|WEB NEWS 62|
In this issue of WHOTT Web News we take a brief at the Black & White Motorways and Though the Night with Bill
Black & White Motorways
- June sees the 90th anniversary of Black & White which was started
in Cheltenham by George Readings in 1926. During the early ‘twenties
he had been running coaches from Ewhurst, Surrey under the name
Surrey Hill Services but, having sold that business, moved to
Cheltenham and was anxious to get back into the coaching business
again. Originally registered as the Black & White Luxury Coaches, it
changed its name to Black & White Motorways in 1934. Not that there
was any evidence of motorways around then as we know today, but
instead a colloquial description of the open road. The first coach
was a 14-seat REO Sprinter registered in Surrey as PF2244 in March
1926, which he probably brought with him. Shortly after two more
21-seat REOs were added. These were RHW models with bodywork by
London Lorries of Kentish Town, turned out in the black and white
livery. These and successive new vehicles were all registered in
Gloucestershire. George Readings could not have chosen a better
place for a coaching base, since it was at the doorstep of the
Cotswolds, the Forest of Dean, an easy drive to Bristol and the
Mendips as well as visits to Tewkesbury, the Wye Valley and the
Welsh Marches. The Bristol Tramways company had already begun doing
the same thing before Black & White took to the road. In 1928 Black
& White entered express operations with services to Worcester via
Malvern, Hereford via Ross-on-Wye, Birmingham, Cardiff (later
extended to Swansea), Weston super Mare, Bristol and Leicester
(later extended to Nottingham) using six Gilford 1660T coaches with
26-seat London Lorries bodies.
In 1929 eighteen Leyland Tigers with Leyland 26-seat dual door
bodies joined the fleet and this enabled Black & White to expand
their long-distance services to Bournemouth, Southsea, Torquay and
Paignton, Aberystwyth (two routes), Derby, Kettering and Shrewsbury.
By 1930 the company had attracted the interest of Midland Red who
ultimately took control on 1st April that year. However, the very
nature of Black & White’s expansion across the territories of other
companies subsequently resulted in division of control between
Midland Red (40%), Bristol Omnibus Company (40%) and City of Oxford
Motor Services (20%). Black & White had started to serve Oxford on
its London service where it established a booking office at
Bridgeway House in Hammersmith Bridge Road. This was an
extraordinary situation with Black & White being owned by both
Tilling and BET interests. In 1931 a new coach station was
constructed in St Margaret’s Road, Cheltenham, considered equal only
to Victoria Coach Station in London, which opened the following
Within eighteen months of the introduction of the 1930 Road Traffic Act, its rules and regulations began to bite in. It perfectly enabled operators to back or object to one another’s applications for road service licences, especially where a conflict of interest over common roads was concerned. A handful of other long-distance coach services passed through Cheltenham, run by Bristol Greyhound, Midland Red and the Bournemouth based operator, Elliott Bros, who traded as Royal Blue. On 8th June 1932 Clem Preece of Elliotts attended a meeting in Cheltenham with the parties involved to explore a means of overcoming the restrictions and to iron out the intense competition that existed, particularly with Midland Red on the Birmingham – Oxford – Bournemouth service. Territorial boundaries for bus companies were easier to define from the Traffic Commissioners’ point of view but this model was difficult to implement in the case of long distance coaches that passed through several regions. The meeting had therefore to discuss how best an arrangement could be made that was both legal and desirable for all the operators involved. Not all the services of each company were necessarily affected, some more so in summer than in winter. Was it therefore possible to have a scheme of mutual co-operation over certain sections of routes or was it better to have a broader agreement that included all services all of the time? The following November Black & White proposed a conference of all the above coach companies to discuss a way forward. This time the invitation was extended to Ribble. Out of that meeting came the suggestion that London Coastal Coaches became a sole booking agency for all companies working into the capital, in return for which those companies would cease their individual booking offices in London itself. The idea was gathering momentum and on 14th December 1932 an agreement was struck between Black & White, Bristol Greyhound, Crosville and United Automobile for London Coastal to handle their London bookings.
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Through the Night with Bill
- Although having no direct reference to the westcountry, this
article appeared in the Western Morning News in May 1959. The
reporter, Richard Martin, riding passenger in the cab of an
overnight trunker, describes a scene that could equally be
applicable to a lorry heading to Cornwall.
Silvertown, down in East London’s dockland at eight o’clock in the evening isn’t the world’s most glamorous spot. It’s a small, drab universe of cranes and slums and rather ashamed-looking pubs. Even the street lights look sad and cast a wan stare which turns a man’s face to the hue of an off-colour cheese. The places where the world’s work is done, where its action and efficiency stem from – the factories, the Army headquarters, even the Cabinet rooms, are not usually places of spectacular charm. The spot where we are going has all the action, the push and efficiency of the military married to the industrial.
It is a long-distance haulage depot at Dock Road, Silvertown. It is a centre from which, day and night, the lorries swing out on their way to Liverpool, to Cardiff, to Exeter, to Bristol. An average of 550 tons a night – anything from steel to sugar, from fish to canned beer. We are about to climb into the cab of a heavy lorry, to drive through the night to Liverpool with a 14-ton load. We shall see how a driver operates, the sort of life he lives behind the wheel – for the 20,000 or so men who drive free-enterprise long distance trucks may soon be under a dialectical spotlight. If the Socialites carry out their expressed intentions, long distance road haulage will again be nationalised.
At the wheel is Bill Bowman of Lorne Road, Hornsey, London. He is 39, the thick end of 14 stone and he is wearing a cerise open-necked shirt, red sweater and flannels – no jacket, no overcoat. Half and hour ago he kissed his wife, Catherine and two daughters, Pat and Susan who said, as she always does “Have a safe journey, daddy.” Now Bill takes us out through the East London streets, then onto Highgate, Finchley and Barnet, out beyond the suburbs and on to the long road to the northwest. He does not say much for the first half hour or so. You cannot when you are steering a combined 24 tons of vehicle and load through crowded London with a threatening fog. Then you discover Bill, with his London accent overlaying the tones of his native Norfolk, is at once an individualist, given to wry laughter when faced with the tribulations of his job. A typical long-distance man in that he is concentrated but relaxed, gregarious but necessarily much attuned to solitude. He even remains calm when the fog suddenly comes down like a dropped curtain just beyond Barnet; so quickly that one minute we could clearly make out the registration number of the grey saloon in front; the next minute we could not make out the car itself. Objects begin to look as indistinct as a white cat in a snowdrift. Just as suddenly, a 358 bus disappears and we learn, a few miles up the road, that there was a car in the ditch just ahead of us. Another ended up on the verge of a gravel pit, but the lorries keep on, even when the buses and all else have stopped moving. Bill accepts these hazards with the same humorous seriousness with which he accepted his gunner life in the last war.
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