Being 100 years old is a good a time as any to reflect on a tremendous journey. We are proud to be recognised as the really good bus company, but these things take time – and, not least, the determination, loyalty and hard work of people throughout the years.
Sit back, relax and join us as we retrace our steps all the way back over the course of a century…
But, before you start reading, hear all about our plans to celebrate our centenary at the trentbarton 100th Birthday Party on Sunday 26 May. Make sure you come along and join in the fun! Download full details and your special invite.
Our company was formed on 31st October 1913 but our foundations can be traced to events of Tuesday 14th September 1909 when a company called Commercial Car Hirers Ltd, of Highgate, London began a service between Ashbourne and Derby using a small open sided vehicle with seats for 22 people. It ran between the two towns three times on most days except Wednesday afternoons and Sundays, when it ran excursions to Dovedale. The Wednesday afternoon outings were because in the past shops had an early closing day in the middle of the week, to give shop workers some time off. Early closing day in Derby and Ashbourne was Wednesday and hence the trips to Dovedale were run.
1914-1918 First World War
The service was instantly successful, mainly because previously people had to use the railway service via Uttoxeter which could take over 2 hours to Derby Midland Station, compared with 1 hour by the new bus service. It was also cheaper and, today, forms part of our current swift route. A few other services were started until in 1913 it was decided to combine with other bus business interests to form the Trent company and develop services over a wider area.
After formation on 31st October 1913 we were in business the following day, taking over the previous company's services and have run continuously over the following century. One week later, on 8th November 1913, we started our own first service between Derby and Stapleford and additional buses were bought over the following months. The first new buses were small with about 22 seats but after a while there were some larger ones seating 28. However, on 4th August 1914 war broke out with Germany and it wasn't long before most of our buses had been taken by the army for war use and almost all our services had to be suspended. We were allowed to keep just one bus, because we had a contract to carry mail to Ashbourne, and so our service remained unbroken.
During the war…
In 1915, we bought a bus with an unusual type of transmission. There was no gearbox, but the petrol engine drove an electric motor which powered the vehicle. These buses were easy to drive, but were not liked by the army which thought the transmission too complicated and so they were not requisitioned for war service. The chassis for this bus was made by Tilling Stevens of Maidstone, Kent and we soon obtained more of them to restart our suspended services.
Continuing war made life difficult and petrol in particular was in very short supply. In order to help overcome this, some buses were fitted with enormous rubber bags carried in a frame on the roof and these were filled with town gas to fuel the engines. In 1917, a filling point was set up in Derby's Morledge for this purpose.
1918 women begin to get the vote
War ended on 11th November 1918, but we continued to buy the Tilling Stevens chassis with bodies supplied by several companies, one of local interest being Holmes Bros, which later became part of the noted local motor dealer Sanderson & Holmes with premises in London Road Derby. The end of war also brought a surplus of army vehicles and the government created a large army surplus depot at Slough, west of London, to filter these onto the civilian market. We bought 11 Thornycroft chassis and reconditioned 8 of them and some of these formed the basis for our first double deckers. The others were used for spare parts.
The mid-war years
We continued to develop our services and by 1925 were running services radiating from and between Derby and Nottingham. There were other services around Loughborough, although today these are run by our friends at Kinchbus. Over time as services developed, depots were built in Alfreton, Ashbourne, Belper, Derby, which had two depots, Loughborough and Nottingham. A particular phenomenon of this period was the level of competition from small operators, many of whom were men who had been demobbed from the army following war service. The army had taught them to drive, and they had bought a small bus using their service termination gratuity to try to earn some money.
1926 John Logie Baird perfects his invention - the TV
In many ways, this was an exciting time in the industry which was expanding rapidly as only the very wealthy owned cars and there were plenty of potential customers for buses. Most of those involved in the bus industry, particularly drivers, were young and some enjoyed the competitive aspect. As the bigger company, we were targeted by our smaller competitors and in 1925 we began to buy buses made by the famous Midland Red company of Birmingham with which we were closely associated at the time, although not today.
These lighter buses, which were known by the initials SOS and usually referred to as “Sosses” by our drivers and others helped us to compete effectively against the small proprietors. They were designed to be light in weight and sprightly in performance, giving reliability, a good turn of speed and low fuel consumption. Buses continued to be developed, having become first fully enclosed for weather protection, lower, for easier access and finally more comfortable with better quality seating, some being particularly designed to appeal to women making off peak journeys as many in those days did not go to work. Our colour scheme had originally been green, but from 1923 was changed to the familiar red.
