Crosville Motor Services Ltd. 1911-1990

Descended from millowner Henry Taylor and wife Sarah (nee Crosland), George Crosland Taylor and brother James were early entrepreneurs with an interest in everything electrical and mechanical.

In 1906, George (always referred to as Crosland) bought two cars and a chassis, built by French company Morane, at the same time renting a warehouse in Chester, with the idea of assembling and selling the French designed cars.

It soon became apparent that much more capital was needed and various people were persuaded to invest in the new company, including his French associate, Georges de Ville.

The new company, Crosville Motor Company Limited, was incorporated on the 27th October 1906, the name being an amalgam of Crosland and de Ville, although the car making activities ceased in 1908 and the company thereafter confined its activity to agency work and repairs.

In 1909 the horse bus service between Kelsall and Chester was replaced by a motorbus and the then office manager, Jack Morris, suggested to George that the Crosville Motor Company should consider providing a bus service between Chester and Ellesmere Port on account of the indirect rail link.

George’s son Edward, who had been appointed General Manager of the Company in June 1909, bought a Herald charabanc at auction in Swansea.

In December 1910 Crosville approached Chester City Council to request permission to start the service, which was subsequently granted, although it was not until 2nd February 1911 that the first Crosville vehicle ran the route.

Difficulties with the Herald and a subsequent purchase, a Germaine wagonette, meant that a large capacity Crosville car and a second-hand Albion charabanc had to be used.

Although the early years of operation were not successful, by 1913 the Company was making a small profit.

New vehicles were ordered to replace the motley collection of vehicles owned and more were ordered for 1914, although the chassis were eventually impressed by the War Department following the outbreak of World War 1.

Crosville’s area of operation was expanded in December 1913 when the Council at Crewe approved licences for services between Crewe and Nantwich, and Crewe and Middlewich.

On 15th October 1915, the Company gained a foothold on Crewe town services when they purchased the established business of Ward Brothers, who had been involved in horse-drawn passenger transport from the turn of the century.

Although there were requests for bus services from many quarters, the wartime conditions restricted any expansion until 1919, when a Chester to Hoole circular service was inaugurated. In October 1919 a service from New Ferry to Meols commenced, running via West Kirby and Hoylake.

To facilitate early departures from New Ferry, an outstation was set up at the Great Eastern Hotel. On 4th December 1919, buses began serving Helsby, Frodsham, Runcorn and Warrington from Chester.

With Crosville now expanding outwards from Chester and into the Wirral, it was inevitable that conflict with some of the municipal operators would ensue.

Licences to run from West Kirby to Wallasey village were granted in May 1920, but plans to extend the services to Seacombe ferry and New Brighton were opposed by Wallasey Corporation.

Similar problems were encountered with Birkenhead Corporation, who steadfastly refused to allow the Company’s vehicles into the town. The restricted routes, however, generated a good deal of income, which helped the Company expand into other areas.

Crosville inaugurated a circular service taking in Mold, Hawarden, Queensferry, Connah’s Quay, Flint and Northop in 1919, their first excursion into Wales.

Flintshire was one of the more populated regions and Crosville saw this as a potentially profitable area for expansion. As a result additional routes from Connah’s Quay to Chester, Mold to Pentre Halkyn and Mold to Ruthin via Loggerheads, were quickly introduced.

Eventually a depot was established in Mold and more new routes inaugurated. In 1922 the Betws-y-Coed to Abergele route of Roberts’ Blue Motors was acquired and Crosville’s spread into Wales continued.

This service was soon connected to Ruthin and further route developments based on this corridor.

Depots were opened in Dolgellau and Blaneau Ffestiniog in 1924 and in 1925 the Caernarfon depot of Richards’ Busy Bee service was acquired, along with services to Porthmadog and Pwllheli.

By now Crosville had also extended their operations into Aberystwyth, Aberaeron, Cardigan, Llanidloes and Llandrindod Wells, establishing depots in most of these towns.

Meanwhile Crosville was looking for ways into Liverpool and the possible lucrative market there.

The Crosland Taylors had identified Warrington and Widnes as possible access points into the city and in June 1922 Crosville commenced three new routes out of Widnes towards Liverpool and in October another three routes from Widnes serving Speke, Garston, Penketh and Warrington were introduced.

An out-station was established at Widnes, but was closed when a new depot was opened at Chester New Road, Warrington in 1923. By 1925, however, Liverpool City Council, who had previously refused access to the city centre by all private operators, concluded an agreement with Ribble Motor Services, allowing the Company to use a terminus in Canning Place.

