The other operator of the two firms based in South Petherton

Please note - this is a site of historical record and does not contain current service information

For eighty years the Gunn family name was synonymous with Safeway Services and their buses on the road from Yeovil to Crewkerne and South Petherton.  Coincidentally both of the South Petherton operators, Safeway Services and Hutchings and Cornelius, celebrated a half century of service to the travelling public of Somerset in 1978. 
Herbert and Veronica Gunn in the depot office   Gilbert Gunn kept a pub in Petherton (the Bell Inn)  and his son Herbert worked at Westlands in Yeovil, where he served an engineering apprenticeship. His son Herbert (H R Gunn - "Bert") drove for the National until March 1928 when he and his father started with a Dennis G-type 20-seater bus and founded a business that would grow by 1965 to a fleet of ten buses and coaches.  In the early days rivalry was intense and father, mother and son worked in the business and later daughter Veronica (known as Vera) came home to help. Gilbert Gunn died in 1938. His widow Jessica aided by son Herbert and daughter Veronica assumed the running of the firm. Herbert was mechanically minded and drove whilst Veronica looked after the administration and conducted.  Cissy Gayleard was another long-serving conductress with the firm. By 1939 the fleet numbered six. It was an intensely personal business with regular battles with Southern National over fares, a topic on which Miss Gunn had strong views which she regularly expressed! Miss Gunn had the distinction then of being the only lady member of the national committee of the Passenger Vehicles Operators Association.The stage service required a full time commitment of two vehicles, whilst others were employed on excursions, tours and private hire work.  In 1965 the bus services were carrying an average of 1400 passengers a day, including schoolchildren, and the return fare from Crewkerne to Yeovil was 4/3d (twenty four miles return).
Herbert and Veronica Gunn  

The main Safeway route from South Petherton ran southwards via Lopen, Hinton St George and Merriott to Crewkerne, where it turned east via Misterton, Haselbury Plucknett, East Chinnock and West Coker to Yeovil Bus Station.  Several journeys used to go past the bus station and the town centre to Pen Mill rail station in Yeovil.  The route changed little over the years, but in 1949 the service was extended for a while from Hinton St George to Dinnington, and in 1953 a service was introduced from Crewkerne to Clapton and Birdsmoorgate. The Gunns had a petrol filling station on the main A303 for many years. Whilst Herbert was primarily a bus man the firm did take over Venture Coaches of South Petherton from Ernie Giles, as an extension to the coaching side of the business.

AEC Burlingham 200APB
Safeway bell punch ticket
Safeway duplex multivalue ticket
200 APB, an AEC with Burlingham 44 seat body, passing Merriott in 1965
Bell punch ticket
 Duplex ticket

Safeway Leopard

Mmmmm - a lovely original Leopard - Miss Gunn had it as a coach until she passed away, then it was used for service work.
                                                                                                  (Steve Oxbrow photo, 24th April 2003).

Herbert Gunn died in 1977 and then in May 1978 Western National withdrew their parallel competing Yeovil - Crewkerne route 467.  At the same time National route 466 from Yeovil through Stoke to South Petherton was withdrawn - this had paralleled the H&C route, necessitating new timetables for both South Petherton operators.  With the demise of the Hutchings and Cornelius business in May 1979, the Safeway network of bus routes was considerably expanded to include several of the ex H&C services (a) from South Petherton via Montacute to Yeovil daily,  (b) Crewkerne and West Chinnock via Montacute to Yeovil daily, and (c) from Yeovil to Barrington and Ilminster / South Petherton on Fridays.  A new route was started on Wednesdays from Crewkerne through Lopen, Westport and Curry Mallett to Taunton, which ran for a while. Bus deregulation introduced  in 1986 bought competition from Kingston Coaches (Coleman) of Yeovil in the period 1988 - 1990, but this was short-lived and the newcomers were seen off after two years.  Despite very low fares charged by the newcomer, trading as Yeovilian, Safeways managed to build on their many years of service and retain passenger loyalty - but that is not to say that the competition did not hurt them financially.

