From humble beginnings on 29th October 1929 - when a 22 year old 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 post-war 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.
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 a motor bus to Wareham from Bere Regis on Thursdays and Saturdays too, since at least 1920.
Toop drove for Vacher from the age of 14 and on 17th August 1927 at the age of 20 he married 19-year old Evelyn Legg at Bere Regis. Two years later, to start his own business and buy his first bus, he borrowed money from several people in the village, 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 the market day routes of James (Jim) Ironside of Winfrith were acquired by Toop:
· Winfrith East Knighton East Burton Wool Wareham (Thursday)
· Winfrith East Knighton Broadmayne Dorchester (Wednesday and Saturday) (it was licenced in 1930 to start at Lulworth)
· Winfrith East Knighton Poxwell Weymouth (Saturday evening service added by Toop to existing Tuesday and Friday service)
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 Israel 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 only 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
|A picture from
1937, shortly after Mr Davis and Mr Ironside
had joined with Mr Toop the previous year. This is their Wycombe-bodied
Gilford 176S Hera 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 manager of Bere Regis in Wimborne and Ferndown for many years before becoming publican of the Rising Sun in Wimborne.
Dolphin Coaches took over their later Wimborne premises in Stone Lane in 1996 and were there until retirement in 2018 (with the
modern derivative of their old telephone number which was Wimborne 32). The Dolphin Coaches business was started and run
by Fred Hann's nephew Terry Hann. (photo courtesy of John Pitfield, from the History of Bere Regis in Pictures).
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 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 with thirteen vehicles 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:
The war years
Between them the three partners, Reg Toop, Percy (son of Israel) Davis and Bill (son of James) 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. A photo from 1938 shows six drivers: Johnny Bowring, Fred Hann, Percy Davis, Bill Ironside, Arthur Ironside and Charlie Ironside. The firm's 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 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. Reg Toop saw great value in his buses serving many villages across the county both for the goodwill that accrued and the opportunities gained for private hire and contract work. As well as passengers parcels were carried too, with agents appointed in larger villages.
From a one vehicle operation in 1929, by 1945 the fleet size had reached 40 vehicles. So with the end of the war it was now necessary to turn attention to renewing the vehicle fleet. This started in 1946 with the delivery of ten new Bedford OB's to the business, as well as a varied mix of second hand vehicles - including two ex-Chester Leyland Titan TD4s, AFM518/519, which were the firm's very 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 low bridge 1947 Leyland PD1s that were acquired in 1949 from Hants & Sussex (FCG526/527) and were in the fleet until 1960.
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 1940s and early 1950s, before the days of widespread television availability and supermarkets. At this time Ironside ran the Dorchester depot and office, with Toop at Bere Regis and Davis at Sturminster Newton. These were times of rising costs though - before the war the tax on fuel was 9d a gallon; in 1950 it was doubled to 1/6d and in 1952 it reached 2/6d a gallon. Inevitably this impacted on bus fares, although those of Bere Regis were comparatively modest when compared to Hants & Dorset and Southern National.
As well as a wide range of private hire work there were also substantial numbers of school and works contracts run by the firm alongside wide-ranging forces leave express services from Portland Dockyard; Bovington, Blandford, Piddlehinton and Lulworth Camps to destinations including Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Doncaster and Liverpool. The abolition of national service in the early 1960s impacted on this work. As the years went by the various coaching types of operation would become progressively more important than the rural bus services.
1950s and 1960s
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 takeover of the George Vacher business back in 1930). The Poole routes warranted double deck operation and were sufficiently busy in the 1950s that the 5.30pm from Poole on route 1 often had to be duplicated, usually by a Bedford OB coach. Tickets of the two companies were not interavailable and the Bere Regis fares were generally a penny cheaper. H&D had kept a bus outstationed in Bere Regis ever since 1930. Whereas Bere Regis & District 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.
Percy Davis was the first of the three partners to die, on 19th May 1964 aged only 56, and he is buried in St Andrews churchyard in Bloxworth. Next to go to 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 was remembered by the late Mervyn House of Mid-Dorset Coaches as 'someone who would help anybody'. Following Reg's death, during the 1970s and 1980s, whilst the trading name remained Bere Regis & District, the operating licences were held in the name of 'the trustees of R W Toop deceased' with a fleet at the time of 84 vehicles. Until her death in July 1983 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 years. Henry Frier joined the firm as Traffic Manager in 1983, bringing with him much needed wider bus industry management experience.
50th Anniversary Bere Regis celebrated the 50th anniversary of the firm's founding 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), and also at Bere Regis, Blandford, Hazelbury Bryan, Sherborne, Wimborne and Weymouth.
A daily express coach service from Dorset to London was started in June 1983. Private hire, contract work, holidays and tours had become more important than bus operation over the years and at the time of bus deregulation in 1986 only a few of the 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 - Cerne Abbas - Sherborne daily trunk route passed to an unlikely named operator, Air Camelot of Wincanton, whilst another important daily route Blandford - Sturminster Newton - Okeford Fitzpaine went to Oakfield Travel of Blandford. The depots at Sherborne and Blandford were closed at this time.
60 years and after
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 1930s; in the 1980s 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 holiday tours and considerable works contract operations from 1988 to 1991 for BP to and from the Wytch oilfield in Purbeck, involving up to 25 vehicles at the peak, and the daily express coach service to London started by Henry Frier in 1983. Experience gained with the London service pehaps contributed to a valuable contract with Slattery of Tralee in the early 1990s to run the UK sector of their route to Ireland between London and the ferry ports at Holyhead and Fishguard (and on occasion working right though to Ireland too).
Ray Roper retired in 1993 and Henry Frier succeeded him as General Manager. 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. The London express continued under the First Dorset Transit banner, then operation passed to Bluebird of Weymouth from November 2003, but only for a few more years.
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, operating from 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.
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.
Long time Bere Regis general manager Ray Roper died in retirement in May 2001 at the age of 81. And then in January 2006 sadly we also had to record the death of Maurice Norman, one of the old Bere Regis drivers, and a great friend of the present writer for many years.
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. 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 their 1949 numbers). Note also that Wimborne is no longer served although there was still a garage there at the time. The motif illustrated was used by Bere Regis for many years.
The development of the Bere Regis & District bus service network from 1949 to 1979 is outlined here in a chart listing the routes.
A list of the operators acquired by Bere Regis & District over the years is here.
The late Henry Frier remembers A Day at The Grove (the Bere Regis office in Dorchester in the 1980s).
Colin Hallett remembers his days at the Sherborne depot in the 1980s - Coached the Bere Regis way.
Colin Miller's reminiscences of a bygone age when his father was a driver for Bere Regis are here.
Some further pictures of their coaches can be found here.
Another selection of pictures (by Malcolm Knight) can be found here.
The complete 1949 timetable booklet of Bere Regis & District Motor Services is here.
And their complete 1936 timetable booklet is here
Whilst the 1986 deregulation timetables are here
If you look at Facebook then here is the Bere Regis Coaches online group.
Paul Carpenter remembers 1985 and his days working for Bere Regis & District at Wimborne
WHOTT held an annual Bere Regis & District running day in Dorchester each August.
======== with thanks to Henry Frier and Roger Grimley for so much valued help and assistance over many years ========
note - this is a site of historical record and does not contain current
If anyone has a photo of Reg Toop the are willing to share please contact me