THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE COUNTRY BUSES
As we approach the end of the first decade of the millennium, it is difficult to imagine how transport has developed over the last century. The residents of Caernarfon and district seldom travelled in the horse drawn buses of the last century and had to wait until 1909 before seeing a bus driven by a motor on their roads.
The first service bus carrying passengers in Caernarfonshire travelled between Caernarfon and Dinas Dinlle and it is not difficult to imagine the excitement on witnessing this new devise.
Adults and children looked on in amazement on seeing a bus negotiating the streets without horses pulling it. Then, later on in the year, the bus was used to travel daily between Caernarfon and the village of Llanaelhaearn and on Market Day in Pwllheli it would continue on its journey to that town, returning late in the evening to Caernarfon.
This service was soon followed by other small companies. Between the years 1909 and the start of World War I in 1914, regular services ran from villages like Rhostryfan, Nantlle and Penygroes to Caernarfon. When war broke out in 1914, however, it became more difficult to obtain supplies of petrol to run them and services were not allowed to villages where train services existed.
The speed of the earlier buses was between 6 and 10 miles per hour and remained so throughout the war. But despite that more and more was learned about the effectiveness of motors during the war and many soldiers were taught to drive and to become mechanics. There are examples of many returning to civilian life and obtaining work as drivers of buses, vans and other vehicles. There were many opportunities for experienced drivers in the post war years, with the result that many small companies were established.
These companies did not have fixed timetables, however, and could not be relied upon should a villager wish to catch a train for instance. The buses did not start until there were sufficient passengers to make the journey profitable, but despite this the public appreciated the service and, in general, the buses were reasonably full. It was also possible to use a bus to carry parcels and to do the work normally associated with the Post Office.
During the 1920's and with scores of companies having been established, more than one company would travel on the same route and they were forced into adhering to a timetable so that buses belonging to different companies would not arrive at a bus stop at the same time and this brought better organization to the services. By then, however, some companies had begun to call themselves according to the colour of their buses and some of the most popular in the area were Caernarfon Red, Bangor Blue and Bethesda Grey, but not all of them. Others called their companies according to the name of the area they served e.g. Peris Motors.
But there were others more ingenious. The owners of one company went under the initial U.N.U. which was a form of abbreviation of the English words You Need Us
, and another company in opposition decided to call their company I.N.U. short for I Need You
. This is a perfect example of the keen competition that existed among companies.
The rule was
that every company should have a licence to serve between stipulated towns and villages and they should not poach on other companies' territories. Therefore, should any company decide to end its service in an area it had a legal right to sell to another and, during the second quarter of 20th century, as much as 30 companies in North Wales sold out to the large English Company Crosville. However, some companies carried on and continue to serve their areas in this day and age.
Crosville established 4 centres in the county, one in each of the following places, Llandudno Junction, Bangor, Caernarfon and Pwllheli and ran their services from these centres. The one in Caernarfon was busy and had numerous employees in the form of Drivers, Conductors, Ticket Inspectors, Mechanics, Cleaners, Managers, Clerks, etc.
Buses started on their various journeys from and returned to Castle Square and who can forget the crowds on the Square on Saturday nights, half a century and more ago. Here is one personal recollection and it happened sometime during the summer of 1949, when I and two friends stood near to where the Pound Stretcher Store is today. It was 9 o'clock on a Saturday night and we remained there watching the buses leave for their various destinations. We began counting how many left between 9 and 10.10pm, which was the time the last one departed. All the seats were full and many had standing room only. We did not count how many were single and how many were double deckers, but I can today well remember how many buses we counted that night. The answer was 78.
Taking into consideration how full those buses were, I have no hesitation in stating that there must have been at least 50 persons to each bus. With this conservative estimate it makes a total of 78 X 50 = 3,900. Oh yes, it was the period following the end of World War II and the middle of the 20th century that can be termed The Golden Age of the Country Buses.
© T. M. Hughes 2010