Memories : Darlington, 1981

Another snapshot in time, public transport-style from the Northgate roundabout in Darlington, circa 1981 – Mike Humble’s neck of the woods…

A 1970 Daimler Fleetline eases out of Northgate on a busy weekday morning. That lady traffic warden is taking a risk, eh?

I’m not sure if this is summer time, or if the driver had left the front door open to glean a better view of the traffic as he carefully snakes his 1970 Gardner-powered, Marshall-bodied Daimler Fleetline through the busy traffic. Viewers of a discerning taste will savour the other vehicles either in or just passing out of camera view including a Triumph 1300/1500 series, an early Morris Marina, a very late Escort Mk2, a Durham Constabulary Vauxhall Viva HC and an Alexander-bodied Leyland Atlantean of the Northern fleet.

What makes this so nice to see is how public transport has changed over the decades. Not that long ago, most big towns and cities ran their own Council-operated bus companies, or municipal operations. Darlington Transport lasted until 1994 when it was effectively run off the road in a bus war with Stagecoach. Now there are just a handful of municipal operations left in the UK where once there was dozens up and down the land.

With today’s kneeling air suspension, flat floors, tiny 19-inch wheels and rev-happy 6.7-litre Cummins engines, they are a world apart from the above image. Back in 1980, your average bus had a 10.45 litre Gardner engine, a semi-automatic gearbox and non-power assisted steering, even the above Radford-built Daimler had a manual ratchet type handbrake. Durham Constabulary no longer use a Viva, though a Vauxhall is still the chosen panda car today.

Meanwhile, if you take away the traffic, the scene is still the same largely thanks to that lovely Burtons building being listed but, by 1984, the bus in view was scrapped. Daimler buses officially ceased production in 1973 following the move of production from Radford in Coventry to Leyland, with all future Fleetlines being badged as Leyland. Also in 1980, we saw the Escort morph from rear to front-wheel drive with the arrival of Project Erika or, as it was better known, the MK3.

CHN 748K went to its grave in 1984 – a remarkably short life for a bus. These Marshall bodies were known for being lacking in torsional strength and rigidity. Chassis flex used to cause body fatigue around the middle passenger door and, once that occurred, it took expensive and time consuming work to rectify correctly. New buses, which were added to the fleet during the same year, resulted in most of these 1970 vehicles being sold off or scrapped.

Mike Humble


  1. Back then, the A66 used to go through Darlington, making the town centre a real slog to get through.
    Also the Viva patrol car is unusual, as I don’t think I ever saw one in use, but do recall Durham Constabulary using an S reg Vauxhall VX 2300 GLS in 1981, so maybe they had a deal with Vauxhall to supply their cars.

  2. “What makes this so nice to see is how public transport has changed over the decades.” But weren’t the liveries more attractive then? The chances are that above the (Montague) Burton’s shop was a dance school, where the not-so-twinkle-toed could turn one of two left feet into a right foot – before purchasing the suit that would sweep the lady of the evening off HER feet. “Ar yer dancin’?” “Yer askin’?” “Yer.” “I’m dancin’.” Nine months later……

    • @ Eric Hayman, reminds me of the lines from The Liver Birds, ” You dancing”, ” I’m asking”. and yes bus liveries were nicer then. Cumberland Motor Services bright red buses with a white stripe down the side were a familiar sight where I lived for decades. Also CMS hung on to its closed cab Bristols until 1980 when they were finally pensioned off for a newer fleet of double deckers.

  3. I love the way the first thing you see on the home page at the moment is “TOP STORY: Northgate roundabout Darlington town centre, 1981”

    If only that were true!

    Keep up the good work. There articles are very enjoyable.

    • Darlington had the A66 going through the town centre until 1986, so traffic levels would be high, even with fewer vehicles on the road in 1981.

  4. My neck of the woods as well. And I worked for Darlington Transport in the depot until the Darlington Bus Wars (Google it if you haven’t heard of it). I agree with the comment on livery; ours was originally dark blue with a cream stripe, the reverse of bus 48 in the picture. This had already been scrapped when I joined, but its bits were used for repairing other Marshall bodied vehicles. Whenever such a vehicle was taken off service due to damage someone would say “More work for bus 48”. Incidentally, that particular shade of blue was known by paint manufacturers as ‘Darlington Transport Blue’; you’d probably believe how many sheds and railings were painted that colour. Nearly used pots were purchased by depot staff before they solidified.

    • Brilliant stuff Paul. You’ll know Col Pearson (our old next door neighbour) then, Nigel Drummon who was an electrician and a mate from school, and Stuart Hyslop (Gen Manager) – we all lived in Stooperdale Avenue except Nigel. SH moved to Whinbush IIRC but Colin still lives there.

  5. I also do remember Northern’s fleet of Leyland Atlanteans in dark red on Tyneside. South Shields had some single & double deck Fleetlines in the 60s & 70s. I never realised Viva’s being used as Panda cars in those days, though Northumbria use Vauxhall Astra Estates now.

    These photo memories are great to take our mind’s away from coronavirus for a moment at least.

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