One of the two private operators based in South Petherton

Wandering lanes and lovely names .......

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

H&C letterhead

Despite its modest size, the small Somerset town of South Petherton was for many years home to two private bus operators of some significance in the county's transport framework - the other being Safeway Services.  And there was also a Western National outstation here too, so clearly this must have been good bus operating territory!  As the name of the company suggests, the business was formed through the merger of two earlier operations, Cornelius Services of Barrington and Hutchings Omnibus Services of South Petherton.  These had been started by Alfred (Alf) Cornelius and Thomas (Tommy) Hutchings respectively and were both in operation by 1928, with both firms then using Chevrolet and Thornycroft buses.  The growing activities of Southern National in the area prompted the merger in May 1934, when the limited company was formed.  The new company started life with nine vehicles, four from each partner and one new (eight Thornycrofts and a Dennis).  At this time the fleet livery adopted was black and cream (similar to that of Cornelius) but this changed during the war years to blue with grey lining, and then in the 1950s to red and cream.   Finally this became cream and maroon in the late 1960s.

Despite the merger, in many ways there were in practice two businesses still because Barrington depot operated the routes to Taunton and South Petherton ran the routes to Yeovil. With war clouds gathering a new military establishment at Houndstone Camp just west of Yeovil provided extra passengers, and there were still the workers services to the Westlands Aircraft factory at Yeovil to be run.  After the war the business continued to develop but substantive change came in 1954 when a long established Yeovil based motor garage and car dealer called Vincents took control of the company as Alf Cornelius retired (Tommy Hutchings had retired a few years before).  In fact Stanley Vincent had been one of the directors of H&C for some years - since the limited company was formed - and as their shareholding increased this was a logical progression.  Double deckers were now needed to meet passenger demand on the Yeovil route, and this included not only Dennis and Daimler and Leyland Atlanteans but in 1973 a first for an independent operator - a Bristol VR with ECW body (RYA700L).  During the 1970s the introduction of one-man operation was completed on both deckers and saloons (which were predominantly AEC Reliances at this time). At one time the company ran a couple of very rare Jensen buses.

The three main daily routes operated over the years, as exemplified in a mid-1960s timetable booklet, were (a) from South Petherton to Yeovil,  (b) Crewkerne and West Chinnock to Yeovil and (c) from South Petherton via Langport to Taunton.  The two routes to Yeovil had a substantial common section from Norton through Stoke and Montacute to Yeovil, and many journeys proceeded beyond the bus station in the town centre to Pen Mill rail station.  There were also other routes (d) from Yeovil via Kingsbury Episcopi to Barrington and Ilminster and (e) South Petherton to Ilminster, both running on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at that time, and lastly (f) Barrington to Taunton via Curry Mallett, twice a day. The company also had an extensive coaching business with many school contracts and works services to the Westland Helicopters factory in Yeovil.

The routes were reviewed in 1970 to reflect a fall off in travel with reductions in frequency on the Ilminster - Yeovil route and the Taunton via Curry Mallett route (which became respectively Friday only and Saturday only, with the latter curtailed to start at Westport).   The ex-Cornelius garage at Barrington was closed and all operations concentrated on the South Petherton base.  Modest expansion came in 1977 when the Taunton route was extended back to start from Martock and again in May 1978 when Western National withdrew their parallel competing Yeovil - South Petherton route (service number 466).  The Odcombe villages were now incorporated into the H&C route to Yeovil, having been served previously only by Western National.  At the same time National route 467 from Yeovil to Crewkerne was withdrawn - this had paralleled the Safeway route, necessitating new timetables for both South Petherton operators.

Fred Alford managed the business for some years, and was succeeded by Stan Baker, who was the well known general manager for many years and was to oversee both its successes and its downfall, when the business ceased to trade somewhat unexpectedly on the last day of May 1979.  Driving staff had requested a substantial pay award which the operating company felt unable to agree to at a time of rising prices and falling income.  (Stanley Vincent had died in 1975 and the business was now run by his sons who were perhaps more interested in their main business, the motor trade - especially at a time of rising costs and decreasing revenue for buses). At the time services were being operated on a commercial basis, and one solution might have been to approach the county council for operating subsidy, but parent company Vincents chose not to pursue this option, and the business closed after 51 years - some might say a little ingloriously in the year after the celebration of the half century.  At this time there were sixteen vehicles in the fleet, fourteen single deck and two double deck, and the firm employed nineteen people.  Four buses were needed each weekday for the services into Yeovil at this time.  On the final night of operations in 1979, former H&C assistant manager David Grimmett recalls driving the last H&C bus into the depot, as he was at the wheel of 423, bringing up the rear of the small convoy of vehicles returning to South Petherton for the last time.

