THEY growled, they coughed, they occasionally spluttered - but for a day the old buses were once again masters of the streets.

The 29th annual Winchester Buses Running Day yesterday (JAN1) attracted thousands of enthusiasts to recapture the golden days of public transport. There was one difference though – travel was free.

Dozens of vintage buses and coaches recreated long-lost routes in the event organised by the Friends of King Alfred Buses.

The charity was set up to keep going the buses that were operated by King Alfred Buses before it closed in April 1973, killed off by the rise of the motor car and city centre congestion.

Keith Morton, a FoKAB volunteer since 1985 from Fareham, said: “It’s very busy this year. It gets bigger and bigger. People come considerable distances to see the buses. Even in bad weather people turn out.”

And they really love their buses. Never before has a wheel change drawn a crowd. But the transfer of the front wheel of an old AEC in the bus station yard soon drew an admiring group.

As well as the former buses from the Winchester company the day also attracts vintage vehicles from further afield including Ribble, Wilts and Dorset and Eastbourne Corporation.

The King Alfred Buses vehicle still have the evocative adverts on the side - Prall in Parchment Street, Hancocks on Jewry Street – before the building societies, charity and coffee shops tightened their grip.

One of the most popular vehicles was the oldest on display the Dennis dating back to 1931. Another attraction was a 1935 Renault that used to operate in Paris before it was bought by FoKAB member Robert Jowitt. Making its first appearance at a running day was the 1950 Olympic finally restored after 22 years.

Emma Marsh, from Salisbury, had come with four-year-old Jacob. She said: “My dad brought us to have a look and Jacob loves them. It’s the first time and it’s been good. I can’t believe it’s all free. It is nice to get out on New Year’s Day and have something going on.”

Ian Williamson, from Stratford Upon Avon, has been coming for three years: “It’s magnificent. It is the only running day at this time of year and it very well-organised with lots of interesting buses.”

Mr Williamson said there was another aspect which made the Winchester event special: “What’s unique in Winchester is that here you have everything as it was. The streets, the town hall, the bus station are as it was.”

A transport bazaar was held in the Guildhall selling everything from books, photos, slides, DVDs and old bus tickets.

The running day is scheduled to return in 2014 although its exact format will depend on what happens to the bus station, earmarked for demolition as part of the Silver Hill development.

For more photos see the Chronicle out tomorrow (Thursday)