King Alfred Motor Services 1920-1973

Robert Chisnell was a Winchester businessman who had engaged in a number of ventures at various times, being involved in a fruit and fish business and as a bookmaker; he also owned two tobacconists shops and a couple of eating houses.

It was from the latter venture that he took his first steps into the transport business by ferrying in soldiers from the nearby military camps using cars adapted for the purpose.

Three Delaunay-Bellevilles and a Napier were converted to various seated shooting brakes for the use of servicemen, whilst a number of other vehicles were used as taxis for the transportation of officers.

In 1920, when Leyland Motors were selling large numbers of reconditioned ex-war service vehicles, Mr Chisnell took the opportunity to acquire a pair of ex-RAF chassis and had them bodied by Belgravia Motors to seat 30.

By the 24th May 1920 the first vehicle had been completed and sporting newly painted green paintwork and carrying the name ‘King Alfred’ displayed prominently on its rear, it set out for the inaugural day trip to Bournemouth.

Although registered HO2857 in March 1921, photographs show that it had originally borne trade plates AA002, and one must presume that these were carried (albeit illegally!) until formal registration.

Shortly after, the second vehicle arrived and the new venture began to flourish. A third ex-RAF Leyland was added later that year, this time with a rather rounded fully enclosed 20-seat body by Bartle.

In order to garage and maintain the new charabancs, an old malthouse on Chesil Street was acquired and converted to serve as the depot.

It was around this time that Winchester Council started work on a new estate at Stanmore, about a mile from the city centre and approached Robert Chisnell with a view to starting a regular service, connecting the estate with the city centre.

After a trial run over the proposed route, Chisnell decided that it would be a practical proposition and thus, on October 9th 1922, the first King Alfred stage carriage service was inaugurated, which Chisnell astutely extended to serve several of the villages around Winchester.

The service was operated solely by the Bartle-bodied Leyland RAF, which was specially converted to a bus for the purpose, taking two hours for the round trip.

From the early days of the charabancs, vehicles were allocated names for use in company records, although the vehicles themselves did not carry them.

The first two Leyland RAF chassis were given the names ‘Chara 1’ and ‘Chara 2’, whilst the Bartle-bodied Leyland RAF was known as ‘The Saloon’ (with the commencement of the stage carriage service on 9th October 1922 it was renamed ‘A Bus’).

This system remained in use until 1949, when it was dropped in favour of fleet numbers, carried on the vehicles above the fuel filler and on the platform.

By December 1923, Mr Chisnell had acquired a Leyland G4 with Leyland 24-seat bus body enabling him to double the frequency of the original service and introduce Sunday journeys.

Because of his involvement in several other ventures, which tied up most of his capital, Robert Chisnell was cautious about expanding further into the stage carriage field, preferring instead to build up the tours and excursions side of the business.

It was not until 1925 that he was prepared to introduce another new service, a mammoth fifteen-mile route to Overton via Sutton Scotney and Whitchurch.

Because of the difficulty in obtaining new vehicles, four second-hand Thornycroft J-types from Southampton Corporation were purchased; one of which was Chisnell’s first double-decker, although, by all accounts, it lasted barely a few weeks before it was sold on.

By now the Chisnell buses and coaches were carrying the famous King Alfred insignia on the side panels, in preference to a fleetname.

The following month another new service to Colden Common was introduced, and in 1926 further expansion of the stage carriage services occurred, including a service to Stockbridge, which, along with Whitchurch, became a King Alfred outstation.

During this time the only purchase was a single Dennis 30-cwt bus with Short 19-seat bodywork.

With the expansion into the Winchester countryside, a parcels service was introduced and a number of agencies were set up in various places along the routes.

In 1927 King Alfred services were extended to serve Crawley, and a number of modifications were made to existing routes.

Two more Dennis 30-cwt chassis were purchased this year, one bodied by Short Brothers to B18F and the other sporting a charabanc 14-seat body by Dennis themselves.

It has been assumed that these small Dennis buses were purchased as replacements for the Delaunay-Bellevilles, which had given sterling service and were still being used for private hire work until their retirement.

The small size of the Dennis buses meant that they could be used on sparsely populated routes without the need for a conductor and as relief vehicles on other routes when needed, and were still available as parcel carriers at Christmas time for the local GPO.

By the middle of 1928 King Alfred Motor Services had taken delivery of four new full-sized vehicles, two Albion PM28’s and two Leyland PLSC3 Lions. These served as replacements for the troublesome Thornycrofts, which were withdrawn at the end of 1929.

The two Lions were specifically purchased for the inauguration of an express service to London, which commenced on 1st May 1928, and passenger numbers were initially encouraging.