Some of the routes passed to Safeway, the other local operator, in particular the two main daily services to Yeovil, from South Petherton and Crewkerne/West Chinnock respectively; and also the Friday only service from Ilminster to Yeovil. Five drivers and four vehicles passed from H&C to Safeway to increase their operational capability following this expansion of their business.  Western National took over operation of the weekday service from Martock and South Petherton via Langport to Taunton as their service 263 whilst Brutonian inherited the Saturday only service from Westport to Taunton, extending it back to start from South Petherton as their service 15, and introduced a Wednesday service as well.

Safeway Services continued to run what had been the main H&C route from South Petherton to Yeovil from 1979 until 2007.  It was withdrawn after operation on Saturday 26th May as a result of competition over the route since December 2006 by newcomers Nippy Bus of Yeovil.  In early 2007 South West Coaches introduced service 81 hourly between Yeovil and South Petherton, initially running against the Nippy Bus N10 service.  This led to the withdrawal of the Nippy Bus service from 13th August 2007.  The road to South Petherton had been served by Safeway since 1979, and prior to that by Hutchings & Cornelius.  South West Coaches then acquired all the operations of Safeway of South Petherton during 2008 (having operated the bus service side since 2007).  


Richard Burton remembers:

Len Cornelius (Alf's son) who managed the Barrington depot was very strong on Excursions and would publish both "day" and  "half day" excursions every summer Sunday - to Weymouth, Lyme Regis Seaton, Sidmouth, Exmouth, Dartmoor, Exmoor, Minehead and Weston Super Mare. Sometimes he would run an unpublished excursion on a nice day in the off season and one occasion he cycled one way through the village and I cycled the other until we had sold enough tickets to make an excursion that afternoon worth while.

Len was very public spirited and ran a free mini bus in a Morris J2  to Langport twice a year for the "blood donors" - a trip that always finished in the pub. It was on one of these trips that Len discovered he was diabetic and his PSV driving days were over. 

He taught both my father and I to drive and we both took our test on the same day - and with the first family car our connections began to flag. There was still the odd trip - home from work in Taunton in the family car one day only to find we were all off on an excursion to Chipperfields Circus in Taunton - arranged by Len after a lunch time conversation outside the Royal Oak.

One evening during my motor cycling phase I had a front tyre puncture and Stewart Jacobs, driving the 6.00 pm ex Taunton via Langport stopped to offer to try and get the bike into the bus through the back door. We gave up on that and on the following Thursday half day I caught a bus back to my motor bike - caught the return trip to the garage to get the tyre repaired and a Western National back again to put the wheel back on.

 I can dimly remember - without enough detail to please the enthusiast - a set of three buses YYB 117, 8 and 9 (1957 or 8) - great big things designed as buses for one man operation but with coach seats to take advantage of a subsidy. These and a similar slightly later one 632 CYB were on Dennis Lancet chassis with Harrington bodies. The three early ones had fully enclosed drivers compartments but the later one was open above the money tray.


David Grimmett comments on Jon Stagg's recollections:


Have just noticed the reminiscences from Jon Stagg and for someone who just rode on the buses to school he has a good memory.  Anyway a couple of points of clarification. The chocolate colour of the later H&C buses was indeed maroon, I cannot remember the exact shade but I know it was a BMC stock colour that Vincents could get hold of or maybe mix up easily.


The Willowbrook Expressway mentioned was KYA 905K, whilst it is true that it did deputise for the 'decker on several occasions its regular duty was "Taunton Early" M-F or "lates" on Saturdays where the capacity was needed from Langport into Taunton. I can remember doing the 09.15 ex South Petherton and having a standing load of at least 20 people into Taunton, had we had mobile phones in those days I would have called the early bus out from Taunton to help with the load.


But of course it had coach seats and on two Saturdays in June 1974 I drove it on hire to Grey Green. Set off about 4.00am, empty South Petherton to Mile End in London then their express service to Torquay and Paignton, empty back home. 456 miles my note book tells me, although it seemed a lot further, the M5 finished at North Petherton then so far from plain sailing and of course it had a crash box so just as you thought you had enough of the day you had to negotiate Telegraph Hill on the Torquay side of Exeter!




Jon Stagg remembers:

Just found your page about H&C buses and thought I'd comment about the liveries. You state "At this time the fleet livery adopted was black and cream  (similar to that of Cornelius) but this changed during the war years to blue with grey lining, and then in the 1950s to red and cream. Finally this became cream and maroon in the late 1960s."

