Peldon's Carriers and early Bus Services

Records in the form of Trade Directories go back to early in the nineteenth century, recording, as well as a brief history of the village, church and landowners, the names of the current incumbent, the gentry, farmers and tradespeople in each village. Many of these Directories were produced by Kelly's, Pigot's and Co; and White's.

They also gave details of the carrier services which were a precursor to a bus service, in Peldon's case to Colchester. The first Trade Directory referring to a carrier for Peldon was published in 1827 and the last entry 1917. The carrier service used to be a horse-drawn cart run by local men, transporting people and packages. For a small fee the carriers would deliver parcels, run errands, shop, and collect parcels as well as having room for a few fare-paying passengers.

In the Kelly's Directory of 1850 it advises that the carrier, Mr Marlborough, would leave Peldon at 11 and return at 3pm.

Typically the Peldon carrier, on arrival in Colchester, would stable and feed his horse, leaving it at one of two inns, The Blue Posts on the corner of Osborne Street or at The Plough Inn yard on the corner of St Botolph's and Magdalen Street. Then he would spend the rest of the day in Colchester running all the errands for his customers.

With many women in the villages working at home as tailoresses, their finished clothes would often be taken by carrier to the clothing factories in Colchester. The carriers would bring back more cut out cloth for these outworkers to sew as well as their wages in some cases.

From a Colchester Recalled interview with Doris Thimblethorpe (born in 1903), who started work as a fourteen year old at the draper's Loome's in High Street, Colchester (where McDonald's now is situated), she recalled that carriers would come into the shop to place orders 'from the country' for children's and babywear, fabrics, wool, cottons, buttons and towels and sheets.

Ethel Appleby (born 1901) remembered orders being taken for shopping, or medicines and the carriers would also sell items for customers, bringing back the money at the end of the day. The charge was usually 2d or 3d.

Frequent stops to drop off parcels or orders characterised the return journey and the recipients would wait by the road at the appointed time to pick up their orders. In the case of Mersea's Robert Underwood, when he arrived home from Colchester in the evening

he would blow a bugle to announce his arrival and 'all the old gals' would come trooping down the side-roads to collect their parcels Rev. David Thornton Just The Ticket

The account by Douglas J Gurton of the Tollesbury carriers early in the twentieth century gives an idea of conditions for the passengers.

The carrier vehicles were four wheeled, iron tyred, lightly constructed wagons, with canvas and lath hard top, to protect the passengers from inclement weather, who would sit on benches ranged inside on both sides of the vehicle. Straw was provided inside in winter-time to give warmth to the passengers. It was necessary to wrap up warmly, and the provision of canvas backed rug and coachman's umbrella, could make the journeys reasonably comfortable. Douglas J Gurton 'Carriers' Mersea Museum, Tollesbury

He doesn't mention the livestock, (or indeed deadstock), you might find yourself travelling with! The Rev Thornton relates that one Peldon lady, born in Wigborough in 1900, Ethel Bone (nee Pooley), recalled being frightened of getting her dress dirty from the dead rabbits lying on the floor of the cart and of the animal skins hanging from the back as they were being taken to the tanners in Colchester.

Trade Directory Entries for Peldon

The earliest mention of a carrier service entry for Peldon comes from Pigot and Co's 1827 directory

Carriers: To PELDON from the Blue Posts and Plough every Tuesday and Friday also to Great and Little Wigborough

The Blue Posts once stood at the south corner of where Osborne Street joined St Botolph's Street. It was also a hotel and it was named after the blue posts used as a railing which ran alongside. When it came up for sale in 1834 the establishment was described as follows

...spirit shop, tap house, wine and spirit stores, small brewery, large yard and excellent stabling with a garden behind the same.

and later in 1837, under new management it was described as

replete with every convenience for Commercial and other Gentlemen, having well-aired beds, excellent Dining and Sitting Rooms and Good Stabling'. The Inns, Taverns and Pubs of Colchester Jess A Jephcott

It appears to have closed in 1856 and was later demolished.

The Plough Inn was on the corner of Magdalen Street at St Botolphs and was demolished to make way for the St Botolph's roundabout in the 1960s. It had stables and a yard and gave its name to 'Plough Corner', this name appearing on the ordnance survey map of 1896 and still in use in the 1960s.

Below are the directory entries for Peldon's carriers. It would appear the job was often kept in the family as two generations of The Runnicles and three generations of the Christmases ran the service.

