The History of the Bere Regis Bus Co. 1929 - 1995

The material in this section has been researched by Peter Roberts, Roger Grimley & Henry Frier. If you wish to find out more please visit the Country Bus Website here

Thank you for all your hard work & dedication in collating it all

From humble beginnings on 29th October 1929 - when a bus driver called Reg Toop decided to leave his employer George Vacher and set up in business on his own in competition against him with a Ford Model T 14-seater - this organisation grew to be the largest independent operator in the county of Dorset in postwar years.   Whether by coincidence or as consequence, Vacher sold his business to the expanding Hants & Dorset Motor Services in August 1930, and remained in their employ as the local inspector for many years afterwards.  He died in 1958 at the age of 71.  Vacher had originally traded as Bere Regis Motor Services - the name that Toop then acquired almost by default when it became available, changing it to Bere Regis & District, having previously traded as Pioneer!

Reg Toop

Vacher had operated from his home village of Bere Regis since horse drawn days and acquired his first motor bus in 1919.  This was used on routes to Dorchester on Wednesdays and Saturdays and to Poole on Mondays and Thursdays.  By 1927 there were two motor vehicles and additional routes were being run to Blandford, Bournemouth, Wimborne and Wareham.  With regards to the latter destination, Harry Farr was running to Wareham from Bere Regis on Thursdays and Saturdays too, since at least 1920.

The Photo at top is of George Vacher's Bere Regis Motor Service from the late 1920's. The charabanc was carrying 27 people, plus the driver. The driver, in the peaked cap is Reg Toop, who in 1929 went on to establish Bere Regis Motor Services, which rapidly built into a large enterprise across Dorset.

Toop drove for Vacher from the age of 14.  To start his own business and buy his first bus, he borrowed money from several people in Bere Regis, including Doctor Liss and Applin the butcher. The initial routes operated by Toop were:

·         Bere Regis - Kingston - Zelstone – Lytchett Matravers – Poole (once on Monday and Friday, four times on Saturday and Sunday)

·         Bere Regis – Bere Heath – Wareham (Thursday and Saturday)

·         Bere Regis – Bere Heath - Bloxworth – Morden - Wimborne (Tuesday)

·         Bere Regis – Kingston – Zelstone – Sturminster Marshall – Wimborne (Tuesday)

·         Zelstone – Kingston -Bere Regis – Dorchester (Wednesday)

·         Bere Regis – Kingston - Lytchett Matravers – Wareham (presumed Thursday for market but discontinued by 1933). 

One might wonder if there were enough passengers in the area to warrant a competitive operation, but this was good bus operating territory.  Bere Regis is a substantial village surrounded by a circle of market towns within a ten to twelve mile radius, and there was a long previous history of horse drawn carrier operations stretching back over the years.  In 1930 two Chevrolets joined the fleet to supplement the Model T.  In the same year Toop the market day routes of  James Ironside of Winfrith were acquired:

·         Winfrith – East Knighton – East Burton – Wool –Wareham (Thursday)

·         Winfrith – East Knighton – Broadmayne – Dorchester (Wednesday and Saturday)

·         Winfrith – East Knighton – Poxwell – Weymouth (Saturday evening service added by Toop to existing Tuesday and Friday service)

A picture from 1936. Shortly after Mr Ironside joined with Mr Toop, beside their Leyland Bus YG7085 while out on a coach trip. At the left is Bill Ironside and on the right Fred Hann, the driver, who was later a publican in Wimborne.

From reports in the local press at the time, Toop's operations were alleged to sometimes run with a scant regard for such niceties as the route specified in his road service licence!  In March 1936 the daily route between Poole, Morden, Bloxworth, Bere Regis and Dorchester, established in 1926, was brought into the growing business when Davis of Bloxworth joined the partnership.  These were the routes run by Davis:

·         Morden – Bloxworth - Bere Regis – Kingston – Almer – Lytchett Matravers – Wimborne (Tuesday)

·         Bloxworth – Morden – Wareham (Thursday)

·         Morden – Bloxworth - Bere Regis – Kingston – Almer – Spetisbury – Blandford (Thursday)

·         Poole – Lytchett Matravers – Morden – Bloxworth – Bere Regis – Dorchester

                     (weekdays Poole – Bere Regis; Wednesday and Saturday on from Bere Regis to Dorchester)

Hants & Dorset had considered purchasing the Davis business, but the purchase did not proceed because the revenue on the main Poole-Dorchester route was below cost and unsustainable.  After the negotiations failed the frequency of the service was reduced. 

