Soham Grammarians - School bus & train memories

Nov 17 2002: Roger Sykes 42: My contemporaries i.e. 1942/47 would know him [Mr Johnson] more as "Bish" than "Jugger". He obviously travelled back and forth from Ely to Soham on the school bus, which departed from Market Street soon after 8am and returned to Ely High School (conveniently depositing me right outside my "sweet shop" home next door to the High School) at about 4pm. On one memorable, for me, outward journey, as the bus went around the gentle bend and over the small bridge as I remember it, by Summerscales Cycle Shop, I was standing ready to disembark when I toppled backwards and fell against the bus window. To my horror the glass window cracked! I was escorted to Mr Armitage's study by "Bish" where I was closely questioned about the whole unfortunate episode.

13 Jul 2003: Graham Whiting 70: RAT used to wait for the bus with me every morning in Cherry Hinton having parked his Ford Anglia behind Pledges the newsagent. In all the years I used the bus we only once had to resort to using his Anglia and I still remember RAT, me, Martin Pickup and Doug and Dave Rutland bowling along the route having waited 30 minutes and no bus coming.

3 Aug 2005: David Angood 55: I lived in a small village called Mepal which is eight miles the other side of Ely from Soham. I had to catch a bus at half past seven in the morning and did not arrive home until five. That was when I was not in detention - it was then half past seven in the evening. Most of my friends and acquaintances were from the Ely and Cambridge area - the Cambridge boys caught our bus after a train journey from Cambridge to Ely.

27 Nov 2006: Gary Coxon 68: I also remember another occasion where me and another guy (who shall remain nameless) devised a plan to "Miss the Bus" and hitch to school, thus avoiding the first two lessons. However we accepted a lift off a very keen young lady who drove like the wind, overtaking the bus we had "missed" and got there a good ten minutes before the rest of the pupils!"

29 Nov 2007: Mark Bishop 70: One of my fondest early recollections was catching the school bus from Mitchams Corner in Cambridge which picked up boys in the various villages. One evening, we were collected by double decker bus for the journey home rather than the usual coach. We thought it great fun as we approached the very sharp bend in the road (at Swaffham Prior, I believe?) - all the boys moved to one side of the top deck and as the bus went around sharp bend, we threw ourselves to the other side of the bus, just to see if the sudden weight transfer would make the bus fall over. Fortunately we were not succcessful. The bus driver went absolutely ballistic - we must have frightened the poor fellow into early retirement.

20 Apr 2008: John Gothard 53. I can remember catching the 125A Service from Wilburton to Ely - which came from St.Ives - leaving the stop by the Blacksmiths (Prime) at "10 to 8".It was normally a single decker. Anybody remember the bus prefects - who were there to maintain order during the journey?

I think there were three double-deckers that left from Market St. for Soham. An Ely driver by the name of Jack Martin had a reputation for "flooring the pedal". Did the boys that came from Cambridge to Ely by train catch a bus at the station?

One day a double decker left the road on the right hand bend by the long gone Bushel pub in Soham, top of Bushel Lane - anybody remember that? All the occupants had to disembark - and I think they walked to school.

There were three queues at the bottom of the school drive at the end of the day - I remember Rex Waller driving INTO the drive with his indicator (remember them?) out - which was promptly snapped off in the rush.

Bad luck in the winter on the single decker if you had the seat immediately behind the door - a chilling experience when it was opened! Happy Days.

9 Jul 2008: John Cornwell 54: I have just read John Gothard's account of bus journeys to school. Much finishing of homework took place on the Ely to Soham bus. He asks if anyone remembers the bus leaving the road near the pub in Soham. I was also on the bus that morning and remember walking to school.

26 Aug 2008: Neil Holmes 52: I was also on the bus from Ely which skidded on the right angle right hand bend coming into Soham (see John Gothard's article). Snow and ice on the road at the time. I think the driver was Jack, who had a built up shoe on his right foot which made it rather heavy, hence his reputation with the accelerator pedal. We did indeed all disembark, and walk to school, conveniently missing assembly.

