Northern Counties Transport Society History
The Archivist has compiled this history of the Society, principally from the recollections of former members and material in the archive. Please contact the Archivist with any comments, corrections or clarifications that you might have.
Northern Counties Transport Society - history
Formed on Wednesday 1st October 1969, the Northern Counties Transport Society (NCTS) was actually a coming together of two existing societies. These being the Bury based Buckley Wells Transport Enthusiasts (BWRE), usually referred to by its earlier name of Buckley Wells Railway Enthusiasts and Macclesfield based East Cheshire Railway Enthusiasts (ECRE). Both having been in existence since the mid 1960’s and predominantly offering shed bashing excursions to their members. The NCTS thrived during the 1970’s but a number of factors lead to its demise in the early 1980’s.
Buckley Wells Transport Enthusiasts had actually taken over another local society, Salford Railfans (SR) in late 1967, this followed a period of several months when BWRE assisted SR during a difficult time for that society.
During early August 1969 the BWRE had run an epic ten day (Friday evening – Sunday evening) South of England excursion covering almost every shed south of Manchester. By all accounts, this left the society with a financial deficit. Salvation came from the ECRE whom were in a much better financial position but unlike BWRE had few members, BWRE having quite a sizeable membership in contrast. Pooling of monies, members and expertise was clearly the way forward and the NCTS was the result.
For most of its history the NCTS had about ten officials, although not all had a designated committee post. That there were more officials than posts was born of the need to have enough people with authority to boss folk about as they were going around sheds.
To be correct, BWRE had actually been wound up due to defaulting on outstanding debts, its members being taken on by the re-named ECRE. For this reason BWRE officials, although becoming members, did not initially become officials of the newly formed NCTS. This was to avoid any possible come back over the outstanding debts.
Early NCTS officials were Nigel Capelle from Macclesfield (ECRE), Des Carville a Liverpool Policeman (BWRE), Harry Collier from Bury, Allan Fawcett from Barnoldswick (BWRE/SR), Dave Felton from Bury (BWRE), John Frisby from Buxton (BWRE), Paul Gasgarth from Blackpool (BWRE), Dave Goldie from Bury (BWRE), Roger Hendry a Culcheth baker (BWRE), Steve Ridgway from Macclesfield (ECRE), Michael Rose from Macclesfield (ECRE), Barry Towey from Whitefield (BWRE) and Stuart “Wobble” Warr from Bury (BWRE).
Dave Felton, who had been the founder of BWRE, ceased to be listed as an official during the summer of 1972. His active involvement as a committee official appears though to have ceased a year or so earlier, according to his recollections, but had remained designated as such so as to boss folk about on Crewe Works visits in particular. Stuart Warr moved to South Wales in 1972 and relinquished his position on the committee as a result. At around this time long standing members Dan Bramhall from Sheffield (BWRE/SR), Lancashire United Transport bus driver Harry Howells from Swinton (BWRE/SR), Mike Harrison from Haworth, near Keighley and Dave “Brush” Lewis from Eckington, near Chesterfield (BWRE) became officials. Nigel Capelle and John Frisby, who had been treasurer, stood down the following year, Johns replacement was Graham Barlow (BWRE) from Manchester who had previously been his assistant for a couple of years after becoming an official. The only lady to serve as an on official was Penny Howells, the wife of Harry, who initially took over as Membership Secretary in 1973 from Nigel Capelle. Penny was also responsible for keeping the officials well fed during the committee meetings held at their house in Swinton.
Other prominent members from the early years, some of whom later acted as officials, were Ian Collier from Worsley, Phil Dever from Beswick, Keith Dalby, Roger Heys, Allen Howells, brother of Harry, from Wardley, Malcolm “They’re Open!” Littler from Walsall, Dave Southern from Westhoughton, Mick ‘Pea Picker’ Tarren from Sleaford and John Wade, Paul Hooton, George “Firth Park” Calvert, Dave Holt and Paul “Captain Nimmo” Rothey from Sheffield.
Similarly from the mid 1970’s, Chris “Roadrunner” Carpenter from Stockport , George Dawson from Blackpool, Mike “Preston Pig” Dunn from Preston, Keith Godley from Chesterfield, Graham Howarth from Broughton near Preston, Derek Oreggio from Moston, Andy Smith from Sale, Roland Smith from Bury, Dave Walby from Padiham and Bill Whitaker from Manchester.