1978 timetable cover

cover of the 1978 timetable above celebrating 50 years of operation

1978 timetable

Safeway Services timetable for 1978.  If compared to the 1936 pre-war timetable little change would be observed.

safeway OB
layover in Yeovil
Laying over in Yeovil on 26.05.68 is Bedford OB/Duple 29-seater    MYB33.  New to Safeway in 1950 it remained in their fleet until 1974 and it is now in preservation in Northants and makes appearances at rallies. (Photo Simon Brown).
Surrounded by two Wakes vehicles, we see again Safeway AEC  200APB on 22.04.67.  In the fleet from 1962 to 1982, it also has been preserved.  All three are laying over between runs at the corner of Southville and Sherborne Roads in Yeovil.  (Photo Simon Brown).

1981 timetable and map

The Safeway network in 1981 - after the route acquisitions from Hutchings and Cornelius in 1979

After 1990 things went on more or less as they had always been for some years. In 1995 the fleet numbered fourteen, six buses and eight coaches. Then in August 1999 Miss Veronica Gunn died at the grand age of 91. The firm had reached its 70th anniversary the year before in 1998.

The business passed to another V. Gunn, her second cousin Vernon, who was to run the firm until its eightieth year, 2008. The Friday shoppers run from Ilminster and South Petherton to Yeovil via Kingsbury Episcopi disappeared in July 1994 (by then route 680 in the county council's numbering system, but not shown on the buses).  The Wednesday route to Taunton (number 603) had low carryings and was withdrawn in March 2001.  Requiring three buses all day with a fourth at peak periods, the two routes operated by Safeway at that time (mainly commercially at their own risk) were:

681    Crewkerne - South Petherton - Montacute - Yeovil   

(an amalgam of the routes taken over from H&C in 1979)

682    South Petherton - Crewkerne - Misterton - Yeovil     

(the original Safeway route)     

    1978 Safeways ticket

Volvo NIB8459 at Yeovil   July 2004 saw the 682 further reduced to in frequency to one shoppers journey plus some peak hour journeys, as competition on the original Safeways route came from First with their services 47 and 61 between Yeovil and Crewkerne, providing some thirteen journeys each way.  The ex H&C 681 from South Petherton to Yeovil still provides some ten journeys each way on weekdays.

Further reductions were to come. By Spring 2005 the 681 was reduced to seven journeys a day between South Petherton and Yeovil.  The 682 was reduced to the absolute minimum of one return off peak shoppers journey, running between Crewkerne and Norton, connecting there with the 681 into Yeovil.  All operations along the original traditional Safeway route over the A30 from Crewkerne to Yeovil had ceased some time before. From 23rd December 2006 the remaining connecting service from Crewkerne to Norton ceased; and the main 681 (ex H&C route) received unnecessary competition between South Petherton to Yeovil thereafter from the minibuses of NippyBus route N10.  As a consequence of the competition Safeway withdrew the 681 (the H&C route of days gone by) after operation on 26th May 2007 - a sad day indeed. 

        Safeway Volvo NIB8459 at Yeovil              (photo by Steve Oxbrow)  

Subsequently in early 2007 South West Coaches (which incorporated the former Wakes business) introduced their service 81 hourly between Yeovil and South Petherton running against Nippy Bus.  This in turn led to the withdrawal of the Nippy Bus N10 service from 13th August 2007, and South West Coaches still run their 81 route to this day.

The last remaining Safeway services were subsidised by Somerset County Council, and were operated by the following three vehicles:

H533YCX     new DAF / Ikarus acquired in January

NIB 8459      Volvo B10M / East Lancs bus

J601 KCU     Dart / Wright.

Vernon Gunn retired on 1 April 2008 and sold the Safeway coach business to Alan Graham of South West Coaches and the coaches have been transferred to Yeovil (having been removed from Lopen Business Park for planning reasons) but a repair workshop is still maintained by South West at Lopen.  The Vernon Gunn operator's license was recorded by the Western Traffic Commissioner as "not renewed 7 October 2008". However it seems that the Safeway name is being kept by South West for goodwill marketing purposes.  Houses have now been built on the former Safeway base at North Street, South Petherton.   This really seems to end the 80 year Gunn dynasty.


===== with thanks to Laurie James, Roger Grimley, Steve Oxbrow, Simon Brown and David Grimmett for much additional information =====

 =====For more information see the book "Somerset's Buses" by Laurie James, published by Tempus in February 2004 =====