Aldershot & District Traction Co. Ltd. 1912-1971

The Aldershot Street Rail Co. Ltd. (incorporated on the 4th December 1861), and promoted by George Francis Train, was the first to propose a tramway to link Aldershot with Farnborough, however, the scheme never materialised and, although other proposals followed, it was not until some 20 years later that a tramway was constructed.

In 1878, under the Aldershot & Farnborough Tramways Order, a single-track line south through the town from a site close to the London and South Western Railway’s Farnborough station, along Farnborough Road, Lychford Road and past the North Camp military establishment to a terminus by the South Eastern Railway’s North Camp station, was proposed.

Subsequent orders were obtained for extensions to the system, but in the event, never constructed and the single-track line remained the only section built. The opening date is unknown, but a Board of Trade inspection took place on 15th August 1881 and the tramway opened some time later.

The tramway was worked by the Aldershot & Farnborough Tramways Company with a pair of two-horse single-deck cars, with 1st and 3rd class facilities, kept at the Farnborough terminus. The line appears to have been unsuccessful, since it was closed after a few years and the cars were rumoured to have been sold off to local gypsies.

Shortly after, however, another attempt was made to resurrect the tramway using two open toastracks and two single-deck saloon cars, but the tramway was unreliable and remained poorly used. It was abandoned in 1906.

In May 1906 the Aldershot & Farnborough Motor Omnibus Company Limited was registered in order to run a motor bus service from Aldershot Station to the Queen’s Hotel in Farnborough. Two 1904 Milnes-Daimlers were purchased from the Hastings & St. Leonards Omnibus Co. Ltd. and the service duly commenced on the 1st June 1906.

Shortly afterwards a 36-seat Leyland-Crossley was purchased from the same company but it proved unsatisfactory and was exchanged for two more Milnes-Daimlers. The early fleet was garaged in rented space at Lawes’ Motor Works, near the centre of Aldershot, but in 1908 a site with frontage onto Halimote Road was purchased and a four-vehicle brick garage built.

In 1911 a fifth vehicle was added to the fleet, a 22-seat Commer charabanc, which was to be used on private hires and excursions.

By 1912 the company had grown very little, despite the introduction of new routes and the fleet still consisted of the original four vehicles and the Commer. In order to expand it was felt that new capital was needed and several approaches were made.

Two offers to purchase the Company, one by the British Automobile Traction Co. Ltd. and the other by the New Central Omnibus Co. Ltd., were considered. The BAT offer was favoured and the Aldershot & District Traction Co. Ltd., was thus inaugurated on the 24th July 1912.

With the newly introduced capital the Company set out on a period of expansion. Later that year the first of several new Leyland double-deckers arrived, which enabled the Company to withdraw the Milnes-Daimlers and to introduce new routes.

By Christmas 1912 the first of the new services, from Aldershot, via Crookham Cross Roads to the Railway Hotel at Fleet, had commenced, with four journeys daily. In 1913 the new Company took over the Farnham to Haslemere service of the London and South Western Railway, which had been operating since 1905, as part of an agreement over the use of station approaches as termini for A&D vehicles.

Three Thornycroft 16-seat buses were also acquired from the LSWR, although they were withdrawn by the end of the year and replaced with new 34-seat Daimler CC’s. At the same time the A&D consolidated its position in the area by acquiring the vehicles of Ben Chandler, who owned the Royal Huts Hotel and livery stables at Hindhead, and had commenced a service between the hotel and Haslemere the previous year, using a Commer 28-seat bus.

Aldershot & District was one of four applicants for licences in 1914 to run local services in Guildford. The applications were heard on the 23rd January, by which time A&D had paired with one of the other applicants, Puttock & Son, to apply for 14 licences.

The opposing applicants had also paired and included the vehicle manufacturers Dennis Brothers Ltd., who were based in the town, and intended to set up a company named Guildford & District Motor Services. When the licences were awarded, each group was granted 12 licences each, to run for a period of one year.

By the end of the year, however, A&D had acquired the issued share capital of Guildford & District Motor Services and it had become a wholly-owned subsidiary, although it still continued to operate in its own livery and under its own fleetname for a number of years.

An operating base for A&D’s Haslemere services was acquired in April 1914 with the purchase of the Haslemere Motor Co. Ltd., which brought with it a garage on Clay Hill.

