An unwitting passenger boarding a 355 in Ashton Bus Station would be very disappointed if expecting to get to Oldham quickly. The 355, which ran between the two towns, took anything but a direct route from one to the other, forming instead a rather attractive bus tour of Saddleworth.
The route was a microcosm of bus operation nationally since deregulation in 1986, incorporating commercial and tendered journeys, school journeys and a wide range of operators and vehicle types from minibuses to double-deckers. The origins of the service are complex and involve several operators, an aspect that always made bus operations in the Manchester area of greater than average interest. The service also served the counties of Lancashire, Cheshire and Yorkshire.
The 355 came into being on 20th July 1980 when there was a wholesale recasting of the bus services in Saddleworth. This followed a pattern that was common throughout the country at the time, where existing services were radically changed in less urban areas, often linking hitherto unrelated services. This was done to effect operating economies and also, particularly in PTE areas, following belated recognition that the previous service patterns had more to do with parochial boundaries rather than passenger requirements.
The 355 originally served Greenfield by going along Chew Valley Road and reversing at the Clarence but the poor links between Dacres and Uppermill caused concern and from 14th September 1981 buses were routed along Shaw Hall Bank Road, Well-i-hole and Manchester Road, Greenfield. This route survived to deregulation on 26th October 1986.
On that date the route was changed to run directly from Mossley Station to Greenfield through Roaches instead of the more roundabout route through Upper Mossley, Grasscroft and Well-i-hole. There were no subsequent changes of substance to the route after that date apart from daytime journeys being diverted via Stalybridge Bus Station. Even the timetable remained roughly the same until the service ceased operation on 30th October 2004.
There were many changes of operator, however. Although the daytime service was operated by GM Buses and its successors, the tendered journeys saw a rich variety of operators. This resulted in a large quantity of timetable leaflet issues, some of which only relate to operator changes.
Apart from GM Buses and its successors, the following operators have worked the 355:
Citibus - Unknown, possibly a Bank Holiday tender only.
JP Executive - The 0630 journey from Ashton to Oldham only, from 1988 to 1998 and the same journey (now at 0635) from 2003 to 2004.
Crosville - The 0654 Uppermill to Ashton, 0725 return and 1555 Uppermill to Milton Mill, Mossley, from 1988 to 1990.
Bee Line - The same journeys as Crosville from 1990 to 1993. (The 0654 from Uppermill started from Oldham Mumps from 1991.)
Dennis’s - Evening journeys from 1990 to 1992. 0705 Ashton to Uppermill and 0740 return from 1997 to 1998.
Stott’s - 0800 school journey Oldham to Uppermill and 1510 return from 1991 to 1993.
Stuart’s - 0700 Ashton to Uppermill and 0740 return from 1993 to 1994 and from 1995 to 1997.
Reliance Travel - 0700 Ashton to Uppermill and 0740 return from 1994 to 1995.
Vale of Manchester - 1510 from Uppermill School to Oldham in 1995.
Universal Buses - Evening service, 0705 Ashton to Uppermill and 0740 return from 1998. From 1999 additional daytime journeys were introduced. Universal were taken over by Stagecoach in 2000.
Stagecoach Manchester - They took over the former Universal workings. Worked Sunday service from 2001. Ceased all journeys in 2003.
Mayne's - the 0635 Ashton to Oldham journey from 2001 to 2003.
Bu-Val - 0705 Ashton to Uppermill and 0741 return from 2002.
It should also be noted that at the end the evening and Sunday services were operated by First's Dukinfield depot, which brought further variety of vehicles to the route.
© David Beilby