Silver Star Motor Services was formed in September 1923, when the two partners, Eddie Shergold and Ben White took delivery of a new Ford T chassis with Pitt (of Fordingbridge) canvas-hooded 14-seat body.
The vehicle was registered HR9447 on the 13th September 1923 and with it the partners commenced a regular service between Allington (the original base) and the Porton Camps, via Winterbourne Gunner, Winterbourne Dauntsey and Winterbourne Earls to Salisbury.
There were three return journeys daily during the week, with one journey on Sundays. During the summer season the timings were such that the vehicle was able to work an afternoon tour from Salisbury on behalf of a local independent operator.
The name chosen for the service was ‘Silver Star’, although the reasons for this are not clear.
Some have suggested that it was the choice of Ben White who borrowed the name from a popular waltz of the time; others have suggested that it was because of the shining aluminium panels of the first vehicle.
Whatever the reason, the name obviously appealed to Eddie Shergold (possibly because during the Great War he had served on the destroyer ‘Morning Star’) and Silver Star was born.
The Silver Star service was not the only one in the Bourne Valley.
Wilts & Dorset had begun operations in 1915 and had been steadily increasing their influence in the Salisbury area, and there were several other small operators such as Bartley of Tidworth, Razey of Cholderton, Armstead of Newton Toney and Lee of Winterbourne who also provided some sort of service, especially on Salisbury market days.
Wilts & Dorset had commenced running between Salisbury and Tidworth via Winterbourne and Allington in the spring of 1923, and were the pioneers of regular stage carriage services in the Bourne Valley.
Silver Star’s appearance on the same route immediately made the two operators rivals, and sparked off competition that would last until the end.
Over the next few years more vehicles were added to the Silver Star fleet and by 1927 (now garaged at Porton Camp) it numbered five vehicles.
The original Ford T (HR9447) had, by now, gone and the fleet consisted of two Crossley’s (B9396 with a saloon bus body and BY6412 with canvas-hooded body), two Albion Vikings (ML1862 and MR8049, both with canvas-hooded bodies) and a Rolls Royce Silver Ghost chassis, that was later bodied by Wray of London with a polished aluminium 20-seat coach body.
The Rolls Royce was an unusual choice for a coach chassis, but Shergold and White were obviously impressed with its qualities, for, shortly afterwards, they acquired another (XY8727), which received similar treatment that included conversion to six-wheel layout by the addition of a trailing axle.
Following the implementation of the 1930 Road Traffic Act, Silver Star applied for licences to operate daily stage carriage services from Allington to Salisbury via Porton Camp; from Salisbury to Sling, via Amesbury and Bulford Camp, and from Salisbury to Andover, via Amesbury, Bulford Camp, Tidworth and Ludgershall, as well as tours and excursions licences from Porton Camp and Salisbury.
When the application were heard, the Traffic Commissioners granted licences for all the stage carriage services except the Salisbury to Andover route, which was unfortunate since Silver Star had just taken delivery of MW8982, a Leyland Tiger TS1, which was ostensibly for this route and advertised the termini and intermediate stopping places above the window louvres.
The tours and excursions licence from Salisbury was also refused, although Silver Star persisted in their attempts to overturn the decision until the end.
In 1933 additional excursion licences were granted from Bulford Camp, after Silver Star had taken over the licences of Hawkins of Durrington and others based there.
There was a great amount of competition amongst local operators during the 1930’s for the lucrative military band work.
Although the bands were demanding in their requirements, the nationwide mileage travelled on their engagements was substantial and the revenue earned was equally remunerative.
Silver Star was able to obtain a fair proportion of this traffic and some of their coaches were equipped with large roof racks to facilitate the carriage of musical instruments.
Military band work continued to provide useful income for the Company until their demise.
New and used vehicles were added to the fleet when necessary and included an AEC Regal (later No. 13) and an ex-Southampton Corporation Leyland Lioness in 1935.
In August 1937, Silver Star disposed of their interest in the Salisbury to Sling route to their arch rivals Wilts & Dorset, which proved to be an unwise decision, since the route turned out to be one of the more profitable country routes operated by Wilts & Dorset in the postwar period.
In the period preceding the Second World War there was a substantial build up of passenger traffic on the Company’s stage carriage services, particularly to Winterbourne Dauntsey where the construction of new barracks at Figsbury Camp was taking place.
Silver Star’s single-deck fleet experienced severe loading difficulties at times and the Company’s solution was to purchase a number of second-hand Leyland Titan TD1 double-deckers from Yorkshire Woollen District to cope with the extra traffic.
