Nantlle Valley History



The first bus service to Nantlle

I've been interested in the old bus services pre-Crosville era in the area for many years - I'm fifty four now and can remember asking bus drivers and conductors, in their early sixties over forty years ago, about events between the wars. Some of the stories told to me were quite strange, but none more so than that of the first bus service to Nantlle, run by the Nantlle Vale Star Motor Bus Service, a grand name for an un-named pioneer.

Running just after world war one ended, he'd bought a Ford Model T car with his army discharge gratuity, arranged for an extended body to be fitted - space for fourteen passengers 'officially' and on a Saturday night 'as many as we can carry!' I believe that the local joiner or cabinet maker made the body, which was innovative rather than smoothly-crafted, and it became known as the 'House on Wheels'. It certainly originally ran in competition with the railway from Nantlle, so it probably ran all the way to Caernarfon, at first on market day and Saturday only, where its arrival caused a surprise to other fledgling bus operators, such as Caernarfon Bay Motors, Royal Blue (of Bangor) and the Seiont Motor Bus Company, of Seiont Terrace, Caernarfon; and also to the O.R.Williams Company, Whiteways of Waenfawr, who only stopped trading about fifteen years ago. Crosville Motor Services took over the Caernarfon Bay Motor Company services in 1925, establishing themselves further by taking over Royal Blue in 1930-1 and Seiont soon thereafter.

Anyway, whilst there was open warfare on the main roads, the "House on Wheels" operated into the Valley on market days and saturdays without competition apart from the railway, until about 1927-8, when its service was abruptly cancelled following an accident which was both spectacular and tragic, to such extent that, fifty years later, it was remembered vividly.

Apparently you could build up considerable speed on the roads in an old bus in those days - more than 30 mph being recorded by the primitive "speed traps" of the local police - whilst buses were limited officially to 12 mph! And for a passenger, this could be the ultimate in excitement and devil-may-care!
One day in the autumn, the late bus from Caernarfon on a Saturday night, driving fast after dark with little more than an acetaline lamp for illumination, rounded a corner at speed to be confronted by a loose cow, which straddled the road. The driver immediately pumped the brake peddle, whilst the passengers (the bus was full, so anything up to 40 people could have been aboard, mainly quarrymen and farmhands returning from a night on the town) sat or stood transfixed by the drama unfolding. Nothing could prevent the collision, and the bus hit the cow full-on.

Now, I know that you will want to know the outcome, but I have to explain that, after years of use, the bus had become rather less than weathertight within - indeed the house on wheels had seams which had sprung, and a type of primitive "forced air ventilation" which comes from large and unstoppable holes in the bodywork. This fact, combined with the speed of the collision, had an unusual outcome - the "House on Wheels" hit the cow and DISINTEGRATED, spilling human cargo into the roadway in all directions, but apparently without serious injury. Even the driver was safe, albeit shaken, and so the passengers helped him tomove the sad wreckage of the "House on Wheels" to the side of the road, and continue homeward on foot with a cracking good excuse for late arrival / story for the pub next time out.
And the cow? It just ambled away whilst everyone was sorting themselves out, and disappeared into the gloom!

The driver who told me this story, many years later, worked for another bus company - I think it was the Seiont Company - and told me that the following Monday they received a phone call from the former driver and proprietor of the Nantlle Vale Star Omnibus Company, in which he explained the circumstances, and then offered the route to that company, as long as they operated on every day of the week (except Sunday, naturally).An agreement was made there and then. And so the first regular bus service up the Valley started on the following Tuesday. It seems a shame that this unnamed pioneer of this story has been forgotten.

Commonly, bus services on market days and saturdays into Pwllheli, Caernarfon, Bangor and similar towns were started by local men with ex-Army vehicles, bought cheaply in the aftermath of World War One. And, with few exceptions elsewhere (but not Caernarfon) these single man operations were swallowed up by larger companies such as Crosville, and the men who started things forgotten. Even the Seiont company has little memorial - and they had ten modern vehicles when swallowed up by Crossville.

Caernarfon was an exception to this general rule, however, because small bus operators continue to provide bus services, almost drowning out the Arriva company, who themselves took over Crosville fifteen years ago and promptly expunged its name.

Cesarea, Rhosgadfan and Rhostryfan have been served by a "Silver Star Service" since before route licencing was introduced in 1930, originally run by a Mr John Ivor Jones.Their fleet in the 1960s was elderly but interesting, and a ride on one of their buses from Caernarfon was never exactly fast, but rather sedate if not downright slow climbing the steepest hills, whilst the return journey was faster and more animated! In my memory, there was competition on this route from Express Motors, then run by a Mr R Hughes Jones, of Tyddyn Canol, Bontnewydd, with two or three red and cream buses, including one which had been extensively rebuilt from the driver-sits-alone-in-a-cab layout and still advertised the Trent Motor Company of Derby! This may have been the fore-runner of the present Express Motors of the same village. But I recently discovered that, in 1931, a Mr David Jones of Rhosgadfan ran from that village to Caernarfon - so perhaps this gentleman was the fore-runner of Express Motors - but I don't know, and this demonstrates the problem, which is that the efforts of these "heroes of local enterprise" are now forgotten, unless we act now to record their memory.

The Clynnog and Trevor Motor Company have patiently operated from Caernarfon to Pwllheli since 1912, and may well be the longest serving bus company still existing in North Wales. The longest history of this company that I've read dismissed their history to 1955 in four lines! And does anyone still remember the Trevor Blue Motor Company, which certainly competed with them in the 'twenties and 'thirties? Probably not, but please prove me wrong!

The Whiteway company, which operated from Caernarfon to Beddgelert for over sixty years, is still remembered fondly, and has been the subject of a compelling book by Bill Rear, who I remember worked for Crosville at Caernarfon before opening a stationery shop locally. But even Whiteway had competition from a firm called Jones Beddgelert & District Brown Bus Service, about whom I know almost nothing. But I do know that there was a service daily bringing workers from Rhyd Ddu (and Beddgelert?) to the quarries, with a "bus painted brown!

An appeal for further information

If anyone has any further information at all about this subject, can I please appeal for anyone who can tell me more to contact me, either by e-mail at or by post:

Michael Owen,
13 Stroma Gardens,
M41 7ER

Hard facts or just stories of old times, happy journeys and coach trips, are equally welcome. Many years of holidays at Dinas Dinlle with my great aunty, Molly Pritchatd, and exploration by bus, make the Nantlle area my favourite place.

Many thanks,

by Michael Owen, Manchester (November 2005)

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