Webpage created: June 18, 2017
Webpage updated: August 19, 2019
Mr H P Stokes replaced Mr C R Everson in October 1919 as General Manager of the Plymouth Corporation Tramways Department. He not only commenced a complete reorganization and refurbishment of the tramways network but in 1920 announced that the use of motor buses in districts not served by the tramway network should be encouraged.
Although it is claimed that an ex London Transport bus was brought to Plymouth for trials, no local references to this vehicle have so far been uncovered. What is known is that a tender from Messrs W Mumford & Son was accepted on March 15th 1920 for the supply of twenty Straker Squires 34-seat 55hp buses at a cost of £1,725 each.
Apparently the chassis of the first vehicle to be completed, with a temporary body, was brought to Plymouth for testing on the local gradients and succeeded in climbing Ford Hill in second gear, at 12 miles an hour, with no fewer than 46 passengers on board.
Mr Stokes had designed the vehicle, which had a wheelbase of 14ft 6ins and a turning circle of 25 feet. It was capable of seating 34 passengers in normal use, with a facility to increase that number to 42 by utilising the gangway seats. The upper bodywork was of white enamel while the lower part was painted in a light primrose yellow livery. The light interior was of ash and mahogany and the seats were of dark green leather. It even had electric lights.
The first of Plymouth's motor bus fleet left the Straker Squires works at Edmonton, London, at 1.30pm on Saturday July 10th 1920 accompanied by Mr Stokes, Mr J Hayne Pillar, the Chairman of the Tramways Committee, and Councillor B Hipwood. Sadly the driver's name is not recorded. The party spent the night at Salisbury and set off again at 8am on the Sunday morning. The bus arrived in Plymouth at 8pm that evening.
It was put on show outside the Guildhall on the Monday and was later used to run the members of the Tramways Committee and invited guests around the proposed new bus routes.
Delivery of the remaining vehicles was extremely slow. The second bus was expected in August and ten more in September but it would appear from the Western Morning News that by September 21st 1920 only numbers 1, 2 and 3 had been received. Bus 19 was displayed at Olympia in October and the last two vehicles were not expected until Christmas. The total cost of the first twenty vehicles was reported to have been £38,500.
The first bus route was to be from Durnford Street, Stonehouse, along Millbay Road, George Street, Russell Street, York Street and Alma Road to Milehouse and thence through Wolseley Road, and Kent Road, to the junction of Station Road and Goschen Street at Keyham Barton. On June 21st 1920 the Council decided that the minimum fare should be two pence and thence a penny per mile after that.
Hostilities within the Council itself immediately broke out. The Watch Committee wanted to charge the Tramways Committee 1½d per mile for each vehicle. They were asked to waive this charge but refused to do so. The Deputy Mayor, Alderman J Y Woollcombe regretted the coming of the motor buses and 'expressed the hope that the Council would never again enter the domain of the private tradesman'. At another Council meeting Councillor L M Jacobs declared that he was opposed to all municipal trading and Councillor J L Cornish questioned the folly of purchasing 20 vehicles when five were quite sufficient. However, the residents of the village of Crownhill were more positive and they appealed to the Council for a reliable bus service.
This did not prevent the Council from purchasing just over 3 acres of land from the Manor authorities in order to build a garage for the buses at Milehouse. The land cost £3,000 plus fees and the tender of Messrs A C Jones & Son of Pennycomequick in the sum of £16,916 was accepted for the erection of the building. It was later reported that an error in the calculation of the estimate had been found and the correct amount was actually £17,562 6s 11d.
And so it was time to start the first motor bus service. This turned out to be a little premature as the tickets had still not been printed. As a result it was decided to give the public the benefit of joyrides for a week to encourage use of the vehicles. These started on Wednesday July 14th 1920. For the princely sum of sixpence, these trips ran from the Theatre through Alma Road to Milehouse and then along Tavistock Road to Fore Street, Devonport. From there the buses ran to Albert Road, Saint Levan Road, Wolseley Road and back to Milehouse, where they then turned off for Peverell Corner, Mutley Plain and back to the Guildhall. Possibly they terminated here so that if anybody wanted another sixpennyworth they would have to run through to the Theatre and join the back of the queue.
