Brighton, Hove & District Omnibus Co. Ltd. 1935-1969

The roots of the Brighton, Hove and District Omnibus Company can be traced back to the 12th September 1884, when the Brighton, Hove and Preston United Omnibus Company was formed to amalgamate the interests of the major horse bus operators in Brighton.

When Brighton Corporation introduced tram services in 1901, the Company, although not competing with the Corporation trams directly, decided the time was right to begin replacing the horse buses with motor buses.

By 1910 there were around 40 vehicles of varying types in operation, and in 1911 the Company obtained powers to operate trolleybuses, although the powers were purchased by Brighton Corporation in 1913.

In February 1915, the buses of Thomas Tilling commenced working on a service between Portslade Station and Castle Square, Brighton.

The Tilling concern had moved from London to the provinces after an agreement limited the number of buses the Company could operate in the capital to 150, seriously restricting any further expansion there.

On the 22nd November 1916, Thomas Tilling Limited purchased the urban routes of the Brighton, Hove and Preston United Company (the Brighton to Worthing route and excursions had been transferred to Southdown Motor Services in 1915), including a number of second-hand buses, licences for 41 petrol, 12 electric buses and 8 horse buses, which were replaced as soon as additional vehicles became available.

By 1922 Tilling was operating between Portslade and Kemp Town; Sackville Road and Castle Square; Hove Station and Kemp Town; Old Steine and Rottingdean; Old Steine and Patcham; Portslade and Brighton Station, and Hove Station and Kemp Town.

In 1926 additional routes and vehicles were acquired with the business of the Brighton Downs Motor Service.

Although several attempts were made at co-ordinating services within the Brighton area, nothing came to fruition and eventually, on the 26th November 1935; the Brighton, Hove & District Omnibus Company was incorporated as a wholly owned subsidiary of Thomas Tilling Ltd.

In July 1937, Brighton Council and the Company finally reached an agreement on co-ordination, which provided for the pooling of receipts and running expenses in the ratio of 72½% to the Company and 27½% to the Corporation.

The agreement was confirmed by Act of Parliament in 1938. A joint operating area came into force on the 1st April 1939 covering Brighton, Hove, Portslade, Rottingdean and Southwick, although Southdown Motor Services routes within the borough were not included.

Each concern was responsible for the purchase and maintenance of their own vehicles and buildings, but in the event of trolleybus operation the Corporation was to have sole responsibility for the fixed equipment such as overhead with the Company having the right to run 20% of the mileage.

The introduction of joint working heralded the end of the Corporation tramway system and the first closure took place in April 1939 when motorbuses commenced running between Old Steine and Tivoli Crescent North, replacing the trams on the Dyke Road route.

On 1st May 1939 trolleybuses of Brighton Corporation replaced more tram routes although it was not until 1945 that Brighton, Hove & District trolleybuses were seen in the borough when the Black Rock to Race Hill section was wired for use.

The trolleybuses had actually been delivered in 1939, but had been stored for the duration of the war at Whitehawk depot and their introduction made BH&D unique as the only Tilling group company that operated trolleybuses.

With the onset of World War II, Brighton became a restricted area because of the fear of invasion and much of the BH&D fleet became surplus to requirements and was loaned out to other Tilling group companies.

When the war ended a number of new routes were opened to keep pace with the construction of new housing estates on the outskirts of Brighton.

The large Hollingbury Estate was wired for trolleybuses during 1951 and finally opened in September of that year, although BH&D did not operate on the route.

In February 1952 the workings on a number of services were re-allocated between the Corporation and the Company.

BH&D trolleybuses and buses that formerly operated exclusively on the 43 (West Pier to Race Hill, via Old Steine), 43A (Old Steine to Race Hill) and 44 (West Pier to Black Rock via Seven Dials and Race Hill) routes could now be found on the erstwhile Corporation routes (Nos. 41 and 42) between Brighton Station, Old Steine, Queens Park and Elm Grove.

