A potted history

The Horse Bus, c. 1900: Horse bus with passengers and driver in New Church Road, Hove.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council
Thomas Tilling Bus, c. 1914: Open topped double decker Tilling bus with driver, conductor and passengers parked near Brighton Station.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council
Southdown Open-top Omnibus, c. 1920: A Southdown open-top omnibus, running the 31 service from Brighton to Portsmouth via Worthing, Littlehampton, Bognor and Chichester. On the right a conductor can be seen with his characteristic leather bag and ticket-issuing machine. There are advertisements for Gales of Bognor and Reynolds and Co. house furnishers of Bognor. Southdown Motor Services Ltd was formed in 1915 and used Madeira Drive as a terminus until 1929 when Pool Valley bus station was created by Brighton Corporation.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council
Hove Corporation Open-top Omnibus, 1914: A Hove Corporation open-top Omnibus using the Cedes Gearless Trackless Trolley System. This early trolley-bus was on trial by Hove Corporation in August 1914, and ran from Goldstone Villas, along Blatchington Road and George Street to Church Road. However, plans to develop a trolley-bus network were halted by the First World War and not resumed until 1935.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council
Trams and Trolley Buses, 1939: Trams and trolley buses at the terminus in the Steine just after the introduction of trolley buses and prior to the trams being phased out.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council
Bus Towing a Gas Producer, c. 1940s: Bus running the 13B service to North Moulscombe (now usually spelt Moulsecoomb). From 1943 several buses operated with trailers producing gas from coal, which was used to run a gas turbine engine to save use of electricity or petrol. Ahead, a trolley bus can be seen.
Image reproduced with kind permission from Brighton and Hove in Pictures by Brighton and Hove City Council

Please note that this text is an extract from a reference work written in 1990.  As a result, some of the content may not reflect recent research, changes and events.

a) HORSE-BUSES: The town’s first regular horse-bus service connected the Kemp Town estate to Brighton Station from 11 May 1840, the first day of operation of the railway in Brighton. This route was later extended to the Cliftonville Inn in Hove, and by the 1870s several other east-west routes were operating. Services then expanded considerably with additional routes to Preston village, Preston Barracks, Stanford Avenue and Port Hall Road.
On 12 September 1884 most companies in the area amalgamated to form the Brighton, Hove and Preston United Omnibus Company (the ‘United Company’) which operated with 30 buses and 150 horses from stables and garages in Conway Street, Hove; from additional stables in Belfast Street, Hove, and Gloucester Place; and from a stable and coach works in Upper St James’s Street. The double-decked vehicles, which usually had seating for twenty-six passengers, were pulled by two horses and ran at five- or ten-minute intervals. {50}

b) INTRODUCTION of MOTOR-BUSES: The withdrawal of horse-buses commenced in the early 1900s with the advent of the new motor-buses. Tilley’s horse-buses ceased operating on the introduction of the corporation’s tram service in 1901, and the United Company, which ran the first motor-bus on 24 December 1903 from Hove Town Hall to Castle Square, replaced horses on the Kemp Town route in April 1904. By 1913 the United Company was operating six motor routes with both single- and double-decked vehicles, but still ran four horse routes until 8 December 1916 when the last horse-bus ran from Carlisle Road, Hove, to Brighton Station. (In 1976 a Brighton double-decker motor-bus of 1905, the oldest known in existence, was being restored. {123})

c) ELECTRIC TRACTION EXPERIMENTS: In 1909 the United Company successfully experimented with four battery-driven buses. Although some difficulties were experienced on hills, twelve vehicles were operated the following year from a garage in Montague Place.
In November 1910 the United Company also made plans to use trolley-buses and promoted a Bill in Parliament for routes from Worthing to Rottingdean, but the corporations of both Brighton and Hove responded by promoting their own Bills for municipal operations and these were passed in 1912 as the Brighton and Hove Corporation Acts. Brighton Corporation borrowed a trolley-vehicle from Leeds and a ran a test route firstly along the length of London Road at the end of December 1913, and then on the Ditchling Road, Preston Drove and Beaconsfield Villas tramway route the following month. The bus, which also underwent trials with Hove Corporation, proved a success and negotiated the hills quite easily, but further plans for trolley-bus operation were dropped because of the First World War. {55}