Crosville took the opportunity to seek permission to extend its Widnes to Garston service to the same city centre terminus, which was granted subject to an agreement not to carry local passengers within the city boundary and the imposition of a 6d minimum fare.

On 1st August 1925 the service into Liverpool commenced on an hourly frequency and Crosville had at last attained its goal.

Crosville had developed its local services in Crewe and Nantwich, despite the constant demands of the local council, and was looking to expand into Northwich, which was served by the Mid-Cheshire Bus Company.

Although negotiations were commenced, the asking price was above Crosville’s valuation and they declined to purchase the company, which was instead sold to the North Western Road Car Company the following year. This effectively put a stop to Crosville’s expansion in this direction.

During this period the fleet had expanded considerably. Early preferences had been for Daimler CK chassis until Leyland vehicles were purchased in 1921.

The first new double-deckers were introduced in 1926 when twelve Leyland Leviathan LG1’s with Leyland H52RO bodywork were acquired (Nos. 211-222), although such vehicles remained in the minority until the advent of the Second World War.

A variety of vehicles arrived with the take-over of John Pye of Heswall in 1924, including Crosville’s first Bristol vehicle, a 1919 Bristol 4-ton chassis with Ch28 bodywork.

By 1929 Crosville had consolidated an operating area covering the Wirral and parts of Lancashire, Cheshire and Flintshire. However, the Railways (Road Transport) Acts of 1928 had given powers to the railway companies to engage in the provision of bus services.

Rather than run in competition with established operators the railway companies strategy was to buy into, or purchase outright, existing bus companies.

In February 1929, the London, Midland and Scottish Railway Company approached Crosville and, following discussions, made an offer of almost £400,000 to purchase the Company outright.

The offer was subsequently accepted and in November 1929, the Crosville Motor Company went into voluntary liquidation and a new company trading as LMS (Crosville) emerged.

At the same time the LMS purchased Holyhead Motors, and UNU Motor Services of Caernarfon, both companies being integrated into the new LMS (Crosville).

A few months later, the railway companies reached an agreement with the Tilling and British Automobile Traction (T&BAT) Group to acquire 50% of the shareholdings in most of the companies under the Group’s control.

In return the railway companies sold 50% of their shareholdings in the businesses they had acquired to the T&BAT Group.

In some instances this meant the formation of new companies, as it did in the case of LMS (Crosville), which was reborn on the 15th May 1930 as Crosville Motor Services Ltd., after just 9 months of outright LMS ownership.

During the next few years, the LMS continued to acquire various smaller companies that operated in the Crosville area, including White Rose Motor Services of Rhyl; Red Dragon of Denbigh; Burton of Tarporley; North Wales Silver Motors and Llangoed Red Motors – all purchased in 1930 and integrated into the Crosville fleet.

Royal Blue of Llandudno was already owned by BAT and this was also absorbed by Crosville, giving the Company a major share of the North Wales coastal services.

The railway companies also sought agreements with local authorities, whose objections to private operators were seen as an obstacle to development. The railway companies suggested that three operating areas should be established.

The inner area would consist of council run services, which would be protected from competition, whilst services in the outer area would be Company operated. An intermediate area was envisaged whereby Council and Company services would be shared.

Although local conditions often meant that variations to this scheme had to be adopted, in general, the railway companies were able to negotiate agreements based on this system with most local authorities.

Local agreements with Birkenhead Corporation and finally Liverpool, meant that Crosville was able to expand its services within these areas, especially since the advent of the 1930 Road Traffic Act had taken licensing arrangements out of the hands of the local authorities.

By the end of 1930 Crosville Motor Services had control of most of the services in north and central Wales and had consolidated its operating area on the Wirral and in Cheshire.

Many smaller companies were acquired during the following decade as the directors made a concerted effort to remove all competition and by the end of the 1930’s it was possible to rationalise the services and remove much of the waste brought about by uncontrolled competition.

Although most new vehicles were of Leyland manufacture during this time, the fleet remained varied due to the assortment of manufacturers represented in the fleets taken over.

In the late 1920’s the rise in popularity of excursions and long distance travel by charabanc or coach had attracted the attention of Crosville Motor Services.

At this time most large bus operators were little interested in developing such work because of the need to maintain a separate coach fleet, but Crosville experimented with a few weekend excursions to London in 1928.

