The History of the 343 Bus Route

The more scenic route to Mossley and Oldham from Hyde and Dukinfield


I would probably be a little biased about this bus route, being my favourite one for years. Thanks to having family members on this route, I was introduced to the scenery between Stalybridge and Mossley. Back in 1984, when I started gaining an interest in public transport, this was how I gained competence in using the Greater Manchester bus network.

The 343: Oldham - Mossley - Hyde (Gee Cross)

The 344: Mossley - Stalybridge - Hyde (Gee Cross)

Operators since 1905 (E/4/4A/16/343/344/416 routes)

Early days

The 343 started life as an additional service (the 4A) to SHMD's number 4 route in the 1950s, to serve the Winterford Road estate in Micklehurst. Its sister route had its roots in the SHMD tram service from Hyde (Mottram Road) to Mossley (Brookbottom), running via the then new Waterloo Road in Stalybridge.

With the route virtually unchanged, the tram service was converted to bus operation by the late 1930s. Further journeys were added to serve Gee Cross (Grapes Hotel). By then, the number 4 linked the cotton mills of Hyde, Dukinfield, Stalybridge and Mossley, a role the 4A would also perform by the 1950s.

SELNEC Southern 4A to Greater Manchester Transport 343

By the 1st November 1969, SHMD were no more, with operations transferring to the Stalybridge district of the newly formed SELNEC PTE Southern division. The result saw SHMD's green and cream livery disappear in place of their Sunglow orange and Mancunian white livery. By 1972, service revisions saw the 4 and 4A route combining to create a basic frequency of every 20 minutes.

The following year saw further restructuring, with the Southern division abolished, in line with the SELNEC Northern, Central and Cheshire districts (the latter a result of acquiring North Western Road Car Company services within the SELNEC). The other major event was SELNEC's renumbering exercise, designed to avoid duplication across the SELNEC operating area.

Buses within the Ashton and Stalybridge areas were allocated numbers between 330 and 355. As a result, the numbers 4A and 4 were renumbered 343 and 344.

The SELNEC name was consigned to history in 1974, following the Conservative government's restructuring of local government, which saw Stalybridge and Mossley become part of the new Greater Manchester County. As a consequence, SELNEC became Greater Manchester Transport on the 1st April 1974, and the Ashton and Stalybridge divisions were merged to become the Tameside division of GMT. This was in line with the formation of Tameside MBC.

Three years later, both Stalybridge and Ashton garages were closed, thanks to the opening of a new garage on Whitelands Road, housing 180 buses. This was the first new depot for Greater Manchester Transport.

Mossley area restructuring

The 20th July 1980 saw a radical restructuring of bus services in the Mossley area. One result of this was the withdrawal of Mossley to Oldham service 416. This was replaced by an extended 343 service. The 1981 timetable saw a basic half hourly frequency - exclusive of peak period extra journeys - between Hyde and Mossley, with the Oldham service running hourly.

Within the last 15 years up to 1982, the daytime frequency was halved. Sunday services ran to a basic hourly frequency from Hyde to Mossley, with a two hourly extension to Oldham. By 1985, the full Oldham to Hyde route changed to an hourly frequency. This was to change by the 26th October 1986, when GMT became GM Buses, a PTE owned limited company in a commercial environment.

Deregulation and privatisation

The last twenty one years up to April 2007 saw further contraction of the 343's timetable. The bulk of which affected peak hour journeys and odd journeys in early mornings and late evenings. For a brief period from October 1986, the basic Oldham - Hyde Sunday journeys were augmented by a Stalybridge - Carrbrook part route journeys, operated with minibuses.

The early 1990s saw evening journeys previously operated by GM Buses taken over by independent companies. By 1991, evening journeys were operated by Hyde based Tame Valley Motor Services, using ex-GMT Leyland Atlanteans. Sunday services continued to be operated by GM Buses. In March 1992, its sister route, the 344 was extended to Oldham. Sadly, this was not to last, as the 344 was withdrawn in November the same year.

