EXCLUSIVE: Fire damaged King Alfred heads for Buses Festival

The King Alfred Olympic heads for Buses Festival 2024 to kickstart its full restoration



One of the things that vehicle preservationists most fear is that their precious restoration projects will be destroyed by fire. It's everybody's worst nightmare.

On the night of 8th to 9th December last year that nightmare became a reality for the vehicle owners whose precious buses and coaches were stored in a yard near Andover, rented by the Winchester-based charity Friends of King Alfred Buses (FoKAB). Very sadly seven of the eight vehicles in the shed were destroyed beyond redemption, but one bus did survive in recognisable form, though sadly damaged.

This was the 1950 Leyland Olympic HR40, one of only two in the UK, that ran in Winchester for King Alfred Motor Services until 1965 - before a second career in the Republic of Ireland with Jimmy Glynn of Craigue-na-Spidogue in County Carlow until about 1977. Thanks to the efforts of Andrew Saunders, who had been keeping tabs on the vehicle as it slumbered in a field opposite Mr Glynn's garage for more than ten years, it's location was brought to the attention of FoKAB and a mission was launched to rescue it and bring it back to Winchester - eventually achieved in 1993.

The Olympic was very rusty and rotten and it would require a complete rebuild. It had to wait in FoKAB's restoration queue but in 2002 it was taken in hand. Over the next 12 years a complete rebuild was undertaken, involving the piece-by-piece replacement of the steel monocoque frame. Launched in the year of the London Olympics, JAA 708 took its place in the King Alfred fleet again.

Imagine therefore the horror of all the people who had contributed to the painstaking rebuild of the bus when confronted with the sight of the vehicle ravaged by fire!


The first challenge was to remove the charred vehicle from the destroyed building. After many issues had been overcome, one of which was that asbestos in the roof of the building had fallen all over the bus and had to be removed in controlled circumstances, 708 was very skilfully extracted so that FoKAB could arrange its collection. A member who works in the haulage industry was able to lend both his expertise and his vehicle so that in due course the fragile remains could be brought back to secure undercover accommodation at Winchester for further assessment.

At the end of April, FoKAB's trustees made the decision to work out a programme for the potential reconstruction of this iconic vehicle. To do this, they will need expert inputs to create a detailed blueprint for the rebuilding, that can be fully costed. This would then provide the specification for the rebuilding programme that is going to require a massive fund-raising exercise to raise the money to undertake the reconstruction.

The good news is that the running units have survived almost unscathed, so the rebuilt vehicle will contain much that's original. But the steel framework will need extensive work and a new roof structure will have to be created.

To draw attention to the challenge that these ideas pose, FoKAB will be displaying the Olympic at BUSES Festival and inviting the best professional preservationists in the land to come and look at it. FoKAB will be inviting them to explain how they might create the blueprint that will form the basis of the business plan against which a major funding appeal can be launched. Thanks to the insurance settlement that was eventually reached, there will be some funding available to the expert who comes up with the best plan to develop those ideas.


Picture 1 - JAA 708 during its King Alfred career in Winchester Broadway - picture by Mike Sutcliffe.

Picture 2 - JAA 708 in service with Glynn, Craigue-na-Spidogue, Co. Wicklow, Ireland - picture in 1976 by Andrew Saunders

Picture 3 - Our first view of 708 in Glynn's "Showroom". James Freeman looks on - picture by Pete Staples 28 April 1990

Picture 4 - On board at Fishguard for the trip back to Winchester - photo by Pete Staples June 20 1990

Picture 5 - The frame after reconstruction - photo by Stephen Morris c2007

Picture 6 - almost finished c 2011 - photo G Norris

Photo 7 - 708 is launched! October 2012 - photo by Ian Shawyer

Photo 8 - The scene in the shed at Penton on the morning of 9 December 2023 - photo by James Freeman

Photo 9 - Pulling 708 out of the destroyed shed 23 February 2024 - photo by Alex Young

Photo 10 - Safely Back at FoKAB's Winchester base 23/2/24 - photo by Alex Young

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