Thirties and Forties
By 1930, the government of the day decided that the level of competition in the bus industry was too great and passed an Act of Parliament intended to regulate and control bus operations. Until this time, licensing had been in the hands of local authorities and different standards applied in each area, whilst licences were granted on a fairly unrestricted basis. The new Act brought in a nationally based licensing system and service licences were granted to operators that had been running a service on a specified date. Any bus operator wanting to run a service had to demonstrate a public need, and objections could be lodged against a licence application. Existing operators would normally object, as well as the railways and other bodies. Usually an operator with a licence for a service was protected from competition and the new system was quite restrictive. Other measures from the new Act related to vehicle safety and testing, and helped the industry maintain its reputation for safety. Drivers also required a special licence with higher standards than those for a car.
1932 first Mars Bars on sale
Many of the small operators didn't like the new system and decided to give up. During the period 1930 to 1940, we bought most of the small or privately owned companies, some 52 in number, taking on their services or merging them with our own. Notable exceptions to this at that time were the well-known Barton family business at Chilwell and the respected Felix business at Stanley, which both continued for many years.
In the early days, bus engines had used petrol as fuel, but in the thirties new buses began to run on diesel fuel oil which gave much better fuel consumption and helped to contain costs, although diesel engines were noisier and have a distinct knocking sound compared with the smoother sound of a petrol engine. After some experiments, we bought diesel engined buses as standard and, in due course, some earlier buses had their petrol engines replaced with new diesel engines.
In 1939, war broke out and this brought a great deal of change but, unlike WW1, there was a recognition of the important part our industry was to play in the war effort, although we did still lose some of our buses for war use as ambulances. Preparations had been in hand for some time in advance of war breaking out, despite the discussions going on at international level. Almost straight away a number of our services were withdrawn on government orders to save fuel. These were mainly late evening journeys and express services, whilst our seasonal services were withdrawn for the duration. Also, fixed stopping places were introduced on government orders as it was considered this would reduce fuel consumption and tyre wear, both of which relied on materials imported from overseas.
1939-1945 Second World War
In 1940, we received the last of our peace time orders for new buses and these were also the last built for us by the Midland Red company. One of these is retained as part of a small collection of our earlier buses, having been re-purchased and restored by us in 1979/8. Most bus factories were turned over to the war effort, making army equipment and vehicles and also aircraft components. and also the Daimler factory at Coventry was damaged by the severe enemy bombing of that city, which put it out of action until a replacement facility opened at Wolverhampton.
No new buses were received in 1941 or 1942, but in 1943, we received our first buses to a new utility specification with bodies designed to reduce the amount of labour and scarce materials used. The vehicles had a very basic appearance with squared off corners and a minimal amount of panel shaping required, whilst some had wooden slatted seats in place of the normal upholstered ones. They were produced mainly by two manufacturers and allocated to operators by the government in accordance with an assessment of need.We received only 32 of these during the war years, which was much below our normal level of renewals.
Women at Work
In 1942, we began to take on women conductors (conductresses in the parlance of the day) to replace men who had joined the Forces. Younger readers familiar only with fares being collected by today's men and women drivers may not be aware that in earlier times the driver sat in a separate cab and a conductor moved around the bus during the journey to collect fares, issue tickets, ring the bell to stop and start the bus and to generally look after customers.
There were few women in the work force then and we had to provide additional facilities such as toilets for the women who did an excellent job. Although they were only intended to be taken on for the duration, at the end of hostilities many men were retained in the forces and women were taken on in the post war years and became permanent. This was remarkable at that time, but does not seem so now as we have many women in a wide range of roles throughout our business.
Overcrowded travel during peak hours was a continual problem and the government’s Regional Transport Commissioner, who was responsible for directing transport during war time, introduced a permit scheme for workers so that shoppers and others were required to travel outside the peak times. A few single deck buses received seats along the sides instead of across ways, in the style of a London Underground train, to provide more room for people to stand. To further help increase capacity, a number of single deck buses and coaches received new double deck bodies built in the utility style.
In 1943, the government required us to use gas but, unlike in WW1, this was not town gas made in the local gasworks and carried in a large bag on the roof, but gas produced in a stove carried on a trailer towed by the bus. This was not very satisfactory as it reduced the power of the engine and slowed our journeys so we had to use the buses on the less hilly routes. After about 18 months the government relaxed the requirement to use gas.
1946 Derby County FC with FA Cup
After the War
At the end of the war, our fleet was very worn due to the heavy loads carried and the reduced level of renewal. Rationing of fuel, food and other items continued for some years. We made a start on renewing our fleet and many of the late pre war buses had their bodies removed for scrap or sale for use as sheds. The chassis were thoroughly overhauled and new bodies were fitted by body builders at Loughborough which was then something of a centre for bus body manufacture. Many of our bus bodies over the years were built by the Brush and Willowbrook companies in that town, although these bus factories are now long gone.We also ordered many new buses and by 1950, our fleet of buses once again looked modern, helped by a bright new red and cream livery which replaced the previous red and dark maroon.
