Vintage double-decker bus to be the star guest at city centre reunion

LKH 133 bus during her final days serving the city of Norwich at Thorpe Road in the 1960s.

LKH 133 during her final days serving the city of Norwich at Thorpe Road in the 1960s. She will be back in the city on Friday. - Credit: Patrick Burnside

Here is news of a reunion in Norwich with a difference. You are all invited to pop along and see the star attraction… a vintage 1940s double-decker bus which has been restored to its former glory.

The bus, which served the people of King’s Lynn and Norwich in the 1960s, will take pride of place at a reunion for the former workers of the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company at the Woolpack Inn on Golden Ball Street, Norwich on Friday, September 10, from 2pm.

Roy Gray leans out of the drivers window of a double decker bus.

Reunion organiser Roy Gray behind the wheel on a winters day in 1987. - Credit: Tim Moore

After delivering the former colleagues to the pub, the bus (LKH 133) will be in the car park for all to take a look at. It is now in the joint custody by Patrick Burnside of Eye and Michael Kingston of Hethersett. We have much to thank them for.

The 1949 Bristol K5G 56 double deck omnibus was once one of many across the company’s operating area, before the days of “one man operation” and the introduction of the front entrance.

These much-loved vehicles were the mainstay of the double deck fleet throughout the 1950s and 60s and were a common sight in the cities of Norwich, Cambridge and Peterborough.

LKH 133 saw service with London Transport, deputising for buses damaged in the war, before returning to its rightful place in the Eastern Counties.

Norwich Bus Station with Norwich Union Building construction in the background in 1961

Norwich Bus Station with Norwich Union Building construction in the background. Dated: March 18, 1961. - Credit: Archant Library

She carried passengers in Peterborough and Cambridge before heading over to King’s Lynn where she would have been garaged in the town’s Vancouver Avenue depot.

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The bus spent her final service days with the company at the main Surrey Street depot in Norwich before being withdrawn from service in 1969.

The next stage of her life was as a school contract bus in Lincolnshire before Mike Gallagher and Steve Milner rescued her for preservation.

She was later acquired by David Gray of Lincoln who was to own, restore and rally her for more than 40 years.

For most of that time she was proudly on display at the Lincoln Road Transport Museum.

In late 2020 David reluctantly agreed to part with his pride and joy and she is now in the joint custody of Patrick and Michael – and, thanks to them, is looking better than ever.

She had come home and will be the guest of honour at the reunion for all the busmen who will be gathering at the Woolpack for the first time since 2019.

A large group of busmen stand outside the Woolpack in Norwich for a reunion photo.

The last reunion held in 2019. - Credit: Supplied

I remember writing about their first reunion back in 2008 organised by Dennis Harttree, who spent almost 40 years working on the buses as a conductor and driver.

His words then, ring true today.

“There was a great deal of comradeship between all of us who worked for Eastern Counties on the buses in Norwich and Norfolk. We took a real pride in our job,” said Dennis.

Reunion for Eastern Counties Bus workers

Reunion for Eastern Counties Bus workers in 2009. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

Today the reunions are organised by Roy Gray who spent no less than 47 years with Eastern Counties and Firstbus.

“It is important to keep them going,” he said.

It was, he explained, wonderful to see the busmen, and women, seeing each other again and today these meetings were more important than ever.

“Over the years we have lost many workmates, I myself started in 1970 as a conductor, many of these people were my drivers. I learnt so much from them and I wish I had written down all they told me,” said Roy.

“I see for myself the light in their eyes brighten up once more and hear them all laughing – it makes me smile,” he added.

And that is why these reunions are so special, giving former colleagues the opportunity to keep an eye on one another – and enjoy each other’s company once again.

A Facebook group called Norwich Buses Before 1994 has been set up by Pamela Blyth in memory of her late father, driver Barry Gibbs. Stories are told, pictures shared, memories revived.