Picture yourself on a Northern coach tour in 1962

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I bought this brochure in a junk shop for 10p some years ago. Northern General ran bus services in Tyneside and north Durham, but it also had a private hire and tours department. Since the brochure was issued its title has acquired a double meaning. There is the original one: consider that you might take a Northern coach tour in 1962 – perhaps you actually will? And there is the new one for today: what would it have been like to take a Northern coach tour over half a century ago?

The sense of time was very different. In those pre-motorway days a coach travelling from Newcastle to Torquay for a week’s tour of Devon was obliged to make an overnight stop in Leicester. A 15-day tour to Vienna and the Danube began with a journey down the Great North Road, including a lunch stop at Doncaster, to Deal, and a night spent there before the sea crossing. This then had to be done in reverse on the return journey: overnight in Deal, lunch in Welwyn Garden City and high tea in Doncaster. Tours to the Scottish highlands required overnight halts in Edinburgh or Glasgow. Still, these journeys themselves seem almost to have been billed as sightseeing tours. A tour to Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight, for example, used different routes for the outward and return journeys. Going out: Darlington, Boroughbridge, Wetherby, Doncaster (lunch), Ollerton Nottingham (overnight) Leicester, Market Harborough, Northampton, Towcester, Oxford (lunch), Abingdon, Newbury, Whitchurch, Winchester, Southampton, Lyndhurst, Bournemouth. Coming home: Salisbury, Amesbury, Marlborough, Lechlade, Burford, Stow on the Wold (lunch), Warwick, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham (overnight), Ollerton, Bawtry, Thorne, Selby, York (lunch), Easingwold, Northallerton, Darlington (high tea), Newcastle. No doubt, with many by-passes yet to be built, they passed through the centre of many of these towns. And sometimes at least they stopped. On another tour of the Highlands the route between Dunbar and Perth included “South Queensferry (Forth Bridge)” and “Linlithgow (Palace)”.

Names, turns of phrase and everyday mundanities which could hardly then have been noticed as characteristic now re-create the flavour of the age. There is the very name Northern General Transport Company, and those of the other companies which provided booking and enquiry offices for the tours: Tynemouth and District Transport Co., Wakefield’s Motors, Tyneside Tramways and Tramroads Co., The Sunderland District Omnibus Co. These are straightforwardly descriptive rather than the short but over-manicured brand names of today. Local newsagents were used as booking agencies. Northern General’s telephone number was advertised as having “6 Lines”. Telephone numbers for hotels show that some consolidation of exchanges was taking place – that of the Grosvenor Court in Margate was Thanet 22442 – but there were still many small local exchanges (“Windsor – White Hart Hotel, Tel. 521”), some tiny ones (Monmouth – King’s Head Hotel, Tel. 17”) and one, on Valentia Island, Ireland, positively minute: “Royal Hotel, Tel. 7”. Of travel insurance we are told that it is “really worth-while [nowadays it would be a harder sell] to arrange these insurances [who now uses insurance as a countable noun, and in the plural?]”. The booking conditions say sternly, “a flat suitcase is essential”. With the popularity of rucksacks and holdalls this would surely now be impossible to enforce, and I suspect then reflected the general use of suitcases rather than any real necessity.

A tour to Norway sailed from Tyne Commission Quay, North Shields, which is the location of today’s Port of Tyne International Passenger Terminal and which reflects the modern tendency, as at London, Rotterdam and Bremen, for ports to move down river, some way from their cities. On the other hand a tour to Denmark sailed from Newcastle Quayside, No. 11 Wharf: the traditional city port still existed.

All photographs are in black and white, including one of the Valley Gardens in Harrogate, whose floral displays surely clamour for colour. Another shows a prosperous-looking Morecambe Promenade, with well-kept buildings and gardens, and crowds of people such as Morecambe no longer attracts. The British holidaymaking tradition here seems undisturbed. But it soon would be. Air travel appears in this brochure at the margins, and to a reader of today presents itself as something by then established but still out of the ordinary. There is a tour to the Isle of Man by air, while the tour to Norway has an air-travel alternative, with the same itinerary in Norway itself as for those going by sea. On both these tours the flight is from Newcastle airport, referred to in the old-fashioned way by its actual location of Woolsington. But an air tour to Ostend involved an overnight journey via the Great North Road to Southend for the short flight. The company simply seems to have wanted people to enjoy the novelty of a flight; once the journey to the south had been made it would have been as easy to cross by sea to Ostend, as indeed several of the tours which went further into continental Europe did.

In 1962, it seems, many older practices were right in the middle of ceding to new. This is easy to see now; how easy was it to see then? Old and new are both in evidence here. If many people remarked the new arrivals, it would perhaps have taken more perception to see that some familiar things were on their way out.

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