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Celebrating century of city life on the buses
WHEN William Morris created Oxford’s first bus service on December 5, 1913, he completely changed city life in one fell swoop, a trait that he was later to become renowned for.
The petrol bus service, which he sold in a matter of months to the more established Oxford tramway company, opened up a route to surrounding villages of Headington, Cowley and Botley, forging the Oxford we know today.
To celebrate the lasting effect his astute business move had on Oxford, the Oxford Bus Museum, based in Long Hanborough, last Thursday recreated that first petrol bus journey from Cowley to Oxford Railway station.
- Two early motor buses at the junction of Cowley Road and Southfield Road, Oxford, in 1914
Museum trustee Stephen Jolly, who played the part of bus conductor for the journey, explained how buses remain an integral part of Oxford.
He said: “I can’t see how Oxford as we know it at the moment would operate without buses.
“About 45 per cent of all trips into the city are made by bus.
“Compared with some other places, Oxford does have a good bus service. A bus service on a Sunday is still unusual in some places.”
- City of Oxford Motor Service employees at the Cowley Road garage in the 1930s
When Morris, later to become Lord Nuffield, created the first petrol bus service in town in 1913, Oxford was already playing catch-up.
People were still travelling on horse-drawn trams running on tracks which only extended as far as the city boundaries, preventing them going to the villages.
Towns like Reading, Swindon and Northampton had all already converted to electric tramways in the preceding decade.
But in Oxford there was strong opposition to the idea of running electric overhead wires through the historic city streets.
Morris immediately spotted the business opportunity.
- Buses in Oxford in January 1966
The cost of installing the electric tramway would at that time have been in the order of £250,000, and creating an entire fleet of petrol buses reportedly cost a tenth of that.
The effect of the new petrol buses was very quickly felt.
By December 30 – just three weeks later – the Oxford Tramway Company was already running its own petrol services in town.
In June the following year, Morris completely sold his bus service to the tramway firm, and started buying the cheap petrol engines from America to make the cars that would transform him into one of the most famous car manufacturers in history.
- The one-man operated double-decker buses made an early appearance on roads in the Oxford area in 1969
City of Oxford Electric Tramways changed its name in the 1920s to City of Oxford Motor Services Ltd, which is now known as the Oxford Bus Company.
Buses continued to have both drivers and conductors in Oxford until the 1960s, and in 1969 the first one-man double deckers started taking passengers.
- The Number 1 bus is driven past Carfax Topwer in Oxford on its commemorative journey
Deputy Lord Mayor of Oxford Tony Brett joined the centenary bus journey.
He said: “Buses are hugely important to Oxford.
“If you took everybody off the buses and put them in cars there would be gridlock.
“The addition of the first bus service 100 years ago enabled people to live further out, but still work in the city which furthered our economic development.”
Day behind wheel was just a busman’s holiday
JOHN Bayliss is Cowley born and bred.
Born in 1941, he started working at the Cowley works in 1956, getting the bus to work with his father and most of his relatives. But for a brief stint in the 1960s, he became a bus driver.
He sat behind the wheel of a 1949 “low bridge” Number 1 bus, taking plant workers to and from their jobs each day. The bus was so-called because it could not go under certain bridges, like the Oxford railway station bridge.
- Former bus driver John Bayliss at the wheel
Mr Bayliss, 72, remembered: “At dinner time we would go up to the works, pick them up, then drive down the Cowley Road and drop them off at The Plain.
“We would wait 20 minutes then take them all back again.”
Now a trustee of the Oxford Bus Museum, Mr Bayliss got back behind the wheel of a Number 1 bus last Thursday to take it for one more trip down the Cowley Road.
He said: “I hadn’t driven down the Cowley Road in 50 years, it was very frightening. At one point the wind hit the bus and nearly grabbed the steering wheel out of my hands.
“But we were lucky because the road was almost deserted. I had never seen it so empty in my life, which made my job a bit easier.”
Clippie lawyer proves he always had room on top
Oxford Bus Museum Trustee Chris Butterfield was a bus conductor in the 1960s.
But last Thursday he was trying to stop people from boarding the bus as it made its ceremonial journey through Oxford.
Mr Butterfield, 70, said: “It was great fun. The day was a hugely significant milestone in the history of transport.”
Mr Butterfield first worked as a bus conductor, or clippie, in his native West Yorkshire.
- Former bus conductor Chris Butterfield standing on the rear platform of the bus
He came to Oxford University in 1962 and studied languages for three years before returning to his job in public transport in the north.
He later changed his career and became a lawyer, but Oxford stayed in his heart and he returned to work in the city for 30 years while living in Thame.
Mr Butterfield, now of Aylesbury, Bucks, said: “Buses were very important in tying in with William Morris. They meant you could commute from outside into town. The first buses from Wantage, Witney and Abingdon weren’t going into the city centre, they were going to the Cowley works.”
Mr Butterfield said he is currently the only trustee at the museum who actually worked as a bus conductor.
- William Morris’s first ever bus journey was on December 5, 1913.
- Thursday’s event commemorated exactly 100 years of continuous motor-bus operation in the City of Oxford.
- The first bus, the number one, ran from Cowley along the Cowley Road to the Oxford railway station.
- Morris ran his new bus fleet in competition with the established horse tramway company’s service until the more established company replied with its own motor-buses.
- Morris sold his bus business in 1914 to concentrate on making cars and had nothing further to do with Oxford’s buses.
- The last horse-drawn tram in Oxford ran in August 1914.
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