Wednesday, 22 November 2017

A Little Taste Of Heaven Part Two

Apologies for the delay in this post, it has been rather manic since the Anglian demise was announced, combined with other non blog related issues. But here we go, with the Anglian tribute, which looks like being pretty extensive to follow in the week.

In Part One I was rather enjoying myself, taking advantage of a free rein at Ensignbus' magnificent HQ in Purfleet. We pick it up where I left off, in the Aladdin's cave of a shed with vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Something I didn't expect, though, was a full fleet of BCI Enterprises doing not much. Ross Newman, Head of Operations at Ensign, explained that the Enterprises only go out on schools and rail replacement, never in general service. Since it was half term they were all in residence. A shame for anyone wanting to ride them, but there again Ross rightly pointed out there are no routes in that area where 100 seater monsters are required.

3 of the 100 seater Enterprises
From very large to quite small, and tucked away, almost trying to hide was this fine specimen. BXD 628 is a 1936 London Transport Leyland Cub, like every vehicle in that shed in full working order. It is rather dwarfed though!

That's quite an ambitious journey!
As you can imagine wedding hire is quite a lucrative part of the preservation side of the business, and RM54 was ready for the next happy couple.

RM54 LDS 279A ready for the big day

 Now listen to any school playground and you will hear claims of "my dad is cooler than your dad". In most cases this will be bravado, but in the case of the Junior Newmans it is right on the money. How many kids get taken to school in their own custom made open top mini Routemaster. I mean it just doesn't get any cooler than that. Let me introduce you to MRM 1.

MRM 1 BNK 217A
This little gem is built on a chassis from a 1960's Mini, inspired by The Italian Job, although it must be said it' got be the longest Mini chassis ever built, and it spends the Summer months in Southend, taking little Newmans to school and brightening up the seafront. Ross, with a definite air of satisfaction, told me bedtime chez Newman is no problem as all he has to do is threaten withdrawal of MRM 1 and there is a stampede to get to bed. Quite brilliant.

MRM 1 in all her glory
You will have spotted that behind MRM 1 is a bigger, yet still small Routemaster. That one is built on a Ford Transit chassis. Unfortunately it was too hemmed in to get a decent picture, but there will be a next time.

Leaving that magnificent oasis of bus preservation we crossed the yard to another big shed where single door conversions and other big jobs were taking place. However on the way we passed a BCI Excellence in an odd livery. Ross explained that they aren't that keen on loaning vehicles in Ensign livery (First and Borderbus must have been honoured!) so a couple are painted up in this green livery which I actually think looks rather smart.

BCI Excellence 150 in loan green livery
Now for what I found to be the most fascinating bus of everything there. As I have stated before, I can give or take most things that predate me, but, like steam, there are the odd exceptions. Unfortunately I can't tell you either the registration, or make of this piece of history from Jersey. What I can tell you is it's petrol engined, which makes it unusual for a start, and it was one of 3 double deckers on the island at the time of the Nazi invasion in June 1940. They were subsequently commandeered by the Nazis to move troops around the island. Absolutely incredible one has survived. I admit to being quite awe struck.

The Jersey WWII survivor
I was wandering around, wondering what to photograph next, when I saw two young engineers busy stripping down a bus engine. I stopped for a natter, and was rewarded with a lovely 10 minutes chatting to a couple of people clearly loving their job. One of them is following a family tradition, with her dad and brother both working at Ensign. Yes I said her - both of the engineers were girls, and it made my day. I explained to them that in Suffolk and Norfolk we are probably at least 50 years from what I was looking at, and that a few mouths would be hanging open. The older one said her own dad told her she'd never be an engineer so every time she pulls the overalls on she gets a buzz of satisfaction. Down South this isn't as unusual as it was - heck I know a 16yo girl who has her own bus in Kent (hi Liv!) which again is almost unthinkable in 19th Century East Anglia. It's quite incredible how the A12 passes through so many time warps. My thanks to the girls at Ensign for sparing me a few minutes of their time, and for accepting that I wasn't being patronising in expressing surprise at what I was seeing!

And that was it. Well actually no it wasn't it, as I mentioned that Ensign's yard backs onto HS1. This means the coolest dad in the world also has probably the coolest office window view if you are a transport enthusiast. Ross insisted I stand on a chair and take a video of a Southeastern Javelin hurtling past. Well it seemed rude not to accept!

And for good measure I took another video in the car park of a Class 373 Eurostar heading the other way.

And that really was it. My foretaste of Heaven was complete. There aren't enough words to satisfactorily thank Ross and all those I met at Ensign for giving me such a treat. I will certainly take up your kind offer to return, although probably not on another day the QE2 bridge is shut! What an advert and endorsement for independent operators, how to treat enthusiasts, and how to take such pride in the industry, its vehicles , its history, its future and most importantly the people making the business tick. Without staff you have no business and it was obvious how well Ensign's staff are regarded and treated. A lesson other operators could learn.

Ensignbus have a running day on December 2nd, where many of the vehicles featured in these posts will be out doing what they do best. 3 long routes including Gravesend, Bluewater, Tilbury, Lakeside, Brentwood and Upminster. An all day ticket costs a mere £10. Full details by clicking here.



  1. From Ensignbus's website: "1932 - Leyland Titan TD2- J6332. New in 1932 to Jersey Motor Transport, the vehicle worked on the Channel Islands including surviving the occupation until it was withdrawn in 1961. It was sold to well known collector Michael Banfield who fully restored it in 1962/63. It was sold at auction in 2014 to Ensignbus who became only the vehicles third owner."

    1. I can always count on one of my lovely readers to come up with the goods! Cheers Andrew.