Bus Fleets of the Red & White Group; History; Blue Belle and the Red & White Connection

Bus Fleets of the Red & White Group

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Blue Belle and the Red & White Connection

The early history of Blue Belle is not well documented but Blue Belle Transport Ltd., of 43 Acre Lane, Brixton was registered in September 1923 with T Boon and L A Mitchell as directors, to carry on a business as bus and motor engineers and associated trades. However, the Blue Belle Transport name may have been in use as early as 1921 and a concern known as Blue Belle Coaches was operating in 1922 with two 28-seat Karriers and four Dearborn vehicles.

A change of name to Blue Belle Motors Ltd. of the same address was registered in 1927, this time with T Boon and R Toms as directors. The company was involved in the sale of new and second-hand commercial vehicles and in 1928 opened a new garage at the Acre Lane site with accommodation for 120 commercial vehicles. The company also operated coach services between London and the south coast towns and from 1930 an express service between London and East Grinstead. In 1928 the fleet comprised A.E.C. open-type coaches (both 28-seat and 32-seat), Thornycroft type A1 20-seat, and Chevrolet 14-seat buses, together with four Leyland Lion 31-seat all weather coaches which were delivered that year. Further Leyland Lions were delivered the following year. In December 1929 the Commercial Motor reported that the company had ordered a fleet of 30 A.E.C. Regals with 31-seat London Lorries bodywork for the 1930 season, painted in the standard Blue Belle colours of light and dark blue, and that the present fleet would be disposed of. The new vehicles were given fleet numbers 1-12/14-27/29-32. A further 10 new Regals joined the fleet in 1931 together with some Commer Invaders, Blue Belle Motors having been appointed Commer agents.

Leyland Lion YV 4043 with Harrington all-weather body delivered to Blue Belle Motors in 1928.  (Commercial Motor)

One of the Blue Belle 1930 A.E.C. Regals with C31D London Lorries bodywork GF 5127 in pristine condition and showing a destination of Pitlochry well outside its normal operating area. This one was not among the vehicles taken over by Red & White in 1937. It was noted as later belonging to A.W. McKercher (Aberfeldy Motor Company) and may have been sold prior to Red & White’s acquisition of Blue Belle.

(Omnibus Society)

Boon and Toms were instrumental in the building of the London Terminal Coach Station in 1928 at 82 Clapham Road, near Kennington Oval, as a base for Blue Belle Motors’ expanding coach services and also to generate income from the provision of facilities for other coach operators who were having difficulties with traffic congestion and restrictions in central London. The proprietory company Coach Travels Ltd. was formed to run the station.

In early 1932, the engineering firm Scammell & Nephew acquired a majority shareholding in Blue Belle Motors Ltd. which gave them control of Blue Belle’s fleet of coaches and the London Terminal Coach Station. In reporting this, Commercial Motor mentioned that the Blue Belle fleet comprised “65 modern motor coaches” which throws doubt on whether the pre-1930 vehicles were in fact disposed of (see above). After a number of legal disputes between Mr Toms and Scammells, the latter’s shares in Blue Belle Motors were acquired by Toms. In August 1932 Blue Belle Coaching Services Ltd. was registered with Toms as Managing Director.

In 1934 the Blue Belle address was that of the London Terminal Coach Station the premises in Acre Lane having apparently been disposed of.

A view of the forecourt of the London Terminal Coach Station in 1931 with A.E.C. Regals in abundance. Identifiable from left to right are Blue Belle GJ 8069, GF 5131, GO 121, GF 5125, Orange Luxury Coaches GN 9736 and Blue Belle GF 5132.

A sketch which accompanied a description in Commercial Motor of the London Terminal Coach Station which was nearing completion in 1929.