However, as the months passed bookings began to dwindle and it was withdrawn in January 1929, only to be re-instated in March and withdrawn again two years later in January 1931.

Another attempt to establish the express route was made in June 1931, but again withdrawn in November, and although the Traffic Commissioners granted a further licence in 1932, in the event the service was not run and was finally abandoned.

In 1929 seven more vehicles were added to the fleet and this necessitated the search for more space to accommodate the growing fleet.

The derelict remains of the old Colson’s Brewery in Chesil Street were acquired and converted, although not as quickly as Mr Chisnell would have liked, into the new Hillside garage, intended for use solely by buses; the coaches would remain garaged in the original premises purchased in 1920, later extended onto adjacent land.

With the coming of the Road Traffic Act of 1930, King Alfred, as did most companies of this era, became embroiled in battles over the running of various routes within its territory, notably the Winchester to Stockbridge service, via King’s Somborne.

As was the practice of the Traffic Commissioners in the early days of the new Act, licences to operate the various routes were granted to the operator who had first commenced operations on each particular route.

This caused some peculiar rulings at the time. King Alfred, who operated the Kings Somborne route on a daily basis, were refused a licence to operate the service, whilst a licence was granted to the operator (a Mr. Martin-Cooper) who had first served the community, although he was only providing a service for three days of the week!

Eventually, however, all the disputes were resolved and as time passed, services began to settle down.

New vehicles arriving in this decade were two Commer Invaders with coach bodies by Abbott, delivered in 1930 along with two more Albions. The deliveries in 1931 and 1933 were a mixture of Leyland and Dennis vehicles, before a return to Albion in 1935.

This was the year that Hants and Dorset opened their new bus station in the Broadway, an event that must have pleased Robert Chisnell, since it meant that all the competing Hants and Dorset buses were removed from their terminal points on the city centre streets.

In 1937, two more Lion LT7’s with Strachan bodywork were purchased, in 1938 a solitary Albion Victor, and in 1939 a single Leyland LT9 was added to the fleet.

In August 1939, Robert Chisnell formed a limited company, R. Chisnell & Sons Ltd., to administer the transport company and to reflect the increasing involvement of his sons in the business.

By 1940, King Alfred Motor Services had not only become firmly established as the principle operator in the Winchester area, but was now operating a well-maintained and up to date fleet of buses.

With the outbreak of the Second World War many staff left to join the forces and their numbers were made up by the recruitment of women to act as conductresses, some of whom were retained after the War and spent many years working for King Alfred.

With Winchester becoming a Reception Area for war evacuees, a number of buses were required to provide for the dispersal of the new arrivals and, at times, staff and vehicles had to be taken off regular services to cope with the demand.

The coach garage was requisitioned by the War Department to be used for the manufacture of Spitfire parts and was out of use for almost ten years, although the Hillside Garage was able to cope with the influx of additional vehicles, in part because of night-time dispersal of vehicles in the event of air raids.

Five of the current fleet were requisitioned; Dennis OU1154, Albion OU2011, Commer OU5720, Leyland Tiger OU8691 and Albion Victor COT647, of which only the Leyland Tiger was returned.

In many areas bus operators cut mileage and curtailed services, but with the growth of traffic in Winchester this proved impossible, and recognition of this fact was shown by the delivery of an ‘unfrozen’ Leyland Titan (ECG639) in March 1942.

This considerably relieved the overcrowding on King Alfred vehicles, whose fleet of single-deck vehicles included many with small capacity seating.

Four additional Guy Arab utility vehicles were obtained before the end of the War, two in 1942, one in 1943 and the final one in 1944, as well as a couple of almost mandatory Bedford OWB’s.

The War in Europe ended on May 8th 1945, but sadly Robert Chisnell was not to enjoy the new found peace for long, on June 5th 1945 he passed away, leaving King Alfred Motor Services under the control of his two sons, known affectionately as Mr. Bob and Mr. Fred.

The postwar years resulted in a boom for bus operators and King Alfred Motor Services was no exception, however, many vehicles had suffered through the necessary economies of war and was far from the immaculate fleet of the pre-war era.

Although manufacturers were now taking orders for new buses, they were unable to cope with the massive demand and it was to be January 1947 before any new buses, two all-Leyland ‘Titan’ PD1A’s were delivered to King Alfred.

This did little to alleviate the shortage of vehicles, however, and it was necessary to acquire two second-hand Bedford OWB’s to help maintain the services. In July 1947 the first of three PS1 Tigers arrived, enabling a planned new service to the Stoney Lane development to start.

By the end of the year an additional nine buses had eased management problems considerably, but concern was being expressed at the network of irregular services developed since the 1930’s and compounded by wartime economies.