A few months later Bill Ironside (whose father's routes from Winfrith had been acquired by Toop six years earlier) also joined the business as a partner. 

Bill Ironside in 1936

Bill had driven for his father Jim since the age of 15, and was to become the driving force in developing and running the Bere Regis & District business.  With the setting up of the partnership there was some rationalisation of the routes, which were intertwined to some degree.  These are the 1936 routes, together with the road service licence numbers allocated to them by the Western Traffic Area office:

  Bere Regis – Bere Heath - Bloxworth – Morden – Lytchett Matravers -Wimborne (Tuesday)  H4174

·         Winfrith – East Knighton – East Burton – Wool –Wareham (Thursday)  H4175

·         Bere Regis - Kingston - Zelstone – Worlds End – Morden – Poole (once Monday and Friday, three Saturday, four Sunday)  H4176      

·         Winfrith – East Knighton – Broadmayne – Dorchester (Wednesday and Saturday)          H4177 

·         Winfrith – East Knighton – Poxwell – Weymouth (Saturday and Public Holidays)            H4178

·         Zelstone – Kingston -Bere Regis – Dorchester (Wednesday)  H4179

·         Bere Regis – Bere Heath – Wareham (Thursday and Saturday)  H4204 

·         Poole – Lytchett Matravers – Morden – Bloxworth – Bere Regis (four times each weekday)  H4205        

·         Bere Regis – Affpuddle - Dorchester (Wednesday and Saturday)  H4205

Click the image above to look at the 1936 Timetable

Between them the three partners, Reg Toop, Percy Davis and Bill Ironside, expanded the fledgling enterprise - largely by acquisition of other businesses, especially during the Second World War - from pre-war market day services to an extensive post-war rural and interurban network with regular daily routes serving Dorchester, Sherborne, Yeovil, Sturminster Newton, Shaftesbury, Blandford and Poole.   The first wartime acquisition was the business of W J Laws in June 1940, and his route from Briantspuddle, Tolpuddle and Puddletown to Dorchester was added to the growing network.  During the war the smaller operators faced many difficulties; extra passengers had to be carried, a scarcity of fuel and resources, and time expired vehicles in need of replacement.   Bere Regis and District Motor Services were ever ready to buy up routes to expand their network.  (A full list of operators taken over is here).  After the war the medley of radial village services was melded into a comprehensive network of interurban services across mid-Dorset.  From a one vehicle operation in 1929, by 1945 the fleet size had reached 40 vehicles. 

It was also now necessary to turn attention to renewing the vehicle fleet.  This started in 1946 with the delivery of ten new Bedford OB's as well as a mix of second hand vehicles, including two ex-Chester Leyland Titan TD4s, AFM518/519, which were the firm's first double-deckers.  These were usually employed on the Bere Regis - Poole, Bere Regis - Dorchester and Dorchester - Sherborne routes (services 1, 1a, 2 and 4 in the 1949 list of routes reproduced below).   A further Titan TD2 YG710 followed in 1948, and it is thought three ex-London STLs were acquired in 1954.  The only other double deckers operated by the company were two more modern looking 1947 Leyland PD1s that were acquired in 1949 from Hants & Sussex (FCG526/527) and were in the fleet until 1960.

In the post war years, the routes from Dorchester to Sherborne and from Bere Regis to Poole were busy enough to warrant double deck operation.  Waiting at the Kingland Road terminus in Poole, on route 1 to Bere Regis via Lytchett Matravers and Bloxworth, is a rather dirty Leyland Titan TD4 AFM519 (see below).  This was of 1936 vintage and was one half of a pair purchased in 1946 from Chester.  I used to see the lunchtime departure from Poole to Bere Regis on a daily basis when I attended Poole Grammar School, until the Poole routes passed to Hants and Dorset in 1959.

