Special deliveries on the Postbus

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With the changes happening in Royal Mail I thought it appropriate to recall the Kirriemuir to Glen Clova post buses which ceased operations in May 2009.

The routes had very low passenger numbers which did not make this route financially viable.

The provision of public transport is not the responsibility of Royal Mail but the local transport authority. Prior to Royal Mail’s commitment to the service, the passenger service was carried out by local garage Barron, King, Lowdon & Fearn, serving Clova with “Big Jim” Fearn playing a key role, and Angus Milling Company on the Prosen run.

In September 1974 the Royal Mail post bus service to the glens was launched, the first year carrying some 2,776 passengers and delivering an average of 900 parcels in addition to the mail - everything from milk and butchery meat to barbed wire and even a bicycle!

In the early years, Andrew “Bunt” Soutar was the driver on the Clova run and operated rota shifts with two other drivers, with Lawrence Robertson, serving Prosen. The original Dodge Commer post office vans could accommodate 11 passengers, but, in the early days, as many as 16 passengers by the time they arrived in Kirriemuir. Sometimes, by the time they had reached Dykehead the bus was full, but they still picked up the regulars going into Kirriemuir for their shopping. Sometimes when, on the first run up the glen, they would pick up a prescription or a message-line along the way, returning with the medicine or the groceries during the afternoon run. That was the kind of community service provided at that time.

How come they had so many passengers in those days? Well, there were post offices in Clova and at Dykehead, while, up the glen, there was the hotel, a tea room, a youth hostel and a campsite at Braedownie.

In 1986 the Post Bus was a brand new Freight Rover, with a 2000cc engine. It has a 15 gallon petrol tank. The bus could carry 11 passengers not including the driver. The fare from Kirriemuir to Clova Hotel was £1.05. The bus carried letters, newspapers and groceries. The average number of people who travelled weekly on the bus was 30 but most travelled only as far as Dykehead.

But the fleet of brightly painted Postbuses might never have been put on the road, had a Welshman Trevor C. Carpenter not been appointed Chairman of the Scottish Postal Board. Trevor took up his appointment at the beginning of 1971 just at the time Jim Hall had been made Head of Operations Division. Jim and Trevor’s first task was to find more work for the 2,500 wee vans operating in the less populous parts of the country. They came up with the first scheme in Stornoway on the Island of Lewis, the centre of the Harris Tweed industry. The cloth was entirely woven by artisans in their own cottages. The prepared yarn was taken to them and the finished cloth returned to the “mill” in Stornoway, where it was finished and prepared for sale. Delivery and collection proved difficult and costly for the industry to organise and the poor service to and from the weavers had been the source of constant complaint. What better than to make use of the mail vans that travelled the territory every day? An agreement was struck. The weavers enjoyed a better service, the company saved money, while the Post Office earned a substantial income on van services previously running at a severe loss. On the principle of capitalising on the spare capacity in the post vans, the “Rural Goods Service” as they called it spread like wildfire in all the rural areas. Soon crates of milk, bundles of newspapers, boxes of groceries, medicines and other hitherto unfamiliar items were seen daily in most of the rural vans.

Later that year Trevor made a visit to Stornoway and in conversation with some of the leading citizens the possibility of carrying passengers was raised. Jim looked again at the relative costs of minibus compared to a van. He immediately discovered from the experimental service that was already operating that as a Nationalised Service they were eligible to receive all the financial assistance available to the passenger industry as a whole. And what a difference that made! Instead of a loss, they were able to show a small, but healthy profit.

Yours aye,

The Orraman.