On October 21, 1846, a line of omnibuses was started from Paddington to Hungerford Market, Charing Cross, with twopenny fares for short distances. Hitherto the lowest fare had been fourpence. In the same year advertisements appeared for the first time in an omnibus. Frederick Marriott, of 335, Strand, who started the practice, registered an omnibus, with advertisements displayed on the roof inside, as an article of utility with the title of a "publicity omnibus." Possibly Mr. Marriott—who traded under the name of The Omnibus Publicity Company—reaped little profit from his idea, which was scarcely one that could be protected, but omnibus proprietors are deeply indebted to him, for advertisements are as necessary to them as they are to newspaper and magazine proprietors. Nevertheless, an important newspaper made an amusing slip some years ago about omnibus advertisements. A money-lender advertised in certain omnibuses, and the newspaper in question, becoming aware of the fact, made some very strong remarks concerning the proprietor's conduct in permitting such advertisements to appear. The omnibus proprietor wrote at once to the Editor, pointing out the inconsistency of his paper, which censured him on one page for publishing a money-lender's advertisement, and contained, on another, four advertisements of a similar nature. This letter was not published, and nothing more was said on either side.
Penny fares were introduced in 1849 by some omnibuses running from the Bank to Mile End. For a penny a passenger could ride the whole distance. These omnibuses had but a brief career.In 1850 several attempts were made to improve the style of omnibuses, with the result that in January, 1851, the knife-board omnibus became general. It was not, however, like the knife-board omnibuses which we still see occasionally, for it carried only nine outside passengers. Two sat on either side of the coachman, and the other five on an uncomfortable seat, about a foot high, running the length of the omnibus. They climbed up at the back on the right-hand side of the door, and sat with their faces to the road. There were no seats on the near side, but occasionally, when passengers were numerous, the conductor would permit men to sit there, with their legs dangling down, over a little rail, in front of the windows. But he always extracted a promise from such passengers that if they smashed the windows they would pay for them. That was a very necessary precaution, as the glass was not of the substantial description now in use.
These new outside seats were very popular with the public, but the police objected to them, on the ground that the climbing up to them was dangerous. The police were undoubtedly in the right, as many accidents testified later, and when they summoned Mrs. Sophia Gaywood for having such seats on the roof of one of her Bayswater omnibuses, they obtained a conviction. But Mrs. Gaywood, like most ladies who have been omnibus proprietors, before and since her time, was rather fond of litigation, and appealed against the conviction. Mr. Wilson of Islington, and other leading omnibus proprietors, gave evidence in her favour, and finally the appeal was allowed and the conviction quashed.
On March 13, 1851, a new patent omnibus was placed on the Bayswater and Charing Cross road. Each passenger had a seat entirely to himself, and every seat was shut off and as secluded as a private box at the theatre. But its career was short. So was that of the London Conveyance Company, which ran omnibuses to the Bank, viâ Holborn. This Company's vehicles had the initials L.C.C. painted on them, but not in such large letters as the London County Council have on their omnibuses.
In October of the same year a meeting of London omnibus proprietors was held at the Duke of Wellington, Bathurst Street, Argyle Square, to consider a suggestion made by Mr. Crawford, the originator of the Hungerford and Camden Town Association—now known as the Camden Town Association—for choosing and working new routes at cheap fares. The Hungerford and Camden Town Association, and one or two similar bodies, had come into existence a few years previously through the omnibus proprietors arriving at the conclusion that it would be more remunerative to cease their fierce struggles one with another, and to work harmoniously together. They ran their omnibuses at regular intervals, and the coachmen and conductors were strictly ordered to keep their time. It was an excellent idea, although it afforded little satisfaction to lawyers, many of whom had grown prosperous on the quarrels of omnibus proprietors.
But a reduction in legal expenses was by no means the only saving effected by the amalgamation. Office and management expenses were reduced considerably. The conductors, instead of being engaged by the various proprietors, were now employed and controlled by the secretary of the Association.
