the 251 or on the 260 although they probably released 2510 from the 251 in the process.


In 1965 the service was reduced to a combined frequency of 20 minutes between Chelmsford and Brentwood. The even hours journeys operated in sequence to Bow, Romford and Brentwood Station with the odd hours working to Ilford, Tilbury Ferry and Ilford again. The Ilford terminal was in Argyle Road (behind the station) where most LT services also terminated. At the same time, the Sunday service became every 30 minutes Chelmsford to Brentwood.


Starting with Chelmsford’s 2888 (WNO976F) in October 1967, the 31ft semi-automatic FLF6LX’s began to appear in the last days of the 30 – the 15.55 Broomfield Hospital to Bow became a common duty for 2888 or 2889 during November and December 1967. Brentwood received 2885/94/5, 2904/5 from new, adding 2887 from Wood Green and later 2891-3 while CF also gained 2917/23/5-8 although 2917 was quickly exchanged with WG for 2916.


Wood Green 351    


The most dramatic change for 34 years, however, took place on 7 January 1968; service 30 to Bow was withdrawn and replaced by the 351, which ran Chelmsford-Brentwood-Romford (half hourly) and on to Wood Green every 2 hours (hourly on Saturdays). Strangely, though, WG vehicles did not operate the 351 despite having the relevant destinations on their blinds; instead, as well as BD and CF vehicles as one would expect, the 15.45 from Chelmsford and 16.46 return were worked by crew-operated MW’s from Kelvedon (1319/33/9 or 1425). The next pair of 40’s, the 16.15 and 17.15 from Chelmsford, were worked by a CF-based LD long after FLF’s had taken over most other journeys while Brentwood’s KSW’s (2352/62/3/72/3) occasionally worked peak-hour 351’s in 1969 (to be followed later by LD’s). The last LD to appear was almost certainly CF2515 on 19 November 1974, which worked its way to Wood Green for filming via the 351 and 151. Despite the predominance of semi-automatic FLF’s on the remaining school duties, as late as 5 September 1980 manual-gearbox CF2845 (MVX882C) ran for the last time before its withdrawal on the 351.


One odd journey during the late 1960’s and much of the 1970’s was an 08.20 Ingatestone (New Road) to Brentwood which was originally unadvertised, and later shown as terminating in Ingrave Road before working a Hornbeam Close to Brentwood 262 schools duty. At the height of the 1960’s staff shortages it was worked one-man by a saloon even though grossly overloaded – reverting to a double-decker in about 1970. BD-based LD5G 2482 (fitted for driver training) appeared for long spells but these were interspersed by a ludicrous selection of buses – including most of the FLF6LX’s in the fleet, regardless of home depot – Canvey, Basildon, Hadleigh, Southend and Wood Green included. These appeared following maintenance work at BD, which at the time was carrying out work for many other depots. At the time of the 1969 (or possibly 1970) Essex Show, LS6G coach 323 (616JPU) turned up complete with conductor before working a Brentwood-Showground excursion. MW6G coach 366 from CF also materialised on one occasion; coincidentally this vehicle was later to be Brentwood-based bus 1446.


OMO Saloons and Leyland Nationals


In early 1969, Eastern National’s first Bristol RELL’s arrived with 1500 (CVW854G) going to BD depot in February. However it was CF which first used these buses on the 351 – initially 1515/6 – and BD did not use them on a regular basis until much later. A very early loan of a Leyland National to Brentwood depot in 1973, incidentally, convinced them to remain faithful to Bristol RELL’s for a further 2 years (until 1751/4 arrived).


From 11 February 1973 the main service 351 was converted to one-man operation. The section beyond Romford had already been withdrawn (except on Sundays) from 9 April 1971, but with the omo conversion even the remaining Romford sections went and the route was diverted to operate from Chelmsford to Warley (Fords). In May 1973, Leyland Nationals from EN’s first batch of these (1700-11: WNO549-60L) were allocated to the 351, 1706 entering the history books after being written off when less than 2 days old as the result of an accident at Margaretting. Later, Bristol VRT’s became more common but Leyland Nationals were to be a feature of the 351 for the next 27 years (1850 being the last one seen, in June 2000). Brentwood VRT’s 3040/1 (PWC515/6M) had regular duties on the 351, while CF provided some of the former Alexander (Midland) SMS-H batch as well as ex Eastern Scottish VRT/LL 3043; sister bus 3042 also appeared on occasions, transferred temporarily as a mechanical spare. Standard VRT’s 3027/9/35 were also among early visitors to the 351 in 1973; the following year also saw CF3002 (CPU981G) on occasions.


To Romford Again


It was not long, though, before Romford featured again on the destination screen - in June 1973, two shoppers’ journeys were reinstated on Mons-Fris. More controversially, certain journeys were diverted via Shenfield Station and Oliver Road in 1980 as part of the ‘Traffic Area Plan’, stirring a sustained residents’ campaign against the service; the resultant Traffic Commissioners’ hearing, however, found in favour of the Company and the 350 still operates this way at peak times in 2001. On 11 March 1981, unusual permutations 460 and 461 were introduced; the 460 ran Mon, Tues, Thurs and Fri only with one return trip from Blackmore to Romford via Kelvedon Hatch. The 461 ran on Wednesdays and Saturdays via Doddinghurst. Both operated non-stop between Brentwood and Romford.


