by; Chris Stewart
Double deck buses have been a feature of British life since soon after the introduction of the first horse-drawn
buses in the 19th Century. Generally these did not have roofs, nor did the earliest double deck motor buses. By the
1920s, covered top double deckers were becoming more common, but there was often a conflict between these
buses and the low height of many bridges, mainly those under canals and railways. The first solution was provided
by Leyland in 1927 with a lowbridge body for their Titan chassis, but to reduce the overall height of the body by about
12ins this involved a sunken upstairs gangway to one side with 4-seater benches set very close to the ceiling.
Although many buses were built to this design over the next three decades, the drawbacks were considerable,
both to the passengers and to the conductor. The gangway also intruded into the lower saloon ceiling. The first
successful British lowheight double-decker with normal internal layout was the Bristol ‘Lodekka’.
Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company ('Bristol'), an operator and manufacturer in South West England, came under
control of the large and increasingly standardised Tilling group of companies in the 1930s, as did bodybuilders
Eastern Coach Works Ltd (ECW) of Lowestoft, Suffolk (on the eastern side of England). The existence of both
chassis and body building companies within the Tilling group placed it in a unique position to develop buses to its
own specification. All Lodekkas built had ECW bodies, the bare chassis being driven nearly 200 miles across
England from Bristol to Lowestoft.
Bristol had devised a drop-centre rear axle driven by an offset gearbox located behind the engine. As a result
of this and the semi-integral construction of the body onto the chassis members, the downstairs gangway could be
low enough to permit a centre gangway upstairs. In this way production Lodekkas were 13ft 5ins high,
compared to the standard 'highbridge' bus body which was as much as 14ft 6ins. Two prototype Lodekkas were
built in 1949/50 to then maximum dimensions of 26ft long x 7ft 6ins wide, production 'LD' (for 'LoDekka') models
of 1954 being to the new permitted limits of 27ft x 8ft. Engine options were the 7-litre five-cylinder Gardner 5LW
(LD5G), 8.4-litre six-cylinder 6LW (LD6G) or 8.1-litre six-cylinder Bristol AVW (LD6B).
The Tilling group had sold out voluntarily to the state in 1948, fearing wholesale nationalisation (which in fact
never happened - a large number of companies known as the BET group remained privately owned until 1968).
One consequence was that Bristol/ECW products were not available outside the nationalised operators
(until 1965, when Leyland gained a 25% share), supplying the state sector instead so that by the late
1960s the Bristol/ECW combination accounted for the majority of the nationalised fleets. In 1948, the newly
formed British Transport Commission (BTC) took control of the Tilling group's operating and manufacturing
companies alike; they also gained control of three more companies in the East Midlands region of England
- Midland General, Mansfield District and Notts & Derby - which had been part of the Balfour Beatty group,
with extensive electricity supply interests which were nationalised along with the rest of that industry.
These three companies had previously bought predominantly AEC chassis, with some Leylands and Guys,
while Notts & Derby still ran trolleybuses.
The pre-War Bristol K (26ft x 7ft 6ins), a rugged and successful double-deck chassis which suited Tilling
and outside operators alike, was refined into the 27ft long KS and then the 8ft wide KSW to reflect
changes in permitted vehicle dimensions. It was a batch of KSWs for Notts & Derby in 1953 (replacing
the trolleybuses) which introduced the Bristol/ECW combination to the Balfour Beatty companies, and then
Bristol LD6Gs became standard from 1954. Further relaxation of permitted dimensions in 1956 prompted Bristol
to build six 30ft long LDLs, with longer wheelbase, air brakes and seating for 70 passengers - one of these
operated for Notts & Derby. In 1958, two prototype Lodekkas were built with flat floors, achieved by
re-designing the crossmembers with a shallow dip to the centre, and air suspension was incorporated for the
first time to the rear axle. The F-series of 1959/60 was the result.
Over 2,000 F-series Lodekkas were built between 1959 and 1968. Four variants were available, the 60-seat FS (27ft)
and 70-seat FL (30ft) being the rear entrance versions while the corresponding forward-entrance buses were the FSF
and FLF. Some operators preferred shorter buses or rear entrances for certain routes, but by far the most popular was
the FLF, of which 1,867 were built. The FSF model, however, was dropped in 1963 after only 218 had been built.
The initial choice was of a manual gearbox and power by 8.9-litre Bristol BVW, Gardner 5LW (FS only) or 8.4-litre
6LW engines, the larger Gardner 10.45- litre 6LX and semi-automatic gearbox becoming available by the late 1960s.
The Balfour Beatty group companies took 231 Lodekkas in all, starting with LD6Gs in 1954 and ending with the very l
ast FLF built in September 1968. They took only 20 FSFs, all Gardner engined - 10 each for Mansfield District and
Midland General, although all the Mansfield District buses (including 52JAL) were transferred to Midland General
as well in 1968.
The 1968 Transport Act brought with it the National Bus Company (NBC), amalgamating the private
BET and state owned 'Tilling' companies. During the early 1970's, new corporate NBC liveries meant
that the traditional green and cream of Mansfield District gave way to leaf green with white relief, and
Midland General/Notts & Derby's unique blue and cream gave way to poppy red with white relief, the
company itself being absorbed into Trent Motor Traction in the late 1970s.
After nearly 15 years of production, the Lodekka design finally gave way to the rear-engined Bristol VR, which was
originally to be one of a family of Bristol 'N' type double and single deck vehicles with longitudinal rear
engines. Industry and political pressures prompted a hasty re-design with transverse rear engines; as a result
the Bristol VR got off to a rather shaky start in 1969, but eventually the concept of one person operated
double deckers meant Lodekkas (with conductors) were mostly obsolete by the early 1980s.
Midland General depots
Mansfield (shared with Mansfield District)
All depots had Lodekkas