d) FORMATION of SOUTHDOWN: On 1 January 1915, the Worthing Motor Services Company, the London and South Coast Haulage Company, and the excursion services of the Brighton, Hove and Preston United Omnibus Company were amalgamated into a single undertaking which was formally established as Southdown Motor Services Ltd on 2 June 1915. The new company, which was formed as a reaction to government policy during World War One, operated out of the Steine Street garage which had been used since 1909 by the Worthing company. It also acquired eleven buses from the United Company on the condition that the Brighton and Hove areas would not be worked.
Southdown grew steadily, building a new garage at Freshfield Road in 1916 and another at the bottom of Edward Street in 1925. The green-liveried buses used Madeira Drive as a terminus until July 1929 when the corporation provided Pool Valley as a more convenient bus station. The Steine Street  premises were used as a coach station from 1920 until about 1970 but the site is now occupied by Dolphin Mews. {52}

e) ARRIVAL of TILLINGS and GENERAL EXPANSION: In 1915 the long-established Thomas Tilling Ltd of London entered the local omnibus scene by operating a route from Portslade Station to Castle Square, although no local fares were permitted within Brighton. The following year, on 22 November 1916, the newcomer acquired the United Company together with its aging fleet for £44,000, and Tilling’s Brighton and Hove omnibus section was formed. The forty-one petrol, twelve electric and eight horse vehicles of the United Company were duly replaced by modern motor vehicles in a red and cream livery, each open-topped and carrying forty-three passengers. The Southdown agreement was renegotiated with a new allocation of routes; Tillings were granted service nos.1-7, several of which still partly operate over their original routes.
Services expanded in the 1920s and ’30s as new suburbs were developed, and Tillings acquired the Brighton Downs Company in October 1926 to provide a service to the new Woodingdean estate. In 1930 they introduced a fleet of covered double-deck buses, and two years later opened a new garage in Whitehawk Road, selling off the premises in Montague Place. A new regulatory body, the South-East Traffic Commissioners, was established on 1 April 1931 with responsibility for the issue of route licences, at which time Tillings ceased making their annual contribution of about £3,000 to the corporation for road maintenance.

f) BRIGHTON, HOVE AND DISTRICT OMNIBUS COMPANY: On 2 November 1935 Tillings established the Brighton, Hove and District Omnibus Company (hereinafter ‘B.H.D.’) to run their Brighton services, although it was still managed from London. Initially some buses changed to an all-cream livery but they soon reverted to red and cream except for the no.17 open-top sea-front service which first ran on 10 April 1936.

g) BRIGHTON CORPORATION BUSES and POOLING: In 1938 the Brighton Corporation (Transport) Act was passed, authorising a corporation trolley-bus operation (see below) and requiring the pooling of the various undertakings from 1 April 1939 in order to improve the service to the town. The corporation’s own motor-bus service started on that date, but their routes were restricted to the county borough only while Southdown were given permission to work those parts of ‘Greater Brighton’ added in 1928, including Patcham and Rottingdean. The corporation buses also adopted a red and cream livery, although with the borough arms to distinguish them. All buses bore the title ‘Brighton, Hove and District Transport’.

h) TROLLEY-BUSES: The idea of operating trolley-buses, experimented with before the First World War, was revived when two vehicles were borrowed and run experimentally around the Level for a brief period in December 1935 and January 1936. Following this successful trial the corporation promoted a Bill to replace the aging tramway system; it was rejected by the House of Lords, but an amended Bill requiring greater co-ordination between rival companies was accepted by a town poll and became the Brighton Corporation (Transport) Act of 1938. The first public trolley-buses ran on the no.48 route on 1 May 1939, replacing tram route L from Old Steine to Preston Barracks, and the whole system was formally inaugurated on 1 June 1939 when service nos.26 and 46 were introduced along Ditchling Road, Preston Drove and Beaconsfield Villas, and the no.40A route via New England Road to Brighton Station.
Operating cleanly, quietly and efficiently, the trolley-buses proved to be very popular with the public. Where the routes diverged the points of the overhead lines were operated electrically from the driver’s cab, the setting being indicated by advance warning arrows. Buses also carried long poles for reconnecting the lines when necessary. {54,55}

j) WARTIME OPERATION: The Second World War brought many restrictions to bus operations in the town. Some vehicles were lent to other towns, while others were commandeered for transporting evacuees; those that remained had their interior and exterior lighting severely restricted, resulting in many accidents, and the livery was changed to ‘battleship grey’ from October 1942. In order to save fuel a coal-burning gas-turbine and petrol bus was introduced in November 1939 but it partially exploded at Patcham in November 1940; nevertheless, several buses operated with trailing gas producers from 1943.