Finally from later years, Nicholas “Cag” Clarke from Doncaster, Mark “Prof” Greenwood and Steven Roberts from Todmorden, Alan Howarth the younger brother of Graham from Broughton, near Preston, John Orlowski from Timperley, Steven Sienkiewicz from Lancaster, Mike Rodgers from Northenden, Martin “Head banger” Stewart from Hayfield and Peter Trotter from New Mills.
Two vital official roles were those of Asker and Assistant Asker although never designated as such. Their role being to ‘blag’ the party round at sheds for which no permit was held. Allan Fawcett was Asker for most of the society’s history, initially assisted by Dave Felton and later by Stuart Warr, Graham Barlow, Mike Harrison and Des Carville at various times. A vital qualification for this was the ability to tell bare-faced lies with a straight face. Other societies, such as Dalescroft Railfans, stuck more rigidly, but not totally, to the rules but NCTS got permits when they could. They then thought nothing of visiting sheds in the middle of the night rather than the stated time, adding other sheds in the same division to the permit or ‘blagging’ their way around other depots for which permits were not available. This ‘swashbuckling’ format certainly attracted members who saw NCTS excursions as producing the most numbers in the notebook. An often used ruse was to say that they were a group of Scouts or that there was only 15 in the party, 15 used because it sounds like fifty, it could then be said that the shed foreman had misheard if he later spotted there was a larger number. Plying the shed foreman with cigarettes, if they were a smoker, was another tactic used.
Many other spotters were though society members for short periods, went on a few excursions, then were never seen again and did not renew.
The number of excursions run is staggering, often as frequently as fortnightly, although not all were by coach, some being works only or similar. Coach excursions took various formats ranging from day trips, through overnight 24 hour trips (c18:00 Saturday – c20:00 Sunday) to extended weekends with accommodation some nights.
Every excursion picked up in Manchester, usually outside Victoria station, with other pick up points being influenced by the depot of the coach operator used and destination of the excursion. Early excursions usually used coaches provided by Bullocks of Macclesfield whom had been used by ECRE. After originating in Macclesfield they picked up in Stockport and Manchester and would then usually pick up at Sheffield or occasionally the Lancashire mill towns of Bury, Burnley, Nelson and Colne or alternatively Altrincham if heading south west and Bury, Bolton, Chorley and Preston on some North West and Scottish excursions. Ezra Laycock coaches of Barnoldswick, whom had been used by BWRE, were also used for some day excursions which of course started in that small Lancashire town. Ezra Laycock Coaches (taken over by Pennine Motor Services in 1972) appears to have been used solely from late summer 1970 until early 1973. As a result all excursions started in Barnoldswick and picked up in the Lancashire mill towns with a Sheffield pick up on those heading east. Possibly as a result of the changed ownership of Ezra Laycock coaches, in early 1973 R. S. Tyrer & Son of Adlington, near Chorley, were used for a number of excursions originating in Manchester, all of which then picked up at Sheffield rather than the Lancashire mill towns. At the time membership and excursion participation in South Yorkshire and bordering areas of Derbyshire was quite significant. So, in addition, Syd Wood of Rotherham and later Maxfields of Aughton, near Sheffield were also used resulting in many excursions actually starting in Sheffield.
From about 1971 some of the driving was undertaken by society officer Harry Howells, his day job was as a bus driver for Lancashire United Transport based at their Swinton garage.
Late in 1973 B&J Travel, also of Barnoldswick, replaced R. S. Tyrer & Son and the Lancashire mill towns and Barnoldswick again had excursion pickups. In the summer of 1975 Maxfields withdrew from providing coaches and for a few months B& J Travel where the sole provider. During 1976 a few excursions started at Chesterfield using ? (possibilities mentioned are J. H. Woolliscroft ‘Silver service’, Matlock, Richardson, Sheffield and a firm run by a Derek Musslewhite). Otherwise, every subsequent excursion originated at Barnoldswick initially using B&J Travel. Declining numbers using the Sheffield pick up meant that from early 1977 only excursions going east picked up there. A driver called Peter has been mentioned as being the regular B&J driver at the time along with another driver called Ray.
It would appear B&J Travel were used until early 1979, but had become increasingly unreliable by then. As a result, from around that April, a firm referred to in the magazine as ‘Pennine Way’ from the Nelson & Colne area, were used. This was a small coach firm based in Laneshawbridge just west of Colne. They only appear to have been used for less than a year as magazine 36, dated March 1980, mentions that City Coachways of Barnoldswick was then being used. This company had been set up Robert Tyrer junior, who had set up R. S. Tyrer & Sons with his father that was used by the society in 1973. City Coachways were based in Chorley but took over Barnoldswick based Wild Brothers excursions in 1977 and moved their operation into the town. They were able to provide more reliable and modern coaches. Unfortunately, other commitments meant they had to withdraw. The final firm used was one set up by Gerald Day from Burnley by rescuing a coach that had spent several years as a chicken coop! Gerald had at one time been a B&J Travel driver and driven on many of the excursions.
