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April 2019 Meeting Report

History of bus and coach travel in Britain, by Tim Phillips

It may come as some surprise to learn that railways preceded omnibuses until one considers the condition of roads at that time. Equally surprising was that the first horse drawn omnibuses were for the well-off rather than the lower classes.

The first steam driven bus appeared in 1830, and by 1861 parliament felt it necessary to pass The Locomotive Act which restricted buses to a top speed of 5 mph in town and 10 mph in the country: probably just as well as buses had solid rubber tyres, limited springing, and hard seats. However by 1910 the top speed had been increased to 14 mph.

Leyland, who were to remain prominent in bus and lorry manufacture, introduced the petrol engine to their buses, and Daimler introduced a double decker with a top speed of 11 mph. These companies just built the chassis and engine and passed it on to other companies, such as Duple, to build the body. This process continues today, so you can see two buses with the same chassis and radiator with quite different bodies.

At the beginning of the twentieth century solid rubber tyres were still standard, and speeds are still not more than 15 mph. The driver was exposed to the elements and it was not until 1921 that AEC introduced pneumatic tyres and put the driver in his own cab.

By 1914 the railways introduced the charabanc to take passengers onwards from the station. These small buses had doors for each row of seats. Caxton of Scarborough was one of the coach builders responsible. The model T Ford was one of the chassis used for these.

Buses were sent to France to move troops in the First World War, and bus development continued between the wars with names such as Leyland, Bedford, and Bristol being prominent. The market divided into buses and coaches, with the latter providing higher levels of comfort for longer journeys and the former providing more utilitarian facilities for time-tabled shorter routes.

Up to now buses had been built with the engine in the front with the driver beside it, but in the 1950s a novel design was introduced with the engine turned on its side and placed in the middle under the floor. However, the famous Routemaster double decker kept the engine at the front with the driver beside it.

Tim showed many photos to illustrate the development of buses and coaches over the years, and appeared to have a fetish about the size of wing mirrors fitted to them - all too small until the enormous ones of the modern era. Coaches developed with more passenger comfort and bigger windows. They also needed to accommodate more luggage. Piling it on the roof was no longer acceptable so the solution was to raise the passenger floor up so luggage could be put underneath.

Modern coaches and buses provide levels of comfort and convenience of which travellers of earlier generations could only dream.

Jim Butchart

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