With the outbreak of the Great War on 4th August 1914, A&D placed the company’s vehicles at the disposal of the War Office and reduced all services to the bare minimum. Throughout the early war years A&D’s goods service was kept busy hauling goods for the Army and a fleet of Foden steam and mainly Belsize motor wagons was steadily built up.

By late 1914 the immediate military transport emergency was over and A&D was able to turn its interest to developing its public service activities. A new service from Haslemere to Midhurst Station was introduced.

With the shortage of buses due to the hostilities A&D had to hire 13 Daimler CC vehicles from Northern General, another BAT company, in order to run its increased services.

Three months into 1915, A&D approached the Guildford Watch Committee concerning the services of its subsidiary Guildford & District. Due to the fact that several of the G&D vehicles had been commandeered it was proposed to temporarily transfer the remaining vehicles and licences to A&D for ease of operation.

The Watch Committee agreed and the two companies now operated as one, the Guildford & District business subsequently remained dormant before finally being wound up on 26th October 1926.

By March 1916, the War Department had built up its own fleet of lorries and the haulage duties for the A&D wagons ceased. Many of the Belsize chassis were given bus bodies, purchased second-hand from a variety of sources or taken from A&D’s own stock and used on passenger services.

With the growth of the fleet, both haulage and passenger, more space was needed and a site adjacent to the Halimote Road premises was purchased. When the new building opened later in 1916 it had accommodation for 40 vehicles.

With the continuing War, staff shortages became an acute problem and the Company began to recruit conductresses. This, along with fuel restrictions, the lack of spare parts and other supplies, made it increasingly difficult for the Company to maintain services.

As a result over half the services were suspended indefinitely and those that remained suffered cutbacks. With the end of the War in 1918 and the return of staff, the services were gradually restored.

After demobilisation large numbers of ex-service second-hand chassis became available and Aldershot & District purchased a considerable number for reconditioning and rebodying. Much of the bodywork was second-hand and came from a number of sources, including some from earlier A&D vehicles.

By the end of 1920, however, the Company was suffering a cash flow crisis and was forced to make several urgent cutbacks. These included the withdrawal of the Foden steam wagons, a reduction in staff and bus crews, the closure of the body-building shop and the standardisation on Dennis and Daimler chassis in order to eliminate the need for large stocks of spares.

The crisis would appear to have been successfully overcome, for in the latter part of 1920 and the first part of the decade, numerous extensions to services were made and Aldershot & District’s operating area encompassed Winchester, Chichester, Horsham, Basingstoke, Reading and Dorking. By July 1921 the fleet strength stood at 55 vehicles.

In 1923 the Company took delivery of some Dennis 4-ton chassis as well as several Daimler chassis, which had formed the bulk of new vehicles over the previous few years.

By 1924 virtually all new vehicles were of Dennis manufacture and this was the start of a relationship that lasted until the mid-1960’s, when the Dennis Loline became the last of a long line of Dennis buses purchased.

This decade also saw the appearance of numerous small operators, who, apart from pioneering new routes, also competed with the established operators over existing routes.

This resulted in buses overtaking dangerously as they vied for customers at each stop, or being grossly overloaded, or causing an obstruction by standing at a competitors stop until just before a scheduled arrival time.

Aldershot & District tried several tactics in order to preserve its customer base. Cheap return tickets were issued, sometimes cheaper than the single-fare, to ensure passengers did not return by a rival operator, and they ran duplicates in front of rival operators to poach passengers.

Such measures appear to have succeeded, for many of the smaller operators were taken over by A&D and by the end of the decade Aldershot & District had consolidated its position as the major operator in the area.

The interavailability of return tickets was negotiated with some of the neighbouring operators, such as Southdown in 1927 and Hants & Dorset in 1930, which gave A&D customers the opportunity to travel through to Worthing, Brighton, Bognor, Southsea and, by changing at Winchester, to Southampton.

New buses delivered post 1924 were all of predominantly Dennis manufacture and included double- and single-deck bodies on Dennis 4-ton, Dennis 50-cwt and Dennis E, F and G chassis.

Bodied by a variety of manufacturers including Strachan and Brown, Dennis themselves and a single vehicle with a Hickman O24/24R body, which had been displayed at the 1923 Commercial Motor Show. In 1927 a new depot was built at Guildford to help accommodate the growing fleet, which now stood at over 150 vehicles.

