Horse buses first made their appearance in Burton-upon-Trent in 1871, when Charles Taylor of the ‘Fox and Goose’ Inn was issued with the first operating licence.
Other operators soon followed and by the late 1870’s there were a number of services, mostly connecting to the Midland Railway Station from various hostelries in the town.
In 1879 Burton Corporation was involved in tentative discussions about the possibility of operating horse trams within the borough, but in the end applications from private investors were turned down.
The Council told all applicants that the operation of trams within the borough would be under the control of the Council and no one else! Finally, after numerous other applications, the Corporation decided to implement a tramway system and on the 3rd August 1903 Burton-upon-Trent Corporation Tramways was officially opened.
The first route of three ran north through a workers’ residential district along Waterloo Street, Victoria Crescent and Horninglow Road to St. John’s Church, whilst the second went east on Borough Road past the railway station to St. Mark’s Church, Winshill.
The third route ran south on Stapenhill Road and Main Street to Ferry Street, Stapenhill. The system was almost entirely double track, with the depot being situated in Horninglow Road.
The initial fleet consisted of 20 ERTCW (Nos. 1-20) open-topped cars, although most were top covered later, with an additional four cars being purchased in 1919. Together the 24 cars maintained the tramway system until final closure in 1929.
At the same time the Burton and Ashby Light Railways, owned by the Midland Railway, operated tramcars to the Company’s stations at Gresley, Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Burton-upon-Trent in a roughly triangular pattern based on Swadlincote in Derbyshire.
The route to Burton was over Corporation owned track from Winshill to the Wellington Street terminus, and a fleet of 20 Brush open-top double-deckers (also Nos. 1-20) operated the services.
The Midland Railway became part of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway in 1923, who, in the face of growing bus competition, closed the tramway system down in 1927.
Although buses had made an appearance in Burton in 1907, when the local Ryknield Company ran an experimental service between Uxbridge Street and Derby Turn, it was not until 1914 that a regular service was introduced when Trent Motor Traction commenced working a route connecting Burton with Derby.
The local Council obtained a Provisional Order to work motorbuses in 1921, as consideration was given to the replacement of the tramway system, but not used until 8 years later.
In the meantime the Council soldiered on with the trams, which continued to deteriorate after the First World War, even though an additional four trams were purchased in 1919.
In 1921 the subject of tram replacement was again raised, with both motorbuses and trolleybuses being mentioned. In January 1924 one-man operated buses were suggested for use in areas not served by trams and, eventually two vehicles were ordered from Guy Motors.
Due to a delay in the delivery of the buses Guy Motors loaned a 25-seat bus and in May 1924, it commenced work on the experimental service from Wetmore Bridge to the Museum.
The first of the delayed vehicles arrived on 31st May, followed shortly afterwards, on 2nd June, by the second vehicle. They were both Guy ‘B’ types with Guy B20F bodywork. By September an expansion of the bus services was proposed and four more buses were ordered.
The Council again debated the replacement of the tramway system in 1928 when, as before, both motorbuses and trolleybuses were mentioned as replacements.
Finally, after considering the relative costs of each system, the Council came down on the side of the motorbus and a total of 18 buses were ordered from Guy Motors to expedite the tram replacement. The final tram ran on the 31st December 1929 amidst much celebration.
Although Burton’s buses were all intended for one-man operation, the PSV Regulations of 1931 required the use of a conductor if certain seating capacity was exceeded.
At the time the Ministry of Transport examiner would not allow vehicles exceeding 20-seats to be one-man operated and so some of Burton’s vehicles were re-seated to this capacity. Standing passengers were not allowed on one-man operated buses, but were allowed if a conductor was on board.
Accordingly Burton increased the seating capacity on other vehicles to 30, which, with the five allowed standing passengers, gave the vehicles a capacity of 35. In order to economise, a system of one conductor to two buses was operated.
This entailed the conductor boarding a bus heading for the town centre and, after collecting the fares, he would cross the road to meet a bus travelling in the opposite direction! As a result seven conductors could collect the fares on eight vehicles.
The Council experimented with diesel engined buses in 1934 when demonstrators from AEC, Leyland, Crossley and Guy were tried. This resulted in orders for single AEC and Leyland chassis, along with two Guy Arab chassis.
