Street transport nostalgia

Stagecoach Supertram no 120 (February 2013)
First South Yorkshire bus no: 37528
First South Yorkshire bus no: 37229

In 2010, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the closing of Sheffield’s first-generation tram system, Stagecoach Supertram, its light-rail successor, repainted one of their units in a near-approximation of the distinctive Sheffield Corporation azure-blue-and-cream livery.

I sense that the blue isn’t exactly authentic, but it’s a close match and it suits the lines of the 1994 Siemens-Deuwag unit.

The livery on this tram is still a familiar sight on Sheffield’s streets over ten years later, and when the unit, no: 120, was involved in a collision with another, no: 118, in 2015, the undamaged sections of 120 were attached to the undamaged end of 118 which was repainted to match. 

Correspondingly, the two damaged ends were united and sent for repair.

The insistent nostalgia for old liveries extended to Sheffield’s buses when First South Yorkshire commemorated the centenary of bus operation in Sheffield in 2013.  Two double-deckers appeared in approximations of traditional Sheffield liveries.

One of them, no: 37229, looks well in the 1935 azure-blue-and-cream Sheffield livery, re-registered from YN08 LCJ to a more authentic plate 3910 WE belonging to a long-retired double-decker, and the visible fleet-number was truncated to 229.

The other repaint, no: 37528 (YN58 ETX), is less successful, because the contemporary Prussian-blue-and-cream tram livery was adapted for modestly-proportioned 1913 buses and it simply doesn’t fit the bulky lines of a modern double-decker.  The vehicle carries an appropriate fake fleet number 1.

The most endearing aspect of the livery on 37528 is that it carries the name of the long-serving and highly respected general manager of Sheffield Corporation Tramways, Arthur R Fearnley, who is credited with building Sheffield’s public transport system into a source of great pride in the city.  His grandson, Giles Fearnley, was Managing Director of First Bus from 2011 to 2020.

I’m intrigued that modern bus operators are making an effort to perpetuate the liveries of their predecessors.

First South Yorkshire has vehicles running around in the liveries of Rotherham Corporation [First South Yorkshire 37231, YN08LCL. | EYBusman | Flickr] and South Yorkshire Transport [First South Yorkshire 37524, YN58ETR. | EYBusman | Flickr], and Stagecoach has a single-decker in Chesterfield Corporation livery:  [Stagecoach 34720 YN05XNZ at Chesterfield | driffbus | Flickr].  A quick glance at a bus-enthusiast forum suggests this fashion is prevalent across the British Isles.

Nostalgia apart, it’s apparent that modern vehicles actually look better in heritage liveries, not simply because of the choice of colours and typography, but because up to the 1970s it never occurred to anyone to ignore the natural proportions of the bodywork. The garish colours and the swoops and swirls of some modern liveries are what Cecil Beaton, referring to the Duchess of Devonshire’s flower beds, described as a “retina irritant”.

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