In 1 day, 23 hours & 31 minutes, southern Hampshire sees the launch of its new Eclipse busway services. It’s a big day and it will (part) transform the Hoeford fleet of First Hampshire. Whether you are employed in the industry or not, whether enthusiast or spotter, there’s always been something slightly different about Gosport & Fareham. Here, we consider why.
The absorption of BET into the nationalised fleet ahead of the January 1969 launch of the National Bus Company left very few non-State or non-municipal operators of significance. One such was the Gosport & Fareham Omnibus Co t/a Provincial.
There are some wonderfully evocative collections of old Provincial photos online. Try those B&W of Jazzbus11, above, for example. Purchased before sold is one of the second small batch of Seddons that, coupled with the usual poor reliability of this type, also suffered from body problems
That was to change exactly one year later, when Provi’s owners sold to the State. Provincial was placed under the control of Hants & Dorset but, unlike elsewhere in England, retained its name, green livery (even after H&D’s 1972 red) and chaotic fleet numbering. H&D was nevertheless in charge yet, in spite of ever-increasing collaboration with its now Bournemouth head office, Provincial managed to maintain an independence not seen elsewhere within NBC.
It didn’t take H&D too long to discard the non-standard, archaic and obsolete stock for which G&FOC had become famous. I even think there was at least one half-cab single deck operating at take-over, for example. Progressively in came standard NBC types such as the RELL and Leyland National. Out went the first modern buses of the pre-nationalised fleet, the luckless Seddon RUs. Over the ensuing dozen years, the fleet became more and more homogeneous and, from the mid-197os, there was a unified engineering base at Hoeford for both H&D and Provincial.
The Provincial spirit could not wholly be cowed, however. This was partly because of the different unions for Provi & H&D staff, a legacy of the 19th century antecedent tram. Indeed, with NBC’s Market Analysis Project came the sub-brand “Provincial Joint Services/New Provincial”, worn by Fareham’s H&D’s buses alongside Provi’s own.
With the 1983 H&D three-way split came the formation of the Provincial Bus Company Ltd, now directly running the old G&FOC and local H&D services as one legal entity. Upon its sale in 1987, Provi was unique in passing to its employees, the only such transaction of its kind, in spite of NBC aspirations. As a consequence, it adopted the somewhat lofty name of “People’s Provincial”, always sounding, to me, like something from behind the Iron Curtain. It adopted not a garish privatisation livery as did many but a cream and darker green, redolent of its independent pre-NBC days.
Provi held off the NBC-inspired influx of minibuses as long as possible. They felt minis were untenable. With privatisation came a push into Portsmouth, still retaining those shades of green independence. Yet, small units could not easily survive in the modern world and life couldn’t last as it was. First Bus bought Provincial in 1995 and a year later, First also purchased Portsmouth & south Hampshire’s competitive Red & Blue Admiral services, from Harry Blundred. The inevitable and unstoppable spread of Barbie soon followed such that Hoeford’s operations are now little different from any other of First’s. Indeed, Hoeford has an imbalance towards an ubiquity of the Dennis Dart.
But that does change a little bit, tomorrow. 14 brand new Volvo B7RLE/Wrightbus Eclipses will take over direct services between Gosport & Fareham, via the busway. Inside, these buses will be like few others. Externally, they will be like nothing else at First, anywhere in the country, bucking the sea of Barbie. Perhaps a little of the spirit of Provincial will be allowed to live on, albeit 17 years later. It may have taken a large local government infrastructure project to see this change but First’s management has risen to that challenge of providing something unique, very much in the spirit of old Provincial. Had G&FOC remained independent, I wonder what would’ve resulted...
i Anyone interested in the unique heritage that begat one of England’s most unusual operators might care to visit the Provincial enthusiasts’ site. Here, there are articles and pictures plus links to other Provi-related stuff
That site is among the top half-dozen sending visitors Omnibuses’ way