At this point, the daytime service was re-routed in Oldham from Lees Road to Greenacres Road (evenings and Sundays), and Huddersfield Road via Waterhead in the daytimes. Between Stalybridge and Micklehurst, the route was diverted to call at Carrbrook village, turning left or right at the Buckton Castle pub, enroute to Hyde or Oldham.

By December 1993, GM Buses was split into three companies (including Charterplan, which was sold to East Yorkshire Motor Services). Operating from Oldham, Bury, Wigan and Bolton depots was GM Buses North, who continued to operate the bulk of the 343 service. Serving the area south of Ashton-under-Lyne was GMS Buses, who operated the Sunday service, using former Little Gem minibuses. At that point, Glossopdale took over the weekday evening service, with modern two tone green minibuses.

After two and a quarter years of being management owned companies, both GM Buses North and GMS Buses were sold to bus owning groups. March 1996 saw Stagecoach Holdings taking over GMS Buses, with FirstBus following suit a month after with GM Buses North.

By 1998, Stagecoach Manchester (GMS Buses) took over Glossopdale, retaining and repainting its modern minibuses. This time, single deckers and double deckers became de rigeur, with Glossop depot taking the bulk of the former Glossopdale vehicles. Stagecoach Manchester had a monopoly on both the evening and Sunday service.

This was to change three years later in February 2001. First Manchester became the sole operator of the 343. Daytime services were operated from Oldham depot, with evening and Sunday services operating from Dukinfield depot (acquired via First Pennine in 2000).

The Wilderness Years

Despite the re-introduction of bank holiday services by FirstGroup in 2002, and aggressive marketing of the company's day saver tickets, the 343 was in a state of limbo. With secondhand double deckers from other FirstGroup companies, the route appeared to have been careworn and forgotten about.

Between 2002 and 2007, the route was subject to re-routing with re-timing revisions legion. A 2002 experiment saw the 343 operating half hourly between Oldham and Waterhead. In 2004, the daytime service reverted to its pre deregulation route via Lees Road. In that same year, the 0745 journey from Oldham to Hyde was renumbered 344 - taking the road to Waterhead rather than Lees.

For the latter part of 2004, road works in Grotton and Mossley saw the 343 diverted via Greenfield - through Grasscroft and Roaches, before re-emerging at Mossley railway station.

The end of an era?

On the 31st January 2007, an announcement in the Manchester Evening News created shockwaves among bus users in the Greater Manchester area. Instead of the low profile approach, the conurbation's biggest bus company decided to announce its service revisions months in advance. This announcement publicly stated six routes, proposed for withdrawal or revision.

Of the six routes affected, two of them were in the Tameside area: the 387 and the 343. The demise of the latter would have had the most adverse implications, with the potential loss of a more direct Oldham - Mossley route. The changes, proposed for the first week of the school summer term would have had adverse effects on school travel with increased journey times and changes.

To raise awareness of this, flyers were printed for distribution on the 343 and 387 services, stating their intentions. This resulted in a meeting with First and the local authorities on the 16th February 2007.

The Speedwell years

With the daytime service of the 343 doomed to demise, a meeting with GMPTE in late March 2007 saw the route saved at the eleventh hour. The saviour came in the form of Hyde based company Speedwell Bus.

The last year saw the fledgling company make inroads into the Tameside area running subsidised services into Uppermill, Glossop and Dukinfield. On the 17th April 2007, Speedwell Bus took over daytime operations of the 343 - maintaining not only Dukinfield's link with Mossley and Stalybridge, but also Oldham. The replacement of FirstGroup's Barbie liveried single and double deckers with Speedwell's modern minibuses has seen improved passenger loadings.

At the time, Speedwell Bus shared the 419 service [Ashton - Middleton] with First Manchester and augmented its modern fleet with some well turned out - though older - Dennis Dart single deckers.

First Manchester's contribution to the 343 route are the evening, Sunday and bank holiday services, which they have operated since February 2001. In addition to this are two weekday peak journeys from Oldham to Mossley (Brookbottom). A further peak hour journey leaves Oldham for Mossley (Commercial Inn) at 1615 with a second one an hour later, terminating at Dukinfield (Albion Hotel) on Monday to Friday.

