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The family firm that ferried armies of anglers to the shores of the Severn

They were an army who came from the Black Country and Birmingham, and when they could no longer get to the Severn Valley by train, there was always a Whittles coach.

One of Whittles' coaches used by fishermen and caravanners, pictured in Highley in 1964 or 1965
One of Whittles' coaches used by fishermen and caravanners, pictured in Highley in 1964 or 1965

Some were fishermen heading for the River Severn south of Bridgnorth, while others had riverside caravans where they enjoyed short breaks.

The demise of the Severn Valley railway line in September 1963 also meant an end to its "fishermen's specials," but created an opportunity for Whittles to fill the gap, as remembered by Ron Whittle of the family which set up the coach business in Highley in 1926 – it's now based in Kidderminster.

After our recent feature about the running of the last fishermen's train, Ron has dropped us a line to say it brought back many memories.

"This was not the end of the story. I recall going with my dad to Birmingham in order to plan our new bus service to serve fishermen and caravanners on the Severn Valley," he said.

"We ran on Friday evening, Sunday morning and two returns, at 5.30 and 7pm, on Sunday. It was enormously successful with duplicate coaches often being required and ran for many years.

"We ran from Birmingham via Hockley, Oldbury, Smethwick, Dudley, Quarry Bank and Stourbridge to Bewdley, Arley, Highley to Bridgnorth. The service beyond Highley did not last long due to poor demand for that section of the route.

The River Severn, a magnet for anglers from the Black Country – this picture was taken at Hampton Loade in October 1964
Another of the special Whittles coaches, seen here in Highley in the mid-1960s

"The nail in the coffin – apart from increased car usage – was an outbreak of foot and mouth that prevented fishing and the passenger numbers never really recovered after an extended break.

"Apparently we operated a Birmingham to Highley service for caravanners from around 1954. This was Birmingham to Highley on Friday evening and return on Sunday evening. However it was a 'direct' service that picked up at the Hall of Memory and ran via the main A456 and Kidderminster dropping only at Arley and Highley.

"It was the closure of the railway that led to the 'amended' service to additionally serve fishermen’s requirements that ran the more convoluted route."

Thanks to an ex-employee, Ron has been able to track down some photos of the Whittles coaches involved in the 1964 to 1965 era.

"The service started pretty much immediately after the closure of the rail line, so we are talking very early 1960s onwards. I cannot recall exactly when it ended, but probably late 1970s or early 80s.

"There were two main types of clientele, passengers who owned caravans on the various parks along the Severn Valley who would come for the weekend, catching the evening bus on Fridays from Birmingham and returning on Sunday evening, and fishermen who would come for the day on Sunday catching the early service from Birmingham and again returning on Sunday evening."

Whittles was founded in Highley in 1926 and is now based in Kidderminster

Ron says the 7pm return often needed duplicating with a second bus.

"So either I, my dad or our depot manager would be on hand in the village to see if a 'dupe' was needed. It was not by any means unknown for it to be me who drove that one!

"I cannot really say why the section beyond Highley to Bridgnorth was not popular, but there were not many caravans beyond Highley and I suspect that there were ample fishing areas between Bewdley and Highley to make it unnecessary for them, in general, to travel further.

"While there may have been the odd few who wanted to visit Bridgnorth, again I would suspect that people wishing to have a day out would probably stay in Bewdley rather than take the additional 45 minute journey each way to Bridgnorth."

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