26 Aug 2008 Neil Holmes 52: Further to John Gothard's excellent transport memories, I do clearly recall the Cambridge train boys getting off the Soham to Ely bus after school at the level crossing by Ely railway station. They all took the unauthorised short cut over a fence and down the steep embankment in order to access the underpass which led to the railway station. So regularly did they take this short cut that a well worn path appeared amongst the undergrowth. As for joining the Ely to Soham bus in the morning, I can only assume that they did so at a point before the level crossing, but can't recall this event.

I think I was lucky with School Bus arrangements, as my parents lived on the main road in Ely at the Littleport end of the city. The bus from Littleport would stop conveniently right outside my house, at 8.10AM, so no walking was involved, and ditto with the return journey.

By the 6th form, however, I developed a sleep late mentality, and frequently missed the bus, and relied on Mr. Hemmings, who lived nearby, to rescue me in his neat and efficient Austin A40. On other occasions, I got a lift in Mr. Saunders' luxurious leather upholstered Wolsey, and enjoyed the experience of extreme comfort and secondary smoking, although the driving was, at times, erratic to say the least.

Some of the boys in the outlying fen villages, such as Coveney and Wardy Hill, had a daily taxi service from the Girls High School in St. Mary's Street, Ely, to and from their villages, on a daily basis.

5 Sep 2008 Mike Reeve 52 writes: Neil Holmes won’t recall the Cambridge boys joining the bus to Soham in the morning because in fact we caught a train, if I remember correctly, the 8.41, which deposited a gaggle of ‘City Slickers’ (a term used disparagingly by Punch of Cambridge boys) at Soham station for the demanding walk through the back streets before arriving usually too late for morning assembly.

For the intake of 1952 the train was the only means of transport to Soham Grammar and I can only recall 6 pupils already using it ahead of us. For the Cambridge train boys it was a long day and I left home at around 7.20 to catch the 101 bus to Cambridge station in time for the 8.06 (always from platform 6) to Ely. This usually arrived in time for us to belt down the tunnel linking the two platforms on Ely station. The line to Soham was a single track and necessitated the collection of a ‘key’ or token shortly after leaving Ely to ensure only one train was on the track at anyone time. I think it was handed back somewhere near Barway. The journey home involved catching the Ely bus and as Neil rightly says clambering over the fence by the underpass adjacent to Ely station.

Memories of the train journeys are still quite vivid with too many incidents to list but one stands out. Arriving one night at Ely we found a train already at the platform which was unusual. Nonetheless we boarded and made our way along the corridor until our way was barred by plain clothed security police (as we later realised). We then got off the train thinking we had possibly got on the wrong one. As we made our way along the platform gawping at the passengers on the train we suddenly realised we were looking at the Queen and Princess Margaret and maybe Prince Philip.

Although totally gobsmacked at this unexpected encounter (barely 6 feet away) I think the 3 or 4 of us had the presence of mind to doff our caps to acknowledge Her Majesty before hightailing it to the waiting room to confirm to one another the event had really taken place. The Royal train (presumably from Sandringham) was later coupled up to our usual train for its eventual journey to London via Cambridge. By the time I arrived home it was around 5pm and homework still to be done!

As the number of Cambridge boys increased a bus was laid on but those already travelling by train (glorious steam in those days) had the choice of continuing by this method and I did so until leaving in 1958.

9 Sep Neil Holmes 52: Great memories from Mike Reeve about the Cambridge (and Waterbeach) train boys journeying to and from school. Thanks for reminding me of the secondary train journey via Barway on the morning route. Of the 1952 intake, there were a number of train travellers, including Mike Reeve and Pete Reece all from Cambridge (yes, according to Punch, City Slickers all, Cambridge Smart Alecs and even Cambridge Smarties) plus Dave Leland, Bert Tully, Charlie Fowler and Mick McKellan from Waterbeach.
By the way, Mike, are you still a committed Manchester United supporter, like Leon Kitchen and myself?