In spite of increased loadings, the route was put out to tender for 2008. Speedwell's daytime service was originally scheduled for withdrawal by the 23rd December 2007. With this decision about to cause hardship among Christmas shoppers and workers during the Yuletide, this was extended to the 26th January 2008. The tender attracted a lot of interest from other local operators around the Oldham and Tameside.

To the relief of its regular users, Speedwell Bus won the tender, retaining the Monday to Saturday 343 service, and the single 344 journey. Though withdrawn in November 1992, the 344 route between Mossley Brookbottom and Hyde will make a comeback - in the form as Speedwell's version of the 343 service. Staley Road rather than Winterford Road (which at present sees regular services on the 350 route).

Permanent Revolution

From the 27th January 2008 Speedwell operated the daytime service, which was subsidised by GMPTE. By April the following year, the 343 route changed again. This time in terms of its evening route and operators.

At the start of 2009, Speedwell Bus announced its intention to withdraw from Saturday operations on the 343, 337 and the 41. Though the latter two routes had steady passenger flows, the 337 and 41 were affected by traffic in the Ashton Park Parade areas, impacting on reliability. The 343 however was quieter on Saturdays, due to the route being busier in the weekdays. From the 19th April, Speedwell retained the Saturday services on both the 41 and the 337. A month later, First Manchester took over Saturday operations of the 41 and 337 services.

Monday to Friday journeys operated by Speedwell on the 343 became commercial services again, with the Saturday service subsidised. The reason is due to the amount of unique links the route serves; without the 343, travel to Mossley from Carrbrook would require changing at Stalybridge or Ashton. This would add a further three miles to a journey which is half that distance.

For the subsidised Saturday services came a change of operator, in the mould of Middleton's JP Travel. The result of this has seen low floor vehicles on Saturdays. In line with the daytime service, First Manchester's evening and Sunday service was rerouted via Lees Road. The Greenacres Road linked previously offered by the 343 was taken over by an extension of the 415 Middleton - Oldham service, operated by JP Travel.

With Speedwell Bus losing its subsidy for the Monday - Friday service, this meant a reduction in vehicle allocations for the route from 3 to 2 buses. After the 29th June 2009, Speedwell adopted First Manchester's evening and Sunday service, omitting Micklehurst Road, Staley Road and Buckton Vale Road.

Withdrawal 2.0?

Come the summer of 2009, Speedwell announced its intention to deregister their 343 service. As with First Manchester's plans to do the same two and half years earlier, this met with outrage from locals and regular users alike. This time, the campaign for its retention went beyond the letters page of the Tameside Reporter or lobbying GMPTE.

The campaign for its retention began on Facebook, in the form of a group entitled 'Save the 343'. Formed by Tiger Mescaleno, a Mossley based local business owner, the group was enacted not only for the sole purpose of the route's retention but also as a source of information for its users. The 343 route is also represented on Facebook by means of 'The 343 Appreciation Society' whose objective is to promote the route, and places along the way.

By the 05 October 2009, Speedwell's contribution to the 343 was no more. First Manchester (by means of its First Pioneer offshoot) took over its daytime services after being awarded an emergency tender by GMPTE. This arrangement was to be short lived as Speedwell regained the Monday to Friday daytime route on the 13th December.

Recent changes

From the start of 2010 up to the 18th January 2012, the 343 was operated by Speedwell Bus on weekdays, with JP Travel operating the Saturday daytime route. As has been the case since February 2001, First Manchester have operated the evening and Sunday service. This year alone has seen some changes, with the onus of simplifying the timetable. From the 25 April 2009 to the 12 April 2010, JP Travel's route operated via Micklehurst Road. This was been changed so that JP Travel's journeys follow the same route as First Manchester's and Speedwell Bus' journeys.

However, that change was soon to be short lived. Floated in July 2010 was a suggestion that Speedwell's daytime route would be revised to cover Roaches Lock and Hey Farm. It would turn left to Staley Road from Huddersfield Road, then go straight up Station Road, Winterford Road, and turn left back onto Huddersfield Road. From there, it would turn left at the Royal George pub in Friezland and continue to Mossley station via Roaches.

