SHAFTESBURY & DISTRICT
40 years serving
the rural north of Dorset - and beyond
by Roger Brown, who had moved from London to Dorset, the firm commenced
PSV operations in 1976 by providing
local market day bus services. Opportunities for such services came
because of withdrawals in the area by some of the existing old
operators, including Southern National, Western National and Bere Regis & District. Whilst some of the
services that had been cut had already been covered by newer
as Brutonian and
the to-be-short-lived Marnhull Taxis operation, areas such as the
villages to the south west of Shaftesbury remained unserved. So
first routes served the villages of West and East Orchard, Bedchester
and Twyford; linking them to the Monday market in Sturminster Newton
and the Thursday market in Shaftesbury. An additional Thursday service
linked the Marnhull area to Shaftesbury. Longer routes were then
introduced, a Tuesday market service linked Gillingham to Salisbury, a
Wednesday service went to Dorchester (later with route variations on
alternate weeks from 1978, either via Ibberton and Woolland or via
Winterbornes Whitchurch and Clenston) and from 1977 a Friday service
Shaftesbury with Yeovil via Henstridge.
The original vehicle servicing these routes was 967HTT, a 1962 AEC
Reliance / Willowbrook 41-seater, which was new to Grey Cars in Devon. Winter
and the gaining of
a school contract, generating suporting revenue, meant the acquisition
of a second vehicle. This was AWA355B, another Reliance but with a
51-seater Plaxton body. Further additional
work was obtained in the spring of 1977 providing staff transport for a
meat processing factory in Motcombe from Mere and Gillingham. Initially
the vehicles were parked in
Motcombe at the memorial hall car park.
Straying away from the north Dorset hilltop town of Shaftesbury in that first year of 1976 a relatively short lived summer only coastal service was operated in the south of the county, from Wool railway station to both Lulworth Cove and Bovington Tank Museum - the mauve coloured timetable is reproduced alongside here. The Lulworth service ran again in the summer of 1977 with "on-service" linking journeys to and from Shaftesbury but was not that successful. Extended from Lulworth Cove to Durdle Door, the summer of 1978 is fondly remembered primarily for a one-off unique one day only operation at the end of August by an ex-London RT double-decker - this in fact was the only actual day of operation on the coastal service that season - running through narrow coastal roads usually banned to coaches from Lulworth Cove to Church Knowle, Corfe Castle and Swanage.
Vehicle acquisitions continued and from 1978 the operating base became the ex-railway goods shed alongside the Salisbury to Exeter line, by the site of the former Semley station which had closed to passengers in 1967. At this time Mike Light joined the firm as a driver and he subsequently assumed day to day control and took over the firm in October 1977. After a period as manager for the competitive Badgerline operation in Salisbury (which lasted for just nine months from July 1987) Roger Brown was back in the bus business on his own account in September 1988 twenty miles away from Shaftesbury having acquired Verwood Transport from the previous owner Andy Wood who had started in 1981. But the Verwood business and its routes were soon sold to Wilts & Dorset at the end of January 1989. Shortly thereafter in 1991 Roger Brown and Andy Wood went into competition with Wilts & Dorset over these self same routes as Verwood & District, whilst Roger Brown had returned to the Shaftesbury & District business in November 1990. Coming forward to 2010 Roger was still the Shaftesbury managing director and Andy ran as Verwoodbus with a weekly West Moors to Bournemouth and Poole shopping service V1 until July 2011.
