Hebble Motor Services Ltd. 1924-1973

The history of Hebble Motor Services (the name is thought to have been derived from the Hebble Brook, a tributary of the River Calder, that rises in the hills above Halifax) can be traced back to 1st December 1924 when brothers Oliver and Charles Holdsworth, well-known Halifax hauliers, began operating motorbuses under the ‘Hebble’ fleetname.

The two brothers had already had some experience in motorbus operations in the Harrogate area, forming the Bilton Motor Company, which had sold out to the Harrogate Road Car Company (the predecessor of the West Yorkshire Road Car Company) earlier in 1924.

The Holdsworths were initially refused licences to operate between Sowerby Bridge and Elland, Halifax and Huddersfield, and on a local service along Queens Road in Halifax.

As a result they introduced services between Halifax and Brighouse via Southowram, and Halifax and Bingley via Denholme, without the requisite licences, starting a feud with Halifax Corporation that was to last some time.

The services ran from a piece of land in Commercial Street in the centre of Halifax opposite the Victoria Hall, where they picked up outward-bound passengers. Not unsurprisingly Halifax Corporation instigated legal proceedings against the Company for running without the proper licences.

On the 31st December 1924 the case was heard in the magistrates court where the Company was fined, but an appeal was allowed and in the meantime the service continued.

Another service commenced on 26th January 1925 serving Greetland, again without the proper licences, and in February 1925, Hebble introduced another illegal service between Halifax and Huddersfield via Elland.

On the 13th February the Company once again appeared before the magistrates on charges of operating unlicensed services and once again were fined.

Just under a week later Mytholmroyd UDC granted Hebble operating licences, and, at an enquiry held by the Ministry of Transport on the 17th March into the appeal against the refusal of operating licences, it was recommended that Halifax Corporation should grant licences for certain routes.

These routes were from Halifax to Barkisland, via Salterhebble, Greetland and Wall Nook; Halifax to Bingley via Ovenden Cross and Causeway Foot, and from Halifax to Brighouse, via Southowram, which should be subject to a protective fares clause to discourage short journeys along Halifax tram routes.

It was also recommended that a licence should be issued for the route from Halifax to Huddersfield, via Elland provided that Hebble’s fares were such that they discouraged travel between any points on the route that were covered by the Halifax tram service, and furthermore in the event of Halifax and Huddersfield Corporations commencing an omnibus service along the route, the terms and conditions imposed on Hebble should not be more restrictive than the conditions under which both Corporations would operate.

Halifax and Huddersfield Corporations were obliged to issue licences for the Hebble services, but also instigated a through service between the two towns on 22nd August 1925 in competition with Hebble, although the timetable was arranged so that Hebble journeys were not duplicated.

Hebble’s policy of disregarding the licensing law seemed to have paid off, and it was a policy they continued to operate.

In December 1925, they again introduced an illegal service, this time between Halifax and the Travellers Rest near Midgley, via Luddenden Foot, but good fortune was about to come Hebble’s way.

The General Strike, which commenced on the 5th May 1926, was supported by union labour, but, since Hebble employed non-union labour, their services were unaffected and ran as normal.

The Company also took the opportunity to introduce further services to Manchester, Leeds and Bradford, the last two of which were retained after the end of the strike.

The Bradford route became particularly profitable since there was no through tram service due to differences in gauges between the systems.

By now the fleet totalled around 30 vehicles, with maintenance and repairs being carried out at the Holdsworth’s haulage depot, which became a little overcrowded at times.

However, Hebble continued to introduce new services including a circuitous route from Mountain to Harecroft, via Queensbury. Finally, in 1927, premises were acquired in Walnut Street, Halifax and the bus fleet was re-located there.

On the 7th March 1927 the Company introduced a service between Halifax and Heptonstall, via Hebden Bridge. Owing to a steep gradient the service operated via Cross Lane, Whitehall Nook and Slack Bottom to the centre of Heptonstall village, but came back directly.

