FOWLERS  OF  HOLBEACH DROVE

Along the roads from Wisbech to Spalding



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

For current travel information or timetables go to Traveline East Midlands or the website of Fowlers Travel


Based in Holbeach Drove, William Harold (Bill) Fowler bought his first PSV vehicle, TV6374 - a fifteen year old 24 seater Leyland Cub, from Nightingale of Pode Hole in the autumn of 1947. In the spring of 1949 a new Austin 31 seater coach joined the fleet (EG9476); this was joined the following year by a 29-seater Bedford OB Duple Vista (ENT102). The first Leyland was disposed of in autumn 1950 and the fleet size remained static at two until 1959 when with the business prospering the fleet started to grow, including the arrival of the first double-decker in 1962.

Starting with the traditional mix of school contract and private hire work, plus a back lanes service from Holbeach Drove into Spalding, Fowlers did not really get into the business of running buses until taking over the local Holbeach Drove depot of  C J Towler of Emneth (based fifteen miles away on the other side of Wisbech).  This acquisition in March 1963 included the garage, four coaches, one double decker and several bus routes.  The principal seven day a week service linked Wisbech to Spalding via Parson Drove, Holbeach Drove and Gedney Hill, as illustrated in the accompanying 1965 timetable below.  Still a family run business to this day Fowlers have a current fleet size of twenty four.


cover 1965 fowlers timetable

1965 monday and friday

saturday and sunday


Fowlers routes in operation in 1977
Wisbech - Parson Drove - Gedney Hill - Spalding

Weekdays
Holbeach St Johns - Oxcroft Bank - Spalding

Saturday
Holbeach Drove - Spalding

Schooldays


The founder Bill passed away in September 1975 with the business passing to sons John and Barrie with a limited company formed in 1977.  By the early 1980s the fleet had grown to sixteen vehicles. In 1987 the services of Tim Rose (Brown Linnet) of Holbeach St John were acquired. 

This was the time of deregulation of bus services as provided for by the Transport Act 1985 and from April 1987 a new weekday service between Holbeach and Spalding was started in competition with Lincolnshire Road Car route 505.  The initiative was successful and the route was extended to Kings Lynn from December 1987.  

In August 1989 Road Car closed their Holbeach depot and all workings on the 505 passed to Fowlers, together with the garage which was used as an out-station base. 

In February 2002 the route was rebranded as InterConnect 505, as part of the Lincolnshire County Council initiative of enhancing trunk services whilst providing an 'inter-connection' of feeder buses (Call Connect Plus) with guaranteed connections at two transfer points, Holbeach and Long Sutton.  Progressive escalation of competitive operations along the main road between Spalding and Kings Lynn, notably by Norfolk Green (who run the route today, albeit as part of the Stagecoach group since the end of 2013), led to Fowlers withdrawal from participation in the InterConnect service in 2004 (see also below).  

John's son Andrew (Bill's grandson) is now at the helm and Fowlers vehicles still constitute a significant presence on the fenland roads.  A number of bus routes continued into more recent years, including Wisbech to Spalding, although operated in two halves rather than as a through service, split at Holbeach Drove. In 2013 this route (numbered 52) continued with weekday operation between Sutton St Edmunds, Holbeach Drove and Spalding; with Thursday extension from Holbeach Drove to Wisbech for the market. By March 2015 this had passed to Stagecoach Norfolk (formerly Norfolk Green) as route 49.

 


interconnect 2002 timetable route 505
SPALDING VIA HOLBEACH AND LONG SUTTON TO KINGS LYNN - this was a route run for many years by the Lincolnshire Road Car Company, and it was often said to be their most profitable route too. However it was somewhat isolated from the main part of the Road Car network and was operated from a small depot in Holbeach - as years went by it ended up being the only route they ran out of Holbeach. After deregulation Fowlers went into competitive operation on this route, and from April 1987 a new weekday service between Holbeach and Spalding was started. This was successful and the route was extended on to Kings Lynn from December 1987. In August 1989 Road Car (part of the Yorkshire Traction Group since January 1988) withdrew from the area and closed their Holbeach depot and their workings passed to Fowlers, together with their garage which was used as an out-station base. In February 2002 the route was rebranded by Lincolnshire County Council as 'InterConnect 505'. Fowlers were operating an hourly service six days a week over the eighty-five minute journey when in June 2002 Norfolk Green came on the scene with a faster competitive route omitting some villages and reducing the journey time by some twenty minutes, although initially between Kings Lynn and Holbeach only. At this time an increased frequency of half hourly was introduced by Fowlers between Spalding and Holbeach. These short journeys were soon withdrawn when Norfolk Green increased frequency and introduced seven days a week through operation. Cavalier Travel of Long Sutton then entered the picture in 2002 by registering journeys on the route. By 2004 Fowlers withdrew and left it to Cavalier and Norfolk Green who then between them provided a co-ordinated half hourly frequency over the whole route (2004 timetable shows alternate journeys by the original route and the faster route). Stagecoach bought Cavalier in 2008 and sold their workings on the route to Norfolk Green. Stability then ensued and the route is today still the province of the one operator, albeit as part of Stagecoach in Norfolk as previously independent Norfolk Green (founded by Ben Colson in 1996) became part of the Stagecoach group at the end of 2013.





On the occasion of Fowlers fiftieth anniversary in 1997 a book was published in celebration.  'Fowlers Travel - serving the fens for half a century' was written by Geoff Mills and published by MW Transport Publications of 12 Saxon Close, Colchester, Essex. (ISBN 0952777010).  This includes many photos and also a full chronology of the bus services (pages 43-45).




Fowlers Daimler VNB225L seen in Holbeach in 1987
New to Greater Manchester Transport in 1973
(photo with thanks from the johnmightycat1 collection)


VNB225L of Fowler in Holbeach in 1987


with many thanks to John Brogden for the loan of timetables,

and incorporating information from articles and publications

by David Kaye and Geoff Mills found in the libraries of Lincolnshire





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