The continuing story of the buses of Crichel and Witchampton

In memory of my friend and colleague
Geoff Toomer
1932  -  2021

These routes have their origins in the horse drawn days of the 19th century, with an appropriately named carrier called Benjamin Carter.   It became  a motor bus service in the 1920s, run originally by Ernie Toomer of Manswood.  Ernie ran the routes for the best part of forty years, latterly with the help of his son Geoff.  In January 1958 the routes then passed to Reg Essex under the trading name Stanbridge Motor Services.

The Stanbridge Motor Services business subsequently passed in turn on Reg's retirement in April 1977 to a new owner John Walker (formerly the traffic manager of Cosy Coaches in Parkstone).  He inherited a motley collection of four vehicles: three Duple Fireflys and a somewhat unique Thames service bus VFN549 that had come to Dorset from an operator in Kent, Wren of Canterbury.  BOU205C was one of the vehicles transferred, a Ford Duple Northern C41F acquired by Essex in October 1973.

Stanbridge fleet at April 1977
            (John Walker takes over from Reg Essex)
  into fleet out of fleet  
VFN549 Ford Thames / Duple bus
42 seats ? Feb 1964 see below  from Chartham Bus, Canterbury, Kent
6217TE Ford / Duple Firefly coach
41 seats       ? sold 31/08/77  new 1963 to Cowburn, Westhoughton
ADY119B Ford / Duple Firefly coach
41 seats       ? sold 31/08/77  from Regent, Whitstable, Kent
BOU205C Ford / Duple Firefly coach
41 seats   Oct 1973 sold 31/08/77  new 1965 to Corp, Fair Oak. Sold to
   G Clarke, Wimborne 1977
VFN 549 and ADY119B were both new to Wren, Chartham Bus Service, Canterbury, Kent (VFN in 1960, ADY in 1964).  Indicator blind of VFN had Canterbury area destinations such as 'St Augustins Hospital' and the three Dorset titles added were 'Wimborne', 'Blandford', 'Witchampton and Crichel'.  VFN remained derelict in Stanbridge yard for many years after withdrawal and was subsequntly sold to travellers.  The present writer had spent many a pleasant hour driving VFN on Saturdays!

John undertook considerable expansion of the coaching activities with six modern touring coaches (five of which were ex-Excelsior of Bournemouth Ford/Plaxtons) joining the previous four Stanbridge vehicles for the first season.  One of the coaches from Excelsior was HLJ97N, remembered for having an eight speed gearbox rather than the usual six.  Two school contracts were operated at that time, one from Long Crichel to Pamphill QE2 School; the second from Barnsley to Colehill School and Pamphill QE2 School.

stanbridge compliments slip

Stage services were modestly expanded in March 1978 when a Saturday morning journey was reintroduced on the Blandford route (this proved quite popular) and the Saturday afternoon service on the Wimborne - Long Crichel route was extended north a few miles to serve Gussage St Michael and Cashmoor.  The town terminus of the Wimborne route has changed several times over the years; originally in the Corn Market it had moved slightly further away from the town centre to East Borough by the early 1960's and by the 1970's was in The Square alongside the Midland Bank, which is the stopping place still used currently.

The range of Stanbridge Motor Services tickets as still used in 1977

tickets 1p to 5p
tickets 6p to 10p
A new Bedford 53-seater coach APR986T was obtained with aid of Rural Bus Grant in November 1978, notionally for the stage services, in fact the flagship of the coaching fleet usually driven by Geoff Toomer.  Unfortunately the expanded Stanbridge Motor Services operation ultimately did not prosper under John Walker and after a few years in 1980 the business passed to a newly formed company entitled Stanbridge and Crichel Bus Co Ltd, set up by Barry Newsam of Barrys Coaches of Weymouth, Dorset (who were also to become the operators of the Interbus services in and around Dorchester). 

Additional school contracts were obtained, including to Cranborne Middle School, Winchelsea School Parkstone and to Talbot Heath School in Bournemouth.  Most of the touring work was given up as unprofitable.

