The early years
Jersey's first horse-drawn omnibus service was started on 15 November 1788 between the Swift Tavern in St Aubin and the Bunch of Grapes, in Water Lane at the bottom of Wellington Road in St Helier, by Richard Monck.
There would be no road from St Helier to St Aubin for another 22 years, and even when that was built by General Sir George Don in 1810, it only reached La Haule. The first omnibus would have had to cross the beach, its operating time governed by the state of the tide. The single fare was 10 sous.
As islanders got more used to travelling around, more bus operators started up, but to begin with they tended to compete on the same routes at the same times, until a more commonsense approach led to extended operating periods and the introduction of new services. By the middle of the 19th century there were so many omnibuses operating through the town that a petition was raised to the Lieut-Bailiff "praying for the suppression of the omnibus horns, which at all hours, Sundays as well as weekdays, are permitted to disturb the peace of the streets and inflict torture upon the sick and dying".
In 1851 the States passed a law dealing with the policing of roads which, among other things, introduced the island's first parking regulations, forbidding omnibuses to be left standing in King Street, Queen Street, or any other road where two vehicles could not easily pass each other.
Michael Ginns' 1961 book Transport in Jersey records that in 1858 there were two regular services from the Exeter Hotel, Queen Street, to Faldouet via St Martin and Gorey via St Clement's and Grouville Churches.
Other services operated from Gregory's New Alliance Livery Stables in New Street to St Ouen, twice daily with a return fare of one shilling; from the Red Lion in Halkett Place to St Aubin; and around the town of St Helier, by J K Haire, proprietor of Paragoon Livery Stables.
The latter service operated at half hourly intervals and connected with all train arrivals and departures when the two railway companies started operations from St Helier to St Aubin and Gorey. These services severely affected the omnibus operators' main operations to the west and east, but other operators began to realise the potential to connect the rest of the island with the railway stations along the island's south coast. Route were opened to St John, St Ouen and St Brelade, but they did not prove particularly successful.
Very little is known about bus services between 1878 and the turn of the century because the Jersey Times Almanac stopped publishing its Omnibus Guide. This may have been because of an absence of scheduled services, although there is substantial photographic evidence of the popularity of the 'excursion car' or 'charabanc' as Jersey's tourism industry developed in the second half of the 19th century. These were the forerunners of the 20th century coach tour, rather than providing regular scheduled services picking up and dropping off passengers at regular stops.
A 1909 guidebook reported:
- "Livery stables - these are numerous and well provided, the principal are Gregory's and Down's Excelsior. Their wagonettes call at the hotels for passengers between 10 and 11 am and also at the apartments which desire them to do so. They start at 11 and return at 5 or 5.30 pm. The seat costs 2s 6d (box seat 6d extra). Lunch is taken at some pleasant country inn. Half-day excursions also start at 2.15 in the afternoon, returning about the same time. Fare 2s. The car drivers divide the island into six drives. As a general rule the drives of Monday and Thursday are somewhat similar, as well as those of Tuesday and Friday, and Wednesday and Saturday. A guide accompoanies every car, who endeavours to supply the company with either music or information. While returning to St Helier he sends the hat round for thank offerings."
Double decker horse buses
There was a brief introduction of a petrol-engined bus early in the 20th century, but it was not successful, and the first two decades of the century saw the operation of horse-drawn double-decker buses by Down's of 25 David Place, J Murphy, and F R W Clarke, trading as Omnials.
Some of these buses began to compete with the trains, but they were not as reliable. Mr Clarke said that his service from St Helier to St Aubin using a Straker-Squire double-decker did good business but "we had to give it up as we had great difficulty in keeping the tyres on the wheels".
The real arrival of motorised buses came in 1918, as the First World War, which had caused restrictions on public transport services, was drawing to a close. The Channel Islands Motor and General Engineering Company of 35 Bath Street commenced operations with Ford Model T vehicles. Proprietor Eric Lander called his operation the Blue Bus Service, operating twice-weekly services to St Ouen, Greve de Lecq and St Martin's Church.