The subsequent performance of the diesel engines showed a marked improvement in economy over the petrol engined buses and, in 1935, 11 of the older vehicles were withdrawn. They were replaced with ten Guy Arabs with Brush B32F bodywork, which entered service the same year.
The following year more petrol engined vehicles were replaced and a further 9 Guy Arabs arrived.
With the onset of the Second World War in 1939, services had to be curtailed; the Ministry of Transport ordering that bus services should be cut by 50%. One route was withdrawn completely whilst the frequency on others was reduced.
In 1943, Burton received its first double-deck vehicles, two utility Guy Arabs with Weymann H56R bodywork, built to wartime specifications, which included wooden slatted seating.
Eight more were delivered in 1944 and the double-deck vehicles proved more popular than the single-deck vehicles, which were becoming heavily overcrowded.
A single Daimler CWA6 with Duple H56R bodywork was added to the fleet in 1945, along with three more Guy Arabs.
With the cessation of hostilities new housing developments began apace and services were extended to serve the new estates. Six more Guy Arabs were delivered in 1947.
Nos. 1-7 (FA8595-8600) were bodied by Roberts of Wakefield to a lowbridge design so that these vehicles could pass under the Derby Road railway bridge, which had previously prevented the use of highbridge double-deckers.
A programme of vehicle refurbishment was carried out in 1950. The wartime utility buses had been built using poor quality timber and were prone to premature deterioration.
Some were rebuilt by the Corporation themselves whilst others went to Merthyr Tydfil bodybuilder D. J. Davies, who had bodied a batch of Guy Arabs delivered earlier in the year.
However, these bodies themselves were found to have deteriorated after just ten years service and three (Nos. 15, 16 and 18) were re-bodied, this time by Massey, in 1960.
The antiquated Bell Punch ticket system was replaced by the TIM system towards the end of 1950, initially the machines were leased, but became Corporation property after five years.
The refurbishment of buses continued steadily throughout the 1950’s until, in 1957, two Guy Arab IV chassis with Metro-Cammell lightweight ‘Orion’ all-metal bodywork were delivered.
Subsequently all Burton Corporation buses were of similar construction. Further new vehicles were ordered for delivery in 1957, this time with Massey bodywork.
At the dawn of the 1960’s there were various road schemes in the pipeline, including a by-pass which would take away most of the heavy traffic from the town centre. Burton’s main industry was brewing and at the start of the decade they were undergoing a major reorganisation.
Much of the brewery traffic had been by rail and Bass, the major brewer in Burton, had a network of railway lines that criss-crossed the town centre with a number of level crossings that added to congestion. With the reorganisation came a change in transport policy from rail to road and by 1965 the railway had been abandoned.
The redundant brewery buildings were re-developed. High Street was widened in 1962 and in 1964 Burton’s new Bargates Shopping Centre opened.
Buses introduced into the fleet during this period had been of Daimler manufacture, replacing the traditional choice of Guy.
Between 1962 and 1968 24 Daimler double-deckers were purchased, by which time the single-deck vehicle had almost disappeared from the Burton fleet until 3 Daimler SRG’s with Willowbrook B44F bodywork made an appearance in 1969.
The 1968 Transport Act introduced grants towards the cost of new vehicles, providing certain requirements were met, one of which was that qualifying vehicles must have an extreme front entrance supervised by the driver.
It came as no surprise then when Burton Corporation ordered its first rear-engined front-entrance double-deckers for delivery in 1970. Nos. 106-108 were Daimler CRG6LX ‘Fleetlines’ with Northern Counties H75F bodywork and they were followed by another 12 in 1973.
Following local government re-organisation in 1974, Burton-upon-Trent became a part of the new administrative district of East Staffordshire and, although Burton remained the administrative centre, control of the Transport Department passed to the new authority.
To commemorate the passing of the Transport Department, Daimler Fleetline No. 106 was repainted in a special livery and fittingly was the last bus to have been operated in service when, on 31st March 1974, the depot doors closed for the last time on Burton-upon-Trent Corporation Transport Department.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
Trams and Buses in Burton (Stanier, West, Stanier; Carlton Publishing 1991); PSV Circle Fleet History PD18 (1990).