Leeds Engine:Histories: Bus Makers

A Brief History of Bus Making in Leeds

All | Blackburn Aeroplane and Motor Co | Charles H Roe | Clough, Smith & Company Limited | Greenwood & Batley | Mann's Patent Steam Cart & Wagon Co | Optare | Railless Electric Traction Company | Switch Mobility | Wilks and Meade | Yorkshire Patent Steam Wagon Co | Rebuilt In Leeds

Having made its mark in the construction of railway engines and road traction engines, it was perhaps logical that Leeds should progress to the construction of buses. The bus manufacturing industry has always been more spread out geographically than that relating to railways, the result being that only a handful of firms would exist in any one area, but it is perhaps telling that of the handful of British bus manufacturers that remain, one is still based in the Leeds area.
A few of the manufacturers that appear elsewhere on this site dabbled in bus production and other firms around the city produced buses on a small scale. Leeds was at the forefront of the development of the trolleybus with Railless Electric Traction Co operating at premises in the Balm Road area of Hunslet, close to many of the city's renown engine makers. R.E.T employee Charles Henry Roe went on to form his own firm on Balm Road but his business quickly outgrew the site.
The most successful, well known and long lived of the Leeds bus manufacturers was undoubtedly Charles H Roe Limited. The Roe works in Crossgates bodied Leyland buses until its demise in 1984 as a result of problems within British Leyland. Revived as Optare the following year the company went on to produce buses at the works until a move to nearby Sherburn In Elmet in 2011. After a number of changes of ownership the firm became part of Indian company and Leyland's former partners on the subcontinent; Ashok-Leyland. The company continues to innovate bus designs and develop electrical propulsion as those early firms had done a century before.

Rebuilt in Leeds
In the 1950s and 60s it was not unknown for buses to be sent to body builders other than the one who had originally constructed them for refurbishment, and indeed this practice surfaced again for a period in the 80s and 90s. It was far less common however for a vehicle to go to another manufacturer for repair, but this happened in 1961 when Hull Corporation sent a number of vehicles to Roe.
The buses in question were AEC Regent chassis with bodywork by Weymann of Addlestone, Surrey. They were new in 1949 and 1950, and around ten years later began to show defects around the rear end structure. The problems were serious enough for the vehicles to be taken off the road, during which time their place was taken by ten secondhand buses from Newcastle. The latter were needed for trolleybus replacement, so the pressure was on to get the errant Regents back out. As such some were repaired in the corporation's own workshops whilst others were sent to Roe for remedial work. It is not known whether Weymann were approached or not, but if they were it appears they were unable or unwilling to accommodate the buses in the timescale required.
It seems that Roe did not consider the work extensive enough to allocate their own additional body numbers to the buses involved.
More normal was repair work on Roe buses that had suffered serious damage in service, indeed all manufacturers would have done such work (and still do) on their own products. Examples from Hull are three Leyland Atlanteans which were repaired after suffering fire damage in arson attacks when still quite new and a further Atlantean that suffered a low bridge accident when only five months old.
One vehicle worthy for mention here for an extensive rebuild that took place in Leeds is V3. This bus, registered A103 SUU, has a Volvo-Ailsa chassis with Alexander double deck bodywork, built respectively in Irvine and Falkirk, Scotland. It entered service with London Buses in 1985 and featured an unusual two door layout with the entrance door at the front and the exit at the rear. It also had twin staircases, again front and rear, the idea being to improve passenger flow around the bus, i.e. passengers alighting would not get in the way of those boarding.
The layout of the bus was not unique, as Walsall Corporation had tried the same idea back in 1968 with a Daimler double- decker. This bus had been fitted with an early version of CCTV to enable the driver to monitor the rear door when running without a conductor, but reliability was such that the vehicle always ran with a two man crew. CCTV had not developed too much further by 1985, so V3 had a system of mirrors for monitoring the rear door. The union was not happy with this as the driver's view of the door was severely compromised, and therefore the bus entered service with a conductor. In 1986 the bus had its rear door removed at Potters Bar garage, subsequently entering service as a conventional one man operated single door vehicle.
The story almost ended in August 1992 when V3 skidded off the road and became impaled on a tree. The bodywork was twisted out of shape and the chassis damaged; as a result the bus was written off. It passed via a Barnsley scrap yard to Black Prince of Morley, ostensibly for spare parts for its then large fleet of Ailsa's. On arrival, however, owner Brian Crowther decided to attempt to rebuild the bus. The work was done as a spare time project and the combination of the extensive repairs needed and the day to day pressures of running a bus company meant that it was September 2004 before V3 emerged from the workshop and re-entered service. In 2005 Black Prince sold out to First Group. Brian Crowther initially kept V3 as a preservation piece before selling it on for continued preservation. It is now with the London Bus Company.

Above - On 12th February 2005 Black Prince V3 passes the Corn Exchange in Leeds on its regular haunt, the long 54 from Ireland Wood to Morley (Asda) via the City Centre. The blank panels for the twin staircases can be seen, as can the sliding driver's cab door necessitated by the Ailsa chassis having a front engine, meaning that it was not possible to access the cab from inside the bus. The excellent condition of the bus demonstrates the skill of Brian Crowther and his team; you would never believe that it had once been a write off! (Photo Martin Latus)

Internal Website Links
List of buses and trolleybuses bodied by Leeds City Transport
List of Wilks & Meade bodied buses

External Website Links
Leeds Transport Historical Society
Dewsbury Bus Museum
Crich Tramway Village
Bus Lists on the Web
Wikipedia article on R.E.T. (in German)
North East Check
Archive images on Leodis.net Search Results for 'Roe'

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King, J. S; Bradford Corporation Trolleybuses. Venture publications 1994.
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Unknown; Industrial Locomotives 1982. Industrial Railway Society 1982.
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Trade Directories held in Leeds City Libraries reference library, with thanks to the staff.
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Berry, Michael; Leeds Trams and Buses. Amberley Publishing 2013.
Buckley, Richard; Trams & Trolleybuses in Doncaster. Wharncliffe Books 2003.
Kennedy, Mark; Streets of Belfast. Ian Allan 2003.
Miller, Patrick; Provincial- The Gosport & Fareham Story. The Transport Publishing Company 1981.
Otter, Patrick; Yorkshire Airfields in the Second World War. Countryside books 1998.
Twidale, Graham H. E.; Leeds in the Age of the Tram, 1950- 59. Silver Link Publishing 1991 and 2003.
Wells, Malcolm; Kingston Upon Hull Trolleybuses. Trolleybooks 1996.
Roger Davies and Stephen Barber; Glory Days - Wallace Arnold. Amberley Publishing 2019, ISBN 978-1-4456-9463-4
Malcolm Wells and Paul Morfitt, Hull Corporation Buses, Amberley Publishing 2017, ISBN 978-1-4456-6754-6.

This article was produced by Martin Latus