There was considerable expansion of bus activity from 1st December 1980 when Stanbridge and Crichel assumed operation of the Wilts and Dorset 247 (the erstwhile Hants & Dorset 97) service which ran from Cranborne to Wimborne by two routes.  The westerly route was via Wimborne St Giles and Gussage All Saints, which Stanbridge and Crichel ran as the 98, and the other easterly route was via Edmondsham and Woodlands, and ran using the traditional route number 97.  The westerly route was merged with the existing Crichel and Witchampton to Wimborne service. The easterly route was amended to serve the sizable population of  Verwood, whilst market day services brought Broomhill, God's Blessing Green (what a wonderful place name!) and Shapwick into the Stanbridge network for the first time. 
  Geoff Toomer at the wheel
      Geoff Toomer at the wheel of APR986T

six pages from the December 1980 timetable

A new weekly Tuesday route north to Salisbury from Woodlands, Verwood and Cranborne was started on 18th August 1981, which proved very successful and often required duplication.   This was later extended back to start from Wimborne and Colehill and a Saturday service added.  Thursday and Saturday journeys on the Cranborne - Wimborne service were extended to Poole from 22nd July 1981.  An urban route was added to Stanbridge's collection of country routes in 1983 when the Rossmore Bus route in Parkstone was taken over from Cosy Coaches.  Also in 1983 the Handley - Poole / Bournemouth Friday service of Victory tours was taken over, although this was very poorly patronised and could often be covered by using a car or minibus.  Through fare was 79p single in 1983.  Then in 1984 a new service was started on Wednesday from Cranborne and Alderholt to Ringwood Market.

Stanbridge & Crichel fleet summer 1985 seats date new date acquired acquired from notes
RLN775W MAN SR280 / MAN body C53F 1980 1984 Carnell, Sheffield Geoff's coach
OKE398F AEC Reliance / Plaxton C53F 1968 1984 Ironside, Sevenoaks Rob's coach
DWT639H Bristol LH / Plaxton C53F 1970 1982 Douglas, Windsor Alf's coach
GCK251N AEC Reliance / Plaxton C53F 1974 1985 Lawrence, Hillingdon Maurice's coach
KUF239F Bristol RE / Marshall B45F 1968 1983 Southdown Sandra's bus
SYC684R Ford Transit / Deansgate B12F 1976 1984 Sykes, Tolpuddle Paul's minibus
RPR747K Bedford YRQ / Plaxton C45F 1972 1984 Rendell (Cosy), Parkstone Brian's coach
OLE583E AEC Reliance / Plaxton C53F 1967 1984 Rendell (Cosy), Parkstone  
TUO74J AEC Reliance / Willowbrook B41F 1971 1984 Ironside, Sevenoaks  
TUO79J AEC Reliance / Willowbrook B43F 1971 1983 Vaughan, Copthorne Bank  
EPK106J AEC Reliance / Willowbrook B51F 1971 1984 Ironside, Sevenoaks young David's bus
JUN199P Ford R1014 / Duple C45F 1975 1983 MiniTrips, Bournemouth  
Buses brown and cream livery.  Most coaches white, brown and orange livery.  RLN775W was now the fleet flagship in replacement for APR986T.  RPR747K had grey livery and had previously operated the Rossmore Bus Service for Cosy Coaches for some time (with the same driver Brian) until that service's acquisition by Stanbridge and Crichel.  KUF239F then became the regular performer on Rossmore with driver Sandra.  VFN549, stalwart of the bus route for many years, was now in honourable retirement, slumbering peacefully away at the top of the yard.

When I worked full time managing and running Stanbridge in the mid-1980s, Friday was our busiest day on the bus routes.  Two buses were needed to maintain the runs on the country services, one starting in Cranborne and one in Wimborne St Giles.  A bit of somewhat hectic interworking and four routes were covered (as below).  Plus a third bus away all day in Poole working the Rossmore route from 8 am to 6 pm.  The morning and evening peak time buses to and from Verwood (7.25 am) and Wimborne (5.55 pm) were operated by our 12-seater Ford Transit, driven by our mechanic Paul who lived in Verwood and kept the Transit at his home overnight during the week. Add to that our seven school contracts morning and afternoon and our two works contracts to and from Bovington Camp and it made for a busy life.

               Bus One, Fridays:                Bus Two, Fridays:  


