A history of horse-drawn bus services in Jersey

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By Robin Cox. First published in Jersey Topic magazine in 1965

Down's horse bus in the 1890s

It is believed that the first public conveyance commenced running in November 1788 when a man named Monck, after announcing the idea in the local paper a week earlier than his inaugural run, put a chariot couvert into service between St Aubin and town. This reference has been used by many writers on the subject of Jersey's transport, but each time, possibly for reasons of space, the whole advertisement for the first trip has never appeared in any journal other than the Gazette de Jersey of 8 November 1788.

As the advertisement is of great interest, it is included here:

”For the convenience of those living in St Abin and roundabout, Richard Monck intends to carry, in a little covered carriage, people and goods from St Aubin to town, and from town to St Aubin. He will begin next Saturday and will continue every Saturday, if he obtains encouragement.
”This little carriage will be found to be larger than a chaise roulante and the ladies and gentlemen who use it will avoid being exposed to bad weather, which those who go on horseback are obliged to suffer. It will leave in winter from the sign of the Swan at St Aubin at 9 o’clock in the morning and from the Bunch of Grapes in Water Lane, in the town, at 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
”Men and women will pay ten sous each and children six sous. Each passenger may carry 12 pounds of luggage. Above this weight each will pay 14 sous per central, and for each little parcel from one place to another, five sous.”

It does not appear that Monck did receive much encouragement for there is no evidence to show that he even ran the first journey. As it would have been a novelty in those days it is not unreasonable to expect to see some praiseworthy, or other notice in the press of the time, drawing attention to its presence.

Alas the Gazette remains silent. If it did run, the little carriage would have had a very rough passage from St Aubin to Town, as it was not until 1809 that General Don built the road from La Haule to St Helier, and it was not until 1844 that the remainder, named Victoria Road in 1857, was completed. Monck’s bus would therefore be subject to many hazards, such as high tides and quicksands.

Richard Dodge

Islanders had to wait until 1835 for the first regular omnibus service between the two towns. This was started by Richard Dodge, who plied his Victorian Blue omnibus. In those days most omnibuses had names rather than numbers, and as the stable keeper bought more vehicles, so the name was used to describe the stables rather than the buses.

The bus rain from Halkett Place to La Haule. This service continued until 1870, when ownership of the vehicules passed from hand to hand until finally control was gained by G Benest, at one time Constable of St Brelade. The name of the buses became by then, the Caesarean.

Benest ran two services: one from St Helier to St Aubin and another from Town, through St Aubin to St Brelade's Bay. At the time of his closing down, there were 57 horses in his stables, a princely number, even in those days.

The Caesarean buses were driven off the road by the railway, which opened on 25 October 1870. As expected, receipts on the horsebuses fell dramatically until 19 November, when the buses made their last trips, Several of the vehicles and 30 of the horses were auctioned off in the following days. Benest himself turned defeat into a passable victory by hiring out the remainder of his fleet to the railway company for a feeder service to St Brelade's Bay.

An excursion car

East of the island

To the east of the Island services were also supplied. For many years, Asplet ran a bus to the British Hotel on Gorey Pier, journeying thither by either St Clement or Faldouet, depending upon the time of the day. The services ceased a little while after the opening of the Eastern Railway in 1873. The Eastern railway made no attempt to provide feeder services to attract those who lived more than a short walk away from the stations.

In this Jersey Railway, in the west, excelled. Feeders were run from Millbrook Station to St John's Church, by way of Mont Felard and Carrefour Selous; from Beaumont to St Ouen by way of the Old Hill; and ST Aubin to St Brelade’s Bay. For the St John and StOuen services, buses were hired from Mr Haire’s Paragon Stables.

The St John service was poorly patronised and was withdrawn after a short time. The route to St Ouen, running as it did up the Old Hill, as the new was not completed until 1882, must have been truly terrifying, especially in a flimsy wooden omnibus.

These services, or what remained after the initial pruning, were all abandoned in 1874, in a last-minute attempt to stave off bankruptcy. The railway company was suffering. Their contractor, Mr Pickering, who was also their chief financier, was in a hopeless financial mess with the failure of two Jersey banks in the preceding year.