12 Oct 2008: Trevor Smith 62: Browsing through the Scrapbook I came across some references to the Cambridge Train Boys in the School bus and train memories. This brought a lot of memories back for me as I was another of those boys. In fact, I think I may well have been the last. After Eric ‘Percy’ Pearson (60?) left, I travelled alone on the train for a while (together with a lone Ely High School pupil). I finally discovered that I’d outgrown my travel sickness, and did my last terms to and from school by bus from Mitcham’s Corner.

By the time I’d started I think Dr. Beecham had done his worst. At any rate the rail link, mentioned by Mike Reeve, was a dim and distant memory - I heard nothing of it. Our little band of 8 or 9 boys, most of whom lived on the Cherryhinton side of Cambridge, caught the morning train, usually from platform 4. We then dutifully trudged or trotted down to the small Charrington’s coal office, which was on the slip road up to the level crossing to wait for the Ely bus which was too high to pass under the railway underpass, and thus having to wait at the level crossing (usually closed).

The most exciting part of the train journeys wasn’t so much that we had lots of freedom to roam around the train, but that there were often delays, especially in winter, and we then missed the connecting buses (unless, of course, they too were delayed.) We used to stand around outside the coal office for a while, and then the senior boy would send us off in twos to hitchhike to school. I think the farthest I ever walked was to Stuntney Church! Often, other pairs would pass us, giving the ‘V’ from the rear window, and I once saw one pair at the other end of Stuntney, quite a long village considering its size even then.

The group of Ely girls was of similar size, but in those days the two sexes kept strictly apart. (Very sad!). I often wonder if it was those formative years of travelling forty-odd miles back and forth to school that gave me my lust for travel.

As for ‘Royal encounters’, I think the Royal family must have been suitably shocked at the face-to-face episode with Mike Reeve and party as the only Royal train I ever saw flew through Ely station without even slowing down!

There was one ritual that the Train Boys had all to themselves: the last day of term in the 4th year saw the school caps flying out of the train windows! By the time it was my turn, it was only me hurling my cap as Percy had stopped wearing his two years earlier. It felt a bit like it did when I turned 21; the age of majority having been reduced to 18 when I was 19!

5 June 2010 Rev Gwyn Murfet 56 provides this 1960s photo:

Soham Station
Gwyn: Nearly all my photos of the station are on display in Soham Library,
but this one might bring back memories for those who travelled by train.

see also Alan Diver's wartime reminiscences

Eastern Counties routes, pre National Bus Co.

Route No. From To Via
116 Newmarket Ely Exning, Burwell, Fordham, Soham & Stuntney
116a Soham Adelaide Stuntney & Ely
121 Ely Aldreth Stretham, Wilburton & Haddenham
121a Ely Little Thetford Witchford
122 Cambridge Ely Teversham, Quy, Swaffham Prior, Burwell, Fordham, Soham & Stuntney
124 Ely Sutton Gault Witchford & Witcham
125 Ely St Ives Witchford, Witcham, Sutton, Earith, Bluntisham & Needingworth
125a Ely St Ives Stretham, Wilburton, Haddenham, Earith, Bluntisham & Needingworth
125b Ely St Ives Witchford, Witcham, Sutton, Earith, Somersham, Colne, Bluntisham & Needingworth
126 Ely Hundred-Foot Engine Little Downham & Pymore
128 Ely Mildenhall Road Queen Adelaide & Prickwillow
179 Newmarket Ely Snailwell, Chippenham, Fordham, Soham & Stuntney
182 Ely Upware Stuntney, Soham & Wicken
184 Ely Newmarket Stuntney, Soham, Wicken, Fordham, Burwell & Exning


See also:
Season ticket
Burwell & District Motor Service history

If you have recollections of school bus journeys when at SGS, or relevant photos, please contact the editor
last update 5 Jun 2010