The routes provisionally adopted at that time were:
A service to Plympton was also proposed but no details were given.
Exactly which route started first is still a mystery. At the Council meeting on Monday September 20th 1920 it was stated that they still had only three vehicles out of the twenty ordered. A report was presented on the income for the four weeks ending Saturday September 11th 1920. The receipts from the bus services was £333 but the Return itself did not give details of the services operated. Bus number 1 had operated for for the full 28 days while number 2 had only run for 18 days. Given that number 1 arrived in Plymouth back in July, this implies that it did not enter fare-paying passenger-carrying service until Sunday August 15th 1920, with the second bus starting on Wednesday August 25th 1920. Bus number 3 had only started on September10th 1920.
Route 1 (later A) appears to have started during September 1920, when the route was reported as 'provisionally adopted' or possibly the first week in October 1920, when it was stated that it was hoped to soon have enough vehicles for a bus to meet every ferry.
Nine vehicles were on the road by the beginning of October 1920 and two more were expected to be delivered by the end of the following week. The routes stated to be in operation as at Saturday October 9th were to Laira; from Prince Rock to Fore Street and North Keyham Dockyard Gate; and one to the Saltash Ferry at Saltash Passage. The Laira route was going to be extended the following week via King Street, Cecil Street, Millbridge, to Haddington Road at Stoke. One further route proposed was from Mount Gold (sic) via Queen's Gate, Lipson Road, and Regent Street to Bedford Street.
Plymouth Corporation's first motor bus services were:-
There was then a break of two years and Service "E" from the Piers to Cattedown then appeared in June 1925.
The last meeting of Plymouth Council's Tramways Committee took place on October 19th 1925. There were only five motor bus services at that time.
At the beginning of the new municipal year 1925-26 it was replaced by the Tramways and Transport Committee, which met for the first time on November 16th 1925, when Alderman Fredman was elected to the chair. Presumably the Department was renamed the Tramways and Transport Department although there is no evidence that his title was used on the vehicles.
Although initially the routes were numbered, this caused much confusion to Plymothians and by January 1926 the numbers had been replaced by letters.
Route "F" from East Street, outside the Plymouth Market, to the Torpoint Ferry was started in December 1925.
By now the Beacon Park and Swilly districts were filling up with housing so Route "G" began at the end of 1925 or in January 1926 to cater for traffic from those areas. Route "H" from Morice Square, Devonport, to Higher Saint Budeaux followed in July 1926.
As the Corporation bought more and more vehicles so the number of services expanded faster. During 1927 no fewer than four new ones appeared: Route "I" from Hartley to Manor Street; Route "Lc" (quite why the intelligent folk of Lower Compton needed the second letter in their designation is not known but one supposes that in such a gentrified district talking about "route elsie" sounded better than "route 'ell"); Route "M" (Guildhall through Saint Jude's to the Embankment); and finally Route "N" from Hartley to Phoenix Wharf.
Route "P" was introduced in December 1928. This ran from Fore Street, Devonport, to Pasley Street whereas tram Route P (the only lettered tram route in the City) ran from the City Centre to Peverell Corner.
In March 1929 Route K, from Plymouth to Devonport via Beacon Park and Keyham, commenced and the last motor bus service to be started was the Route J, a Sunday afternoon special from Cattedown Corner to the Cemetery at Ford Park, introduced in May 1930.
During the 1930s, after giving thought to running trolley buses, Plymouth Corporation finally decided to start a tramway replacement programme. The programme would have been complete by the end of the decade had not the declaration of War in September 1939 stopped the closure of the final stretch of tramway from the City Centre to Peverell Corner.
There were only five tramway services left running in Plymouth when, on Monday April 5th 1937, the Tramways and Transport Department renumbered all the tramway and motor bus routes in one number sequence and eliminated the lettered routes.
The destruction of vehicles, lack of manpower and
need to conserve fuel brought about discussions on co-operation between the
Corporation and Western National Omnibus Company Ltd, who were the only
other major operator in the area by then. Those discussions resulted in the
Plymouth Joint Services Agreement being signed in October 1942.