Large amounts of fine furniture which had been bought specially for the St Aubin terminus hotel had to be disposed of, and the hotel converted, for the most part, into common assembly rooms. Even these desperate bids failed and in December 1874 the Viscount announced that the Jersey Railway Company Limited was en desastre.

Under Jersey Law the new tenants set to work in trying to pay off the numerous creditors, and were far too busy to worry about feeder services.

The control of the Company passed into the hands of a large English combine, which was oblivious of the need of feeders.

Garden seat horsebus

In November 1889 two gentlemen from First Tower placed a new garden-seat pair horsebus into service from St Helier to St, Aubin. The association was known as the Jersey Garden Seat Omnibus Company and, in time, the one bus was joined by another. The whole venture was an immediate success. A correspondent to the local press observed that it was no surprise.

The railways were giving receipts away to the buses, through the former's lethargy and the latter's enthusiasm. The garden-seat buses continued until August 1890, when due to a dissolution of partnership, they ceased and were disposed of to other livery stable keepers. It is thought that the buses went to Down's stables of Stopford Road, for use on their town service from Rouge Bouillon to The Dicq.

A word about the expression garden-seat would not he amiss at this point. Garden seat is a term applied to horsebuses to describe the seating on the top decks. The most important feature is a flat floor, on which are placed several miniature garden seats, each accommodating two passengers, facing forwards. The alternative to this, apart from a singled deck vehicle, is a knifeboard bus, on which the top deck floor is not flat, and the seating is arranged back to back, along the centre of the roof, the lower saloon celestory forming the actual seat.

The rest of the Island was by no means without buses all this while. Throughout the years various livery stable keepers had run buses to St Ouen by way of St Mary, to St John and to Trinity, many keepers running to the various parts of the Island on different days, using the same bus.

The whole Island was provided with some sort of service, all through the week, albeit a different coloured bus each day.

Carriages meet the mailboat at the Harbour in 1903

Down's

Important among the livery stables, which operated buses as distinct from cars, was Down's. For many years Down had expanded and by 1890 ran services all over the island, as well as the very profitable town service. His vehicles continued well into the 20th century until the motor became accepted and trustworthy. As a result of this, Down, devotee of the horse, went bankrupt in 1913, and his business was taken over by J Mauger, who had also taken over the business of Paragon.

Mr Mauger, formerly of 10 Albert Street, was a most efficient and accommodating operator. Starting off in a very small way, he took the name The Jersey Central Omnibus and ran to the northern parishes, with the other keepers. As other smaller stables closed down he purchased their effects, and before long also took over the Paragon Stables, which had, at one time, as its name implies, been a veritable Paragon of efficiency itself.

By taking over Down's, he became in control of almost all the stage carriage services in the Island, but at a wrong time, 1913. By this time the motor was completely accepted and the first motor omnibuses had made an appearances. Paragon failed and was taken over by Gordon Bennet, and converted into a motor garage.

Another stables which followed Down's was Gregory's. This firm had started very early in the 19th century and was responsible for the introduction of the famous Jersey 'excursion car'. This car was a carriage consisting of benches, in a manner very similar to that of Charabancs, hut the two carriages were very different in style. Gregory dabbled in omnibus operation, but was most engaged in coaching parties and drives around the Island, drives which have continued to this day.

Gregory also failed to meet the challenge of the motor vehicle and in 1923 he went into liquidation and the most part of the firm was taken over by A A Pitcher, who had been operating an efficient line of omnibuses and cars since 1897.

Each large hotel had its own omnibus, to convey passengers to and from the harbour. A constant vigil was kept on the signal mast on Fort Regent. As soon as the steamer was flagged coming around Noirmont Point, the hotels dispatched their buses with all haste to the harbour, to attract and cajole the unprepared visitor into boarding with their particular hotel. The Pomme d'or hotel, being in those days very French, had their own bus, brought over from France, equipped with the reversed staircase, suitable for the right-hand driving and boarding, Horse traction has never ceased to exist in the Island. During the War, horsebuses were operated by the JMT to save petrol, but it was found that the costs of such a service far outweighed the receipts and it was abandoned after a short while. Old landaus were brought out and run all over the Island, to beat the petrol ration, but did not last for long, as there was no plant available for repairing the rubber tires fitted to the carriages, and without tires they soon fell to pieces.

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