With the outbreak of hostilities in 1939 several of Silver Star’s single-deck vehicles were requisitioned by the War Department and it was necessary to import several elderly vehicles into the fleet to cope.
Another vehicle was lost after a collision with a tank at Targett’s Corner, Porton, in 1942.
By the end of the war the Silver Star fleet was in poor condition, the ageing Leyland Titans were past their best days and the elderly single-deckers acquired as a stopgap measure were virtually worn out, but all were required to soldier on for a little while longer.
Following the end of the War, only one of the requisitioned vehicles returned (AAM756, the 1936 Tiger TS7), although another TS7 (BMX331) formerly operated by Beach of Staines in the prewar period, was acquired via the US Army depot at Weyhill, Hants.
The first new vehicle of the postwar era arrived in January 1947. No. 22 (EAM776) was an all-Leyland Titan PD1 with L27/26R bodywork and it was followed in September of the same year by No. 24 (EMW703), a Leyland Tiger PS1/1 with Duple C33F bodywork, which also marked the end of an era, as it was to be the last vehicle delivered in the unpainted polished panelling that had been the hallmark of prewar Silver Star vehicles.
The services between Allington and Salisbury via Porton Camp had remained unchanged for a number of years when, in 1948, Wilts & Dorset applied for a licence for a daily service between Salisbury and Porton Camp, apparently at the invitation of the Porton Camp authorities.
This would have affected Silver Star’s service dramatically, especially as the heaviest loadings were between these two points. In the end it seems an agreement was reached, for Wilts & Dorset subsequently withdrew their application.
The following year, Silver Star took over the East Gomeldon to Salisbury service of Mrs. M. Lee of Winterbourne Gunner, which was merged with the Salisbury to Winterbourne Dauntsey Camp service (which demanded low-height double-deckers because of a low bridge) and incorporated in the Salisbury to Allington licence in 1956.
Three of the ageing Leyland TD1’s had been withdrawn by 1950 as unfit for further service, but two [Nos. 15 (HD4155) and 16 (HD4153)] were re-bodied by Strachans, with No. 15 receiving a Leyland diesel engine, whilst No. 16 was fitted with a Gardner 5LW unit, enabling them to give a further eight years service.
Silver Star had started to rebuild the sixth TD1 themselves, but the progress was slow and was never completed so the vehicle (No. 14) was sold for scrap in 1952 and the Gardner 5LW engine purchased for it was sold off to a showman.
Replacements for the withdrawn Titans arrived in the shape of two ex-Birmingham TD4c chassis of 1937 vintage, (COX966 and COX968) which became Silver Star’s Nos. 19 and 25 respectively.
They were joined by ABN622, a former Bolton Corporation TD5c built in 1938 and carrying Massey H54R bodywork, which became No. 17. Another new vehicle was delivered in 1951 when No. 18 (GWV360) joined the fleet.
This was a Leyland PD2/1 with Leyland H56R bodywork. At the same time the prewar Tigers (Nos. 21 and 23) were extensively rebuilt by Heaver in the early fifties to a full-fronted design and fitted with diesel engines.
In the 1950’s another major source of income arose from the provision of weekend-leave express coach services for HM Forces personnel stationed at the local camps.
Troops had been carried to and from various centres in the prewar years, although it had been largely on a ‘private-hire’ basis and it was not until Wilts & Dorset had been granted a licence to operate an express service from Boscombe Down to London in 1951 that express services began to flourish.
Previously the troops had had to rely on ‘railhead’ services (provided by Wilts & Dorset), which connected their camps to the nearest railway station, where they could board the London trains.
Applications by a number of operators for express service licences to London were refused by the Traffic Commissioners, apparently on the grounds that the ‘railhead’ services were adequate and it had come of something as a surprise when the Wilts & Dorset application was granted, especially as Silver Star had been earlier refused an ‘excursions’ licence between the same two points.
Nevertheless the granting of this licence heralded the explosion of express services from the Salisbury Plain camps.
By 1952 Silver Star had been authorised to operate forces express services from Bulford Camp, Porton Camp and Winterbourne.
In mid-1953 they had received further licences to operate from Bulford Camp, Todworth and Perham Down to Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool.
At the same time, Wilts & Dorset and several smaller operators were also building up a network of express services from Salisbury Plain and this led to a struggle for supremacy, with keen competition in booking passengers, intense rivalry on the roads and bitter confrontations in the Traffic Courts as each operator made numerous applications for new services and applied to vary existing ones.
