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Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Longest day





Thank you everyone for so many messages wishing me a Happy Birthday today using one or more of the social networking services. Amazing!

So a bedtime story. One which I have to say helped get me interested in the subject of transport and left an indelible memory.

I was entranced by the story of Silver Star Motor Services originally of Dorset which was formed in September 1923. There were two partners, Eddie Shergold and Ben White and they started with new Ford T which had a local canvas-hooded 14-seat body. The origin of the name is unclear – Eddie Shergold had served on the destroyer ‘Morning Star’ in World War I and the first, and subsequent vehicles were all in silver livery – until the end of World War II this was unpainted.

Their business target was the regular movements of members of HM Armed Forces in the Wiltshire/Dorset area. This included conveying them to other locations during their leave and also for moving the military bands to and from events.

The Road Traffic Act 1930 required them to apply for licences, and unlike now (and since 1986) they had to prove the need for them to be approved. Abstraction from other road and rail services could be a cause for refusal.

In the 1950s Silver Star (and competitor Wilts and Dorset) after a fight in the Traffic Courts started running directly to London rather than the nearest railway station, where they could board the London trains.

Initially the Traffic Commissioners and the operators had accepted that each camp was to be considered the preserve of one particular operator. This led to Silver Star being the dominant operator at Bulford Camp, whilst Boscombe Down was regarded as Wilts & Dorset’s.

In the mid-1950s Silver Star realised that the future of express services lay in connecting a dozen or more camps to a network of express services - to Newcastle upon Tyne, Glasgow and Edinburgh. All coaches were fitted with heaters (still not a standard feature) and radio which was popular with the troops.

In due course the competition had to follow.

Later that year the company became the first independent operator to place the new Leyland Atlantean in service. TMW853 carried Weymann 73-seat bodywork.

They even bought a former London RTL (305) which sadly was destroyed by vandals when subsequently owned by prioneering preservationist Ted Brakell.

In July 1960 the second Atlantean (37 - VAM944) entered service. It bore a distinct resemblance to the Standerwick 'Gay Hostess' coaches fleet with leather trim and luxurious features. It ran constantly to and from London full of military personnel and more were to follow.

In August 1960, Silver Star applied to operate Atlanteans on the other military express services which was viewed with some alarm by their rivals since the high capacity vehicles posed a threat to their business.

Silver Star was already operating double-deckers on their London route and had been for some several years. In an amazing piece of theatre not seen today the company placed their latest Atlantean, and a tree lopper, outside the court (demonstrating high quality transport AND countering a criticism they were not prepared to deal with problems!)

But the market was in decline and in October 1962, Eddie Shergold died. The surviving partner, Ben White, had already decided to retire and it was sold to Wilts and Dorset in June 1963.

I was fascinated by this remarkable story of high quality services, taking advantage of the market, and doing a better job than the established operator. They also continued to press the authorities for licences as in another world later did Laker and Branson who also brought the latest features to their products to gain competitive advantage.


Something registered in my head even at that tender age and later, somehow, I did what I did!


Now this area of the country is rather short of military personnel AND bus services but on 3rd September this year we will again be providing a distinctly London bus service across Salisbury Plain and to the 'forgotten' village of Imber. Details nearer the time. No Silver Stars but plenty of interest nevertheless!

Fortunately one or two vehicles survive into preservation and thanks to my good friend Bruce Swain can illustrate the last Atlantean 1013MW, at Dunsfold this April.

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