The motorised bus concept began to gather momentum in the mid-1920s, with Shaw's Excelsion service from St Helier to St Peter and the Jersey Bus Company's orange Model Ts routes to St Aubin, Plemont, Gorey and a circular route taking in Devil's Hole, Wolf Caves, Bonne Nuit and Bouley Bay; Tourist Bus Company to Trinity. By 1927 there was a profusion of operators, including The Islander, The Liberty, The Favourite and The Tantivy, operating from The Parade, and Yellow Bus, Slade's Bus Service, Trinity Bus Service, Rondel's Bus Service and Ville de Paris from Minden Place and Val Plaisant.
But it was the formation of Jersey Motor Transport in 1923, followed some months later by the western railway operator Jersey Railways and Tramways adding buses to its network, which saw a dramatic development in bus services across the island, and when JR and T took over the JMT in 1928 the writing was on the wall for the island's railways, the eastern service closing in 1929 and the western railway seven years later.
The years between 1928 and 1960 (interrupted by the German Occupation from 1940-45) saw a succession of companies challenging the JMT's supremacy. Most either failed, or were bought out by their larger competitors.
Safety Coach Service
Operating initially as the Red Band Bus, this service was started in November 1927 on weekdays only by W H Jones and A Huson with a single bus running through the town from Cheapside to Greve d'Azette via Rouge Bouillon, David Place, Halkett Place, Snow Hill, Don Road and St Clement's Road. It was soon joined by three others, the penny fares and conductresses proving popular with passengers, who nicknamed the buses the 'Hallelujahs', a reference to their operators' membership of the Salvation Army.
The following summer SCS started the first service from east to west through St Helier with a route from Grouville Station to St Brelade's Bay. The full return fare of 2s was broken down into one penny stages.
The company progressively experimented with further routes, some of which were successful, some not. Eventually it responded to public demands for Sunday services, and Mr Jones left in protest. Two years after it was founded, SCS merged with Grey Bus Service and the route network and the size of the combined fleet expanded from 1930 to 1932, competing strongly with the JMT.
Double-decker buses were introduced in 1933 and 1934, by which time the proliferation of bus routes was leading to such traffic congestion that SCS and the JMT came to an agreement to divide the island between them, the JMT operating in the north and west and SCS in the east and north-east. It was the only operator on this side of the island when Snow Hill bus station opened in 1935.
Slade's Blue and White Bus Service was one of the more successful of the smaller operators, confining its operations to routes from St Helier to the north-east of the island. Edward Slade, the son of a blacksmith of the same name, built his own bus body with two rows of seats on a Model T chassis, covered by a canvas roof. He operated from St Helier to Greencliff, St Martin, starting in 1923, and by 1934 he had routes to Faldouet, Archirondel and Rozel. He also operated a summer route between Gorey and Plemont under the name Waverley Tours.
Slade's buses did not return to service after the Occupation and the business was taken over by the JMT.
This successful small business was formed by A A Pitcher as early as 1897 to operate excursions and provide carriages, carts and, eventually, cabs for hire. It diversified into buses in the north-west of the island and by 1923 was operating motor charabancs and then a motor bus service to St John. Mr Pitcher had a fleet of Rolls Royce taxis and hearses for his second business as an undertaker.
Tantivy continued to operate a single route when the Germans arrived in 1940, but by 1949 Mr Pitcher decided to sell his bus operation to the JMT and concentrate on coaches and taxis, becoming one of the island's largest coach operators, in competition with Blue Coach Tours.
Jersey Bus Service
Founded in 1934 by Joseph Manning, a former JMT driver, this operation soon came to be known as Joe's Bus Service. It was not to last for long, however, and the JBS vehicles were taken over by SCS in March 1935 when the drivers could not be paid. Mr Manning bounced back with new vehicles and was still running his company when war intervened, and he left this island. All his vehicles were requisitioned by the Germans and eventually broken up.
Mr Manning returned in 1946 and managed to find buses to resume his service on 15 March 1946. When he died in 1956 the business was continued by his four sons, but eventually they decided to concentrate on coach operations and on 1 January 1960 Joe's Bus Service ceased operations, the last independent to challenge the JMT.