Not quite true - the coaches, even new builds were all red & pale cream all through the 60's and 70's. New build buses from the late sixties onwards received a livery which is closest to a slightly redder Great Western Chocolate & Cream, not maroon. This was applied to (from memory) four AEC/Willowbrook buses (G&H reg), one AEC/Plaxton bus (J reg), one Ford/Plaxton bus, two Bristol LH/ECW buses and the Bristol VRT/ECW double decker. As far as I can remember all except the oldest Willowbrook retained this livery to the end.  The oldest Willowbrook (I think), along with a C-registered AEC, two Dennis Lancets, an ex-Edinburgh Atlantean double decker, ex-London single decker (builder forgotten, but it was one of the ones passed to Safeways) were repainted into what was said to be the same colour but was actually far a redder colour somewhat closer to maroon, but really hard to describe. The "cream" used on these repaints was much paler - vanilla-white rather than the yellow/cream on the new-builds. To make things even more confused a number of the old reserve Dennis Lancets (three ot four) were never repainted. These were normally only ever used for schools services, and the duplicate Fridays-only runs  (Friday was Yeovil market day) and presumably not considered worth spending on. Additionally there was a J or K -reg AEC Willowbrook Expressway coach painted red/white but fitted out with a ticket machine and used as a backup for the VRT. So you could end up on a bus of any one of three liveries!
There used to be a picture of one of the AEC/Willowbrooks on the web. The colour was distinctly as I remember it - a reddish-dark chocolate rather than maroon. It had the later revised H&C transfers. The earlier ones were more "Gothic" with a serif typeface. It still is finished in the "brown" livery though, not the redder one used on the repainted old machines. The repaints were much much redder than this. One other point, the red used on the coaches was more crimson (as in the picture on your site) than the red used on the old buses, which was more of a cherry colour. All in all quite confusing!

I think its fair to say that H&C themselves called the colour "maroon" but it never really was. "Umber" may perhaps have been a better description. Whatever, one theory among us schoolkids at the time (suggested by one of the drivers who took us to school each day) was that Willowbrook got the colour of the first two wrong, and because there was nothing spare in the roster to send them back for repaint all the following new builds were painted the same to match! As to why the repaints were a different colour, that can only be guessed at. My personal guess is that they copied the Edinburgh colours of the second-hand decker when it arrived and standardised on that because the paint was available cheaply off-the self. However that's pure hypothesis!
I'm no bus expert - it's just that I caught these buses to go to school for seven years of my life and I got to know them quite well



South Petherton in the 1950s
view of South Petherton in the 1950s

1972 timetable
1972 H&C timetable poster as displayed at bus stops

cover of 1978 timetable

cover of 1978 timetable celebrating 50 years service in the area - the picture was taken at
the Royal Oak at Barrington, where Alfred Cornelius started operations in 1928



Map of Hutchings and Cornelius routes from the 1978 timetable

Albion Nimbus at Yeovil awaiting departure to Crewkerne on 22.04.67.  One of three 31-seaters with Harrington bodies new to H&C in 1962/63.  (Photo Simon Brown).
Dennis Loline 623BYA at Penn Mill on 22.04.67, waiting time for the 1550 departure to South Petherton. The body is East Lancs, 68 seater highbridge.   (Photo Simon Brown).

h&c at petherton
Dennis Lancet at South Petherton on 09.03.68.  Six such buses came into the H&C fleet in the mid-1950s; three had Harrington bodies and three Strachan bodies.      (Photo Simon Brown).
Here is 623BYA again, parked at South Petherton on 09.03.68.  It was new to H&C in June 1958 and was the flagship of the bus fleet until sold in July 1973.        (Photo Simon Brown).

Yeovil bus station 1979
Yeovil bus station 1968
Towards the end - Yeovil bus station in 1979, AEC Reliance with a good load of passengers boarding.      (Photo Simon Brown).
Yeovil bus station on 25.05.68 with three H&C vehicles laying over between runs.       (Photo Simon Brown).

How the local paper reported the closure of the H&C business in 1979

punch tickets

bellgraphic ticket

H&C Bell punch tickets
H&C tickets - Bellgraphic on left, season ticket on right

AEC Reliance VYA834G

ticket machine

One of the fleet, VYA 834G, in rural surroundings (AEC Reliance/Plaxton 41 seater, new in 1969)
Bellgraphic ticket machine as used by H&C drivers

restored Dennis YYB118

Picture on the left by Nick Webster of Norfolk who has preserved Dennis / Harrington YYB118,  which worked for both H&C and Brutonian. Now fully restored after 6 years work and winner of the Doyen single deck bus award at the 2015 Showbus rally at Woburn.

===== with many thanks to Roger Grimley, Richard Burton, Simon Brown and David Grimmett for much additional information =====

=====For more information see the book "Somerset's Buses" by Laurie James, published by Tempus in February 2004=====