Over the years, Derby expanded its boundaries to take in previously outlying areas such as Allestree and Mickleover and in an interesting development from 7th August 1949 the first of a number of joint services with the old Derby Corporation bus undertaking began. These ran successfully until the mid eighties, when changes in legislation meant that this was no longer appropriate and the operations were separated, the Corporation bus undertaking later passing into the private sector and now run by Arriva. We also had some joint working arrangements with Nottingham City Transport which were similarly terminated, although that business still remains largely council owned.
As war had ended, everyone became tired of restrictions and wanted to go out and enjoy themselves, so we carried a great many people and as things returned to normal we were able to re-introduce express services and our programmes of excursions and holiday tours. Passenger carryings soared and in many ways the early fifties was a golden age for our industry.
Around 1953, things began to change. Costs were increasing due to price inflation, people's demands for increased wages and the imposition by government of a tax on our fuel. Social forces were also at work. The advent of television meant that people stayed at home for their entertainment and went less to the theatre and cinema, reducing our carryings. Increasing affluence and the availability of hire purchase meant that people spent more money on consumer goods such as washing machines, televisions and diy home improvements.
1952 Queen Elizabeth takes to the throne
People also bought cars, which gave them transport on a personal level that buses could not hope to provide and this also reduced our carryings, as did a tendency to offer lifts to those friends and relations who had not yet obtained their personal transport. The additional cars led to more traffic congestion at peak times, which meant that bus journeys became less attractive due to increased travelling time, still a problem for us today.
Bus fares had remained largely unchanged since World War I, but the increasing costs already described meant that we had to increase fares and this was the start of a regular pattern of increases which reached a climax in the eighties when, like all businesses, we were caught in a national spiral of increased cost inflation leading, in turn, to increased fares. Even today, we still have to increase fares in order to ensure that our business remains financially viable and we can buy new buses regularly, but today increases are mainly associated with increasing fuel prices and reductions in external funding.
Despite these problems, there were still many developments. People then were still taking their holidays at home and we increased our network of summer express services to coastal resorts and were able to offer journeys to many other places using connections onto services operated by associated companies. We bought buses with a higher standard of seating which could be used for normal service during the week, but sufficiently comfortable to be used for these long distance services at the weekend and these carried a brighter colour scheme with more cream than red. Later, we arranged coach-air holidays to the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands and were able to link into continental tours arranged through an associated company.
Buses began to get bigger. This started in the early fifties when the government allowed single deck buses to be longer and the number of seats increased from about 35 to about 41. Later double deckers were also permitted to be longer and the number of seats increased from about 56 to about 73. Over the years, there were further increases in size and number of seats.
The increased number of seats and a trend towards the use of somewhat lighter buses helped to keep costs down, but then a policy of providing a slightly less frequent service with bigger buses tended to make the services a little less attractive. In more recent times modern accessible buses with a low floor can accommodate fewer seats for a given length of vehicle, but these have enabled us to cater for a wider range of customers than previously, which has proved particularly helpful to people with small children in buggies, as well as customers using wheel chairs.
In 1958, following the opening of the A52 dual carriageway by passing Borrowash, later extended to by pass Sandiacre and Stapleford as well, we introduced an express service between Derby and Nottingham. Trent and Barton were separate companies then and each provided one coach, running hourly each way. Eventually, this would develop into today's red arrow, which runs every 10 minutes using 13 coaches and also runs through to Chesterfield every half hour.
By 1969, the government of the day decided that buses should be taken into state ownership and we became a subsidiary of the National Bus Company (NBC), although still an individual company and required to remain financially viable. At this time, most bus services were in public ownership, either government, like Trent, or through Council owned undertakings as in Nottingham and Derby, or through special undertakings in the large conurbations such as London, Birmingham, Manchester and so on. As a result of this change, our buses began to look much like many others throughout the country with an all over poppy red colour scheme with some white, depending on the kind of service the bus was mostly used for.
Great Train Robbery 1963
Neighbouring companies which became subsidiaries of NBC were Midland General, based at Heanor and serving the area around the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border, and North Western, based at Stockport and serving the area around Matlock, Buxton and the neighbouring counties of Lancashire and Cheshire. NBC decided that Trent should become responsible for the Midland General company and the Derbyshire operations of North Western. By 1976, these had been fully absorbed under the Trent name, although in recent times the Buxton area business passed to another company which already has more services in that area.
As part of these changes, the express services we ran became part of the National network of express services and the coaches used for this were painted white, rather than red. This network, though much changed since then, forms the basis of the services run today by National Express, but we are no longer involved with these services ourselves, preferring to focus on serving our local customers.