k) POST-WAR TROLLEY-BUS EXPANSION and DEMISE: The war brought a halt to trolley-bus expansion plans and B.H.D.’s trolley-vehicles were mothballed until 1945 when they entered service under the auspices of the corporation. Trolley routes were then expanded from 1946 until the route mileage reached 14.54 miles in 1951. However, following the 1948 nationalisation of electricity supplies Brighton’s trolley-buses no longer operated from the corporation’s own supply, and as operating costs rose the council’s transport committee recommended the withdrawal of the trolley operation in 1954. By 1955-6 the system was operating at a loss and the council decided to run down its trolley operation. Services were halved on 25 March 1959 when routes along Lewes Road and those to the east were replaced by motor-buses. The last Brighton trolley-buses, on the Patcham and Fiveways routes, ran on 30 June 1961.
Eight of Brighton’s trolley-buses were purchased by other operators with the others sold for scrap, but now only one survives, owned by a private enthusiast in Kent. {54,55}

l) POST-WAR MOTOR-BUS EXPANSION and NATIONALISATION: Under the terms of the 1947 Transport Act the B.H.D. company was nationalised following the purchase of Tillings by the British Transport Commissioners. Services and buses were unaffected, but a local general manager was appointed to run the operation.
Services continued to expand throughout the suburbs, and in July 1948 the traffic commissioners allowed the corporation to operate outside the borough boundary for the first time. Peak Southdown annual mileage of 142,000,000 miles was reached in 1956 and they opened a new garage at Moulsecoomb Way in 1957. A new seven-storey headquarters, Southdown House, opened at Freshfield Road in 1964.

m) ‘BATS’ AGREEMENT: With the withdrawal of trolley-bus services it was obvious that a new agreement was required between the respective undertakings, and on 1 January 1961 the Brighton Area Transport Services (‘BATS’) agreement came into operation, covering the area from Shoreham Beach to Telscombe Tye. The three undertakings were permitted to work any part of the area and routes were reorganised over a period of three-and-a-half years. An open-top circular tour of the borough ran from 10 July 1964, and the first one-man double-deck buses were introduced in 1966 on the 26A route.

n) NATIONAL BUS COMPANY: The 1968 Transport Act created the National Bus Company, thereby bringing Southdown and B.H.D. into common ownership for the first time. In the interests of efficiency Southdown took over B.H.D. on 1 January 1969, although the red and cream livery and name remained. Southdown now ran 80%, and the corporation 20%, of the BATS routes.
The new Southdown operation introduced one-man working from 1970 for economic reasons, and changed the B.H.D. livery to green and cream with the name ‘Southdown-BHD’ from October 1971. In 1972 National Bus introduced standard liveries and all Southdown buses were painted entirely green from September 1972 until the last red and cream bus ran in March 1975. The late 1970s saw further rationalisation of routes, and more single-deck and one-man buses. Frequent ‘shuttle’ buses were introduced on some routes from April 1983.

p) DEREGULATION OF SERVICES and OTHER DEVELOPMENTS: On 1 January 1986 the town services of Southdown were re-established as an independent company, the Brighton and Hove Bus and Coach Company, with the old red and cream livery, and in May 1987 the new company was acquired by its senior management. Southdown then concentrated solely on its country routes and vacated Southdown House in 1987 when the company moved to a Lewes base; the building was then taken by BUPA. In August 1989 Southdown was sold to the Scottish-based Stagecoach Holdings Ltd for around £10 million.
The corporation services, which had opted for a blue and white livery in June 1970, were renamed simply ‘Brighton Buses’ in 1986, a private subsidiary of Brighton Borough Transport with no rates support. The 25-year-old BATS agreement ended at the start of 1986, and routes were opened up to all operators upon the national deregulation of services in October 1986. While profitable routes were naturally continued by the main companies, loss-making services were opened to tender and paid for by the county and district councils.

For many years now since the 1960s the town’s buses have been caught in a vicious circle of competition from private transport, increasing fares, poor time-keeping and the consequent further increases in private traffic. Traffic management measures and radical fare policies are surely necessary if the bus services vital to so many people are to survive into the next century.

Any numerical cross-references in the text above refer to resources in the Sources and Bibliography section of the Encyclopaedia of Brighton by Tim Carder. 