To give an idea of the development of routes the full 1978 timetable can be seen by clicking on the yellow timetable cover to the right. A further school contract was acquired in the Blandford area early in 1979, and the market day bus routes were tweaked from time to time in view of operating experience gained, whilst being further developed and expanded as opportunities arose over the years, including Monday routes to Poole. The 1987 timetable shows a 'Nightrider' service six evenings a week from Shaftesbury to Salisbury for evening entertainments, whilst the 1989 timetable shows a similar sort of service from Shaftesbury and Gillingham to Yeovil on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. This Yeovil service was primarily for bingo players. The 1993 timetable shown below still shows several of the original routes from the 1970s as well as newer destinations. The service network depicted is somewhat reduced following a period of unwelcome competition from other local operators. To note that route numbering had been introduced by Shaftesbury & District in their earliest years, running through the thirties and forties series. From April 1999 the twice weekly long standing Tollard Royal - Ashmore - Handley - Salisbury route of Victory Tours of Handley was gained on retendering. It was slightly amended at the 'country end' to serve Ashmore before Tollard Royal, as this better suited operation from the Shaftesbury area base; subsequently it was reduced to Tuesday only losing the Saturday service. An analysis of the different routes operated over the years is here.
Shaftesbury & District were still very much in business in 2010 - as a limited company since 2002 - with a fleet of twelve buses and coaches on a range of services across Dorset, Somerset and Wiltshire. Routes operated still included recognisable variations of some of the earlier services but also now included the ex-Leathers of Maiden Bradley route from Gillingham through Mere and Maiden Bradley to Frome on Wednesday and Saturday (with extensions to and from Shaftesbury and Bath at either end respectively); and a daily except Sunday Gillingham to Shaftesbury shuttle service 59 approximately every two hours, interworking with First service 158 to give an hourly frequency. This is a route on which Brutonian had played its part in the 1970s and 1980s. School transport is still important as is private hire too, including specialist vehicles for wedding and celebratory hires. Now based at Cann Common just to the south-east of Shaftesbury the firm also operates two red former London double deckers for private hire special occasions: a 72 seat Routemaster and a 56 seat RT. There is also a 39-seater single decker RF. The company website listed current routes and times as well as giving details of the special hire fleet.
From 28th July 2011 the operation of the ex-Victory service 400 to Salisbury on Tuesdays passed to Damory Coaches (a Go-Ahead Group subsidiary) as part of a major retendering exercise of bus routes by Dorset County Council. At the same time several long standing weekly routes were deregistered, whilst operation of the daily Shaftesbury to Gillingham route was also lost to Damory Coaches of Blandford. This left the following routes in operation at that time:
25 Wincanton - Gillingham Thursdays
35 Gillingham - Shaftesbury - Swanage summer Thursdays
37 Gillingham - Shaftesbury - Poole Mondays
39 Gillingham - Shaftesbury - Salisbury Tuesdays
45 Gillingham - Shaftesbury - Weymouth summer Mondays
80 Gillingham - Frome - Bath Wednesdays and Saturdays
159 Shaftesbury - Gillingham school journeys only
By late 2013 the routes had contracted further with only the 37, 39 and 80 remaining in operation by Shaftesbury & District. Route 52 Bourton - Hindon - Tisbury - Warminster (Thursdays) was subsequently added. By summer 2015 operations now were only on routes 37, 39 and 52. The 80 to Frome and Bath had passed to Frome Minibuses on 1st February 2015. Note that the weekly route to Salisbury has survived in operation on Tuesdays for 40 years from the very earliest days of Shaftesbury & District. All three remaining routes ceased operation after 24 July 2017 following withdrawal of local authority support by Dorset county council. Subsequently the company ceased activity in 2022 and Roger took his well earned retirement.
|1978 letter heading (not sure about that Leyland National though)!
|Cover of the July 1987 timetable, with
7106EL at Shaftesbury town hall.
The same picture was used for the 1989 timetable, but using the name Shaftesbury & District Coaches
|Bedford VAM SWP733F in October 1980 in the
yard at Semley.
This was sold to Andy Wood who then inaugurated Verwood Transport.
(photo by Andy Wood)
|Former East Kent 1961 AEC Reliance / Park
semi-coach WFN513 seen in November 1979.
(photo by Andy Wood)
founder Roger Brown tells the story of the early days of the business
in an article in the June 1979 edition of the monthly magazine 'Buses'