Pigot's and Co: 1826/7, 1828 and 1837 Carrier from the Blue Posts and Plough every Tuesday and Friday

Pigot's and Co: 1832 Richard Woods from The Plough every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday

Pigot's and Co: 1837 Carrier from The Blue Posts and Plough on Tues and Fri

Pigot's and Co: 1839 Carriers
  - to Peldon James Greenleaf from the Blue Posts every MON, WED and FRI
  - to W Mersea Elijah Harvey from the Blue Posts TUES, THURS and SAT [he also ran The White Hart on West Mersea]

Kelly's: 1850 Peldon and Wigborough Carrier Mr Marlborough from The Plough daily, arrives at 11 and leaves at 3.

Kelly's: 1855 Carrier to Colchester George Runnicles to the Plough every morning (Wednesday excepted) returns in the evening

White's: 1863 John Runnicles carrier to Colchester

Kelly's: 1874 Carrier to Colchester Joseph Sheldrick to The Plough every MONDAY, THURSDAY and SATURDAY returning in the evening

Kelly's: 1882 Carrier to Colchester George Christmas to The Plough.

Kelly's: 1894 Carrier to Colchester William Christmas and George Reeves to The Plough

Kelly's: 1898 and 1899 William Christmas and George Reeves

Kelly's: 1902 and 1903 Carriers to Colchester William Christmas and G Nicholas to The Plough MON,WED, FRI and SAT.

Kelly's: 1906,1908, 1910, and 1912 Carriers to Colchester William Frederick Christmas and Edgar Nicholas

Kelly's: 1914 Carriers to Colchester William Fred Christmas and Edgar Nicholas to The Plough MON, WED, FRI and SAT

Kelly's: 1917 William Frederick Christmas

Some of Peldon's Carriers

James Greenleaf was born in Colchester circa 1805 and appears in the 1841 and 1851 censuses for East Mersea listed as a carrier. As well as being listed as Peldon's carrier in 1839 he is listed as the East Mersea carrier right up to the White's directory of 1863. He and his wife are living in East Mersea in 1861. As a widower in the census of 1871 he is still listed as a carrier at the age of 73. He dies in 1874.

The Runnicles John Runnicles was born in Layer de La Haye around 1801 and is described as an agricultural labourer in 1841 and again in 1851, resident in Mersea Road, Peldon. In 1861 at the age of 60 he is described in the census as a carrier. His son George was born circa 1830 and is working as an agricultural labourer in Peldon in the 1851 census aged 21. By 1855 George is listed as a carrier in Kelly's and his father seems to take over the business according to White's directory in 1863.

Joseph Sheldrick was born circa 1839 and in 1859 married Hannah Ponder of Little Wigborough where they are living in the 1861 and 1871 censuses. In the earlier census he is described as an agricultural labourer but in 1871 as a carrier. He died in 1878 at only 39.

The Christmases George Frederick Christmas was born in 1864 and would have been 18 when he started work as a carrier in 1882. He married Eliza Gladwell in Peldon in 1890 and his profession on their marriage certificate was given as a butcher but he was also a thatcher, a carrier, a furniture dealer, a cycle agent and 'a bit of a wheeler and dealer' according to his grandson. He used to play the fiddle in the local pubs and was nicknamed 'Chrissy the Fiddler'.

William Christmas was George's father, born in West Mersea in 1834. He married Susannah Green in 1859; on their marriage certificate his profession is given as 'a carrier'. They had four children while living in West Mersea and between 1867 and 1872 moved to Rose Cottages, Mersea Road, Peldon and had another four children.

In the 1881 census William is described as a Miller's Carter, living in a cottage near Peldon Mill and working for Mr Went the Miller.

By the 1891 census he is living at Drakes Corner, Great Wigborough and listed as a Carrier and Farmer. It is likely his move there followed the death of Mr Went in 1884, the considerable damage reported in the 1884 earthquake to the Mill and associated cottage and house and the subsequent death of Mr Went's widow, Amelia, in 1886. No longer working as a miller's carter, it appears he continued working as a carrier, advertising his services in the trade directories.

Between 1898 and 1903 William was listed in Trade Directories as Carrier for Great Wigborough as well as Peldon.

In 1906, the name William Frederick Christmas appears in the trade directories running services from Peldon. No William Frederick Christmas is traceable locally at that time in the census. Was this in fact George Frederick Christmas returning to his old business following his father's death in 1900?

