A history of Saltburn Motor Services

I wouldn't mind betting that - like myself - most residents of Saltburn thought of Saltburn Motor Services as just a couple of not-the-most-modern buses trundling back and forth to Skelton and Loftus a couple of times each day. To my surprise, the company had a much grander operation that started in the late 1920s. The following account (shortened and smoothed out a bit by me) is on the Internet somewhere, though I don't know where.

Long-term residents of Saltburn should remember Keith Watson's Garage on the corner of Amber Street and Milton Street. The history of the garage goes back to well before the Second World War and is very relevant to the story of Saltburn Motor Services. In the 1920s, in addition to running the garage, Keith Watson was also running an hourly bus service to Loftus, using the Saltburn Bank/Brotton route. Another local bus service, Cleveland Motor Services, had recently failed, but one of the partners was J C Pickering, and he fancied he could still do something in that line of business. In November 1928, he bought the bus service from Keith Watson.

The local bus service to nearby towns remained unchanged, but what Pickering had recognised was that people now wanted day trips and excursions, and this was the side of the business that he immediately set about capitalising on, together with opportunities for private hire and local contract work. Initially, the excursions were fairly modest in scope, merely taking in (for example) seaside locales down the coast towards Whitby. At the time of the take-over from Keith Watson, the bus fleet - if it could be called a fleet - numbered just three vehicles, but during the course of the next ten years more and more buses were bought until, just before the Second World War, the company was running tours to more than 70 destinations. The ease and luxury of these trips was hinted at in the tour company's title: Parlour Coaches.

The war years of 1939-1945 were devoted to military contracts and when that was all over normal business was resumed with renewed vigour. The ICI (Wilton) chemical plant construction produced a lucrative contract for transporting workers and then, once it had been built, the employees. The company even ran 17 buses daily carrying workers from and to Whitby. Other industrial concerns such as Dorman Long steelworks were also big customers and it was during the immediate postwar era (until 1950) that the Saltburn Motor Services fleet was at its biggest, comprising over 40 buses.

The size of the fleet reduced somewhat in 1956, but only because the company started to use double-deckers. These were purchased second-hand from all over the country and this buying policy was extended to any single-deckers - still the mainstay of the SMS fleet - that were bought to replace older ones.

The size of Saltburn Motor Services also increased by taking over other local bus services. In 1954 Pickering bought Green Line of Guisborough, which ran three single-deckers between Saltburn and Thirsk, though before long the lack of custom on the Thirsk part of the route meant the service terminated at Stokesley. Three years later another Guisborough bus company - Jackson's Cleveland Coaches - was bought, bringing to Saltburn Motor Services four more single-deckers and some useful contract work. The deal also included Jackson's Northgate garage, that and some adjacent land soon being developed to accomodate the double-decker buses.

In 1956 a new route was introduced between Saltburn and the Hollybush estate in Skelton and the original Saltburn Loftus route was extended to Liverton and Moorsholm. The excursions side of the business was not being neglected during this time - during the summer a six-hour trip each Saturday took fun-loving citizens of Saltburn and Loftus directy to the delights of Blackpool.

During the 1960s and 1970s there was little change in the company's routes and Saltburn Motor Services vehicles continued to operate alongside its giant neighbour, United Automobile Services, on routes through Brotton, Carlin How, Loftus, Guisborough and Stokesley.

Throughout the history of Saltburn Motor Services a fleetname was not used, except for the company's name and address on the rear of some single-deck vehicles. Occasionally this was reduced to just the letters SMS, although at least one vehicle (NNW356) carried this inscription (enclosed in a diamond) on the side panels. The chosen livery for the fleet was red with a cream relief, although in later years some of the vehicles had this reversed.

Unusually for a bus operator, Saltburn Motor Services also operated a railway. This was the 15-inch, miniature gauge, sightseeing railway that ran from the sea front at Saltburn to the Italian Gardens, about a half-mile away. It's still there, though nowadays has a slightly different route. The passenger rolling stock (consisting of four 16-seat open toast-rack coaches) was built in the Company's own workshops at the bus garages below Hob Hill. It was open for just a few weeks during the summer season and was driven by one of Saltburn Motor Services' full-time bus drivers, who reverted to his normal job when the summer season ended.

In August 1974 the 22-vehicle fleet and all stage services were purchased by Cleveland Transit (the trading name of the recently-created Langbaurgh, Middlesbrough and Stockton-on-Tees Joint Transport Committee) and the sight of Saltburn Motor Services vehicles negotiating the famously steep Saltburn Bank with its hairpin bends became just a distant memory.

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