Crewe Works was regularly visited either as part of a coach excursion or works only visit. The regular guides, initially Jim and later George, were great friends of the society. For many, a works only visit coincided with a few pints in the ‘Duke of Bridgewater’. This was only 100 yards or so from the old works entrance at the bottom of Mill Street. When the entrance changed to Victoria Avenue it was a good mile away but still frequented. There were instances of members cutting it very fine, too fine in some cases. One member recalls driving down to the works a bit too fast which resulted in intervention from a police car!
Jim took his last party around Crewe Works on 29th November 1970. The Society held a collection and presented him with an electric cigarette lighter engraved with the words ‘To Jim from the NCTS’ and 240 cigarettes in the ‘Duke of Bridgewater’. Free sandwiches were provided jointly by the society and Viva Transport Publications.
During 1972 a former Bury Corporation double deck bus, owned by Stan Fitton (BEN 177 AEC Regent III/Weymann H30/26R), was used to convey members from Bury and pick up points on route to Crewe for the works visits . The driving of the bus was regularly undertaken by Dave Felton.
George (Reid) retired in 1977, his last tour being on 27th November. The Society presented him with an engraved Stainless Steel pint tankard and a bottle of rum, again in the ‘Duke of Bridgewater’.
The extended weekends coincided with the Easter and August bank holidays. The ‘Grand Scottish’ was a hardy annual along with either a ‘South West & South Wales’ or ‘Grand Southern’. In later years two ‘Grand Scottish’ were run. The usual format was one night on the coach and two nights in digs.
Overnight trips evolved over the years but generally covered the same core areas of Wessex, South Wales, East Anglia, Central Scotland, North East England, The Midlands and London.
Day trips focused on the North Midlands, South & West Yorkshire, North Lincolnshire, Manchester, Cheshire and Merseyside.
Initially the focus was on Workshops, Depots and stabling points where mainline locomotives could be found. However, as knowledge of the duties and out stabling of shunting locomotives was gained an increasing number of such locations were visited. Excursions were often promoted as visiting as many as possible of the stabling points of a particular depot.
An analysis of locomotives seen on excursions between January 1975 and November 1976 appeared in the January 1977 magazine. Of the roughly 3,700 locomotives then in the BR fleet, only 129 had not been seen on excursions and works visits during that period.
A long standing tradition of coach excursions was listening to the Chart show broadcast on Radio 1 on a Sunday evening. Members also brought along cassette recorders and later ‘ghetto blasters’, playing classic 1960’s and 1970’s hits to pass away the hours spent on the coach.
Between its formation and September 1981, c42 magazines were officially produced by the society. Frequency varied between three and four per year. As well as a list of forthcoming excursions they contained articles as well as reports of observations, excursions and rolling stock alterations.
BWRE had owned a duplicating machine which on its demise was purchased by Viva Transport Publications. This company had been formed by Barry Towey and Dave Felton operating from Dave’s home at 76 Heywood Street, Bury. Viva Transport Publications was responsible for doing all the societies printing at cost, which included the magazine. This arrangement continued until March 1972, the final magazine produced being the 11th (April – June 1972). Viva Transport Publications ceased to operate on 1st April 1972 although the involvement of Dave Felton in the company appears to have ceased the previous summer. Barry Towey edited the 10th magazine but had then resigned, his attentions focusing on Dinting Railway Centre and BAHAMAS although still credited as compiler of the stock books until late 1973. The 12th magazine, edited by Paul Gasgarth, appears to have been produced on the same duplicator as previously. Thus, probably it had passed to the Society in April 1972 and was initially located at the home of Allan Fawcett in Barnoldswick. By the 14th edition, if not earlier, it was located at Harry and Penny Howells home in Swinton. This edition, published at the end of 1972, is the first to have ‘Printed and Published by the N.C.T.S. 44, Stanwell Road, Swinton’ on the cover. The comment from one of those involved in the ‘collatathons’ that “The aged Gestetner machine was a temperamental creature at the best of times”, suggests that it was indeed the same machine.