The seven-mile long sea front service between Portslade and Rottingdean had been introduced in 1936; using 1930/31 vintage open-top AEC Regents that were by now coming to the end of their working lives.

As replacements the Company rebuilt ten of the 1940 Bristol K5G’s with convertible open-tops for use in the summer.

Large municipal estates had been built at Bevendean, Coldean and Moulscombe, all of which were now exclusively served by the buses of Southdown Motor Services, a situation that was heavily criticised by members of the local council and public alike.

It meant that passengers had to change buses in order to shop at Brighton’s main shopping centre on Western Road.

As a result it was suggested that the joint agreement between the council and BH&D should be re-negotiated although the proposal was defeated and joint workings between the three parties did not commence until the early 1960’s.

One of the main arterial roads in Hove, The Drive, crossed the Brighton to Portsmouth railway line and in 1954 the bridge carrying the road was rebuilt.

When it was re-opened to traffic in July the opportunity was taken to extend and re-organise the route network in Hove. Several journeys were re-routed via The Drive, including some of those on route 3, which was extended from Hove Station to Sunninghill Estate via the new bridge.

Route 14 was diverted across the bridge between Dyke Road and Church Road and additional routes serving Palmeira Square and Eastern Road were introduced.

Planned new services to the Woodingdean estate had to be dropped when Southdown Motor Services objected and introduced their own services to cover the area.

Negotiations were subsequently commenced with Southdown concerning the integration of services in the Brighton area.

A meeting of the town council on the 28th July 1956 decided in favour of abandoning the town’s trolleybus system, but a final date was not agreed. On the 24th March 1959, the trolleybus routes in the eastern part of Brighton ceased operations and the BH&D trolleybuses were withdrawn.

A few months later in May 1959, BH&D became the last Tilling group company to place the Bristol Lodekka into service when two (Nos. 4 and 5) commenced operating on the route between Pool Valley and Coombe Road.

Of the eight Lodekkas delivered three (Nos. 1-3) had convertible open-top bodywork, whilst the remainder had normal bodywork.

Towards the end of 1960 negotiations with Southdown Motor Services were completed and from 1st January 1961 a new joint agreement between Brighton Corporation, Brighton, Hove & District and Southdown came into force.

This resulted in the appearance of BH&D vehicles on erstwhile Southdown routes and to avoid duplication of route numbers some were re-numbered.

Since the 1938 agreement all Corporation and Company buses had carried the fleetname Brighton, Hove & District Transport, supplemented, in the case of Corporation owned buses, by the coat-of-arms of Brighton.

Following the 1961 agreement Corporation buses displayed Brighton Corporation Transport on their sides whilst the Company vehicles showed simply Brighton, Hove & District.

In 1962, the Brighton, Hove & District Company became a part of the Transport Holding Company, which had been formed to try to re-organise the nationalised bus companies.

BH&D had been a nationalised bus company since the Tilling group had sold their interests to the British Transport Commission in 1948 and when the BET group was acquired in 1968, Southdown Motor Services joined the nationalised companies.

With the formation of the National Bus Company on the 1st January 1969, Brighton, Hove & District was merged with its larger brother, combining operations in the Brighton area and the company became dormant, bringing to an end almost 35 years of the Brighton, Hove and District Omnibus Company.

The dormant company was reformed in 1986.
Details from that date can be found on the Company’s website. Click here to visit.


‘Can I point out that re-Brighton Hove and District trolleybuses, no wires ever existed between Old Steine, West Pier and Seven Dials so the notes re-services 43 and 44 are referring to re-organisations later than 1952.’ Ian MacDonald (17/6/2008).

In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
Brighton, Hove & District Omnibus Co., V.H. Darling (Buses Illustrated Nos. 95-97, Feb-Apr 1963); Brighton and Hove’s Transport History Trail (BH&D website); PSV Circle Fleet History 3PK2 (1986).

Trolleybus Fleet List 1945-1959 | Bus Fleet List 1935-1968 |