As a result a different fare was charged for the inward journey than for the outward journey!

Despite having to grant licences for certain of Hebble’s routes, Halifax Corporation remained intransigent. On the 4th August 1927 the Corporation commenced a service to Luddenden Foot in competition with Hebble’s unlicensed service.

Hebble responded by extending its service to Midgley Post Office. The Company was backed in its fight by several of the local authorities that had benefited from the service, most prominently by Luddenden UDC who set up a conference to discuss the attitude of Halifax Corporation in denying Hebble the proper licences.

A boycott of Halifax Corporation buses was proposed until they agreed to licence the Hebble service.

The business of Hugh Brigg of Wilsden was acquired on 26th May 1928, bringing with it routes from Bradford to Bingley, and from Bingley to Duckworth Lane, and an assortment of vehicles.

On the 6th June 1928, Halifax Corporation agreed to the joint running of buses with Hebble between Halifax and Hebden Bridge.

On the 27th June licences were granted enabling Hebble to operate between Halifax, Blackshaw Head and Widdop Gate. In November, the London, Midland and Scottish, and the London & North Eastern railway companies started negotiations with a view to purchasing the Hebble Company.

The Railway Road Transport Act of 1928 had given the railway companies powers to operate motorbuses and they had adopted a strategy of purchasing shares in existing companies rather than engage in needless competition.

On the 3rd January 1929, Hebble took over the operations of the Calder Bus Company on the Halifax to Wyke, and the Bradford to Hipperholme services, after Bradford Corporation, who had purchased the Company, discovered they did not have the necessary operating powers.

Negotiations with the LMS and LNER companies were completed on 2nd May 1929, and Hebble Bus Services was acquired, the agreement being backdated to 1st January 1929.

By this time the Hebble fleet numbered 86 vehicles and the Company operated 28 routes.

At the same time the railway companies had also formed the Halifax Joint Omnibus Committee with Halifax Corporation and the Hebble routes from Halifax to Huddersfield, via Elland; to Barkisland; to Beech Road and Midgley; to Southowram and Brighouse; to Hullen Edge, and to Heptonstall were transferred to the Halifax JOC for their sole operation.

As a result 13 vehicles from the Hebble fleet were also transferred to the JOC fleet to operate the services. In subsequent years, Hebble had to pay a percentage of all receipts taken in the JOC area over to that authority.

In July 1930 the company became Hebble Motor Services Limited and on 22nd February 1932 the British Electric Traction Company acquired a 50% share in the Company.

The fleet strength declined in the early 1930’s because of the LMS and LNER’s involvement with the Halifax JOC and transfer of vehicles and services, but in 1933 Hebble took over operation of the LMS service between Halifax and Rochdale.

The Company commenced pool operations along with Ribble, West Yorkshire, Yorkshire Traction and Yorkshire Woollen District on express services to Blackpool from West Yorkshire, and in August 1935 the Halifax to Rochdale and Halifax to Burnley services were linked with the Halifax to Leeds service to provide a through service.

All this meant that the latter part of the 1930’s was a time of expansion for Hebble, with passenger numbers up by more than 50% and mileage on excursion and contract work up by 80%.

The fleet was expanded accordingly and the Company looked to Albion Motors for their new single-deck vehicles, whilst Leyland provided the double-deckers.

Wartime brought Guy Arabs into the fleet, but following the cessation of hostilities postwar deliveries were of AEC manufacture, a policy that was later extended under the BET influence, but not before a number of underfloor-engined Royal Tigers were purchased in the early fifties.