The Company received the Royal Warrant in 1928 and authority to use the Royal Arms by way of its transportation of members of the Royal Household to the Royal Ascot meetings. This was the year of greatest expansion for the Company, both in the number of acquisitions and the opening of new routes.

A Camberley to London express service commenced on 13th February and cheap day excursions from Haslemere, Godalming and Guildford, which had started in January, were expanded in March to regular express services to London.

The Company made a departure from its normal Dennis policy by purchasing a fleet of 6 Gilford coaches with opulent 20-seat Strachan and Brown bodies especially for these services. In July a further express service to Portsmouth and Southsea was inaugurated and between the years 1928 and 1930 several other express services were tried.

In order to cope with the extra services more coaches were needed and 12 Dennis coaches on E and EV chassis were purchased (those on EV chassis also being equipped with toilets – a feature that was dropped for subsequent vehicles).

During this period a proposal was put forward to change the name of the Company to the Southern District Traction Co. Ltd., but the Registrar of Companies refused the application and so the Company remained Aldershot and District.

The Company’s first top-covered double-deck vehicle (OT9062) was delivered in 1928. Based on a Dennis H 30hp chassis it had a Strachan and Brown H56R body with open staircase. The highbridge design, however, was not suited for operation on most of the Company’s routes, where lower headroom was required, and so future double-deckers were lower in height.

In 1930 the Road Traffic Act became law and almost at a stroke the days of the uncontrolled privateers were ended. For established companies, like Aldershot & District, it came as a relief, and routes were no longer at the whims of the local councils.

At the same time the speed limit for buses and coaches was raised to 30mph. The Southern Railway purchased a one-third share in the Company on 1st January 1930, becoming joint principal shareholders with the now amalgamated BAT and Tilling companies.

Aldershot & District bought an interest in London Coastal Coaches Ltd. in 1931. The LCC was in the process of constructing a covered coach station at Victoria in London and A&D’s coach services were subsequently re-routed to terminate there on completion.

With the formation of the London Passenger Transport Board on 1st July 1933, a statutory area in which the LPTB had the right to acquire all private operators was drawn up. This statutory area extended as far as Woking and Guildford, and all A&D’s services beyond these points came under the control of the LPTB.

A garage at Ewhurst and six buses were taken over by the LPTB, although A&D received compensation. In August 1933 the Company opened a new bus station in Aldershot, between The Grove and Station Road, on a small piece of land owned by the railway. The new bus station had 9 gates, which vehicles had to reverse up to in order to load.

A concerted effort to modernise the double-deck fleet commenced in 1936; the object being the elimination of the open staircase and all new models were specified with closed staircase.

Dennis Lance D400 (AOT580), an experimental oil engined double-deck with a Strachan L22/26R body, was placed in service in the early part of the year, but the German-designed Dennis-Lanova 84bhp engine was not a success.

The vehicle was returned to Dennis for chassis modifications, fitted with the O4 oil engine, re-registered as CCG188 and returned to service with Aldershot and District in 1937 (still as D400) and lasted in service until 1949 before being withdrawn.

The prototype oil-engined Dennis Lancet II (D498: COR151) was exhibited at the Commercial Motor Show of 1937 and was the first of a batch of 13 delivered in 1938. The 32-seat rear-entrance Strachan bodywork displayed the typical curves that distinguished 1930’s coaches from the much straighter lines of the standard bus bodywork.

With the declaration of war on the 3rd September 1939, Aldershot & District once again had to withdraw many services, eight of which were never reinstated, and those that remained suffered a reduced frequency or short working.

By the summer of 1940 conductresses were again employed to take over the duties of the men who had left for military service, although the vehicles that remained after a number were commandeered was sufficient to maintain service levels.

In 1941 bus manufacture throughout the country was suspended, although A&D received several batches of Dennis vehicles (including some which had been ‘unfrozen’ during 1942) that had been in the pipeline when war was declared.

Subsequently A&D’s wartime intake, apart from a pair of ‘unfrozen’ Leyland TD7’s, was provided by Guy Motors of Wolverhampton, in the form of Arab I and II models, all of which were powered by Gardner 5LW engines. In addition 20 Dennis Lancet I’s were hired from the East Kent Road Car Co. Ltd.

By the second half of 1944, with the threat of enemy invasion reduced, wartime restrictions were relaxed slightly and some of the buses commandeered by the Army had already been returned. Repainted vehicles now bore full livery instead of the wartime version, which had included a grey roof and no fleetname.