The passing of the 1930 Road Traffic Act and the subsequent Report of the Commitee of Inquiry into London Motor Coach Services in 1932 together with a downturn in the economy had not been kind to Blue Belle’s fortunes. The East Grinstead service was taken over by Green Line in 1932 together with six of Blue Belle’s coaches, and in January 1933 the facilities and booking organisation of the London Terminal Coach Station were leased to the General Travel Agency (London), Ltd., a subsidiary of Red &White Services, Ltd with Gerald Nowell as managing director. Nowell was a director of Red & White having previously been managing director of Great Western Express which had recently been acquired by Red & White. Blue Belle’s fortunes may have recovered somewhat since a further 10 A.E.C. Regals, this time with observation coachwork, were delivered later in 1933. The bodies were to have been built by London Lorries but this company went into liquidation and the bodies were finished by Beadle. All remaining Blue Belle coaches were renumbered into a new fleet series starting again at 1. In May 1934 the fleet comprised 34 up-to-date coaches according to Coaching Journal.

One of the A.E.C. Regals with observation coachwork by London Lorries/Beadle AGJ 928 delivered to Blue Belle in April 1933.

In January 1937 Red & White Services Ltd acquired all the shares of Blue Belle Coaching Services Ltd., followed soon after by the purchase of the London Terminal Coach Station.  30 Blue Belle A.E.C. Regals were included in the acquisition. Blue Belle Motors Ltd. went into voluntary liquidation later that year. Under Red & White ownership of Blue Belle Coaching Services, three Albions with Duple observation coachwork and two with standard Duple coachwork were delivered between 1937 and 1939. A number of the earlier Regals with London Lorries coachwork were also rebodied as coaches by Duple in 1938-9. The vehicles continued to operate under the Blue Belle fleet name until the outbreak of the second world war when leisure coach travel was curtailed. The Blue Belle vehicles made their way to Monmouthshire where they continued to operate for a time with the Blue Belle name before being absorbed into the main fleet. However, many of the Regals were requisitioned by the War Department. Most of those that remained were rebodied with utility bodywork later in the war.

Towards the end of the war or soon after, it appears that the dormant Blue Belle company was acquired by United Service Transport of London (in which Red & White United Transport had a financial interest), together with a motley collection of Red & White vehicles including some of the original Blue Belle Regals. U.S.T. revived the Blue Belle fleet name with services in the London suburban area and towards the south coast which lasted until the sale of U.S.T.’s coaching interests to the George Ewer group in the 1960s. The London Terminal Coach Station passed to the Keith & Boyle Group, which also had some Red & White directors on the board. After Keith & Boyle sold their Orange Luxury coach business to the Ewer group in 1953, the company established a Vauxhall/Bedford dealership on the premises.

Albion Valkyrie SpPV141 EJJ 476 with Duple RC35C bodywork was purchased for the Blue Belle fleet by Red & White in December 1937. It was given fleet no. B35 and later 735. After rebodying with a second hand Duple coach body it was withdrawn as C1037 in 1951.

GJ 8071 was one of the 1930 batch of Blue Belle A.E.C. Regals with London Lorries bodywork that was rebodied in 1938 for Red & White with C32F bodywork by Duple as depicted here in this works photograph. It was sold after the war to United Service Transport for their resurrected Blue Belle fleet.

FAX 347 started life as a 1931 Scottish Motor Traction A.E.C. Regal and was one of a number requisitioned by the War Department and later acquired by Red & White. It was re-registered in 1946 and sold to United Service Transport for their Blue Belle fleet No. 1017 as depicted here.

It is hoped to include Fleet Lists of the Blue Belle vehicles both before and after Red & White ownership in the near future.

© Richard Smith 2017. All rights reserved.

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An advertisement for Blue Belle Coaches that appeared in the Motor Transport Long Distance Coach Timetable for July 1929. The vehicle shown is probably one of the 1929 Leyland Lion deliveries.

Cover of the 1939 Blue Belle coach programme with an illustration of the recently rebodied A.E.C. Regal coach shown opposite. Interestingly the cover has no mention of Red & White’s ownership of the Company.