Another regular performer was ex-Hants & Sussex FCG527 (see below), seen here at the other end of route 1, freshly washed and glistening in the sunshine in the Bere Regis depot yard.   This was a Leyland PD1 with Northern Coachbuilders 55-seater lowbridge body, and was new to Hants & Sussex in 1947.

The route map below shows the network of Bere Regis bus routes in 1956.  Many of the routes on the map are market-day type services only running on one or two days a week.  The daily routes were 1 Poole - Bere Regis, 1A Bere Regis - Dorchester, 4 Dorchester - Sherborne, 5 Dorchester - Yeovil, 6 Dorchester - Sturminster Newton, 16 Blandford - Okeford Fitzpaine, 17 Shaftesbury - Woolland and 18 Yeovil - Sturminster Newton.  (NB Some of the services have been renumbered from those given in the list of routes from the 1949 timetable above, as by 1956 routes  7   20   22   24   28  29   33    34  and  35 had been withdrawn (using the 1949 numbers!)).  Note also that Wimborne is no longer served by any bus route (although there was still a garage there at the time).   The motif illustrated was used by Bere Regis for many years.

Click the image above to look at the Map of the Bere Regis Bus Routes in 1956

The vehicles were painted in a livery of mid and dark brown, from which came the 'brown bombers' nickname we used as children in Dorset.  The livery came from the three partners, the dark brown from Toop, the other brown from Ironside and the red around the windows from Davis (whose own buses had been red).  The halcyon years for bus operations were post-war in the late 1940's and early 1950's.  There were also substantial numbers of school and works contracts as well as a wide range of private hire work.  As the years went by,  the coaching types of operation would become progressively more important than bus services.   In July 1959 the daily trunk services from Bere Regis to Poole (routes 1 and 2) and Dorchester (routes 1a and 3) were sold to Hants & Dorset, who had also operated over the 1 and 2 routes for many years with their services 91 and 90 respectively (inherited from the George Vacher takeover in 1930).  Tickets of the two companies had not been interavailable.  Whereas Bere Regis had provided the majority of the timings on the route to Poole via Bloxworth (1 / 91), the opposite was true on the route via  Kingston and Zelstone (2 / 90).  H&D increased the frequency of their timings to compensate for the loss of the Bere Regis services, and also introduced new route 11a from Bere Regis to Dorchester to replace the old 1a and 3.   By now the focus of Bere Regis operations had moved away from the village in which it had been founded, westwards towards the county town of Dorchester - a town which had always been at the centre of independent bus operation in Dorset.

Click the image above to have a look at the 1949 Timetable Booklet

By 1961 the fleet size had grown to 92 vehicles including AEC Regal (plus a solitary Reliance); Bedford OB and SB (also two OWB's); Commer, Daimler, Dennis and Maudslay; and Leyland Tigers, Tiger Cubs and Royal Tigers - but still with a preponderance of second hand vehicles.  This grand total of 92 included 5 minibus 11-seaters (two Bedford CAV / Martin Walker and three Morris J2), all the other vehicles in the fleet at this time were coaches except for one solitary bus, LWR377, a 1951 36-seater Duple bodied Daimler Freeline, which had come to Bere Regis from Ledgards of Yorkshire in 1960.  Twelve of the fourteen Bedford SB's had Plaxton bodies and were new to the firm in 1959 and 1960.

A new central depot and workshop were established in 1964 on the Poundbury Industrial Estate in Dorchester, as successor to the original Bridport Road base in the county town (which had been acquired when Whitty's business was taken over in 1942).  By 1966 there were 89 vehicles in the by now exclusively single deck fleet - of which 58 were Bedfords.  Still over sixty per cent were second hand purchases and the policy at the time was to run vehicles into the ground.  During the 1960's and 1970's some of the long established bus routes were withdrawn and operations handed over to other operators on the same road, eg Ironside's original service Dorchester - Winfrith - East Knighton passed to Dorset Queen in 1965 and Dorchester - Frampton passed to Pearce in 1975.  

