OS at 90

Monday 30th September 2019

Waiting for the ‘off’ on Saturday morning from our Southampton hotel

The Omnibus Society marked its 90th anniversary over the weekend with its annual Presidential Weekend offering a brilliant programme of events based in the Solent area. Around a hundred members from all over the country attended the weekend hosted by this year’s president, Andrew Wickham, managing director of Go South Coast.

It’s a fantastic achievement for the OS to have reached its 90th anniversary and to mark the occasion a special souvenier publication has been produced charting its development from formation in 1929 by such legends as Charles F Klapper and Charles E Lee through to the present day.


Throughout this time dedicated volunteers have recorded route and timetable developments of the country’s bus network from Shetland to Lands End as well as highlighting how bus types have changed through the decades. A bi-monthly national magazine, localised regional branch bulletins as well as regular meetings, visits and tours held around the country ensure members are kept well informed and receive an outstanding service from the modest annual subscription.

The Omnibus Society is held in great respect and regard by senior professional bus managers and directors with a keen interest in the industry. I can speak from personal experience to confirm it’s an absolute privilege and honour to be asked to hold the prestigeous role of President of the Society for a year and it was impressive to see eleven past presidents gathered in Southampton for the Presidential Dinner on Saturday evening with Sir Peter Hendy CBE (President in 2004) giving a forthright and highly pertinent address setting out his thoughts on the bus industry.

Past Presidents included 1988 Trevor Smallwood (Badgerline); 1996 Peter Shipp (EYMS Group); 1997 Charles Marshall (OK Travel); 1999 Stephen Morris (Buses magazine); 2005 John Owen (Thamesdown); 2009 Philip Kirk (Oxford Bus); 2010 Mark Howarth (Western Greyhound); 2012 Roger French OBE (Brighton & Hove); 2017 James Freeman (First West of England); 2019 Andrew Wickham (Go South Coast) and ….
…. 2004 Sir Peter Hendy CBE (Transport for London).

A recent development for the Omnibus Society has been the establishment of a sister charity, the Bus Archive, under the expert stewardship of Philip Kirk, my former colleague managing director at Oxford Bus, now also retired. This has combined the treasure trove of historic ‘official’ documents and archives from bus companies previously looked after by the Kithead Trust with the huge collection of timetables and other archives and memorabilia held by the OS. It’s a textbook example of collaboration between professionals with direct industry experience and those with a much welcome passionate interest in buses.

This year’s Presidential Weekend has been a huge success with superb organisation and a varied and interesting programme for all of us attending. Many thanks to Andrew Wickham and his team for being so patient and giving up their time to show us around Bluestar, Hants & Dorset Trim and Southern Vectis’s premises in Eastleigh and Newport, Phil and Gareth Blair who were on hand to share the history of Xelabus with us (based next door to Bluestar in Eastleigh) as well as the volunteers at the Isle of Wight Bus Museum who gave up their Sunday morning to show us around its extensive collection now housed in the former Southern Vectis bus garage in Ryde. We also had a fascinating Saturday afternoon exploring the extensive maintenance works on the former British Rail site at Eastleigh now run by Arlington Fleet Group Ltd.

Thanks also to the OS volunteers who organised the admin and I understand the heroes are David Grimmet and Michael Meilton who deserve a big pat on the back.

Today’s programme included a visit to the Eclipse busway between Gosport and Fareham operated by First Hampshire.

Here’s a selection of photographs from Saturday and Sunday to give a taste of the fascinating programme we enjoyed. I should also say a sincere thanks to those of you who took the trouble to let me know how much you enjoy reading these blogposts; it was lovely to meet you and heartening to know you get as much pleasure reading these words as I do writing them.

There are no photographs from the Arlington visit as we were asked not to publish any in a public forum, but I’ve copied one or two from their website.

One of our two chariots from Southampton to Eastleigh was this former Thamesdown Northern Counties bodied Daimler CVG6.
With the other this excellent example of the Bristol VRT with ECW bodywork which were once prolific in National Bus Company’s subsidiaries’ fleets.
Bluestar is based in Eastleigh and also runs an extensive network of routes under the unilink brand for the University of Southampton, also open to any passengers wanting to travel.



Hants & Dorset trim, unsurprisingly has a huge selection of trims – this is just a small selection of moquettes for many bus and train companies.
Hants & Dorset Trim also do major body repair work and repaints. This £140K investment in a series of three scaffolding set ups enables staff to work safely at height on upper bodies and roofs.


I was personally delighted to see Andy Collins, who began his career at Brighton & Hove as an apprentice, is now one of the leading managers at Hants & Dorset Trim and doing a brilliant job.
Nexxt door to the Bluestar premises in Eastleigh is independently owned Xelabus the smart famiy run company by Phil and Gareth Blair.
The vehicles from the Isle of Wight Bus Museum’s collection to take us around the Isle of Wight on Sunday included….
… this ECW bodied Bristol K …..
…this Bristol LH with “DP” seats…
…and this Bristol RE in Southern Vectis “privatisation” livery.
Also on hand to take us from East Cowes to Ryde was this former Southern Vectis Bristol VRT now sporting a livery for Damory.
Some displays from inside the Isle of Wight Bus Museum….




No visit to the Island would be complete wihout a ride on the 1938 “heritage” former London Underground Bakerloo Line trains, or should I say, train, as there’s now only one serviceable train left on the Island Line pending delivery of the just announced refurbished Class 484 (former District Line trains).
And in Newport garage it was lovely to see ‘The Old Girl” – Southern Vectis’s 80 year old Bristol K – still going strong
Southern Vectis run an open top fleet bassed at the Mountjoy outstation close to Newport.
Southern Vectis also runs an extensive network of school contracts all over the Island under the Vectis Blue brand. Here some are based alongside the Isle of Wight Bus Museum in Ryde….
… with others at the Mountjoy outstation…..
… where we had an enjoyable stop off …..
and also saw this tree-lopper with pertinent wording on the side.

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A smidgeon of what goes on at the Arlington Eastleigh site.

Roger French



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