Such was their popularity that it prompted the Company to introduce their first regular daily Liverpool to London service in 1929. Four Leyland Tiger buses, nos. 175-178 (FM5222-5225) were equipped with 25 coach seats for the purpose.

Throughout the same period, Crosville had tried to establish services between Merseyside and North Wales, which had become a popular resort area.

In 1931 Crosville agreed to a pooling arrangement with two independent operators, Macdonalds (trading as Maxways) and the Wirral Transport Company, both of Birkenhead, to include services from Liverpool and Birkenhead to Caernarfon.

Both operators were running daily to destinations such as Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno but succumbed to Crosville Motor Services in 1934, which brought a certain amount of stability to the Merseyside-North Wales services.

With the onset of World War 2 in 1939 the Company was forced to make many cuts in services and much of the non-essential work, such as tours, excursions, private hire and summer services was dropped altogether.

The involvement of the Company in the mainly rural areas of Wales meant that cuts here were greatest, but North Wales came to be seen as a ‘safe’ area with less risk of enemy attacks and so war factories were relocated there.

Evacuees from many of the big cities arrived and in some parts of Wales Crosville was running more mileage than before the war. The munitions factory at Marchwiel, near Wrexham, for instance needed over 200 buses daily and other new industries added to overall demand.

As a result there was a great demand on the fleet. Double-deckers were in the minority before the war, but now were sorely needed, many being hired from other undertakings.

New vehicles delivered during the war years were virtually all utility double-deckers and the trend towards double-deck buses continued in peacetime.

An event, which was to have a profound effect on the nature of the fleet over the following years, took place on 3rd December 1942, when Crosville Motor Services became a subsidiary of the Tilling Group.

Within a few years the distinctive Tilling green livery replaced the hitherto maroon livery and Tilling-owned Bristol vehicles were favoured over the Leyland marque.

By the end of the war, Crosville was carrying over 50% more passengers and had revenue of almost 90% in excess of that in pre-war years.

The lack of vehicles and spares in this period had seen Crosville’s cash surplus soar, much of which was re-invested in property that rose in value substantially in later years.

Much of the network of services that had been non-profitable had been stripped away because of wartime conditions and the Company began the new post-war era in a very healthy position.

Service revisions and re-instatements commenced on 1st July 1945, with routes out of Caernarfon, and, over the next few months extended throughout the Crosville network as vehicles and manpower became generally available once again.

The need for double-deckers had been dramatically increased by wartime events and the Company sought to convert as many former single-deck routes to double-deck as was possible. At the same time the demand for seats on express services was intense.

The six years of war and austerity had led to a great demand for leisure facilities, however, the central policy of the Tilling Group gave a low priority to coaches and the subsequent shortage of vehicles gave an opportunity to the many small independent operators who saw the chance of a profitable new market.

In addition, the new post-war Labour government’s socialist policies included the nationalisation of public transport.

On the 1st January 1948, the British Transport Commission acquired the Tilling Group shareholding.

At the same time the Railway Executive took over the four mainline railway companies and their shareholding in Crosville also passed to the Commission, thus making Crosville to all intents and purposes fully nationalised.

The immediate post-war pressures for double-deck vehicles led to Crosville purchasing many second-hand vehicles and retaining many elderly vehicles, including some that were already 20 years old, that were due for withdrawal.

The change in ownership from the BET Group to Tilling meant that Bristol vehicles were now the standard choice, and in 1945 the first post-war double-deckers arrived in the shape of the Bristol K6A, although the Strachan L27/28R bodywork was still to utility design.

By 1950, however, the post-war boom had begun to subside and prices rapidly spiralled. Fares increases were introduced in an effort to maintain services, but this only led to a fall in passenger numbers and further increases in fares; a situation that was to be continually repeated over the next forty years.

The Suez Crisis in 1956 led to the disruption of oil supplies from the Middle East and as a consequence petrol and fuel oil were rationed.

Crosville was instructed by the Traffic Commissioners to reduce mileage by 10%, which was achieved by reducing and even eliminating off peak and Sunday journeys, many of which were never restored later.

Throughout the 1950’s, Crosville suffered, as did most bus companies, from a serious staff shortage. At the time bus work was relatively low paid and thus recruitment was difficult.

One-man operation was seen as one of the options needed to make effective use of the labour force, but union opposition forced the Company to delay plans to introduce it throughout the network and affected the Company’s viability.

It was to be middle of the next decade before one-man operation began to be introduced Company wide.

The dawn of the 1960’s began with the Company taking a hard look at the many rural services, most of which were unprofitable to the extent that the losses became unacceptable.