The Nicholases As a special constable Edgar Nicholas famously escorted the captured German crew of the Zeppelin L33 which came down in Little Wigborough in 1916. Born in Tendring around 1875 his father was a police constable. He lived for many years with his wife and children in Malting Farm, Peldon, and in the 1911 census is described as a carrier. In the register of 1939, still at Malting Farm, he is described as a farmer.

Early Bus Services

Changes in the way people moved about were to change dramatically in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. With the advent of the railway, (Colchester Station opened in 1843), the tram system (it ran between 1904 - 1929 in Colchester) and the motor vehicle, horse power was to decline.

By the time Kelly's Directory of 1906 comes out an omnibus service between Mersea and Colchester has established (this in fact started the year before).

Great Eastern Railway Omnibus between Railway Station, Colchester and West Mersea. 3 times daily weekdays with passengers, light goods and parcels

By 1908 Kelly's advertises

Berry's Motor Omnibuses between Colchester and West Mersea. Mon, Wed, Fri and Sat three times each day

Arthur Berry of Port Lane, Colchester, was among the first bus operators in East Essex. He started his bus service from Colchester to Mersea on 24th December 1904.

His first bus was a ten-seater Daimler and his takings on his first trip from Colchester to Mersea were 1/6d'. East Anglian Daily Times 18/2/1937

Initially, Mr Berry drove while his sixteen-year old son, Stanley, collected the fares. Stanley started driving the bus once he reached his seventeenth birthday. In 1905 the Great Eastern Railway Omnibus sold their service to Mr Berry, who from then operated certain journeys to Colchester North Station. By 1922 Berry's added Brightlingsea to their route and continued until they were taken over by Eastern National Omnibus Co in 1937.

For a while carrier services and the earliest bus services existed side by side. Many of those very early buses were little more than motorised carriers' carts and their drivers had to be up to the job of maintenance and repairs and take on all the duties of the old carriers, running errands, taking parcels as well as passengers.

In the Kelly's Directory of 1922, no carriers are mentioned for either Peldon or Great Wigborough although Mersea (both East and West) still had their carrier services. This was in addition to bus services from Berry's and the Mersea, Colchester and District Transport and Bus Co Ltd (known as Primrose buses because of their yellow paintwork). Primrose buses started their Mersea service in 1918. Both companies ran between Colchester and West Mersea 3 times daily. Primrose also ran a service from Colchester to East Mersea village via Peldon village and West Mersea Fountain Hotel.

Also based in Mersea was Griffon Coaches (1924-1928) first taken over by Bluebird Coaches, then the Thorp Brothers, running a service between Colchester and West Mersea via Peldon village, and via Blue Row.

Such huge competition led the independent bus operators to 'chase' each other to be the first at a bus stop and to pick up the waiting passengers! On more than one occasion buses were even forced off the road.

Berry's bus at Peldon Rose 1905

Berry's bus at Peldon Rose in 1905. The vehicle is a 7hp Daimler covered waggonette D439

Primrose bus at Hyde Park Corner, Peldon

Primrose Bus rounding Hyde Park Corner at the top of St Ives Hill, Peldon c1920. Photo from Brian Jay

That these buses served Peldon is clear from the two photographs above. Hyde Park Corner was the old name for the junction at the top of St Ives Hill with Church Road and Malting Road.

According to The Years Between - a history of the Eastern National Bus Company it appears that Percy William Christmas, the landlord of The Kings Head, had taken over the village carrier's cart from Mr Marlborough back in the 1890s although this is not recorded in the Trade Directories.  He replaced the cart with a small motor bus in the early 1920s serving Abberton, Peldon and Wigborough. His son, also Percy, drove the bus. Percy (junior) was the grandson of William and nephew of George Frederick Christmas thus being a third generation in the business that had started out with a carrier's cart.

In Kelly's of 1929, Great Wigborough's entry reads
The omnibuses of Percy William Christmas leave here for Colchester daily except Thurs and Sun calling at Abberton, Peldon and Pete Tye

By 1937, Percy William Christmas had sold the bus and the route to Thorp Brothers of West Mersea who ran Reliance Coaches.