Click the image above to see the development of the Bere Regis & District Bus service network from 1949 to 1979

Percy Davis was the first of the three partners to die, on 19th May 1964 aged 56, and he is buried in St Andrews churchyard in Bloxworth.  Next to go to the big bus garage in the sky in 1970 was the firm's Managing Partner for many years, Bill Ironside.  This left the firm in the hands of the original founder Reg Toop, who as last of the three partners died in 1973.  Reg is remembered by Mervyn House of Mid-Dorset Coaches as someone who would help anybody.  Following Reg's death, during the 1970's and 1980's, whilst the trading name remained Bere Regis & District, the operating licences were held in the name of 'the trustees of R W Toop deceased'.  Reg's widow Ethel left the day-to-day management of the business in the capable hands of Traffic Manager Maurice Crocker (who died in 1982) and General Manager Ray Roper, both of whom had worked for the firm for many many years.  

Click the image above to see a list of the operators acquired by Bere Regis & District over the years

Bere Regis celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1979, and the remaining core network of bus routes was to continue largely unchanged until the  deregulation of buses in 1986.  By then the overall fleet size was 83 vehicles, garaged at Dorchester (which had been the head office for many years), Bere Regis, Blandford, Hazelbury Bryan, Sherborne, Wimborne and Weymouth.  Private hire, contract work and tours had become more important than bus operation over the years and at the time of bus deregulation in 1986 only a few services were registered to run commercially without benefit of council subsidy (Bovington - Crossways - Dorchester and Duntish - Piddle Valley - Dorchester).  Thus several of Bere Regis' traditional routes were lost to other operators as part of the county council's competitive tendering process.   The Dorchester - Sherborne trunk route passed to a very unlikely named operator, Air Camelot of Wincanton, whilst another important route Blandford - Sturminster Newton route went to Oakfield Travel of Blandford.  

Click the image above to see Colin Miller's reminiscences of when his father drove for Bere Regis

In 1989, Bere Regis introduced a town service in Dorchester.  Although based in the town, their bus operations had always been on village and interurban routes, and they had not previously operated locally within the county town. The town services had been operated initially by private operators who succumbed to Southern National in the 1930's; in the 1980's the town services were operated for several years by Interbus, an operating arm of Barrys Coaches of Weymouth, before reverting to Western National (as Southern National had by then become).  Other successful Bere Regis operations at this time included considerable works contract operations for BP to and from the Wytch oilfield in Purbeck, involving up to 25 vehicles at the peak, and a daily express coach service to London from 1983.  The express service continues to this day, albeit under the First Dorset Transit banner (operation passed to Bluebird of Weymouth from November 2003).

Ray Roper retired in 1993 and Henry Frier succeeded him.  The Bere Regis firm survived as a complete entity until 1994 when most of the operations and the Dorchester base were sold to Dorchester Coachways / West Dorset Coaches - a new firm which was part of the Cawlett group who also controlled Southern National.  A small nucleus of private hire vehicles remained under the Bere Regis Coaches name, operated by Reg Toop's daughter Sandra Wylie and her husband Alex.   These were garaged in Wimborne and controlled from an office in Blandford.  Whilst the operations disposed of in Dorchester and west Dorset prospered - and passed with the Cawlett group to the First Group in 1999, now operating in the year 2000 under the trading name First Dorchester - those at Blandford did not, and regrettably the proud name of Bere Regis Coaches faded away on 30th September 1995 after 66 years traveling the highways and byways of rural Dorset.

General Manager Ray Roper pictured on his 70th birthday in 1989

From April 2001, the headquarters of the Bere Regis firm - which had been in Dorchester for many years past, firstly at Bridport Road and then in the old barracks on The Grove trading estate - were closed.  The premises in The Grove had passed to Dorchester Coachways in 1994 and then in 1999 to their successors First Dorchester.  The link was finally broken on 22nd April with the closure of First Dorchester and the transfer of the vehicles and drivers to operate from First Southern National's Weymouth depot. 

Sadly the long time Bere Regis general manager Ray Roper died in retirement in May 2001 at the age of 81.

Click the clipping below to read the press report on the end of Bere Regis Coaches in 1995...

 

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