Crosville adopted a contraction policy, which involved withdrawing as many of these services as possible. In other areas, however, the Company was able to expand.

New industrial estates and the growth of population led to extensions and increases in frequencies of some services, especially in the Deeside area.

Crosville’s contraction policy was extended to Cheshire, where the North Western Road Car Company had an interest, routes being trimmed as necessary in 1963.

The country services were further cut back in 1966, although Winsford became an overspill area for Liverpool and subsequently a growth area. Changes to Winsford services were made in 1964 with a major overhaul occurring in 1969.

In 1965 Crosville introduced the ‘Cymru Coastliner’, between Chester and Caernarfon, anticipating the closure of many British Rail stations on route.

Towards the end of the decade, with the decline in rural traffic accelerating, it became obvious that one-man operation was the only viable option if these areas were to continue to be served.

The union co-operation was half-hearted but the process was begun, although it was to be the beginning of the next decade before it was completed.

The process of contraction carried out by Crosville was mirrored throughout the country by other operators, all seeking to maintain services and profitability on ever decreasing passenger revenue.

The 1968 Transport Act, introduced by the Labour government, was the first time recognition was given to the fact that some services could not continue without financial support.

It created the National Bus Company (NBC) to control the various state-owned companies, Passenger Transport Authorities to co-ordinate bus services and financial support for essential rural bus services.

Although, initially, councils were reluctant to pay for services they already had, the NBC forced their hand by threatening to withdraw all non-profit making services. For its part Crosville supplied details of 196 routes that required financial assistance.

Although the reactions of the county councillors were on the whole hostile, they were eventually obliged to face up to the reality of the situation.

In 1971, the National Bus Company transferred the stage carriage services of the North Western Road Car Company within the Greater Manchester area to the Passenger Transport Executive.

The remaining stage carriage services were then split between Trent and Crosville, with Crosville eventually taking over 119 vehicles and depots in Northwich, Macclesfield and Biddulph in March 1972.

Later the same year, the NBC made further changes in West Wales, with certain services and depots at New Quay, Newcastle Emlyn and Lampeter outstation being transferred to Crosville from Western Welsh and the South Wales Transport Company.

The Market Analysis Project (MAP) of the mid-1970’s grew out of the need to identify a service network that was commercially viable with acceptable fares.

At the time Crosville was large enough to have its own MAP, which eventually resulted in many network changes during 1980-81. A loss of over £1,000,000 was expected in 1980, with over £2,000,000 in 1981.

The economic recession was depressing revenue and it was no longer an option to borrow from the NBC. Reductions in staff levels and more service cuts helped to stem the rising loss, but inflation continued to eat into revenue.

The MAP exercise had branded areas with suitable logos and names; for example, Crewe and Nantwich were branded South Cheshire and Ellesmere Port was branded TransPort. All these names were displayed on the buses like fleetnames.

In effect this was the start of a gradual disintegration of the Company that continued throughout the 1980’s and was completed following deregulation in 1986.

On 13th February 1986, the Secretary of State for Transport decided that, because of their size, the four largest NBC companies would be split, since they provided too great a competitive threat on deregulation.

Crosville was divided into two companies, the Secretary of State insisting that one part should consist of the Welsh depots and Oswestry.

On 20th May 1986 a new company, Crosville Wales Ltd., took over operations in these areas, leaving the original company to operate the English services. In 1988 Crosville Motor Services Ltd., was sold to ATL (Western) Ltd.

Less than a year later, Crosville Motor Services was again sold, this time to the Drawlane Group, who already owned North Western and Midland Red North. In September 1989, the depots at Runcorn and Warrington were transferred to North Western and Northwich followed in January 1990.

The Company’s Crewe area services were taken over by Midland Red North; the East Cheshire operations were taken over by C-Line, and the Rochdale and Manchester operations went to Bee-Line.

This left Crosville with only the depots at Chester, Ellesmere Port and Rock Ferry, which were subsequently sold to PMT on 2nd February 1990, who also bought the right to use the Crosville name.

The Crosville company was left with just 6 minibuses awaiting disposal and was forced to change its name to North British Bus Ltd., from 30th March 1990. In little over three years Crosville Motor Services had been dismantled and disposed of in the name of deregulation.

One of the great pioneers of the bus industry, with almost 80 years of public service had gone forever.

In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
Crosville Motor Services Part 1 – The first 40 years (Carroll and Roberts; Venture 1995). Crosville Motor Services 2 (Roberts; NBC Books 1997).

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