AIR CAMELOT

 

  j2 to Belchalwell
when an airline ran a Somerset bus company

1986 - 1989


  

Please note - this is a site of historical record and does not contain current service information


         

In the market town of Wincanton in Somerset local entrepreneur Tony Tucker's several business interests included a travel agency and an airline called Air Camelot, which with another company called Aviation West was owned by Avon Aviation Services.  Established in 1978 their aircraft included a Beech Queen Air 80 and a Britten Norman Trislander. The latter was used in 1985 and 1986 to operate weekend scheduled services linking Bristol, Bournemouth and Exeter with Alderney and Cherbourg.




airline timetable
bus timetable cover


Air Camelot also owned a Ford Transit minibus and a Bedford YNT coach with which in 1986 they registered six commercial minibus shopping services centred on Wincanton, most of which appeared to be based on routes abandoned as unremunerative by Wakes in the sixties.  In July 1986 Chris Knubley, proprietor of Brutonian, approached Tony Tucker with a view to selling his operation to him; negotiations were successfully concluded and a limited company, Brutonian Bus Company Ltd, was set up to take over the business.  Tony Tucker also kept the Air Camelot licence in his own name for a while, but the two businesses were managed as one, and the Air Camelot licence was later surrendered.

The Wincanton based routes were given letters A to F, and most had gone within a year, only one survived more than two, and some only lasted three months. The communities they served had had many years to get used to not having a bus service, and anyway Wincanton had been in decline as a shopping centre for some years ever since the building of the A303 bypass had taken away all the passing trade. Indeed, the only routes to survive were those which went elsewhere: the A, later 15, to Shepton Mallet, which lasted until September 1988; and the D, later 18, which served the villages of Buckhorn Weston and Kington Magna. Although originally running to Wincanton, it was quickly changed to go to Gillingham as a replacement for a service of Ray Cuff’s which had had its registration withdrawn at the last minute.

In addition, a number of services were successfully tendered for (see route list below), some of which formed an interesting assortment. For one thing, only the 14 to Frome started from Bruton or anywhere near it. Most were shopping journeys running one or two days a week, but the 14 featured Monday to Friday peak journeys, the 6 was the former Bere Regis and District regular six days a week service between Sherborne and Dorchester, and route 1 was the Yeovil inter-station service linking the Junction and Pen Mill stations with the town centre. Of particular interest was route 7 from Belchalwell to Sturminster Newton which ran on Mondays during school holidays only, as Bere Regis & District continued to run it commercially during school terms. So in practice this route only ran about ten times a year.

Further expansion in 1987 under Tony Tucker's enthusiastic traffic manager Ian Trotter saw new commercial service 20 on Saturdays from Yeovil to Bristol, and service 16 from Frome serving the tourist attractions of Longleat House and Stourhead Gardens which utilised the vehicle off the 14; both lasted four months. Route 21 consisted entirely of positioning and fill-in journeys between Bruton, Sherborne, and Yeovil for the vehicles on the tendered services, and disappeared when the relevant tenders were lost.

Under the new ownership, with its connection with Mr Tuckers’s travel agency business, there was a move into coaching activities and this became an important part of the business. As a result an increasing number of coaches was purchased. There was also a change in vehicle policy, Bedfords and other lightweights now being favoured. A number of small capacity vehicles, suitable for the tendered services, was also acquired, including two Ford Transits and three Bedford J2s, one of which had Caetano bodywork. The new vehicle policy was not to Chris Knubley’s liking, and he left the firm that he had created. This deprived Brutonian of his engineering expertise just at the time when its operations were expanding, which led to operational and maintenance difficulties.