One significant event in July 1976 was a fire at our biggest depot in Meadow Road, Derby. This was caused by an electrical fault in the interior light system of one bus and led to enormous damage and the loss of some thirty eight buses, with others severely damaged. The fire occurred in the early hours but it was a source of considerable pride at the time that, despite this loss and the distractions caused by the fire, no mileage was lost from the following morning's service. This had been achieved by the combined efforts of our staff and management and the rapid loan of buses from other companies.
The seventies and eighties were very difficult for bus companies and we were no exception. For the reasons already described, people were making still fewer bus journeys whilst price inflation meant that costs were continually rising. Fares increases to meet the additional costs tended to make services less popular and a spiral developed. Revenue support for service networks was provided by government and local authorities to subsidise bus services and it became necessary to make considerable changes to our network to match the services more closely to the number of people who wanted to travel. Government introduced a grant for some years to help bus operators buy new buses that were suitable for driver only operation without a conductor and this helped to contain costs. Many conductors retrained as drivers and as the unsocial hours that the job required meant there was often a staff shortage, there were fewer redundant conductors than one might expect.
Deregulation and Privatisation
By 1980, many of these difficulties were reduced and the business was better able to work on a financially viable basis. In 1986, the government of the day decided that bus services should, once again, be returned to the private sector to operate on a commercial basis. The government also decided to change the licensing regime for the industry so that only bus companies needed to be licensed subject to specific quality and stringent safety standards, but individual services no longer required a licence.
Bus service changes had to be registered with the relevant authorities, giving specified notice periods and those services which carried enough customers to make a commercial return would be run at the operator's risk, whilst any that did not carry a sufficient number of customers to generate a commercial return would be operated under contract to the local authority, the operator being chosen by a tender process. This was in contrast to supporting the whole network by subsidy as before and was intended to reduce the cost to government and local authorities.
The licensing legislation was a major change to which the industry had to adapt and reversed the provisions made by legislation back in 1930. In particular, it meant that we had to adapt to the removal of protection from competition for, under the new rules any licensed operator could run along the same services as ours on a competitive basis and we experience this today. Looking after our customers and being research-led are just two key ways that we aim to stay ahead of our competitors.
At the end of 1986, in line with government intentions, the National Bus Company sold Trent to its local management and their families who still own the company today. It is one of only three former NBC subsidiaries that have not been sold to the large groups, so continues to have a very locally focussed perspective, with a stable, experienced team of dedicated people serving the local community and using many local suppliers.
Trent & Barton
In 1989, the business of Barton Transport Ltd, established in 1908 was acquired because the family had decided they wanted to sell. Although there had been rivalry in the past, relationships had become quite cordial and some services had been operated by both companies working together. The Barton business was placed into a separate company and remains so, although both companies now run under the combined name.
1994 Channel Tunnel opens
Our stall was set out strongly as a customer focused business in 1991 when we introduced the first of our Rainbow Routes. These were between Derby and Nottingham and offered a Customer Charter, new buses and a special team of trained drivers. This led to further Rainbow services and ultimately most of our services are now branded with specific buses in their own special colour scheme - although given that the Rainbow standard is now widespread the use of the Rainbow name is now being phased out. A money back guarantee was introduced which is still unique within the public transport sector today. In 1994, we were heartened that this customer-focussed strategy would attract even more people to buses. This was the first year since the fifties than we carried more customers than the previous year – and we have generally been on a path of growth ever since.
Moving with the times
Times change and in 2005, we decided that both the Trent and Barton businesses should use the trent barton name, to minimise confusion for customers. Along with this, a new modern colour scheme was adopted, which we could use in various colour ways for our different brands. Apart from updating the image, this was also intended to enable new and old customers appreciate the extent of our networks and make tickets easier to understand. Tickets - and paying the driver - became a thing of the past from 2008 as we pioneered MANGO – our innovative smartcard.
A year short of our centenary, in 2012 we refreshed our identity following extensive research with customers and non-users across the East Midlands. The message was clear - the number one reason why our customers choose to use us was the friendliness of our teams. In came a friendlier image that looked to personalise our approach even more, with a new design and bow device which appears in consistent fashion across our buses and publicity. It recognises that we are who we are because of the sum of our parts; our many colourful brands, our customers and our people. Our friendly, outgoing drivers are dedicated to their own brand, and many of them welcome their regular customers by name. So fantastic is their service in the local communities they serve, three of our drivers have won the prestigious Top National Bus Driver award in the past few years.
2012 London Olympics & Diamond Jubilee
Whilst we have won many awards for customer service, innovation and marketing over the years, our primary focus is to ensure we remain – in the eyes of our customers and our teams – the really good bus company.