Percy Webb's buses to Chaldon and Lulworth

1933 - 2003

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

A family firm with perhaps a slightly shorter history than some, not starting until 1933. It was in that year that twenty-three year old Percy Webb moved home from Buckland Newton in the north of the county of Dorset and purchased the bus business of George Goult of Chaldon. Previously Thomas Coleman and James Ironside had also served the Chaldon and Winfrith routes. Percy worked from a base in the same small village of East Chaldon (also sometimes known as Chaldon Herring) and operated market day services from Chaldon and Winfrith Newburgh through Broadmayne to Dorchester on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Skirting across the vastness of Egdon Heath to the markets of Casterbridge.  There was also a weekly service to Weymouth on Thursdays.
The trading name of Dorset Queen was adopted in 1952 and the Dorchester route was extended back from Chaldon and Winfrith to start from the seaside beauty spot of Lulworth Cove and the nearby village of West Lulworth, running thence via Durdle Door. In pre-war years Walter Chaffey of Lulworth had operated from there to Dorchester via Winfrith but his service had been discontinued in the mid-30s (by then Southern National were well established in the area with daily services from Lulworth via Wool to Weymouth and via Wareham to Swanage.  During the summer two of their buses were garaged at the Cove Hotel, Lulworth, between 1929 and 1939).

There was an increase in frequency of operation when Bere Regis withdrew from the area (these were two of the original routes operated by the Ironside family, whose son Bill was one of the three partners in the Bere Regis business).  Webb assumed full responsibility for their Winfrith - Weymouth route in the winter of 1959 and for their Winfrith - Dorchester route from February 1965. The sum of £300 was paid by Webb to Bere Regis for the goodwill of their licence H7482 for the Dorchester route. The routes were incorporated into Webb's existing timetable and his  Dorchester service was diverted from Broadmayne via West Knighton and operated additionally on Fridays as well as the traditional Wednesdays and Saturdays.  There was also a daily workers evening journey outwards (only)  from Dorchester.

  Thomas Hardy, The Return of the Native

Twilight combined with the scenery of Egdon Heath to evolve a thing majestic without severity, impressive without showiness, emphatic in its admonitions, grand in its simplicity. The qualifications which frequently invest the facade of a prison with far more dignity than is found in the facade of a palace double its size lent to this heath a sublimity in which spots renowned for beauty of the accepted kind are utterly wanting. Fair prospects wed happily with fair times; but alas, if times be not fair! Men have oftener suffered from, the mockery of a place too smiling for their reason than from the oppression of surroundings oversadly tinged. Haggard Egdon appealed to a subtler and scarcer instinct, to a more recently learnt emotion, than that which responds to the sort of beauty called charming and fair.

In 1971 the Dorset Queen routes were extended further from Lulworth Cove to East Lulworth and Coombe Keynes when Southern National withdrew operations from the Lulworth area.   The newly served villages had buses once on Thursdays to Weymouth and twice on Fridays to Dorchester.  Percy passed away in October 1976 aged 66, followed by his wife Mary in November 1981, at the age of 69.  Control of the business then passed to one of their daughters, Mrs Rosemary Hodder. At this time the fleet numbered 13 vehicles (11 coaches and 2 minibuses).

Bedford / Duple ECU927 goes about its work.  In the fleet from 1963 to 1978, a 41-seater, it had been new in 1961 to Hall of South Shields.

(photo courtesy of Malcolm Knight)

Bedford / Plaxton GPW443D, a 45-seater of 1966 origin, waits in Dorchester Council Yard for a run to West Knighton.  It served Dorset Queen from 1969 to 1974.

(photo courtesy of Malcolm Knight)

The main route to Dorchester grew again in connection with the Interbus take over of the daily except Sundays Southern National 459 service from Bovington through Wool and Winfrith to Dorchester in 1982.   Interbus provided all the local journeys between Bovington and Wool Station whilst the journeys between Wool and Dorchester were shared with Dorset Queen.  Interbus ran the morning and evening workers journeys whilst Dorset Queen provided the morning shoppers journeys.  Return tickets were interavailable between the two operators. This was the first time that Dorset Queen had served the populous village of Wool.   At about this time a Thursday morning market service was introduced from Bovington to Wareham and the Dorchester route now served Coombe Keynes and East Lulworth on Wednesdays as well as Fridays.

In 1987 the Bovington - Wool - Dorchester journeys that had originated in the joint working with Interbus in 1982 passed to Bere Regis & District as part of a county council retendering exercise, with Dorset Queen retrenching to its original three days a week shopping and market journeys.