As a result, in 1948 the network was revised with a view to providing more regular services on the city’s main thoroughfares, the full revisions being implemented in 1949, and for the first time King Alfred buses carried route numbers.

Although the only delivery in 1949 was a single Leyland PD2, diverted from an export order to South Africa, 1950 saw another substantial influx of vehicles, comprising two Albions and nine Leylands.

The nineteen-fifties proved to be the zenith of King Alfred Motor Services and from this time on bus passengers slowly began to decline, caused in part by the abolition of petrol rationing in 1951 and the consequent rise in private motoring.

For the first time since the 1930’s, the fares on King Alfred vehicles were raised. Throughout the early 1950’s several small independents in the Winchester area fell by the wayside, King Alfred taking over these routes largely to avoid the encroachment of the large nationalised companies into their territory.

That they were able to do this was a result of their returns from the lucrative city services, which helped them subsidise the less remunerative rural routes.

In 1953 a new route serving the Council development at Weeke was introduced, and soon proved that there was still a demand for urban services; by 1955 the initial half-hourly frequency had been doubled.

1953 also saw the introduction of two of the new lightweight Leyland Tiger Cub’s to the King Alfred fleet. They created such a good impression that another seven followed in the period up to 1959.

Throughout the 1960’s the rise of the motor car caused problems, not only in the fall of passenger numbers, but also, through increased traffic congestion, in the reliability of the services operated.

Although the frequency of the services to the growing Council estates at Stanmore and Weeke had been increased to cater for the expansion not all development was the same.

The new estate at Winnall was on a much smaller scale and, being closer to the city centre, not as viable for the Company. Nevertheless, King Alfred submitted applications for services to Winnall in response to Council demands, although a complete service was not introduced until 1961.

Staff shortages throughout the sixties, in part due to a reduction in drivers’ hours, caused untold problems for the Company, and with the amount of traffic congestion increasing almost daily, the Company found it difficult to maintain the advertised frequencies.

By the summer of 1963, the Company had only two-thirds the number of crews required and applied to the Traffic Commissioners to withdraw all Sunday services, which was refused.

Instead many little-used journeys in the evenings and on Sundays were withdrawn, benefiting the Company financially as well as helping to alleviate the staff shortage. In fact the Company found themselves in such a healthy position financially that a planned fare increase for 1965 was withdrawn!

In 1964 the first forward entrance vehicles to be added to the fleet arrived, in the shape of the AEC Renown, the King Alfred duo sporting Park Royal 75-seat bodywork.

AEC vehicles had been chosen since 1958 when an ex-demonstrator AEC Regent V had been purchased with subsequent deliveries being the Bridgemaster model.

With the demise of AEC the next order for vehicles reverted to Leyland and, in 1967, four Roe-bodied Atlanteans made their appearance.

The shortage of staff suffered by the Company throughout the sixties was not confined solely to drivers.

An acute shortage of skilled fitters meant that vehicles had to be maintained and repaired on a ‘make-do-and-mend’ basis, rather than on a regular routine, and the Company’s vehicles were now no longer in the immaculate state of previous years.

Although the stage carriage services had suffered over the last ten years, the coach excursions still performed their summer season duties without much trouble as they had done for the past half-century.

New coaches had been regularly purchased and the newest deliveries were all of Bedford manufacture; two VAL14’s in 1965 and 1966, two VAM5’s in 1966 and a VAM14 in 1967.

However, the wasteful use of large capacity vehicles on small volume private hires led the Company to purchase several 12-seater minibuses and a total of eight were purchased between 1967 and 1970.

By the beginning of the next decade doubts about the future of King Alfred Motor Services were being sounded. Service revisions in May 1970 introduced more cuts in unremunerative journeys, resulting in the loss of most evening and Sunday services.

This time the financial gains from the manoeuvre were short lived, with inflation rising, wage costs spiralling and the shortage of staff still an acute problem, the Chisnell’s decided to call it a day.

In 1971 talks were held with Winchester City Council about the possible acquisition of the company, but did not come to fruition.

In the meantime the Company ran as normal and three new Metro-Scanias were delivered, the last vehicles to bear the King Alfred livery.

By 1973, the acute problem of staff shortages, traffic congestion, reliability and ever decreasing passenger numbers caused the Company to surrender its public service licences, although it continued to operate under dispensation from the Traffic Commissioners until a buyer could be found.

In the end an offer from the Hants and Dorset Company for all the vehicles at written down book value (previously refused) was accepted and on Saturday the 28th April 1973, the doors of the Hillside Garage closed on King Alfred Motor Services for the last time.

In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
King Alfred Motor Services – Freeman, Jowitt, Murphy; Kingfisher Publications, 1984; King Alfred Motor Services Fleet History, Andrew Saunders (Author, 1992).

Fleet List 1920-1973 |