At the meeting at the Duke of Wellington new lines were decided upon, the most important one being from Bayswater to the Bank—fourpence all the way, with intermediate twopenny fares. Twenty omnibuses, the majority built by Messrs. Rock and Gowar, were placed on that road, and were successful from the day of starting. The Associations now in existence are—
- Atlas and Waterloo Omnibus Association.
- Camden Town " "
- John Bull " "
- Kings Cross and Barnsbury Omnibus Association.
- King's Cross and Victoria Omnibus Association.
- Victoria Station Omnibus Association.
- Westminster " "
Nearly all of the above were in existence before the London General Omnibus Company was started. The Atlas and Waterloo is the largest of the Associations, and its omnibuses run as far south as Gipsy Hill and north as Finchley. Moreover, it claims, and its claim cannot be disputed, to have the prettiest omnibus route in London. That route is from Oxford Circus to Hendon, viâ Finchley Road, Child's Hill and Golder's Green.
The chief proprietors having omnibuses in some, or all, of the above Associations are: The London General Omnibus Co., Ltd.; The Star Omnibus Co., London, Ltd. ; The Associated Omnibus Co., Ltd.; The London Omnibus Carriage Co., Ltd.; Thos. Tilling, Ltd.; Birch Bros., Ltd.; and Messrs. Cane, Clinch, French, Glover, and Hearn. The Associated Omnibus Co., Ltd., was formed last year to acquire and carry on the businesses of The Omnibus Proprietors, Ltd., Mr. John Watkins and Mr. P. Willing Tibbs.
The London Road Car Company, Ltd., and Messrs. Balls Bros. work in friendly opposition to the above Associations.
The "times" in these Associations are very valuable, and when any are placed on the market—which rarely happens—they are snapped up immediately. Until he has bought his "times," no proprietor is recognized in the omnibus business.
In November, 1851, newspapers were placed in the "Favorite" omnibuses for the convenience of passengers. A rack was fixed at the end opposite the door, with a printed notice beneath, asking passengers to replace the papers when done with, and put a penny in the money-box provided for that purpose. It was soon seen that the British public had not changed, in the matter of forgetfulness, since Shillibeer and Cloud's omnibus days. The passengers were continually taking papers away with them, and it was very rarely that the money-box was found to contain anything more valuable than buttons. In the year of the Great Exhibition, when London was crowded with foreigners, the number of omnibuses was increased considerably; but there were not too many, and proprietors and conductors grew rich in a few months. Many of the conductors fared better than their masters, and when the Exhibition was at an end settled down to some other business with a comfortable sum in hand to give them a good start. Of course, the conductors did not obtain the money in a legitimate manner. The way in which they did obtain it is, however, no secret. Every morning, before starting work, they provided themselves with a quantity of pence, half-pence, and small pieces of silver, for change. Then their chief aim was to fill their omnibuses with foreigners, and give them wrong change when they alighted. If a foreigner gave one of those conductors half a crown for a four-penny fare, the latter would count out two sixpences and four half-pence, put them in the man's hand, shout out "Right away, Bill!" jump on the step and drive off, leaving the poor fellow puzzling his brain to understand the change. On other occasions the conductor would tell the foreigners that they had reached their destination before they had gone half-way, and the unsuspecting aliens would get out, paying the full fare without a murmur.
Quarrels among the passengers were of everyday occurrence, and the cause of the discord was, almost invariably, the windows. There were usually five windows on each side of the omnibus, which could be opened or closed according to the passenger's fancy. An arrangement better calculated to breed discord could scarcely have been made. The quarrels concerning them were usually somewhat ludicrous—from the fact that the ten windows rattled fearfully, compelling the disputants to yell at each other to make themselves heard. One day a Frenchman and an Italian chanced to be sitting side by side in an omnibus. The Italian pulled up a window just behind them. The Frenchman promptly, and indignantly, lowered it. The Italian excitedly pulled it up again, and thisding-dong performance was continued for some little time, greatly to the amusement of the other passengers. At last, the Frenchman grew desperate, and shattered the glass with his elbow, exclaiming, "Now, Monsieur, you can have ze window up if you likes!"