             morning schools

  9.18    St Giles - Crichel - Wimborne, service 98

10.15    Wimborne - Shapwick - Wimborne, 99

11.10    Wimborne - Crichel - Gussage, 98

11.45    Gussage - Crichel - Wimborne, 98

12.30    Wimborne - Shapwick - Wimborne, 99

  1.15    Wimborne - Crichel - St Giles, 98

             afternoon schools

  5.15    Wimborne - Crichel - Gussage, 98


             morning schools

  9.27    Cranborne - Verwood - Wimborne, service 97

             dead to Holt

10.35    Holt - Broomhill - Wimborne, 96

11.45    Wimborne - Verwood - Cranborne, 97

  1.32    Cranborne - Verwood - Wimborne, 97

  2.35    Wimborne - Broomhill - Horton, 96

             afternoon schools

  5.55    Wimborne - Verwood - Cranborne, 97


Following bus deregulation on 26th October 1986, the Cranborne via Verwood or via Crichel routes to Wimborne were expanded once again to run through to Poole each weekday, obviating the need to change to a Wilts and Dorset bus in Wimborne.  At this time the long established market route to Blandford from Witchampton was lost to Wilts and Dorset, and the Shapwick route introduced in 1980 was lost to Maybury Coaches.  A five days a week feeder service from Broomhill, Colehill and Cutlers Place connected with the Poole route in Wimborne Square.  The Salisbury route now needed two buses each Tuesday, one starting at West Moors and the other in Wimborne.  Only the latter operated on Saturday.  The Wednesday route to Ringwood was diverted to serve Verwood after leaving Alderholt.  A short lived Friday service was introduced between Poulner, Ringwood and Wimborne Market, which made use of the dead legs of a school contract - at least one day of the week!

Rob's coach

Rob's coach: OKE398F, AEC Reliance - often used on the bus routes on a busy Friday!

photo from the Roger Grimley collection

After a few more years under the proprietorship of the Newsam family, the Stanbridge and Crichel operation was acquired in 1989 by Oakfield Travel of Blandford (proprietors Joe Smith and Terry Greenslade).   The November 1989 timetable shows the extension of the Cranborne route to Poole as cut back to three days a week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  The route was now renumbered 250 to fit more readily into the county council's route numbering scheme although in practice the numbers were rarely shown on the vehicles.   Otherwise things were much as in 1986.

news story 1993 reprieve for bus service

After a few years the owners of Oakfield sought to retire and their business was sold in 1992 to a somewhat unlikely purchaser Guildford and West Surrey Buses Ltd of Reigate (part of what had once been London Country buses).  They reduced the Cranborne - Wimborne route to a basic minimum shoppers service on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after council subsidies were cut right back. Most places served had at least one journey on three days a week.  The timetable from 11 September 1993 is copied below for information.

cranborne service timetable 1993

But it was not long before these "out-of-area" operations were sold on again in November 1993, this time to Damory Coaches of Blandford, by then a recently acquired subsidiary of Wilts and Dorset.  Damory still operate to this day over considerably slimmed down versions of the Stanbridge routes (since August 2003 as part of the Go Ahead group).  The Cranborne - Wimborne route is their service 300, and was then still basically a four days a week shoppers / market bus type of service.

With passengers seemingly in constant decrease, there were renewed local authority concerns about the cost of the subsidies needed to support rural bus services. Thought was given to how services could continue to be provided practically. Damory Coaches still provided the 301 and 302 from Wimborne to Salisbury on Tuesday and Saturday, the 303 from Cranborne to Ringwood on Wednesday and the 325 from Gussage and St Giles to Blandford on Thursday.

But the major change started on 24th July 2006 with the progressive introduction of a flexibly routed 'Door to Dorset' replacement for the main Cranborne via Crichel (or via Verwood) to Wimborne 300 service, and also the Witchampton - Tarrants - Blandford route. This is run by community transport operator Nordcat of Sturminster Newton on behalf of the local authorities. This type of semi-public on-demand type of operation was favoured by Dorset County Council in this and several other parts of the county at the time. A seeming disadvantage is that would be passengers have to pre-register with the scheme as well as booking their journeys in advance by telephone - a major disincentive to travel by removing the possibility of a spontaneous unplanned trip! Apart from a regularly timetabled five days a week school run from Manswood and Witchampton to Wimborne, since 16th April 2007 the by then totally flexible operation offered pre-booked passengers from Crichel, Witchampton, the Gussages and St Giles a travel facility to Wimborne on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, and to Blandford on Thursday.

Change came again on 8th April 2008 when the county council recognised the difficulties of advertising a service which may not be readily seen and identified. The service needed a higher profile in the community. So the Nordcat service became semi-scheduled and more places given as fixed time points, so that where stops were more or less always served and were on a direct run in to Wimborne it was no longer be necessary to pre-book. The stops in Verwood were thus always served and the bus departed from both Wimborne and Cranborne at fixed times. Tuesday and Friday reverted to a timetable similar to that operated prior to 2007 with shoppers journeys via both Witchampton and Verwood to Wimborne. In school holidays the first and last runs start in Handley. Wednesday journeys for the Gussages and the Crichels to Wimborne also reverted to a timetable similar to that in existence prior to 2007. On Thursday the service from Cranborne and Witchampton to Blandford via the Gussages, Crichels and Tarrants also became semi scheduled with fixed times from the Tarrants in to Blandford. A new Saturday service similar to the Tuesday and Friday route started from Handley and provided a return journey to Wimborne via Verwood. And it became possible to travel from Wimborne to visit some of the destinations in the surrounding countryside. 

