National Bus Company (UK)

National Bus Company (UK)
National Bus Company
Founded 1969
Defunct 1988
Service area England and Wales

The National Bus Company (NBC) was, from 1969 to 1988, a nationalised bus company in England and Wales. NBC did not run buses itself, but was the owner of a number of regional subsidiary bus operating companies.



Western National 1129 (XDV609S), a Bristol VR in the leaf green version of the NBC corporate livery
A BET-style Leyland Leopard of Midland Red in the poppy red and white "dual purpose" version of the NBC corporate livery
SNB 312, a Leyland National operated by London Country
SNC166 (HPF 316N), a 1975 London Country Leyland National in leaf green and white "dual purpose" livery and Green Line branding


Following the Labour Party victory at the 1966 general election, Barbara Castle was appointed Minister for Transport. Castle immediately ordered a review of public transport, with a view to formulating a new transport policy.

Among the issues to be tackled were the ownership and operation of bus services, which were rapidly losing patronage and profitablity due to increased prevalence of private motor cars.[1] The state owned a considerable proportion of scheduled bus operators outside the major cities, having purchased the Tilling Group companies in 1949, subsequently placed under the ownership of the nationalised Transport Holding Company (THC).

Castle originally proposed forming regional transport authorities, which would take over the THC subsidiaries and municipal transport undertakings in their area, and would also have the power to acquire private bus operators.[1] However, in November 1967 British Electric Traction (BET) unexpectedly offered to sell its bus operations to the government.[2] BET, who had been the only major private bus operating group, received £35 million for its 25 provincial bus companies and 11,300 vehicles.[3] The deal meant that the state or municipal bus operators now operated some 90% of scheduled bus services in England and Wales.[1] Instead of forming the regional authorities, the government published a white paper proposing the merger of the two THC and BET organisations into a single National Bus Company.[4] [5]

The recommendations of the white paper formed part of the Transport Act 1968. The 1968 Act also nationalised bus operation in Scotland, where subsidiaries formed the Scottish Bus Group.


The National Bus Company was formed on 1 January 1969.

In 1970 the company was enlarged when it acquired the former country area buses of London Transport, the bus operations of the County Boroughs of Exeter and Luton and the Gosport & Fareham Omnibus Company.

Buses were operated by locally managed subsidiary companies with their own fleetnames and liveries. In the early years of the company there was some rationalisation, generally leading to the amalgamation of operators into larger units and the transfer of areas between them. One was the merging of Aldershot & District with Thames Valley in 1972. Another example was the transfer of the 'land-locked' Trowbridge operations from Western National to Bristol Omnibus in 1970.

Corporate identity

In 1972 NBC introduced corporate images. Henceforward its coaches were branded as National Travel and painted in unrelieved white, with the NBC logo and the 'NATIONAL' name in alternate red & blue letters, being rebranded as National Express soon afterwards. The addition of blue and white stripes appeared first in 1978. National Travel was the country's first attempt at a uniformly marketable express network, which superseded both Associated Motorways and the plethora of other services provided by individual NBC subsidiaries. The coaches were managed by a small number of areas and included travel agent booking offices based at major bus stations. A hub and spoke system operated with the main hub at Cheltenham (though this did not serve the North of England very well).

Around the same time the company launched a wide number of UK holiday services under the banner NATIONAL HOLIDAYS.

This brand and its travel agent booking offices existed until the mid 1990s when the coach holiday division closed.

More recently the National Express overseas travel business has been relaunched recently under the name EUROLINES; this brand now operates services from the UK across Europe, booked through the main National Express website.

NBC corporate livery: the Southern Vectis fleetname and "double-N" logo on leaf green livery

In the 1970s all local service buses adopted a uniform design, generally in either leaf green or poppy red, initially at any rate with white relief, and bearing the company fleetname in white with the new NBC "double-N" arrow logo. There were, however, exceptions: buses operating in the area of the Tyne and Wear Passenger Transport Executive became yellow in a similar fashion to the PTE's own fleet but to the NBC design; and Jones (Aberbeeg) (taken over in 1969) and Midland General, both initially liveried in blue, until 1980; plus the Northern General subsidiary, Sunderland District, where blue was retained for a short period.

Area of operation

Although NBC operated throughout England and Wales it was by no means in a monopoly position. As well as London Transport, which provided services in Greater London, and the fleets of the municipal bus companies and passenger transport executives, some rural areas and a few small towns were served by independent operators.

Bus manufacture

The NBC inherited from the THC 75% holdings in the bus manufacturers Bristol Commercial Vehicles and Eastern Coach Works. In 1969 NBC formed a joint venture with British Leyland (the 25% owner of Bristol and ECW), by means of which British Leyland became a 50% owner of the NBC's manufacturing companies. The joint venture designed and built a new single-deck bus, the Leyland National. The first bus was delivered in 1972, and it remained in production until 1986. The National was also available to other bus operators. In 1982 NBC sold its 50% interest in the joint venture (including Bristol and ECW) to BL.