Many Londoners objected strongly to the overcrowding of omnibuses during the time of the Exhibition, and some, who knew the law, insisted upon having their proper amount of space, no matter who suffered in consequence. The law had declared that every passenger was entitled to sixteen inches of room on the seat; that he might measure it, and any person hindering him from doing so was liable to a penalty of £5. Consequently, many cantankerous people carried yardmeasures in their pockets, and insisted upon having their full space. Certainly, sixteen inches is not much room for any man or woman, and a large proportion of the passengers could not possibly squeeze themselves into it; and, because of their inability to do so, quarrels between thin and stout people were of everyday occurrence.
In the year of the Great Exhibition was started the first of Tilling's omnibuses. There have been many English proprietors who have conducted their businesses successfully and honourably, but none came so prominently before the public as George Shillibeer and Thomas Tilling. Both men had interesting careers, but there the similarity ends. Shillibeer, if not a rich man, was very well-to-do when he started his famous omnibuses, and yet he was driven at last into the bankruptcy court, and finished his omnibus career under a financial cloud. Tilling, however, began work without capital, and with but one solitary horse for his stock-in-trade, yet by hard work he achieved success and built up the large business so well known to all Londoners. By 1851, four years after his modest start, he had prospered to an extent which enabled him to put on the road his first omnibus. It was called the "Times," and ran from Peckham to Oxford Circus. At the present day there are some twenty-four "Times" omnibuses on that road. Tilling's "Times" are excellently horsed, and share with the John Bull Association's omnibuses the honour of being the fastest travelling omnibuses in London. Tilling's four-horsed "Times" doing its first morning journey to the West End is the most picturesque omnibus sight in England.
When the first "Times" had proved a success, Mr. Tilling started omnibuses on other roads, and before many years had elapsed there was no name better known to South Londoners than his. At that period it was the morning custom of South London omnibuses to go round the streets, in the district from which they started, to pick up their regular riders at their houses; but Mr. Tilling would not conform to this practice. He made it known that his omnibuses would not collect passengers, but would start from a certain place at a stated time, and people understood that if they wanted to travel by them they would have to go to the starting-place.Mr. Tilling was by no means an omnibus proprietor only. Before he had been established many years he was the owner of coaches, cabs, wedding carriages, and, in short, carried on the ordinary business of a job master. On Derby Day he had, usually, as many as two hundred horses on the course, and although he was present at Epsom thirty consecutive years, he had always so much to attend to that he never once saw the great race run. In fact, on one occasion, when he got back to Peckham, he surprised his chief clerk, who had been in the office all day, by asking what horse had won. After that it need scarcely be said that Mr. Tilling did not indulge in betting. Indeed, betting and swearing were practices which he would not tolerate among his men, although he was one of the most considerate employers that ever lived. Unspoiled by success, unostentatiously charitable and simple in his tastes, he was held in the highest esteem by every man in his employ, and when he died in 1893, the loss was felt by each of them to be a personal one.
There exists, at Messrs. Tilling's chief offices, a good-sized room containing a pleasing testimony to the interest which the founder of the firm took in his employees. Mr. Tilling, many years ago, ordered that a photograph should be taken, and hung in that room, of every man who had been in his employ for twenty years. As other men completed their twenty years' service their photographs were taken and added to the collection, and now—for the practice is still maintained—the walls are covered with them.
Many of the men whose photographs adorn the room have been in the Tillings' employ for nearly half a century. One of their "Times" coachmen, whose face is very familiar to frequenters of Regent Street, has driven an omnibus through that thoroughfare for over forty years. His brother has been in the same employ for a still longer period. The office also has its representatives of long service, one gentleman having been engaged there nearly forty years.
Mr. Tilling, as already stated, began business with one horse, but the limited liability company which bears his name has now a stud of over four thousand, and possesses one hundred and sixty omnibuses. The horse with which Mr. Tilling started business was a grey, and for many years, in fact until he was compelled by his customers' requirements to break the rule, he would purchase no horses that were not of that colour.