Thorp's bus fleet at the Griffon Garage West Mersea

Thorp's bus fleet at the Griffon Garage, West Mersea, where they were based - 1933. Photo from Brian Jay

Great Wigborough's entry for 1937 reads

The omnibuses of Thorp Bros leave here for Colchester daily, except Thurs and Sun calling at Abberton, Peldon and Pete Tye

The Thorp Brothers' driver, Reg Thorogood, on his first drive along Percy Christmas's old route was baffled by the fact he picked up no passengers at all only to discover later he hadn't been given the vital information as to how prospective passengers 'flagged down' the bus

These including hanging union jacks out of the front bedroom windows and sticking a tea packet on a stick in the hedge. Rev David Thornton Just The Ticket

The buses leaving Mersea often carried boxes of shrimps, oysters, winkles, live eels (the buses had to be washed out with disinfectant after). Eggs, ducks, chickens (live and dead) and strawberries were also transported. In Colchester, large blocks of ice were loaded on the running boards of the buses, collected from a factory in a side street off St John's Street for delivery on the return journey to village butchers and fishmongers and for ice-cream-making.

When Percy Christmas had a live shoot in Great Wigborough he ordered an 18 gallon barrel of beer, collected by bus from the Ind Coope brewery in Colchester and delivered to his pub, The Kings Head.

With the implementation of the Road Traffic Act of 1930 greater control was brought to bear on the bus industry. Regulations covered staff, timetables, and routes and it brought transporting both livestock and passengers on the same bus to an end.

On Mersea Island, Philip Underwood had taken over the carrier business run by his father Robert, and his father before him, at East Mersea. He started a bus service which was in operation at the time of the passing of the Road Traffic Act and although he already had a Hackney Licence dating back to the nineteenth century he was obliged to apply to the Traffic Commissioner for an operating licence.

Apart from these small independent operators there were also two important major companies, The Great Eastern Railway and 'The National'. The National started its life as the 'National Steam Car Co Ltd' and operated for some years in Essex but with the development of the petrol engine the final steam bus to run was in 1919 in London. In 1920 the company formally changed its name to the 'National Omnibus and Transport Co. Ltd' and the same year services started to be operated in Colchester. Initially, the buses were kept in the yard of the Plough Inn, Magdalen Street, where, up to the First World War, carriers' horses used to be stabled. The first of these buses were open-topped double-deckers with solid tyres. This large company was eventually divided into regional companies. Locally, Eastern National was to begin operations in 1930, and towards the end of the decade took over many of the independent operators.

Within a period of two years 1935 - 1937, first Underwoods, then Primrose, Berry's and the Thorp Brothers' businesses were taken over by Eastern National. The Thorp Brothers were the final independent bus company to operate from Mersea being taken over in September 1937.

Elaine Barker
Peldon History Project

Sources:The Inns, Taverns and Pubs of Colchester Jess A Jephcott
Round About Colchester Patrick Denney
Just The Ticket Rev David Thornton
Kelly's, Pigot's and White's Directories Colchester Central Library, Local Studies.
A History of A COUNTRY BUS ROUTE John Hibbs

Author: Elaine Barker
July 2018

Related Images

 Primrose Bus rounding Hyde Park Corner at the top of St Ives Hill, Peldon. Postcard was mailed from Peldon on 29th August 1922.  JAY_BUS_051JAY_BUS_051
Primrose Bus rounding Hyde Park Corner at the top of St Ives Hill, Peldon. Postcard was mailed from Peldon on 29th August 1922.
Before August 1922
 Primrose Buses. West Mersea and Colchester. 1 January 1925 until further notice. The Mersea, Colchester and District Transport and Bus Co., Ltd.
Primrose Buses were so called because they were painted yellow. The buses were run from 1918 and based at the Primrose Garage in the High Street, which also housed charabancs for day trips. The company was taken over by Eastern National in 1935.
 Accession No. 2016-07-005C  WOO_PRM_001WOO_PRM_001
Primrose Buses. West Mersea and Colchester. 1 January 1925 until further notice. The Mersea, Colchester and District Transport and Bus Co., Ltd. Primrose Buses were so called because they were painted yellow. The buses were run from 1918 and based at the Primrose Garage in the High Street, which also housed charabancs for day trips. The company was taken over by Eastern National in 1935.
Accession No. 2016-07-005C
1 January 1925
ID: PH01_TRS


This item is part of the Mersea Island Museum Collection. The information is accurate as far as is known, but the Museum does not accept responsibility for errors.