When first mooted, the plan was met with cynicism by its users. Vociferous were the passengers who boarded at Richmond Crescent. The convoluted nature of the proposed route was met with controversy. Slated for late July, the revision was postponed till the 31 August 2010. One final amendment was made: the restoration of the Carrbrook Village link serving South View and Buckton Vale Road.

All was calm up to the 18th January 2012 when SpeedwellBus ceased bus operations. Transport for Greater Manchester intervened handing Stagecoach Manchester the emergency tender the following day, up to the 13th April 2012, from Ashton depot. Stott's of Oldham took over from the 16th April the same year.

By 2012, the Speedwell Amendment would form part of its standard route with this fully realised on the 12th April 2015. The 21st April 2012 saw JPT Travel's Saturday service following the weekday route. Any further changes to the 343 meant amemdments to two part route journeys. The 25 January 2013 saw the discontinuation of its Dukinfield link on the 1720 journey from Oldham. Instead, like its 1620 counterpart, it was curtailed to Bottom Mossley. All was calm prior to April 2014.

The storm being fundamental changes to Dukinfield's and Stalybridge's bus networks. Firstly, the loss of the 217/218 circular services. As no company bidded for the Mossley and Stalybridge sections, the Droylsden to Stalybridge section was tacked on to the 408 service. The 217 would revert to its pre-2008 route starting at Ashton-under-Lyne with a change of operator. Therefore, Dukinfield's full time link with Manchester city centre was lost. Then, JPT Travel's operations was absorbed by Stagecoach in Manchester. As a result, the 343 still had three different operators with former JPT journeys ran from Middleton depot.

What wasn't foreseen in April 2007 was the 343's status as a spine route for Hyde, Stalybridge and Dukinfield. It was assumed that the 349 would offer a partial replacement, though October that year saw that service's demise. Today, the 343's importance has risen.

The 343 today

The 12 April 2015 saw Stalybridge and Dukinfield bus users at the sharpest end of TfGM's departmental savings. Not only did we see the demise of the 220's evening service, we also saw the loss of the 408's Droylsden to Stalybridge section. Furthermore, the loss of off-peak journeys from Stalybridge to Oldham on the same service.

In the last two years alone, the 343 has seen changes to its route. January 2014 saw the addition of Hey Farm estate with Brushes Estate added in April the same year. This compensating for the 217/218's demise. This year alone has seen some changes with First Greater Manchester severing all links it had with Oldham Corporation Transport Department. Not to be content its evening, Sunday and Bank Holiday tenders, its peak hour short workings to Mossley railway station have been withdrawn.

2015 also sees the loss of its Huddersfield Road section between Staley Road and Winterford Road, thus denying Richmond Crescent residents a bus service for good. The addition of Gee Cross sees the return of a more tangible link with The Grapes Hotel, once part of the 344 and 4 before then. These hitherto formed part of FirstGroup's evening extension to the 389 service. Somehow, today's 343 is more like the GMT era 344!

Today's timetable sees greater continuity of departure times on all journeys. Any variation is subtle rather than stark, allowing for traffic conditions. With all 343s departing from Oldham at 10 to the hour, and the same route - seven days a week, all hours, this makes for a more user friendly service. Even so, you still need a System One travel card for both Stotts and Stagecoach journeys.

Route summary:

Monday - Saturday:

Daytime: Stott's of Oldham;
Evening: Stagecoach in Manchester.

Sunday and Bank Holidays:

All journeys: Stagecoach Manchester.

Recent changes have seen the 1980 route dispensed in favour of SpeedwellBus' route from 2010. In the last year, recent additions to the route have seen Hey Farm and Brushes estates served by the 343 and 344.

Other journeys:

As well as its core daytime route, the 343 and 344 also has a couple of part route journeys serving peak hours and schooldays:

Connections with other routes:

Bus and rail routes which may connect well with the 343 service. Please note that connections cannot always be guaranteed due to traffic conditions. Timetables may also be subject to change.

Stuart Vallantine,

Thursday, 24th August 2006 (updated Saturday 2nd May 2009).