The following resource(s) is quoted as a general source for the information above:

Comments about this page

  • As part of my family history research, I would like to find records for Albert Henson of 114 Ellen Street, Hove who was employed as a bus driver with the company.

    By Mrs H Williams (23/02/2007)
  • I am looking for information about Jack Deacon who was an instructor for Brighton Buses during the 1950s to early 1970s. Also any photos would be appreciated to copy and return or by e mail.

    By Rodney Willis (19/08/2007)
  • I wonder if anyone would know what happened to the BH&D bus registration no. GP6235. This was used on the No.6 route from Fishersgate to Brighton Station and was driven by my Father in a brief scene in the film “Brighton Rock”.

    By Tony Clevett (24/08/2007)
  • Re Tony Clevett’s comment of 25/08/2007: Tony, if you haven’t unearthed any info re that bus yet, well here’s some. I did a bit of searching re this one as I have an interest in older buses, and Brighton of course, and found the following information on the websites (hyperlinks pasted if anyone should wish to investigate more). Lots of fascinating stuff on both these excellent websites: a) Buses on Screen at http://busesonscreen.net/screen/screenfm.htm
    b) Local Transport History at

    ‘Brighton Rock’ (1947, Richard Attenborough): Early in the film an unidentifiable Southdown Guy Arab doubledecker appears, also nearside and rear views of Brighton Corporation 67 (FUF67), a 1939 AEC Regent/Weymann on service 40B boarded by Fred Hale (Alan Wheatley) on the run from the villains. “Two other buses including a trolleybus may be seen in the background. In a poor piece of continuity we then have a front view of what appears to be Brighton Hove and District AEC Regent/Beadle 6235 or 6239 (GP6235 or GP6239) heading in the same direction and purporting to be the same bus. Our passenger then alights from no. 67 (or a similar vehicle).” (+Colin Read). The two BH&D Regents were originally Tilling-bodied with open rear staircase. 6239 was withdrawn from service in 1943, while 6235 was rebodied by Beadle with a closed staircase in 1944 and continued in use until 1954. Therefore my money would be on 6235!
    6235 GP6235 AEC Regent Tilling H27/25RO
    No 6235 re-bodied by Beadle to H30/26R in 1944.
    Withdrawn and Disposed of 1954 (6234-6235)
    Hope that helps Tony.

    By Dave Martin (07/11/2007)
  • Thank you Dave. I wonder if you could get any information about the fate of Brighton & Hove District bus no.FNJ 107, that my father used to drive as number 6 from Fishersgate to Brighton station.

    By Tony Clevett (05/01/2008)
  • I think Dave Martin is wrong about lack of continuity in the scene from Brighton Rock showing GP6235. First we see Fred going up Queen Street to the railway station. Outside we see two of Pinky’s thugs. To get away from them, Fred jumps on FUF67, and then we see GP6235 leaving the station forecourt and following FUF67 down Queen Street. I see it as a bit of a bus chase which the thugs assumed to be on the following bus.

    By Ray Seeley (29/07/2010)
  • In reference to this statement made above: “Frequent ‘shuttle’ buses were introduced on some routes from April 1983.” The Southdown Mile Oak Shuttle numbered 60 started on the 20th February 1983 with Bristol VRs, while Brighton Corporation used Leyland Nationals for their Hollingdean service 50 from the 10th April, and finally from the 19th November small Bedford JJLs were used on the 99 Brighton Station to Churchill Square. All used the same dedicated white/yellow/orange striped livery. Details of the above were gained & confirmed from various sources including Peter Ticehurst and his ‘Brighton Blue Bus’ Facebook group.

    By Gordon Dinnage - (Dinnages Picture Library) (10/02/2013)
  • Thanks for this - very interesting and much more than just a potted history. For someone who has an interest in what happened in the formation of many of the British transport companies, this kind of blows wikipedia out of the water - and some (but that wouldn’t be a hard thing to do). Great piece of writing and pictorial history. [Thank you Natalie, great to have your feedback. Editing Team]

    By Natalie (30/08/2014)
  • I have just found this page. Re the comment on The Brighton Trolley Buses there is another that has survived apart from the corporation’s one. It’s BH&D’s CPM 61 (6340) at Wroughton Museum. 

    By Alan Southwell (02/09/2014)
  • A minor correction on the photo caption of LH 8622. It was only in Brighton from January 1917 to November 1921. Before then, and after then, it was in the Tilling fleet in South-East London. Therefore the date could not be c.1914.

    By Adrian Clarke (16/01/2023)

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