Western SMT

Western SMT

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Western SMT began life on 7th June 1932, more or less as a direct result of the 1930 Road Traffic Act. It was based on an amalgamation of the Scottish General Transport Company of Kilmarnock and the Midland Bus Services Ltd of Airdrie.  Scottish General was a subsidiary of British Electric Traction, which already had control of a number of Tramway companies in Scotland.  J C Sword’s Midland had taken over Southern Bus Services of Newton Mearns in 1929, and J C Sword himself became General Manager of the new company.  I understand that Southern Coaches of Barrhead broke away from the original company to concentrate on operating coaches rather than on bus services, and indeed for a number of years after moving to Barrhead it was known as Southern Coaches (N M) Ltd.

Virtually overnight, the Act brought some semblance of order from the previously chaotic situation where almost anyone who wanted to could run a bus service at will. Operators now had to apply for a licence, stipulating the exact route, timetable and fares, identifying pick-up and set-down points and specifying the maximum number of vehicles to be utilised.

western1Work started almost immediately on the Depot in Barrhead Road, occupying the site now taken over by the car park at the Asda side of the Avenue Shopping Mall.  I haven’t been able to find a reference as to the actual date of opening, but it was certainly in full operation before the end of 1932. “The Mearns”, as it was always popularly known, was totally responsible for the services from Glasgow to:-  Eaglesham via Clarkston; Mearnskirk via Clarkston; Newton Mearns/Mearnskirk via Giffnock; Neilston via Barrhead and, from 1948, Spiersbridge via Orchard Park.  

Also included were the services from Auchenback to Neilston, Barrhead to Paisley, Clarkston to Paisley and, during the summer, from Eaglesham to Ayr via Newton Mearns.  It shared responsibility with other Western depots for the services from Glasgow to:- Ayr via Kilmarnock; Stranraer via Girvan; Castle Douglas via Dalmellington; Newton Stewart via Maybole: Darvel via Moscow; Ayr via Paisley and Troon and Ardrossan via Beith and Kilwinning.

Boys  going to Hutchesons School had to be content with the ordinary services, and were left with the walk along Cumberland Street through the Gorbals to Crown Street.  The original and pioneering Glasgow to Blackpool coach service was also operated and this was later expanded to take in other Lancashire destinations jointly with Ribble Motor Services of Preston.  Special services were operated for workers at Netherplace Works and Weir’s of Cathcart, and for school girls at Hutchesons’ Girls’ Grammar School at Kingarth Street. Newton Mearns also provided drivers for the overnight service to London when duplication was required, but the buses were usually kept at Kilmarnock.

The Depot was a major source of employment for the area, and from the mid ‘40s to the early ‘60s serviced just under 100 buses.  (Over 100 would have resulted in enhanced salary scales for some key employees!).  Johnny Bell was the much respected (sometimes even feared) manager who had come up through the ranks from the position of boy conductor. Consequently he knew all the tricks and dodges, and his staff recognised they would get away with no infringements of the rules.  His standards of maintenance and cleanliness for the fleet and staff in his control were legendary.  A bus would never be allowed to leave the depot with an un-repaired dent or scratch, nor would a driver or conductor who had forgotten his/her tie or hat!  He was also concerned with the interests of the passengers.  On the occasions of a ‘flu epidemic or similar, and there was a consequent shortage of conductors  -  drivers were not so prone to such illnesses by virtue of their isolation in the cab  -  he would round up every available member of staff to simply stand on the platform and ring the bell.  A properly licensed conductor was required to collect the fares, so the passengers on those occasions would get to work or school on time, and travel free!

western2Newton Mearns residents enjoyed a remarkably good level of service to ‘town’.  The basic service for most of the period we are concerned with was every 7/8 minutes, including evenings and Sundays.  The Ayr buses left Waterloo Street on the hour and every 15 minutes thereafter, and the Mearns “local” buses likewise from 7 minutes past the hour.  In addition, there was considerable duplication at “rush hours”, which in those days included lunch time, and most of the buses operating on the routes from Clyde Street also carried Mearns passengers on their way to commence or finish their duties.  No wonder sales of timetables were minimal!  One would just go to the nearest bus stop, and a bus would turn up!

There was a time when the single fare to Glasgow corresponded to the Fare Stage number, so it was 10d from Newton Mearns, 9d from the Broom shops, 8d from Whitecraigs Golf Club and so on to 5d from Giffnock Station.  For those too young to remember, 12d = 1/- = 5p, so work it out for yourself.  My 24 Journey weekly ticket from Giffnock Farm cost 4/11d. Unfortunately, inflation took a hold soon after the war, and has never let go since.

Regrettably, by the ‘60s the depot was showing its age.  Buses were getting larger, and the new facilities required for servicing them just could not be accommodated in the existing premises.  Extension was not practicable, as the local authority wanted the ground for a major development of the Mearns Cross area, and in 1968 the whole operation moved to a new purpose-built location at Thornliebank. That wasn’t to last for so long however, and the said local authority now occupies those premises itself.

R. Lynn McIntyre

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