A special event will be held at the IW Bus & Coach Museum in Ryde this weekend (9th/10th October) to celebrate the centenary of the Vectis Bus Company.

It was in October 1921 when the company began operating a small number of routes that form the basis of today’s network.

The museum opens at 10:00 on both days and the celebrations will include a recreation of some early routes using historic vehicles. Other vehicles will be on static display, both inside and outside the museum.

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Entry is free, but a special souvenir programme will be available for £8. This includes timetables for the free bus services, historical notes and a facsimile of the original 1920s guide.

Today’s Southern Vectis is a direct descendent of the original Vectis Bus Company, with a history that includes the Southern Railway, the British Transport Commission and the National Bus Company (NBC). Southern Vectis was one of the first NBC companies to be privatised in 1986 when it was bought by its management. The Go-Ahead Group acquired the company in 2005.

The Bus Museum is in Park Road, Ryde and accessible by Southern Vectis Routes 2, 3 and 8. There is no car parking at the museum, the nearest being St John’s Road train station.

Still “The Vectis” a Century Later

by Richard Newman

Although other bus services had operated on the island before Dodson & Campbell’s Vectis Bus Co. came on the scene, the commencement of the Newport (Market Square) – Cowes (Police Station), Newport – East Cowes (Ferry Square) and Cowes (Park Gates) – Gurnard (Tinker’s Lane) routes was seen by many (especially the Dodsons) as the first organised operation here. The official opening date was Monday 24th October 1921 but a timetable had been advertised in the I.W. County Press on 15th October. The following week there was a report of buses causing an obstruction in East Cowes, so it seems possible some of the first Daimler Y type buses (DL 2446-8) were making earlier trial runs available to passengers.

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Reports from the early days are often inconsistent, so it is difficult to be absolutely certain what operated when. The initial announcement on 15th October provided for five weekday journeys to East Cowes (four back, for it is known that some off-service runs used the cross-river chain ferry) with an extra return on Tuesdays (Newport Market Day). Only one return journey to West Cowes and six in each direction on the Gurnard route were timetabled, while Sunday services consisted of three return journeys on all routes. However, by the 29th October newspaper announcement, the East Cowes service had increased to seven weekday journeys each way (one extra on Tuesdays) and six on Sundays; to West Cowes provision was for five journeys (but only three back, reflecting perhaps an off-service return to Somerton Garage) with two extra on Tuesdays and four extra on Saturdays). The Gurnard service remained the same except for two additional Sunday runs. It is likely the delivery of all three vehicles made the enhanced service possible, probably from the 24th. The Gurnard terminus was cut back from Tinker’s Lane (now Pallance Road) to Gurnard (Hotel) for most journeys before too long. It has not been possible to ascertain whether the route to Tinker’s Lane was via Cockleton Lane or Rew Street. There was not, of course, the strict control on routeing later imposed by the 1930 Road Traffic Act – only the licensing of vehicles, drivers and conductors with the local councils of the districts through which the service ran. The initial road staff establishment was four drivers and four conductors with a wage bill just in excess of £25. Timetables only reveal a limited number of timing points, so it may have been routes deviated slightly to drop people at their door!

Within a few weeks an additional bus, a Thornycroft (DL 2491) which, like the Daimlers, had a Dodson body constructed by the family firm in North-West London, was delivered. This allowed services to be increased and from 21st November it was possible to run three return journeys from Newport to Ryde via Fairlee. Operation of this new route was initially spasmodic – the tendency of the Thornycroft to catch fire might have had something to do with this! The vehicle was faster than the Daimlers but in less than a year the chassis was sold for use as a lorry because of the unreliability and the body placed on another Daimler chassis.

In 1922 the Company was reconstituted as Dodson Bros. with the ‘Vectis’ distinctive fleetname painted in gold on the vehicle sides. New routes begun in 1922/3 from Newport to Apse Heath, Sandown and Brading; to Godshill, Shanklin, Sandown and Ryde; Newport via Godshill and Whitwell or via Chale to Niton and Ventnor and from Newport to Carisbrooke, which was soon extended to the West Wight via two routes (Brook or Shalfleet). The rapid expansion caused great concern to the village carriers who had just passed into the motorised age with vans equipped with a few passenger seats or small capacity buses. Potential passengers from country areas would turn their backs to the approaching Vectis bus, remaining loyal to their local carrier who would do the shopping for them if they were unable to travel to Newport. However, Vectis quickly gained supremacy with an expanding fleet of Daimlers. They also purchased Vulcans (for which they were local agents) and later small capacity Guys and Chevrolet used for “chasing” competitors, much to the concern of local councils who threatened to withhold licences, even though they lacked powers to do so. The main “chasing” was targeted against Fowler’s Royal Blue which operated on several Vectis routes but retreated after only a few years. Many smaller concerns were forced to give up because of the Vectis tactics which took away their custom. It is notable that the Dodsons did not intrude into the area east of Ryde where Creeth, I.W. Tourist and Newell were already established, while Ryde to East Cowes was largely left to Enterprise (Wavell). In 1925 Vectis gave up the West Wight route via Shalfleet which was quickly taken over by Brown’s Bus Service of Carisbrooke. Many new operators were established in the mid-1920s, using mechanical skills learned in the military during World War I. Most were eventually swallowed up by Vectis, but in the meantime the “chasing” situation worsened.

Vectis survived a devastating fire at its Somerton Depot in October 1927, losing 13 vehicles, but quickly obtained replacements after ‘hiring in’ three Dennis buses from London. Another building at Somerton was then leased from J.S. White. However, it was the 1928 Railways Act that allowed the “Big Four” railway companies to invest in existing bus companies. The Southern Railway formed The Southern Vectis Omnibus Co. in 1929, taking over the assets of the old company which was then wound up, although the Dodson Brothers, Frank, Leonard and Christopher retained a 50% shareholding in SVOC until 1932. Their share then passed to the Tilling & BAT group, nominally via the Southern Railway.

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