The logistics of printing, collating and distributing the magazine was a humongous task. Initially this took place at the home of Dave Felton in Bury with help rendered by Stuart Warr amongst others. This took at least two days, the first being devoted to the often messy job of printing, the second to collating. When the Howell’s took over they used to arrange a day long ‘collatathon’ at their house in Swinton. Most of the duplicating work had been done by Harry and Penny in advance of the ‘collatathon’. The boring activity of checking every page, collating them in order, stapling them and putting them into envelopes being made tolerable though chat, banter and the copious amounts of culinary delicacies prepared by Penny. Graham Barlow and Bill Whitaker have fond memories of participating in these ‘collatathons’.
A bizarre situation occurred in spring 1970 when Michael Rose produced his own version of the 3rd magazine and sent it out to members. Why this occurred is not clear and no copy has been traced. The official 3rd edition of the magazine instructed members to destroy Michael’s version as some of the information etc. was misleading.
The 15th Edition from April 1973 is significant in that it was the first not to feature a steam locomotive on the cover, E3164 being the subject.
Paul Gasgarth continued as editor until the end of 1976, much of the time assisted by Dave Lewis who had always been a prolific contributor. Penny Howells then took over until the end of 1978 with Ian Collier taking over for the 32nd in early 1979. Shortly after Ian, Harry and Penny stood down as officials. The duplicator was on the move again as a consequence, this time to John Wade’s home in Sheffield. It remained at Sheffield until the society ceased in 1981. Mike Rodgers from Northenden was shown as editor of the 34th edition with Nicholas Clarke from Doncaster taking over early in 1980. Ian Collier returned in 1981 and appears to have been responsible for editing the final magazines.
The magazine was always produced at Quarto size.
A society badge was produced by R. E. V. Gomm. This depicted a blue Class 47 below which where the words Northern Counties Transport Society on a red background. Apparently an agreement existed between the society and R. E. V. Gomm that no other badges depicting a blue Class 47 would be produced.
As well as a magazine, various booklets were published. These included Locomotive Stock Books in both number and depot order, Ex B.R. Loco’s in Industrial Service and Where the !*!*! are they. Normally these were to quarto size, although smaller sizes were used for booklets published from 1977 onwards.
The Locomotive Stock Book was originally produced by Viva Transport Publications whom also produced various bus fleet lists in the very early 1970s. All publishing was taken in house after Viva Transport Publications ceased to operate in April 1972.
The earliest traced ‘Motive Power Allocations List’ as those that listed locomotives in depot order were then called, published by the NCTS, is dated November 1972. However, this was probably the second as the twelfth edition of the magazine which appeared that July says “The New Edition (The first by the N.C.T.S. since it took over from Viva Transport Publications) of the Depot Allocation List is now available.” The address of the NCTS printing Division is given as the home of Allan Fawcett in Barnoldswick which is presumably where the former Viva Transport Publications duplicator was then located.
The earliest traced edition of the ‘Motive Power Allocation Booklet’ as it was then called, published by the NCTS, listing locomotives numerically, is dated May 1973. The address then being shown was that of Harry and Penny Howells in Swinton. At least another thirteen editions were produced in the following three or so years in quarto format. This was the time of the great BR locomotive renumbering and there was a ready market for the booklets beyond the membership as they were probably the most up to date available. From 1977 they were in a smaller pocket book format.
NCTS was promoted as having both a railway and bus division, though in reality nothing much is thought to have happened with regard to the latter. A Lancashire United Transport Fleet List was though produced in 1975.
There was also the social side of the society prevalent amongst the older members. Many would meet up for a drink before or after an excursion whilst any opportunity for a quick pint during a trip was taken. ‘The Dome’ (name to be confirmed) Buffet/Bar on the concourse of Manchester Victoria, which sold draught Boddingtons, was a favourite place to congregate whilst waiting for coaches. A younger member was instructed to come and inform those congregated when the coach had been sighted.
Most overnight excursions included an evening chippie/pub stop once all were on board and progress being made. ‘The Three Magpies’ near Tinsley Shed and the famous ‘Hoagie Wagon’ located close to Warrington Arpley stabling point, being regular evening refreshment stops.
During the early 1970’s, at least two autumn evening socials took place, possibly arranged by Des Carville, although little mention of these in the magazine was made. One prominent member at the time recalls taking his future wife on a first date to one of these.
Older members in a locality would also meet up for a drink mid week or weekends if no excursions were running. ‘The Globe’ in Sheffield was a popular haunt of members from thereabouts,
Not unsurprisingly, from time to time officials did not see eye to eye with each other. This probably influenced three ‘watershed moments’ in the society’s history.
