Tuesday 17 April 2018

The British Bus (2) : Rise of the motorbus

As we saw in part 1 of this history of the British Bus the first buses in the early nineteenth century were horse drawn, being a development of the earlier stagecoach. From 1861 until 1896 government legislation virtually banned the use of self-powered road vehicles but the law was changed in 1896 and within months experimental motor bus services were operating. The first such bus in London ran between Kennington and Oxford Circus in 1899, in 1902 the London Road Car Company began to motorise it's fleet [3]. The changeover in London was dramatic, motorbuses went from just four in 1900 to two thousand, seven hundred and sixty one in 1915 when the final horse buses were withdrawn.

In 1910 London General introduced the B Class which was the first of a long line of standard London motor buses. London General was an early driver of the new transport technology, in 1925 they introduced a double decker with a covered top deck (though the first large scale introduction was in Birmingham, see below) and in 1927 a bus with pneumatic tyres - something the authorities were reluctant to allow for some time due to fears of tyres exploding and harming pedestrians.

As with the horse buses in the mid-nineteenth century, the motorbus market was highly competitive and cut throat in the 1920s. Many bus companies were started up by returning servicemen though as the decade wore on these smaller companies began to be swallowed up by a small number of larger firms such as Tilling and National. In the larger cities municipally owned fleets dominated, such as the fleet in Liverpool which started operation in 1911 [4]. In Birmingham buses were operated by Birmingham Corporation Tramways, which later changed it's name to Birmingham City Transport, from 1913. They introduced the AEC 504 in 1924 the first bus with a covered top deck [5]. This was the beginning of the classic British double decker, a type which still dominates bus fleets to this day.

The 1930 Road Traffic Act bought new regulation to the motor bus market which saw the elimination of many smaller companies. Outside of London and the other cities with their municipal owned networks Tilling and BET dominated the market. In 1933 London bus services were nationalised in all but name with the formation of the London Passenger Transport Board. More nationalisation was to come.
Preserved B Type bus B340 at London Transport Museum

Leyland LB at Tottenham Court Road, public domain image [1]

Milnes-Daimler bus in London, public domain image [2]

Preserved LNWR Charabanc coach at London Transport Museum

[1] https://www.flickr.com/photos/stockholmtransportmuseum_commons/6081778421/
[2] https://www.flickr.com/photos/library_of_congress/27877941045/
[3] Philip Bagwell & Peter Lyth, Transport in Britain 1750-2000 (Hambledon, 2002) p. 116
[4] Martin Jenkins & Charles Roberts, Merseyside Transport Recalled (Ian Allan, 2014) p. 4
[5] Malcom Keeley, Birmingham Buses Route by Route 1924-1975 (Ian Allan, 2012) p. 7