Station Name: NORWICH VICTORIA
[Source: Glen Kilday]
A well-loaded motor bus of the Great Eastern Railway (GER) stands on the forecourt of Norwich Victoria station. The presence of what appears to be the stationmaster along with a number of bowler-hatted gentlemen might suggest the inauguration of the bus service. As the route board shows, this bus was operating between Loddon and Norwich. The route was Beccles - Loddon - Norwich but operated in two sections; Loddon - Norwich and Loddon - Beccles. The Norwich section had begun operations earlier in 1905 but terminated at Trowse, being extended to Victoria on 9 October and thus the earliest possible date for this photograph. Upon closure of Norwich Victoria to passengers on 22 May 1916, the Loddon buses were diverted to Thorpe so this will be the latest date for the photograph. The GER purchased a number of Milnes-Daimler buses, thereby copying the Great Western Railway, and later purchased some Thornycroft and Maudslay examples. The company also built its own buses at Stratford Works and they reputedly had chassis and springing built to railway standards, making them too heavy and, with solid tyres, extremely uncomfortable on the roads of the time. Everything, including the body and petrol engine, but excepting the carburettor and magneto which were bought-in, was built at Stratford. Some of the GER-built buses were 36-seaters and others were 30-seaters and included a luggage compartment. It is one of the latter which is depicted here. There was no mistaking these buses as 'Great Eastern Railway' was also displayed in full on the radiator header tank. Perhaps surprisingly bus drivers were drawn from footplate staff and conductors were drawn from lesser grades such as porters. Uniforms were blue and khaki respectively, the latter reputedly because the colour went some way towards disguising the filth caused by dust from the roads of the time which swirled up behind the bus. GER bus livery was red and white and the GER crest was applied to the body sides below the waistline. Like many railway companies, the GER operated a number of bus services primarily intended as railway feeders. They could also be used by passengers not intending to catch trains, but whether any priority was given to those intending to catch a train and / or with luggage is unclear. The GER bus routes did not form a network in the true sense of the term, rather small clusters of routes along with a number of individual, isolated routes. Bus tickets were issued in the usual manner and were headed 'GER Motor Omnibus'. Buses for the Loddon – Norwich / Beccles route were garaged at Loddon and it is believed three vehicles were involved. The Loddon bus services, along with others, were suspended on occasion due, mainly, to concerns about reliability of the buses and the need for constant repairs which apparently necessitated returning to Stratford for all but the most minor of jobs. Nevertheless the Loddon buses continued to operate through WWI. Sometime following the end of the war the Loddon services were again suspended. The GER had purchased twelve Thornycroft J type chassis, of which six were bodied as lorries and the remainder as 28-seat single-deck buses, this work being undertaken at Stratford. Of the Thornycroft buses, three were sent to Loddon while the rest worked the Ipswich - Shotley service. The purchase of the Thornycrofts, in 1919, seems to have come about due to the by then poor condition of the GER-built vehicles and this was probably the reason for the post-war suspension of the Loddon services. Sometime towards the end of 1919 the Loddon services resumed operation but it was to prove short lived. United Automobile Services, a bus company founded in Lowestoft in 1912 but much better known for its operations in the north-east of England, began to spread its tentacles into East Anglia. By the time the GER Loddon buses resumed operation United, as the company was known, also operated over the same route and by August 1920 the railway bus service had been merged with that of United with the latter also taking over the three Loddon-based Thornycrofts. Thus the seeds were sown for the end of GER-operated bus services, the last one being that to Shotley which was taken over in April 1922 by the Eastern Counties Road Car Co. of Ipswich. However, another service continued to operate at Harwich but on a contract basis and this managed to struggle on into LNER days, finally bowing out in September 1923. Thereafter, the history of bus services in East Anglia became somewhat complex but a very short overview is warranted. Thomas Tilling had arrived in East Anglia in June 1919 and formed the aforementioned Eastern Counties Road Car Co. Thomas Tilling Ltd. eventually came to be better known as 'The Tilling Group' with its operations, along with those of what became BET (British Electric Traction), covering the entire country south of the Scottish border. Prior to 1930, however, bus operations were somewhat chaotic but this was to change with the Transport Act of 1930 which introduced regulation and reorganisation. United had disappeared from East Anglia to concentrate upon the north-east and the 1930 Act saw the merger of a number of operators in East Anglia, including Eastern Counties Road Car and local operations based at Cambridge, Norwich and Peterborough, to form the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company Ltd. (ECOC) in 1931. ECOC was of course part of the Tilling Group in which the LNER held a major stake. At Nationalisation in 1948 the Tilling Group found itself placed under the control of the Transport Holdings Company, usually abbreviated to simply 'THC', and thus effectively ceased to exist as a separate entity. Following protracted ramblings, not least as a result of changes of government, the 1968 Transport Act saw the creation, in 1969, of the National Bus Company (NBC) of which ECOC became a constituent. This situation existed until 1988 when NBC ceased to exist as a result of deregulation and privatisation instigated by Margaret Thatcher. The present, as of 2018, First Eastern Counties operation which trades as First Norfolk & Suffolk was a management buy-out but its claim to have originated in 1931, although not exactly untrue, is nevertheless rather academic. Thus Margaret Thatcher's deregulation and privatisation has, ironically, seen the proverbial wheel turn full circle but, perhaps fortunately, the boneshaking, spluttering, buses of the Great Eastern and other railway companies which were equally as likely to break down as to reach their destinations have gone the way of Norwich Victoria station and now exist only in the history books. As comical as the GER's buses may appear to modern eyes, it should not be forgotten that they were a very innovative venture at a time, a century ago, when rural communities without a railway station were quite cut off and road motor transport was still very much in its infancy. For this the Great Eastern and other railway companies should be given credit.
Photo copyright Eastern Daily Press Library