Graham Bailey takes a look at the history of open-top buses in Torbay

Graham Bailey on the busesGraham Bailey on the buses

Open-top buses have been a popular summer attraction in Torbay since their introduction on July 17, 1955, when five converted pre-war AEC Regent double decks were introduced to operate new route 12A between St Marychurch, Babbacombe Downs, Wellswood, Torquay and Paignton seafronts, Roundham to terminate at Broadsands Park Road for the summer season.

This continued each summer until 1959, when another open-top service was added, this was route 12C. It operated from St Marychurch then Torquay, Paignton bus station and Churston to Kingswear to connect with Dartmouth.

The next change came in 1961 when the elderly open-top fleet was replaced by a fleet of nine new Leyland Atlantean buses fitted with convertible open-top bodies, which meant they could be used as open tops in the summer and have their roofs re-fitted in the winter for use on normal services.

Each bus was named after famous West Country seafarers and the buses became known as the Sea Dogs, Admiral Blake, Sir Frances Drake, Sir Martin Frobisher, Sir Humphrey Gilbert, Sir Richard Grenville, Sir John Hawkins, Sir Thomas Howard, Earl Howe and Sir Walter Raleigh.

Graham BaileyGraham Bailey

Having extra buses meant that another route could be introduced. This was 12D between St Marychurch and Brixham.

The services continued without change until 1975 when all of the route numbers changed, the 12A became 122, 12C to 123 and 12D to 124.

In 1976, two AEC Regent double decks built in 1964 were converted to open top to operate new limited-stop service 137 between Torquay, Teignmouth, Dawlish and Dawlish Warren. This was shortlived and was withdrawn at the end of the 1981 season.

In 1978, a new fleet of open-top buses was introduced to Torbay, the Warship class Bristol VRT.

Six open-top, low-floor Dennis Trident double decks entered service on route Golden Hop 122 between St Marychurch, Torquay, Paignton seafront, Paignton bus station and Paignton ZooSix open-top, low-floor Dennis Trident double decks entered service on route Golden Hop 122 between St Marychurch, Torquay, Paignton seafront, Paignton bus station and Paignton Zoo

These, too, were convertible and many entered service in late 1977 and early 1978 with their roofs on. These were names, Golden Hind, Triumph, Revenge, Victory, Warspite, Renown, Invincible, Illustrious and Hermes. These replaced the AEC open tops on service 137, additionally the use of the Sea Dogs on open-top services was now becoming rarer.

Around the same time, the terminus of route 122 was changed from Broadsands Park Road to Paignton Zoo.

When buses arrived at Paignton Zoo, the conductor would have to get off the bus to move the chain so the bus could access the Zoo forecourt.

In 1982, only one open-top service 124 ran between St Marychurch and Brixham but not serving Paignton seafront, all of the other services being withdrawn.

Open-top buses have been in service in Torbay since 1955Open-top buses have been in service in Torbay since 1955

In 1988, the service became 122 and ran between St Marychurch and Quaywest at Goodrington.

The fortunes of the open top had reduced dramatically and by the early 1990s only one bus remained. That bus was originally named Triumph, later renamed Exeter then Ark Royal, running in a blue and cream livery on Service 120 between Torquay and Paignton.

After the sale Devon General/Bayline to the Stagecoach Group in February, 1996, interest in open-top services started to grow and several Bristol VRTs were transferred from Sussex and Scotland to operate a new network of open-top services 120/200 which operated between St Marychurch, Torquay, Paignton, Kingswear and, at one point, Totnes.

A heritage Portsmouth Leyland PD2 was also to become part of the fleet and could be seen on both routes.

In 2000, eight Scania double deckers were transferred from Stagecoach London for conversion to open top and these replaced the Bristol VRTs on route 200.

Once again, after several years, the open-top service ceased, leaving Torbay without an open-top service – until the summer of 2017 that is.

Six open-top, low-floor Dennis Trident double decks entered service on route Golden Hop 122 between St Marychurch, Torquay, Paignton seafront, Paignton bus station and Paignton Zoo.

The golden yellow and white buses operate every 20 minutes and keeping with tradition, each one is named. One is called Gary the Rabbit, after the Stagecoach mascot Gary the rabbit, the others were named by schoolchildren at several primary schools in the area. All had a ‘hop’ theme, so joining Gary were Cango Kangaroo, Chirpy Cricket, Freddie Frog, Porter Penguin and Swash Buckle the Pirate Parrot.

These have continued in service each summer since then and were back for 2020 on Saturday, August 1.