Over the years the nearby military establishment at Bovington Camp and the atomic energy site at Winfrith have both provided much contract work for Dorset Queen, the former especially before the abolition of national service in the 1960s.   The Dorset Queen business continued through the 1980s as a thriving coach operator on holiday tours, contract and private hire work from their garage in East Chaldon, with Percy's daughter Rosemary Hodder still at the wheel. 

The bus service side of things declined further over the years.  With the introduction of the Dorset Transit 102/103 routes hourly from Dorchester to Lulworth, Wool and Bovington in 1999, the Dorset Queen service was reduced to just one Wednesday morning journey to Dorchester for the market.  By the summer of 2001 this once a week run was being operated by Barrys Coaches of Weymouth.  So Dorset Queen continued as a coach operator but no longer ran any bus services.  Not too much of a change perhaps as Percy spent many many a weekend away from Dorset driving forces leave services to London and then on-hire to Royal Blue for express work!

The area is rich in tourist interest being on a fabulous coastline and many groups come to the area and require transport. Dorset Queen continued to cater for these requirements with a quality fleet.   The company celebrated 70 years in the business during 2003. The fleet at the time consisted of 11 coaches. Three Bedfords (two YNTís and a YMT), six Volvo B10Mís (five Plaxton bodied and one Caetano), a Mercedes 609D and a Sitcar Beluga bodied Mercedes 0815D.

Rosemary Hodder was  a staunch supporter of the Confederation of Passenger Transport and developed an extensive programme of Dorset Queen holiday tours; this side of things went from strength to strength with pick ups spread over a wide area of Dorset and parts of Somerset, Hampshire and Wiltshire.  The company also operated two Dorset school contracts and there were also regular school swimming movements.  As years had gone by the levels of Army work had reduced following reductions in military activity, but had continued to be important for the company.

Rosemary announced her wish to retire from day to day coach operation but she was keen to see the Dorset Queen operation founded by her father continue. Hookways of Devon acquired the Dorset Queen name from 1st January 2004. The message then was business as usual and Dorset Queen continued to operate from East Chaldon as part of the Hookways group (which also now included Edgecumbe Coaches of Sidmouth and Jennings Coaches of Bude). All staff joined Hookways and the successful Dorset Queen tour programme was maintained.  Two of the fleet were  acquired by Hookways. These were a Volvo B10M / Plaxton Excalibur 49 seat coach new in 1997 and a Mercedes Benz 0815D / Sitcar Beluga 27 seater new in 2001. Hookways were to transfer other vehicles into the East Chaldon base to maintain operations.

At the time administration of the Dorset Queen tours and charter operations continued at East Chaldon. The Dorset Queen fleet was to have benefitted from the facilities of the Hookways central works at Meeth in north Devon, but with local servicing and support at East Chaldon.  Hookways had also intended to acquire South Dorset Coaches of Swanage from the Sheasby family but this did not happen. In spring 2005 a change in policy by Hookways (following the death of Charlie Hookway, the son of the founder Sidney) meant that the Dorset Queen operation closed at Chaldon. The Dorset Queen name disappeared from its native Dorset, although initially retained for a short while for marketing purposes in Devon.  August 2011 sadly saw Hookways themselves (founded in 1929) passing into liquidation, with loss of seventy jobs.

Volvo B10 / Caetano J511LRY, new to Harley & Preece of Hednesford in 1992, pictured in 1996

Dorset Queen Volvo J511LRY

Dorset Queen - the fleet in summer 1967 seats date new date acquired previously with
left the fleet
Bedford SB / Duple
C41F 1957 1957
bought new
Bedford SB / Plaxton
C41F 1958 1961 Woodward, Shaw
Bedford SB / Duple
1961 1963 Hall, South Shields
GSY147 Trojan / Trojan
13 seater
1964 Burgin, Lulworth
Bedford SB / Plaxton
1959 1965 Cook, Stoughton
Commer / Rootes
12 seater
1966 1966 bought new
Bedford SB / Plaxton
C41F 1961 1967 Bicknell, Godalming
Bedford VAS / Plaxton
C29F 1964 1967 Corvedale, Ludlow

The 1952 timetable after the extension of the service to Lulworth Cove

1952 timetable

The 1982 timetable showing the new journeys from Wool as well as the traditional Lulworth and Winfrith service
1982 timetable

letter confirming the sale of the competing Bere Regis route to Dorset Queen in 1965
Letter confirming sale of competing Bere Regis route to Dorset Queen in 1965