During 1982 (I believe), the 351 regained its old route to Romford, being joined in January 1983 by an hourly limited-stop 451 with a journey time of 50 minutes (compared to 59 minutes by 351). The Day Return fare from Chelmsford to Romford at this time was £1.50.  After a very short time, further changes took place from 23 May 1983 introducing Chelmsford to Brentwood Station or Warley variants 360 (via Shenfield Station) and 361. The publicity leaflet for this shows a Leyland Tiger/Alexander rather than the Leyland National used previously, and indeed these Tigers did appear fairly frequently for a time.


1977 records show Mon-Fri allocations of Bristol VRT’s and Leyland Nationals from both BD and CF, together with Bristol MW’s and RE’s from BD along with one Chelmsford FLF (school times). On Saturdays both depots supplied LN’s, BD put out RE’s as well and CF provided VRT’s. Sunday workings were by LN’s from both depots. Olympians from both Eastern National and (from 1990) Thamesway later supplemented the VRT’s, but the latter still feature after more than 25 years. The 351 continued to be worked jointly by Chelmsford and Brentwood depots until 7 June 1995, shortly before the former City/Westcliff North Road depot closed.


D-Day and Beyond: More Variations


Upon Deregulation in 1986, the pattern was 350 (Mon-Fri) Chelmsford to Romford via Shenfield Station, 351 (Mon-Sat) Chelmsford-Romford and 352 (Mon-Sat) Chelmsford-Brentwood-Collier Row-Romford. These were joined by the 451 (Mon-Fri) Chelmsford-Writtle-Ingatestone-Brentwood-Romford and the Sundays-only 451 from Braintree to Romford via Chelmsford and Writtle. From May 1995, the 350/1 were extended to Braintree, with one journey each way continuing to Halstead. At the same time, the variation along Westway in Chelmsford was brought in, and the 451 via Writtle was withdrawn. The Chelmsford–Braintree/Halstead section was later separated again to become the 352. 


Perhaps the oddest variation of the 351 route was in early 1999 when it was extended to West Thurrock (Lakeside) via Romford, Hornchurch and Upminster in a transfer with Capital Citybus which also brought two D-registered Volvo/Duple buses (1601/2) onto the service. There had been similar Duple-bodied Leyland Tigers on the route previously, from the 1001-7 batch of ex Yorkshire Rider vehicles (EWR651-3Y, A660/3/5/8KUM), but 1601/2 brought further variety by retaining Citybus yellow livery. This odd route was short-lived, though, being withdrawn from 9 May 1999 except for the Bank Holiday Monday service which somehow survived for longer.


80 Years On


In 2001, 80 years on from its creation, the 351 continues to ply the Chelmsford to Romford road via Brentwood, run (as in 1921) from Chelmsford depot by First Eastern National with a wide selection of one-person operated vehicles, both double-deck and single-deck. Leyland Olympians and a dwindling number of Bristol VRT’s run alongside Leyland Lynx (which have been on the route from new), whilst several varieties of Dennis Dart are currently to be found (including Alexander-bodied ones and SLF versions). Mercedes 709 minibuses operate the late evening service (and on one occasion two of them were seen substituting for a big bus during the daytime!). What is still a basic half-hourly service Mons-Sats becomes two-hourly (and Essex CC supported) on Sundays.


For assistance in compiling this history, special thanks must be given to Rob Webb (who used the route 6 days a week in the 1960’s and early 1970’s), to Frank Simpson,  Alan Osborne, Peter Clark, Terry Dendy and John Stewart. Acknowledgement must also be given to ENEG/EBEG publications consulted. Any errors are my own but I would nevertheless be grateful to be advised of them. And has anybody out there got a photo of 1706 either in service or after its accident - please!!


© Chris Stewart/EBEG, 2003

3 May 2001




Frank Monck has kindly added some details about the 3A Dunmow extensions of the Tilbury Ferry – Brentwood service 40’s. These were all worked throughout by Bishop’s Stortford depot, firstly with Dennis Lancets 3483 (AVW461) & 3544 (BTW483) and AEC Regals 3510/20/62/77 (AEV88, AHK792, EV6296, MV2272). The Regals were an interesting secondhand selection, ex Bird, East Bergholt & District, Quest and Underwood respectively (and 3510/20 had been rebodied from coaches). These vehicles were followed by Bedford OB’s 3925/6 (LPU615/6) and Beadle-Bedford 4013 (NVX527) before a succession of Bristol L’s, LL’s and LWL’s. In fact 4077 (ONO991) was allocated brand new to BS for this route, and express-bodied 3970 (MPU31) was the one mentioned in the original article. Several of these buses (3510/20, 3926 and 4013 at least) were later allocated to Brentwood depot (3510, and presumably also 3520, for Tilbury Power Station construction contracts for which BD kept a number of elderly and secondhand vehicles).


Chris Stewart, June 2001