Initially the Licensing Authority and the operators had accepted that each camp was to be considered the preserve of one particular operator, except where there were equal claims on the passenger traffic.
This led to Silver Star being the dominant operator at Bulford Camp, whilst Boscombe Down was regarded as Wilts & Dorset territory.
In the mid-1950’s Silver Star realised that the future of express services lay not in the one camp one operator policy but rather in connecting a dozen or more camps to a network of nationwide express services.
Despite opposition, Silver Star gradually pushed this policy to one side and succeeded in extending their services northwards to Newcastle upon Tyne, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
In July 1952, Silver Star took delivery of their first underfloor-engined vehicle, a Leyland Royal Tiger fitted with distinctive Leyland C41C bodywork minus headboard, which was later added by a local panel beater.
Numbered 13 (HWV793), this vehicle was involved in a fatal accident in 1956 whilst returning from Newcastle upon Tyne. The Leyland body was scrapped and replaced by a new Harrington Contender C41C body and re-numbered 28.
A similar vehicle (No. 14: JMR736) was added to the fleet in March 1953.
In 1954 the first of a number of similar coaches arrived. Nos. 11 and 12 (KMW643-644) were Harrington-bodied Tiger Cubs and were followed in 1955 by Nos. 10 and 26 (MMR552-553), which differed only in detail from the two earlier vehicles.
The odd man out in 1955 was No. 20 (LMW483), another Tiger Cub, but with Burlingham ‘Seagull’ style bodywork.
In 1957, Silver Star, supported by the Porton Camp authorities, submitted an application for an express service from Bemerton Heath (a new housing estate in Salisbury) to Porton Camp, with the intention of transporting Ministry of Supply workers directly to the Camp, avoiding the need to transfer in mid-journey, as was the case at present.
Despite objections by Wilts & Dorset and British Railways, who stood to lose passengers, the licence was granted.
During the peak years of express traffic from Salisbury Plain (1957 to 1959), Silver Star departures left on Thursday afternoons, Friday middays and late evenings and Saturday middays, mostly requiring two coaches, except on the later Friday departures when up to 10 may have been needed.
By now the company had developed a system of feeder coaches that called at the individual camps picking up all passengers and ferrying them to a central departure point at Tidworth (the principal camp on Salisbury Plain) where they exchanged vehicles for their respective destinations.
Although Silver Star did not pioneer express services from the Plain, they were generally regarded as the leaders. The distinctive silver and red livery stood out amongst their competitors and the coaches were some of the finest available.
All postwar coaches had been equipped with heaters (still not a standard feature amongst some of their competitors) and radio, popular with the troops. In the summer season extra revenue was earned by hiring out these immaculate vehicles to other operators at their terminal points.
Where Silver Star led others followed and even Wilts & Dorset were obliged to fit radios to a number of their vehicles in the face of unrelenting competition.
Despite the attention lavished on the coaches for express work, the stage service was not forgotten. In May 1956, the first of the prewar Titans (No. 17: ABN622) was replaced by a Titan TD7 that had been new to Maidstone and District in 1940.
It had Weymann H54R bodywork and took the fleet number of the vehicle it replaced. The following year Silver Star placed the first of several one-man operated vehicles into service.
No. 31 (PHR829) was the first of three Tiger Cubs with Harrington dual-purpose 41-seat bodywork so equipped.
The two remaining vehicles (Nos. 32 and 33) were not delivered until early in 1958, until which time No. 31 was only able to carry out limited one-man operation.
It was perhaps unfortunate that Silver Star had standardised on centre-entrance coaches during the 1950’s as it might have been just as practical to relegate some of the earlier coaches to one-man work had they had forward entrances.
The Setright Insert system of ticket issue with its green single tickets and pink return tickets proved unsuitable for one-man operation and so the Setright Speed system (on pale yellow tickets) was introduced specifically for omo workings.
In 1959, Silver Star made their only appearance at the British Coach Rally with No. 34 (SAM47), a Tiger Cub with Harrington C41F bodywork.
Later that year the company became the first independent operator to place the new Leyland Atlantean PDR1/1 in service. No. 35 (TMW853) carried Weymann L39/34F bodywork.
The next purchase was somewhat of a surprise. It came in the form of No. 36 (KGU263), a 1949 Leyland 7RT with Park Royal H30/26R bodywork, formerly London Transport’s RTL305.
November 1959 saw a co-ordinated timetable introduced by Silver Star and Wilts & Dorset, with a more even frequency being provided and some uneconomic journeys withdrawn.