Hebble Motor Services was running the following stage carriage routes by 1950;

Route No.Route
2Halifax to Bingley, via Denholme
7Halifax to Bradford, via Shelf
11Raggalds Inn to Duckworth Lane, via Queensbury and Clayton
12Bradford to Huddersfield, via Bailiff Bridge and Brighouse
15Leeds to Burnley, via Halifax
17Halifax to Bradford via Queensbury
18Bingley to Duckworth Lane, via Lee Lane
19Bradford to Bingley, via Wilsden
25Halifax to Wyke, via Hipperholme
26Hipperholme to Bradford, via Wibsey
27Todmorden to Scarborough, via Halifax
28Rochdale to Leeds, via Halifax
29Halifax to Bradford, via Shelf and Wibsey

In addition Hebble worked its own service to Blackpool (summer only) and also operated on the Blackpool Pool Services.

Throughout the postwar years the tours and excursions side of the business was expanded with the acquisition of Brearley’s Tours in 1954, Ripponden & District in 1957 and Walton & Halliwell (who were partly owned by O. & C. Holdsworth, the founders of Hebble, who had re-entered the coaching business) in 1958, although the stage carriage and express network remained fairly static, apart from minor changes in routes and frequency until the late 1960’s when upheavals in the transport industry heralded the demise of Hebble.

In 1969, the newly formed National Bus Company which had acquired the former BET interests, re-structured the bus companies in West Yorkshire, creating the West Riding group of companies (Hebble, West Riding and Yorkshire Woollen District) controlled from the West Riding office in Wakefield.

Hebble took over operation of the Yorkshire Woollen District service from Halifax to Leeds, via Cleckheaton on 1st September 1969, together with a number of vehicles, and on 1st November the Halifax to Bingley service was merged with the Woollen District service from Ossett to Keighley.

Introduced in 1969 was the White Rose Expressway, in which Hebble participated, which linked Sheffield, Rotherham, Leeds and Bradford via the M1 motorway.

On the 2nd May 1970 Hebble took over Yorkshire Woollen District’s share of the X12 express service from Bradford to Manchester, followed on 1st June 1970 by the acquisition of the remainder of Woollen District’s express services.

All of which meant that the Hebble fleet had almost doubled in size to 136 vehicles in little more than four years!

In March 1970, however, the trend was reversed, when all the services Hebble had taken over from Yorkshire Woollen District reverted back to that Company, and continued in May 1970 when Hebble’s Bradford to Bingley; Bingley to Duckworth Lane, and Bradford to Huddersfield services all passed to the West Yorkshire Road Car Company.

The coaching interests of Yorkshire Woollen District were transferred to Hebble Motor Services, together with the Frost Hill, Liversedge garage, which subsequently became a coach only depot, on 1st June 1970.

On the 16th December 1970 the members of the Halifax JOC recommended the merger of Hebble’s stage carriage services with those of the JOC, with the first services (Halifax to Leeds, via Dudley Hill; Halifax to Cleckheaton; and to Burnley and Rochdale) being transferred on the 21st February 1971.

On the 1st March joint working between the municipal authorities was introduced replacing many of the Hebble services, and over the next few months the remaining Hebble services were gradually dismembered and Hebble effectively became the coaching arm of the West Riding Group.

Control of the Hebble Company passed from the West Riding Group to the Central Activities Group of the National Bus Company on 1st April 1973.

The CAG were attempting to co-ordinate the coaching interests of the NBC in Yorkshire and, on 1st January 1974, the Company was merged with Sheffield United Tours to form National Travel (North-East) and the Hebble name passed into transport history, although it was still to be seen on the side of coaches for some time until it began to be replaced by the North East fleetname late in 1975.

For consistency the name ‘Hebble’ has been used throughout this history, but although the name appeared on the side of the buses from the start of business, the official trading name of the company was O. & C. Holdsworth until 1927 when it was changed to Hebble Bus Services and again to Hebble Motor Services Ltd in 1930.

In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources; The Hebble-Halifax merger (John Ryburn, Buses No. 193, April 1971); Hebble Remembered (David Bell, Becknell Books 1983); The Buses of Halifax Corporation and JOC and their successors (David Bentley, Autobus Review 1998); PSV Circle Fleet Histories PB10 (1975), P66 (1957), P66R (1966); Buses/Buses Illustrated (various editions).

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