Thomas Tilling Ltd
- Date Established:
- Date Trading Ceased:
London's oldest bus company was started as family business by Thomas Tilling in 1846, and continued by his sons and grandsons. In the first half of the 20th century, it grew into one of the two most important national transport groups, and had interests in all the other major bus operating companies.
Thomas Tilling was born in 1825 at Gutter's Hedge Farm, Hendon, Middlesex. In 1846, he set up as a 'jobmaster' in Walworth with one horse and carriage. This was the Victorian equivalent of 'a man with a van'. He was 21 years old. By 1850, Tilling operated buses between Rye Lane, Peckham and the north side of Oxford Circus. He was one operating company of many.
Tilling decided his buses should stop at predetermined points and run to a fixed timetable, making them more punctual and orderly than the other operators' buses. This was one of the reasons for his success with customers. Because his buses operated on time, they earned the nickname of 'Times' buses, and this became the fleet name painted on the side. Before long, Tilling became the biggest supplier of horsepower and vehicles in London.
Thomas Tilling died in 1893 and was buried at Nunhead cemetery. His two sons, Richard and Edward, continued the family business. In 1897, the family business was incorporated into a public company, Thomas Tilling Limited.
The company began the switch to motorbuses in 1904. It chose 24-horsepower Milnes-Daimler buses, which remained the motorbus standard for many years. The 34-seaters were the first double-decker motorbuses built for public service in London.
Tilling increased its number of motorbuses to 20 in 1905. By this time, motorbuses were a booming industry and shareholders diverted their investments from horses into motorbuses. Despite this, the company owned 7,000 horses based in 500 different stables. Half of these horses worked with the 250 Tilling horse buses; the rest were hired out to private individuals or companies for use with cabs and goods vehicles. These diverse concerns helped the company continue when motorbuses took over, since people still needed horse transport.
In 1907, Tilling began the first long-distance motorbus service, running 13 buses between Oxford Circus and Sidcup in Kent. Tilling remained independent from the London General Omnibus Company (L.G.O.C), which led an amalgamation of most of the other London bus companies. A pooling agreement with the L.G.O.C. in 1909 protected Tilling's position but restricted the company's operations to south London. The L.G.O.C. and Tilling did join forces to operate a combined route from Peckham to Turnham Green via Oxford Circus. The L.G.O.C. had introduced numbers on all its routes, and this was route number 12. This service between Peckham and Oxford Circus still operates and is still called the number 12. It may be the oldest operating bus route in London.
In 1914, just before the outbreak of the First World War, the last horse bus operated on the Tilling Honor Oak - Peckham Rye Station route. The government wanted the horses for war service.
From then on, because of the dominance of the L.G.O.C, Tilling started to seek new markets in the provinces. The company began operating in Folkestone in 1914, Brighton in 1916, and Ipswich in 1919. In 1915, the first woman bus conductor in London worked on Tilling route No 37. Women were recruited to replace men who had joined the Armed Forces.
During the 1920s, various agreements were made with the L.G.O.C. concerning how to share the operation of London's bus services. In 1928, Tilling and the British Automobile Traction Company created T&B.A.T. for the purpose of buying shares in other omnibus companies of significant size all over Britain.
In 1933, the new London Passenger Transport Board compulsorily acquired the 328 buses that made up Tilling's south London services. However the T&B.A.T. operations expand all over Britain.
Thomas Tilling Limited became state-owned in 1948 when the British Transport Commission bought the company. The resulting services, which ran nationwide, became the National Bus Company in 1969 and, after 122 years as a major transport company, the Tilling name was lost. From 1973, the National Bus Company's name changed again to the National Express Company.
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