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Changing Times | ‘Lady Betty’ was one of first buses in town

There was once a time when you could see buses on TV or sit and watch several and purely by its size, colour or design match exactly which company the vehicle belonged to.


Today, it is very different, as we see a national name now on so many of our trains and buses, providing no identity with a location. Early transport always evokes such happy memories for people.


I will just provide an insight into some of the earlier transport in the town.


The first means of transport was, of course, the coach and horses that used to operate throughout the country and for this area we would see the arrival of the coaches at the New Inn, today the William Hardwicke, on their way from London en route to Portsmouth.


The journey from London could take in excess of 12 hours and would have been very arduous through the wind and rain for some without any protection. These journeys would have been taken across very poor roads and have ensured that the passengers were very tired on arrival at their chosen destination.


Eventually, motorised transport was introduced and Arthur Davies was to pioneer the early services in this town when he opened his first premises in 1903. He operated from Beach House on The Esplanade as a motor and cycle hire business, until expanding in 1907 to new premises at Nos 2 and 4 West Street where he was also a motor cycle agent.


Alongside this business in 1903 he also operated his fleet of five charabancs, each with 29 seats, which were to become a feature around the town.


Eventually, many of his vehicles were garaged behind No 8 West Street, where today we have Seaward Court in West St. Arthur Davies advertised you could book seats and be taken twice a day to local places of interest, which included Arundel, Swanbourne Lane, Goodwood, Selsey and Chichester.


One of his most profitable routes was from Chichester to Portsmouth, costing 5s. 0d. (25p). Arthur Davies’s services were recorded as the first regular bus service in our vicinity. His most successful service was between Bognor and Portsmouth, which began in 1914.


The Davies’s vehicles were known locally as the ‘Lady’ cars and were a regular sight standing outside the pier waiting for their customers. One of his vehicles was known as the ‘Lady Betty’ and named after his daughter whose second name was Betty.


One of his early day trips was to the then famous Stamp House, the then Bersted Tavern, recently changed to a Tesco store, on Chichester Road in North Bersted. Arthur Davies was a great family man and there are numerous pictures of him with his wife and his beloved daughter, Florence Betty.


Tragically, Florence died at the age of 13 and, as a result of this and increasing ill-health, he sold his thriving business in 1915 to a new company – Southdown Bus Company.


It was on June 2, 1915, the Southdown Bus Company was formed with the amalgamation of three Sussex concerns – Brighton, Hove and Preston United, the Worthing Motor Services and South Coast Haulage Co.


The Bognor home for the Southdown Bus Company was for many years Beach House, and it was to be the central hub for the Midhurst and Petworth service, which connected with the Aldershot and District Traction Company and the Chichester, Selsey service. The original aim of Southdown was that their green and cream buses were to offer an above average standard of comfort, and they were to be kept sparkling clean.


Southdown employed Arthur Davies as its first manager of the Bognor garage, in its office at the end of Norfolk Street, but sadly he died three years later in 1918.


Davies’s successful Bognor to Portsmouth service continued and the new Southdown Bus Company extended it to Worthing and then Brighton, this became the No 31 route. Eventually, the number of bus services increased, as did the number of companies in the locality.


There are records to show that there were about 16 companies, which tried to operate bus services between 1915 and 1926. In September, 1921, a police survey was held to ascertain the number of buses operating on the Bognor to Chichester route over the period of one week. The result was a staggering 611 buses and this compared to 63 buses per week just two years earlier.


By 1930, the Traffic Commissioners came into being and only the ‘Silver Queen’ operated between Bognor and Slindon, and continued until the Second World War. Passengers were beginning to get very particular and required a reliable and well-regulated service, which could be maintained only by a large company. Many of the smaller concerns closed down.


In 1919, Southdown built new premises in Lyon Street, which today is a block of flats. These premises were the scene of one of Bognor’s famous fires when, in 1923, a blaze engulfed the garage with the loss of 14 buses. The company brought in buses from other areas to maintain the links for the town, as it took pride in its service to passengers. The garage was expanded in 1926.


Southdown Buses, of course, have been synonymous with the High Street, remembered for many years by the front of the art deco bus station that was built in 1934. It still operated from its Lyon Street garage until 1950 when the company transferred the garaging of vehicles to the rear of the bus station. In 1962, Southdown took over the drill hall in Bedford Street, which had been used by the Sussex Territorial and Auxiliary Forces Association and which today is part of Morrison’s car park.


Southdown continued to operate in the High Street until the 1980s when the bus depot was moved to Chichester, leaving the town and, in 1993, the Southdown façade of the bus station was taken down.

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