Silver Star remained the major operator on its stage route running a half-hour frequency, with peak period extras, but with a reduced service on Sundays.
Some journeys linked East Gomeldon with Salisbury via Porton Village and Winterbourne Gunner, whilst the main route split at Targett’s Corner to serve Porton Camp and Allington, with slightly more journeys to Porton Camp.
In July 1960 the second Atlantean (No. 37: VAM944) entered service. It had a Weymann L39/34F body, the external trim of which bore a distinct resemblance to the ‘Gay Hostess’ coaches of the Ribble-Standerwick fleet.
It made such an impression on Silver Star that a few months later the original Atlantean (No. 35: TMW853) was returned to Weymann for similar treatment. No. 37 also displayed the new standard Silver Star emblem, not unlike the circle and bar design of London Transport, a miniature version of which was produced as a lapel badge for road staff.
The next additions to the fleet were based on Leyland’s Leopard chassis. No. 38 (WAM441) entered service in August 1960, whilst No. 39 (WWV564) entered service in December of the same year.
Both carried Harrington C41F bodywork, the latter in the attractive Cavalier-style.
One month later, in August 1960, Silver Star applied to operate Atlanteans on military express services; an application which was viewed with some alarm by their rivals since the high capacity vehicles posed a threat to their proposed pooling arrangements and their business.
Silver Star were already operating double-deckers on their London route and had been for some seven years.
At the hearing in September 1960, the company argued that the Atlantean would offer increased economy (at this time Silver Star was hiring two coaches every week-end for return only journeys), convenience and flexibility.
Although the Traffic Commissioners accepted that Atlanteans were suitable for express work they did not find favour with the company’s reasoning and refused the application.
Six months later, Silver Star again applied for permission to use the Atlanteans on express routes, this time Atlantean No. 37 (VAM944) was parked outside the sitting, alongside the former No. 17 (ABN622), which had been cut down to a tree lopping vehicle in response to one of the criticisms at the earlier hearing (that Silver Star were not equipped to survey the routes regularly and deal with overhead obstructions).
Again the Traffic Commissioners were not satisfied with Silver Star’s arguments, although conceding that the Atlantean was indeed a fine vehicle, and refused the application.
This was a blow to the Company, who had ordered three more Atlanteans in the belief that the application would be successful.
One was already under construction and was fitted out by bodybuilders Weymann to coach standards, apparently in anticipation of the granting of the licence. No. 40 (XMW706), was delivered in July 1961 and proved to be something of a liability to Silver Star, since the high mileage required to recover the costs of construction was never achieved, although it did operate frequently on the London service for which such vehicles were authorised.
Only one of the two remaining Atlanteans materialised, one was cancelled before construction had begun, as was an order for a Leyland Leopard with Harrington Cavalier bodywork.
The run down of the military camps meant that express work was on the decline and already Silver Star had coaches idle at the weekends.
Departures from Salisbury Plain for weekend leave had been reduced and now just seven or eight coaches left on Fridays only.
The final addition to the fleet was No. 42 (1013MW), the fourth Atlantean, which arrived in February 1962 and replaced the PD1 No. 22 (EAM776).
In October 1962, Eddie Shergold died. He had been the fire behind Silver Star, and was largely responsible for driving the company forward, and his passing left the company without a heart. It was inevitable, therefore, that Silver Star was now living on borrowed time.
The surviving partner, Ben White, had already decided to retire and resolved that the company should cease to operate.
In May 1963 the press announced that the ‘merger’ of Silver Star with its old enemy Wilts & Dorset would take place at midnight on the 4th June 1963, with Wilts & Dorset taking over the operations the following day.
Silver Star’s last departure was carried out by No. 32 (PMW386), which left on the 22.35 working from Salisbury to Porton Down.
It arrived back at Porton Down just after 23.00. Around 45 minutes later, the final Silver Star vehicle arrived back at the depot. No. 41 (367BAA) was the last vehicle of all to operate under Silver Star ownership, returning from a private hire trip to Southampton.
And at midnight the depot doors finally closed on Silver Star Motor Services Limited forever and the story was over.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Silver Star Story by David J. N. Pennels (Buses Illustrated Nos. 118 (January 1965) – 120 (March 1965), Ian Allan); The Rising and Setting of the Silver Star by Steve Chislett (Chapter 4 of ‘Wilts & Dorset 1915-1995; Eighty Years of Motor Services’, Millstream 1995); PSV Circle Fleet History (PH2A).