The first appears to have rumbled on for a couple of years starting in the summer of 1970. During this period a number of significant changes took place to the committee with both Dave Felton and Barry Towey eventually standing down and publishing being taken in house.
The second seems to have followed the amicable departure from the committee during the summer of 1975 of Dan Bramhall, Des Carville, Mike Harrison and Roger Hendry. The resultant shuffle, which saw Ian Collier, Paul Hooton and John Wade joining the committee, resulted in what with hindsight, appears to have been over ambitious trip itineraries that Autumn. A couple of these ran quite late so a number of locations had to be dropped. This seemed to stoke a simmering feud between at least two committee members which lead to Dave “Brush” Lewis and Paul Hooton standing down from the committee in early 1976. They along with others formed the South Yorkshire Railway Society (SYRS) that spring. This was soon absorbed into the longer established Chesterfield based Little Midland Society (LMS). Swapping of allegiances and local campaigning by SYRS/LMS resulted in a drop in South Yorkshire / North Derbyshire members, a significant factor in why fewer excursions picked up in Sheffield after 1976. The competing LMS excursions had though ceased by the Autumn of 1977. Dave and Paul subsequently renewed their association with the NCTS.
The third was during what is commonly referred to as the "winter of discontent" (1978-1979). Seemingly some discontent had developed within the higher echelons of the society. A consequence was that in early 1979 the Howell’s stood down from the committee. This followed what has been described as a rather turbulent committee meeting. Their house in Swinton then ceased to be the focus of the society administration and publishing. Ian Collier also stood down at the same time but did renew his association a couple of years later.
Unlike other similar societies the NCTS was for many years able to overcome such turbulence and continue almost as before. The continued association of some long standing, experienced, charismatic members who were wisely associated as decision makers helped. By mid 1979 though, few of these remained.
By the late 1970’s the hobby was changing. Haulage, the travelling behind different locomotives, often referred to as ‘bashing’, was becoming more popular and the number of new members was declining. Other societies with similar aims had either already ceased or were diversifying. However, the society continued to offer a program of excursions for the locomotive spotter although membership was falling significantly despite membership drives.
Prior to 1978, cancellation of an excursion due to lack of bookings was extremely unusual. That year though a number of excursions were cancelled for just that reason.
The Society’s tenth anniversary year, 1979, did not get off to a very good start, various problems plaguing the excursions that did run in the first few months. Early in the year, as previously mentioned, Ian Collier, Penny & Harry Howells resigned due, according to the magazine “conflicting opinions”. This trio had been very committed to the society and it was claimed the decision to resign had not been an easy one for them to make. This certainly created a difficult vacuum in experience and skills to be filled. Ian though did return to the fold in 1981 when he edited and presumably was involved with the printing of the final magazines.
As 1979 progressed personal pressures caused a couple of other capable officials to relinquish key roles, subsequently standing down completely by the year end. This was compounded by a lack of suitably equipped members willing to come forward to serve in the essential committee posts. Consequently, this resulted in too many of these functions being performed by two few people in subsequent years. The job of running the club was just too big for the bulk of the responsibilities to be borne by what ended up being just two key people, as committed as they were. This had meant that officials took on roles for which they were not well equipped such as having charge of almost all of the club’s cash income in one case.
During 1980 at least one excursion was cancelled due to lack of support and another used a mini-bus to reflect low participating numbers. Similarly, in early 1981 a couple were cancelled for similar reasons as well as a lack of permits. It was becoming more difficult to obtain permits for workshops and depots, for some areas they had become completely unavailable. Those permits that were available were increasingly restrictive regarding times and numbers.
The Countries economic woes in the late 1970’s impacted heavily in the areas from which the Society drew its membership meaning fewer members able to afford to go on trips. Tachographs for coaches and changes to driver’s rules were another storm cloud on the horizon.
The 42nd magazine was published in late September 1981, unusually though it did not contain an editorial. However, although containing a tours programme running until the following January, the last excursion had by then run. This had been a traditional South Wales overnight on 12th/13th of September on which it would appear that visits had not been made to Cardiff Canton and Bristol Bath Road, presumably due to lack of permits. Other problems were encountered on the trip, including detention of the coach by the police at one stage.
Shortly after a couple of committee members stood down and as a consequence the society simply ceased to function and was wound up during the winter of 1981/82.
In 1985 Dave Felton arranged a reunion for former BWRE and NCTS members. This was held on Saturday 12th October in Manchester at the Unicorn public house. Between twenty and thirty members are thought to have attended. A further reunion was attempted in 2004 but despite the efforts of Dave Felton, Nigel Capella and Stuart Warr this floundered.