Sunday 23 June 2013

Longest day

The start of the longest day of the year found me at Victoria Coach Station for the unveiling of the coveted ‘Red Wheel’ of the Transport Trust.

Launched in April 2009, the Trust launched its nationwide programme marking sites of historical interest with Red Wheel plaques. This is a brilliant initiative to commemorate Britain’s rich and globally important transport legacy and its development over time. The Red Wheel programme marks sites of special historic interest with a distinctive plaque.

Victoria Coach Station has served London and the whole of Great Britain since 1932 and it was fitting that it should be awarded a Red Wheel. I was thrilled to be asked to help unveil it with Stuart Wilkinson, Chairman of the Transport Trust.

However before the ceremony itself, a veritable line-up of old coaches arrived at VCS. They stood in a specially cordoned-off area lined up exactly as they would have been in years gone by to the amusement of the many hundreds of ordinary passengers passing through the coach station that morning.

I had a chance to catch up with several of the vehicle owners and other visitors. Former Traffic Commissioner Chris Heaps was in attendance – himself a great enthusiast for transport history in the South West where he is from. It was also very good to catch up with Tom McLachlan, now well into his 80s, Managing Director of Grey-Green Coaches in the days when they only ran coaches. Grey-Green subsequently stopped running coaches, started running buses, and by acquisition morphed into what today we know as Arriva. 

Then it was time to unveil the plaque – Stuart made his speech and I made mine. It was fitting, I remarked, that Victoria Coach Station is recognised with the Red Wheel having been the centre piece of high quality coach operation for over 80 years. 

The work of the Trust helps remind us that the answers to many of our challenges of the present are contained in our history. For example, good customer service wasn’t invented by modern retailers but was common in all walks of life in the 1950s! 

With the plaque unveiled I was delighted to be asked by Colin Billington to drive his Bristol LL6B from 1951 out of the coach station leading the convoy of vehicles on a commemorative run to the south coast. My expectation was that my short drive for a couple or so blocks would not require a gear-change in the five-speed crash box. But my TfL colleagues were all too clever with the traffic lights and I found myself being as careful as possible with the cogs in Colin’s gearbox whilst navigating the Victoria one-way system at the same time.

With both the outside and the innards of the Royal Blue coach more or less intact, I vacated the cab in Vauxhall Bridge Road. I then waved the convoy away on its expedition to the seaside – much like they did in the heyday of coach excursions over half a century ago.


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