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  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.

St Margaret’s Road coach station, Cheltenham shortly after opening in 1931. Designed, manufactured and erected by Bristol engineers, John Lysaght Ltd, the canopy area covered a ground space of 9,750 sq ft.


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 year.

By 1932 the fleet had grown to 47 vehicles, now to include nine more Tigers and ten Gilford 1660T and 168SD types with seating capacities averaging 26 per vehicle. Black & White had therefore become a well-respected provider of long distance coach travel and attracted the attention of other large players in the field. Their strategic position in Cheltenham meant that they were never far away from the services of other companies that passed through this natural hub, long before the motorway network came about.

  One of two REO GBs with London Lorries 20-seat dual door bodies new in 1928. These carried registration numbers DF5335/6. Note the canvas hood and solid rear dome supporting a wicker luggage container.   A lady eagerly awaits help with her suitcase before boarding Leyland Tiger registered DG773 at Victoria Coach Station, London. Will she be going all the way to Swansea, or changing at Cheltenham?  

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.

  If you want to read the full story, and see all the pictures, then become a member and  receive the quarterly newsletter.  
  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.


NARTM Spring Conference

Archive Update

Restoration Update


Sixty Years Ago

Ten Years Ago

Minibus Medley

Through the Night with Bill

Future Activities

A hazy day tries its best to brighten up a line of Little Red Bus Ford Transits. This is Barnstaple bus station in September 1986. Leading vehicle is 412 (C333GFJ) with body conversion by Robin Hood..


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Web News 61

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Web News 63


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