At 7 o'clock on the evening of the 17th November 1971, a group of 17 Guy Wulfrunian fans, mostly West Riding employees, met at the Tramways Club in Wakefield, the social club of the West Riding Automobile Company, to discuss the possibility of creating an organisation with the sole purpose of preserving two of the remaining Guy Wulfrunian buses still in service with the company. Formal bus preservation in Wakefield was born that night and with the agreement of Mr. F. E. Dark, the then General Manager of West Riding, approval in principle was given to assist the group in their aim, by providing garaging for the vehicles and the supply of certain materials to restore and maintain them.
After lengthy discussions during that meeting, the aims of the organisation were agreed; to preserve a Guy Wulfrunian. The initial meeting that night was not exclusively about the Wulfrunian as, when West Riding made it known that Selby tow bus Leyland Tiger PS2, EHL 344, number 733, might also be available to the newly formed group, all those present agreed to support the idea of acquiring it. Nevertheless, the key priority was the preservation of two Wulfrunians and as a consequence, the West Riding Wulfrunian Preservation Society was formed that night.
In March 1972, Leyland Tiger EHL 344 (number 733) arrived first, closely followed by Guy Wulfrunian UCX 275 (number 995). The acquisition of number 995 had happened by default as red Wulfrunian THL 894, which had been identified as the chosen specimen, in true Wulfrunian fashion, failed with a blown airbag that also damaged the suspension, and was thus towed away before it could be secured!
Ex-County Motors Guy Wulfrunian 995 spent much of 1972 in the Savile Street, Wakefield, depot of West Riding and received a strip down and was repainted back to the original style green and cream scheme it still carries to this day. Sat alongside it was EHL 344, receiving spruce up, but no major work was required as it was considered to be in excellent condition.
There then followed several years of rallying, along with many trophies and awards and a great deal of interest on the rally circuit, particularly for Guy Wulfrunian 995.
By this time, the opportunity to secure a red Wulfrunian had passed, but the following years saw several other vehicles acquired, including all-Leyland Titan BHL 682, number 640, and Roe Dalesman AEC Reliance coach JHL 983, number 803. By 1981, it had become apparent that the name of the Society was no longer appropriate and, with such a diverse collection of former West Riding vehicles to the fore, it was decided to rename the group as the West Riding Omnibus Preservation Society.
Meanwhile, the very active group of Society members continued to work on the growing collection of vehicles. This presented storage problems, and it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep the collection of vehicles on West Riding premises, which were essentially working garages. The need to find new dedicated premises dawned and eventually West Riding offered the redundant run-down Bragg Depot building in Ravensthorpe, Dewsbury, to house the full collection. As a society is not legally able to hold title to real estate, the West Riding Omnibus Museum Trust was formed to acquire the site and thus the collection moved into Yorkshire Woollen territory!
In the early 1980s, the general state of the Ravensthorpe building had deteriorated further to the extent that a decision was taken to demolish it and construct a new steel-framed building in its place. Planning permission was obtained and some funding was secured when the West Yorkshire County Council-backed West Yorkshire Transport Museum was formed. They opened an interim museum at the former Bradford City Transport depot at Ludlam Street Bradford but the longer-term plan was to open a large transport museum at Low Moor, Bradford, with a rail/tramway link to a secondary site at Heckmondwike. The West Riding Omnibus Preservation Society was asked to abandon its development plans for Ravensthorpe and a new exclusive depot would be provided for them at Heckmondwike. Whilst the grand plans for Bradford continued, the building at Ravensthorpe deteriorated further as no start on redevelopment had been made.
In 1986, with little progress made on the Bradford scheme, the County Council was abolished but the intervening years had resulted in various Society members focussing their efforts and vehicles at Bradford. Fortunately, some core members remained at Ravensthorpe, many of whom had been sceptical about the grand Bradford project. With new blood elected to the Committee, the decision was taken to steer the West Riding Omnibus Museum Trust back towards self-sufficiency, whilst still supporting the Bradford venture.
Meanwhile, the original planning permission to re-develop the Ravensthorpe building was due to expire and despite increased costs for the new building, it was decided to push ahead. The first thing to do was to apply to become a registered charity and this took some time. With a mortgage being personally guaranteed by five Trustees, an approach was made to West Yorkshire Transport Museum for two grants and agreement sought to house the majority of the Society collection at Bradford whilst demolition of the old building at Ravensthorpe commenced and the construction of a new building began.
The original plan was to retain the existing floor but this was changed when the Readymix concrete company of Leeds donated several loads of 40 Newton concrete and so a new floor was laid. The only part of the original structure to be retained was the vehicle pit and that received a new lining and electrics!
On 24th September 1989, and having adopted a new name, Dewsbury Bus Museum, the building was formally opened by the Mayor of Kirklees, Councillor Colin Watson. West Riding Omnibus Museum Trust remained the registered Charity name. Meanwhile, the West Riding Omnibus Preservation Society continued uninterrupted, operating and restoring some of the vehicles garaged within the new Museum building.
Successful events at the Museum became the order of the day, and frequent rally attendances by the Society vehicles were well supported by members of the Museum and the Society.
Unfortunately, in the new Millennium, the decision to previously implement a semi-privatisation scheme for Society vehicles had resulted in the loss of several of them due to unfulfilled obligations. A series of differing opinions within the Society resulted in a declining membership, the ceasing of events, and the mothballing of the vehicles. There was however one notable light on the horizon, during this period, the outstanding mortgage on the building was cleared and it is now owned outright.
As with many voluntary organisations and societies, a few core members held things together behind the scenes until in late 2007, and over the following few years, several new members arrived with the desire to see the glory days re-created.
Work to resurrect some restoration projects commenced, some small-scale events and open days were started and regular members meetings were held inside a bus in the Museum premises, even in the coldest of temperatures! Success breeds success, and within a matter of a few years, Society buses were being returned to the road, large scale events were being organised again and were being extremely well supported by bus enthusiasts, and the West Riding Omnibus Museum Trust was back on the road and receiving rave reviews.
Whilst the membership of the Trust continues to grow year on year, membership of the Society is now quite small and is essentially the domain of those members who actively restore and operate the Society's nine vehicles. Meanwhile, the wider collection of vehicles owned by various individuals now numbers 40, with almost half being of West Riding Automobile Company origin.
The Museum building at Ravensthorpe has long been outgrown and a large part of the collection is now stored at two other sites. Activities at the Museum are supported by a large group of members and visitors are always impressed by how many volunteers can be mustered to assist with Open Day activities. New members are welcome to get involved with all aspects of the Museum and details are available by clicking on the "Join Us" button above.
Perhaps the most fitting end to the story so far is that the original aim of the founding members was to preserve a red Wulfrunian, this being thwarted at the eleventh hour when THL 894 was towed away for scrap in 1971. By a remarkable twist of fate, a red Wulfrunian, WHL 970, number 970, had survived with its final operator, Crouch End Luxury Coaches in London, and had been recovered in 1982 and safely stored in the hope that one day it could be returned to the road.
After many years of hard work, number 970 will be finally returned to public service to celebrate 50 Golden years and will be a fitting tribute to those 17 early pioneers of what is today a very successful Museum and Society.
Finally, it is pleasing to note that two of the original founding members from 1971 are still active with the Museum, Mr Leo Pratt & Mr. Ken Aveyard, who must surely be amazed at the progress that has been made from that initial meeting on a cold November night in 1971.