Operation of the 300 Cranborne - Crichel or Verwood - Wimborne and the 319 Cranborne - Gussage - Witchampton - Blandford reverted to Damory Coaches of Blandford from April 2011 as normal fully timetabled services following difficulties experienced by operator Nordcat.  This - with similar alterations in the Dorchester, Maiden Newton, Cerne Abbas, Piddle Valley and Bovington areas as well - saw the virtual demise of pre-booked operation under the Door to Dorset banner - farewell to cumbersome pre-booking! The years went by until April 2016 when - as the result of funding cuts by Dorset County Council - all the ex-Stanbridge services disappeared apart from a single school run on the 300 from Witchampton to Wimborne and back.

In 1998 the yard at Stanbridge was taken over by Victory Tours (Adams) of Sixpenny Handley.  The Victory business passed to new owners in the autumn of 2004 and they have ceased to use Stanbridge as a base.  After 47 years no more buses sleep overnight in Stanbridge garage yard, so full of memories for me from my days working there.


A historic day for Stanbridge.


It's the 1st December 1980 in Wimborne Square - and Stanbridge & Crichel are running on the first day of their newly extended network of routes to Verwood and Cranborne.  


Bedford 53-seater APR986T (Geoff's coach) waits to leave on the lunchtime departure of service 97.  APR had been obtained with help of the then available bus operators grant for stage vehicles.



Another regular performr on the Stanbridge routes in the 1980s, SRD15 - "Alf's bus", so called for it's regular driver - waits in the yard between runs



A general view of the yard at Stanbridge from the office window one damp 1980s morning. 


Old friends VFN549 and SRD15 are now in the "honourably retired" line on the right.


Geoff's new MAN coach RLN775W on left, alongside JUN199P, a Ford/Duple 45 seater.


The watersplash at Tarrant Monkton on the Blandford route
Here is Ford R1114 NWD779P coming back from Blandford and going through the watersplash at Tarrant Monkton.

photo by Keith Newton

KUF232F near Pamphill
Bristol RE KUF232F with Marshall 45 seat body is seen here in sylvan surrounds  near Pamphill on the Friday only Shapwick - Wimborne service. It was new to Southdown in 1968. At one time it worked for the Blandford Bus Company, and served with Stanbridge & Crichel from about 1982 to 1987.

photo by Keith Newton

a tight squeeze on the bend at Witchampton church
A tight squeeze on the bend at Witchampton church. The car driver has not heeded the approaching bus that could have been seen in the roadside mirrors erected there for the purpose. The recently acquired Bristol RE has yet to be painted into livery.

photo by Keith Newton

a rare meet at Cranborne
Two Stanbridge buses in Cranborne at the same time. Probably a Saturday when the Cranborne to Wimborne afternoon bus has met the bus returning on the Salisbury market service. AEC Reliance EPK106J leads, its companion unidentified.

photo by Keith Newton

stanbridge yard, VMO533H
Another view of the yard at Stanbridge. From 1983 we also operated the Rossmore route in Parkstone as well as our rural routes. Bristol LH VMO233H is ready to start work for the day in this 1988 view, with AEC  Reliance OLE583E parked behind.

photo from the Peter Messer collection

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

Two historical footnotes about places on the Crichel bus route -

At the junction where the road splits towards Manswood or Moor Crichel stands White Farm. The farm is so called because at the start of the 20th century everything there, both buildings and animals, were indeed white!  Even the workers were dressed in white smocks. This was a deliberate decision by the sometimes eccentric owner, Lord Allington of nearby Crichel House. A documentary film about the farm was made in 1909.

In the post-war years of the 1940s and 1950s the old rectory alongside the church in the village of Long Crichel hosted what was perhaps the last literary salon of the 20th century. Amongst famous guests who visited at the time were Benjamin Britten, Nancy Mitford, Laurie Lee, Cecil Beaton, Somerset Maugham and Greta Garbo. This is described in the recently published book 'The Crichel Boys' by Simon Fenwick.

Why not join me for a Saturday driving Stanbridge bus VFN549 round the Dorset lanes in the late 1970s?
Or have a look at some of the fleet in the 1990s, as remembered by then Stanbridge driver Trevor Kenward.

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