The Rise – The Glory – The Demise

Black & White Motorways was the brainchild of its founder, one George Readings who had previously operated coaches in Ewhurst, Surrey under the style of Surrey Hill Motor Services. The business was started in 1921 and by early in 1926 had been sold. Looking for a new venture and pastures new, George decided to move to Cheltenham and acquired his first Reo coach painted in Black & White, in June 1926. This first vehicle was garaged at a site in Newcourt Road, at the rear of the Moorend Park Hotel, Charlton Kings, later to become the home of the then Diamond Laundry.

2 further Reo’s followed very quickly and a move was made to premises on the corner of the Cirencester Road and Newcourt Road, Charlton Kings. These first coaches operated local tours and a weekly journey to London. By early 1927 the business was operating 3 times a day in each direction to London, while service extensions were made beyond Cheltenham to Tewkesbury & Malvern by December 1927. 1928 saw Worcester added to the extensions, Gloucester, Bristol, & Hereford also added by February of that year. The end of 1928 saw the Worcester service extended to Ludlow & the fleet had increased in size to 21 vehicles.

Whilst this was going on George Readings formed Black & White Motorways into a Limited Company, it acquiring the 100% holding of George’s Motor Coach & Garage Business. The registered office was to be Paris House, The Promenade, Cheltenham, which had become the departure point for local tours.

With the rapid expansion of the business due to successful express services, private hire work and luxury tours, the fleet again increased and George Readings was beginning to feel the pressure of running a successful fledgling business. The time was right for the selling of his share holding.

On the 30th April 1930, he sold out completely to the Birmingham & Midland Motor Omnibus Co Ltd (BMMO). They in turn (BMMO) hived off part off their new acquired shareholding to Bristol Tramways & Carriage Co Ltd, and a smaller share to City of Oxford Motor Services.

Express Service expansion continued apace and during 1931 services were extended or introduced to Derby, Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton, Nottingham and a summer only service to Aberystwyth. By the end of that year the fleet, mostly new vehicles rather than acquired numbered 60 in all.

With this number of vehicles, the need for larger premises was apparent and so with this in mind St Margaret’s Hall in St Margaret’s Road, Cheltenham was purchased in 1932. This was to become the new home for Black & White Motorways Ltd, and the site of the first Coach Station, (the second was to follow almost 20 years later).

Whilst the Coach Station was to become the centre for coach services to & from all parts of the country, the luxury tour programme was still operating from Paris House. Additional picking up points were situated throughout the town and surrounding area with Gloucester being added later.

The company continued to expand and several acquisitions were made. In 1933 Ensign Motor Coaches Ltd, of NW London was purchased along with a London-Oxford-Worcester-Aberystwyth service. Also acquired during the same year was Link Safety Coaches of Bournemouth, who operated a Bournemouth-Oxford service. Mid 1933 saw the joint venture purchase of South Wales Express Coaches Lt of London who operated a London-Newport-Cardiff-Swansea-Llanelli service. Red & White Services of Chepstow jointly funded this purchase.

By now there were many bus & coach companies operating throughout the country and in order to maximise carrying capacity and revenue without undue competition several of the larger businesses agreed to sit down around the table and discuss the future. So it was, on the 1st July 1934 a major revolution took part in coaching history. An operators association to be known as Associated Motorways, centred on Cheltenham Coach Station came into operation and assured control over the majority of the express coach services operated by the founding members. By agreement, “non pool” services continued to be operated by the members from their own area bases.

The founder members of Associated Motorways were, Black & White Motorways Ltd, Red & White Services Ltd, Birmingham & Midland Omnibus Co Ltd, United Counties Omnibus Co.Ltd, Greyhound Motors (1929) Ltd, Elliot Bros. (Bournemouth) Ltd. Greyhound Motors was a subsidiary company of Bristol Tramways & Carriage Co.Ltd and its total shareholding passed to ‘Bristol ‘ in 1936. Elliot Bros. was trading as Royal Blue Automobile Services. Hants & Dorset Motor Services and the Southern & Western National Omnibus Companies acquired the business jointly in 1935. The express services (Royal Blue) passed directly to Southern & Western National

The partnership was further increased by the addition of Eastern Counties Omnibus Co.Ltd, Lincolnshire Road Car Co. Crosville Motor Services Ltd, and Southdown Motor Services Ltd. Year on year this partnership strengthened with more destinations, and increased frequency of services under the leadership of Mr William Coombes and in later years under the guidance of Mr.Peter Milroy until 17th October 1973 when the partnership was terminated. More of this later.

A major blow was to hit Black & White Motorways in 1942 when the Coach Station Booking Hall and several vehicles were destroyed by enemy aircraft bombing. The site was cleared and temporary facilities provided, these lasting well after the end of the war in 1945.

After a slow start following the end of the war, business picked up and soon the coaches were travelling countrywide with full loads. In 1951 following extensive rebuilding, the revamped coach station was unveiled. At that time very modern lines were used in its construction, the overall site size had been extended and a new overhead canopy erected over the departure bays. Along with a new Booking Hall, Cafeteria, Toilet Facilities, Drivers Rest Room & Inspectors Office, the upper floors provided Administration & Management Offices.

The refuelling area consisted of a 2 pit 3 road thro’ covered building which housed refuelling & routine servicing of Black & White vehicles between journeys. Located at the side was a drive through vehicle wash.

The garage building itself housed maintenance pits, parking facilities, spray shop, body shop, tyre bay, and a trimming shop as well as garage staff amenities. Upstairs were the offices of the Chief Engineer and his back up staff who controlled the maintenance programmes for the fleet. Also contained were the Traffic Managers Office, Superintendents Office, Secretarial Staff and Uniform Stores.

During the early 50’s two main groups of Bus & Coach operators came to the front. These were the British Electric Traction Group (BET) owners of BMMO, and others and Thomas Tilling, owners of Bristol Omnibus. The history and make up of these two groups is well documented in numerous books available.

Thus the Board of Directors of Black & White Motorways was made up of executives from BET, Thomas Tilling and its own General Manager.

From the 1930’s thro’ to the 1960’s Black & White Motorways thrived through expansion, quality coaches, good passenger loading, excellent services and a care for it’s customers in all spheres of it’s operation.

However, as 1968 drew to a close all this was about to change, in many people’s eyes for the worse. The Government backed National Bus Company came into being on the 1st January 1969 and Black & White became a subsidiary company. By the 11th February 1974, NBC itself was being renamed National Travel. Business units were formed thro’ the coaching companies and with the introduction of National Travel (South West) the Black & White fleetname was gone.

This ended 50 years of Black & White Motorways, The Rise, The Glory & The Demise was complete.

Almanac 1926 – 1976

June  1926     George Readings began operating

April 1928     Black & White Motorways becomes a registered name

1930     Company sold to Birmingham & Midland Omnibus Co

1932     St Margaret’s Road opened

1934     Associated Motorways formed

1951     Rebuilt Coach Station operational

Jan    1969     National Bus Company acquire Black & White Motorways

Oct   1973     Associated Motorways disbanded

Feb   1974     National Travel (South West) takes over and ends Black & White.

Content originally published by John Keene and Trevor Walton

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