The year 1988 was to prove a bad one for Brutonian.  Route 1 was surrendered in March as a result of the difficulties and cost of outstationing a vehicle at Yeovil, and was retendered to Southern National.  Staffing difficulties at the Dorchester outstation led to Route 6 being surrendered in June, although it is reported that Brutonian’s operation had been causing some great concern to Dorset County Council for some time.  It had been usually operated by the Accrington REs, whose paintwork was apparently not all that good and by now had largely disappeared. Their truly awful external condition might not have mattered had the route not run past Dorset County Council’s offices!  The Council arranged for the route to be taken over by Pearce Darch & Willcox (Comfy-Lux) of Cattistock. The peak hour journeys on the 14 were replaced by Badgerline’s new 166 in July, and all the remaining tendered routes were lost on retendering by the end of the year.

With the reduced number of bus services, Driver / Assistant Traffic Manager Mike Smallbone left Brutonian to set up Stirling Travel which took over the remaining schoolday services on route 2. Brutonian ran route 14 commercially after losing the tender to Wakes in August, but passed it to Stirling Travel after a few weeks; and the Saturday service on the 10 was withdrawn in August.  Then in September Southern National returned to the Wincanton - Mere - Shaftesbury road with minibus service 59, competing head-on with Brutonian’s 11/12, on which the Saturday service was as a consequence lost on retender in November. 

At the end of 1988, Brutonian’s route network was reduced to service 8 to Salisbury on Tuesdays and Saturdays, 9 to Dorchester on Wednesdays, 10 to Yeovil on Fridays, 11/12 to Shaftesbury Mondays to Fridays, and 18 to Gillingham on Thursdays. Concern about reliability and missed journeys led Wakes to divert their Salisbury service 28 via Wincanton over the route of Brutonian service 8 from December, and to register services to Dorchester and Yeovil on the same timings as routes 9 and 10.

But before the registrations could take effect Tony Tucker sold Brutonian to the Cawlett Group in January 1989.  It was that group’s first outside acquisition since it had been set up in 1987 to purchase North Devon (Red Bus) and Southern National from the National Bus Company, although it was soon joined by Pearce Darch & Willcox (Comfy-Lux), Taylor’s of Tintinhull, Smith’s of Portland, and Dorchester Coachways (the latter the western part of the once extensive Bere Regis business). The sale did not include the company’s vehicles which were sold separately, many of them to neraby Marsh’s Coaches of Wincanton.  It is believed that the airline operations of Air Camelot ceased at the end of the summer season 1986 - the parent company Avon Aviation Services filed for insolvency in 1988.


The services included in the 1986 timetable booklet (cover illustrated above):

1.       Yeovil stations bus link, Junction to Pen Mill (weekdays)
2.       Pylle - Castle Cary - Bruton (schooldays)
3.       Yeovil - Sherborne - Charlton Horethorne (Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays)
4.       Sherborne town service (Thursdays and Saturdays, operated by route 3 vehicle)
5.       Holwell - Sherborne (Mondays to Fridays)
6.       Dorchester - Cerne Abbas - Sherborne (weekdays)
7.       Belchalwell - Sturminster Newton (Mondays during school holidays only)
8.       Bruton - Wincanton - Salisbury (Tuesdays and Saturdays)
9.       Bruton - Wincanton - Dorchester (Wednesdays)
10.     Bruton - Corton Denham - Yeovil (Fridays and Saturdays)
11.     Gillingham - Wincanton - Bruton (schooldays, journeys shown in route 12 timetable)
12.     Shaftesbury - Gillingham - Wincanton - Bruton (weekdays)
13.     Four Foot - Pylle - Shepton Mallet (Fridays)
14.     Bruton - Witham Friary - Frome (Mondays to Fridays)
A.      Wincanton - Batcombe - Shepton Mallet (Monday mornings)
B.      Sparkford - Castle Cary - Wincanton (Tuesday afternoons)
C.      Stoney Stoke - Bruton - Wincanton (Wednesday mornings)
D.      Wincanton - Gillingham - Buckhorn Weston - Wincanton circular (Thursday mornings)
E.       North Cadbury - Wincanton (Friday mornings)
F.       Corton Denham - Wincanton (Friday afternoons)

=====  with many thanks to Mike Wadman  =====

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