Following the end of hostilities in May 1945 the bus industry slowly began to return to normal although it was sometime before services were fully restored to prewar levels.

The immediate postwar period resulted in a large increase in passenger levels and to cope with this a rapid refurbishment of vehicles returned from the armed services was needed.

Some of these vehicles were in very poor condition indeed and had to be completely re-bodied before they could be used, however, because of the delay in resuming postwar manufacture of new chassis and bodies it was necessary in order to carry the rapidly increasing volume of passenger traffic.

The first batch of postwar Dennis Lancets were ready for service in December 1946; the rest (over 100) entered service in 1947 and 1948. They were J3 type with the Dennis O6 engine and were again bodied by Strachan. More arrived in 1949, along with several Dennis Falcon P3’s with 20-seat Dennis bodywork.

In March 1950 the bus station in Aldershot (the only A&D-owned bus station) was extended by adding on two new platforms. During this year the use of larger buses (up to 30ft in length for single-deck and up to 27ft 6ins for double-deck, with a new common width of 8ft) was allowed.

As a result A&D took delivery of eleven Lancet chassis designed to the new specifications and registered HOU899, 901-10). The missing registration number in the sequence was carried by 1951 prototype Dennis Dominant with an underfloor version of the Dennis O6 engine. This model was not a success, however, and only one other Dominant was ever built.

By this time, in common with most other operators, Aldershot & District was feeling the effects of postwar prosperity, particularly in the rise of private motoring. It was reported that about two-thirds of the mileage was failing to cover costs and in an effort to prevent deterioration of the services, certain economies had to be made.

Six services were withdrawn and a fares increase applied from 30th April 1951, the first substantial increase since 1928. This enabled the Company to maintain services for a few more years.

A range of underfloor-engined single-deckers was tried out in 1953, although none was found to be satisfactory and the AEC Reliance (not originally included in the trials) was eventually chosen as the standard single-deck for future deliveries.

With the operational difficulties caused by the Suez Crisis in 1956 the Company decided to accelerate the delivery of the first large-capacity underfloor-engined vehicles. In 1957 the first of a batch of 30 AEC Reliances with 41- (for one-man operation) or 43- (for crew operation) seat Weymann bodies was delivered.

Higher capacity double-deckers were not introduced until 1958 when the Dennis Loline chassis was produced, which, incidentally, were the first rear-entrance A&D vehicles with platform doors.

When the front-entrance version of the Loline went into production in 1960, A&D exchanged one of their rear-entrance models for a front-entrance model of the North Western Road Car Co. Ltd. (No.813; RDB813) in order to carry out an evaluation.

When the Dennis Loline III was subsequently purchased it had 68-seat Alexander front-entrance bodywork and was the standard double-decker ordered by A&D until the demise of the Company (although no new double-deck vehicles were delivered after 1965).

In June 1967 the familiar A&D fleetname with the oval flourish began to disappear and was replaced by a much plainer two line italic version. Within two years the old style fleetname had vanished forever.

Aldershot & District’s ownership had descended from the early Tilling, BAT, Southern Railway partnership to the modern BET Group, whose stance had been staunchly anti-nationalisation, although the old Southern Railway share had already passed to the Transport Holding Company (THC), set up to oversee the government’s transport nationalisation programme, in 1963.

In 1968, however, it suddenly reversed its policy and sold all of its bus interests to the THC and consequently A&D became a nationalised bus company.

On the 1st January 1969 the National Bus Company (NBC) was formed to manage the ex-Tilling and BET companies and as a consequence A&D’s standard bus for 1970 and 1971 were on Bristol chassis (the Bristol company having been nationalised with the Tilling Group) although two small batches of coaches were on AEC Reliance chassis.

In 1971 the NBC, in line with the trend of creating larger operating units, decided to amalgamate the A&D concern with its similar-sized neighbour, the Thames Valley Traction Co. Ltd. The fleet was to operate under the contrived name of Alder Valley, so as to avoid the inference that one partner was dominant.

On the 1st January 1972 the legal name of the combined company became the Thames Valley & Aldershot Omnibus Co. Ltd., thus ending almost 60 years of the Aldershot & District Traction Co. Ltd.

In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
Aldershot’s Buses – Peter Holmes (Waterfront Publications:1992); PSV Circle Fleet History 2PK3 (2000).

Bus Fleet List 1912-1935 | Bus Fleet List 1936-1971 |