Service reforms

In the late 1970s and early 1980s services were reviewed under a process known within instigator Midland Red as the Viable Network Project and subsequently more generally as the "Market Analysis Project" or MAP. Each company carefully considered its existing and potential new demands, surveyed both on and off bus, and recast local networks to reflect the results, indicating to local authorities those services requiring subsidy. As part of the MAP local area identities were invariably introduced, with new fleetnames applied to buses, bus stops, timetables and publicity. The process culminated in the splitting of several larger NBC subsidiaries.

Deregulation and privatisation

From October 1986 buses were deregulated and progressively privatised, and the remaining larger companies were forcibly broken up. The sales spawned a renewed interest in individual liveries, and the "double-N" logo disappeared, except on express services (becoming the property of National Express). Most local companies passed from state control to their managers. The independence of many, however, was short lived, as they were acquired by the emerging large private bus groups, represented today by:


Original companies

The original bus-operating subsidiaries of the National Bus Company in 1969 and 1970 were:

  • Aldershot & District
  • Bath Services - absorbed by Bristol Omnibus in December 1969. Buses continued to carry "Bath" fleetnames.
  • Black and White Luxury Coaches
  • Brighton, Hove & District - became a subsidiary of Southdown in January 1969
  • Bristol
  • Cheltenham District - a subsidiary of Bristol
  • County Motors - absorbed by Yorkshire Traction 1969
  • Crinage's - coach fleetname and livery used by Southern Vectis
  • Crosville
  • Cumberland
  • Devon General - absorbed Exeter Corporation buses 1 April 1970
  • East Kent
  • East Midland
  • Eastern National
  • East Yorkshire
  • Eastern Counties
  • Fountain Coaches - coach fleetname and livery used by Southern Vectis
  • Gateshead & District - a subsidiary of Northern General
  • Green Line - coach fleetname and livery used by London Country
  • Greenslades Tours Limited - coaches only
  • Grey Cars - coach fleetname and livery used by Devon General
  • Hants & Dorset
  • Hebble - coaches only
  • Jones - Independent operator acquired April 1969
  • Lincolnshire
  • London Country - formed 1 January 1970 from the country area services of London Transport
  • Maidstone & District
  • Mansfield District
  • Mexborough & Swinton - absorbed by Yorkshire Traction 1969
  • Midland General
  • Midland Red (Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company)
  • Neath and Cardiff Luxury Coaches
  • Northern General
  • North Western
  • Notts & Derby - fleetname used by Midland General, it had been a separate company until 1953.
  • Oxford (City of Oxford Motor Services)
  • Potteries Motor Traction
  • Provincial (Gosport and Fareham Omnibus Company) - acquired from the Swaine Group 1 January 1970
  • Red & White
  • Rhondda
  • Ribble
  • Royal Blue - coach fleetname and livery used by Western National
  • Samuelson - coaches only
  • Shamrock and Rambler - coach fleetname and livery used by Hants and Dorset
  • Sheffield United Tours
  • South Midland - coaches only
  • South Wales
  • Southdown
  • Southern National - absorbed by Western National in November 1969
  • Southern Vectis
  • Standerwick - coach operating subsidiary of Ribble
  • Stratford Blue (Stratford-upon-Avon Blue Motors) - a subsidiary of Midland Red
  • Sunderland District - a subsidiary of Northern General
  • Thames Valley Traction
  • Thomas Bros
  • Tilling's Transport (NBC) Limited - coaches only
  • Timpson (A. Timpson and Sons) - coaches only
  • Trent Motor Traction
  • Tynemouth and District Transport - a subsidiary of Northern General
  • Tyneside Omnibus Company - a subsidiary of Northern General
  • United Automobile Services
  • United Counties - acquired Luton Corporation buses January 1970
  • United Welsh
  • Venture Transport - acquired April 1970
  • Wakefield's - absorbed by Northern General 1969
  • West Riding
  • West Yorkshire †
  • Western National
  • Western Welsh
  • Wilts & Dorset
  • Yorkshire Traction
  • Yorkshire Woollen

‡ Bristol Omnibus Company also operated city services in Bristol for Bristol Joint Services, a joint undertaking of the company and Bristol City Council. They also leased services from the county borough of Gloucester, buses in the city bearing a Gloucester fleetname and city coat of arms.

Keighley-West Yorkshire Services Limited, jointly owned by West Yorkshire and the borough of Keighley, operated by this company. They also provided municipal bus services for the county borough of York on behalf of the York-West Yorkshire Joint Committee.


NBC pursued a policy of merging subsidiaries to form larger regional companies. At the same time some of its operations and depots passed to passenger transport executives. On 1 January 1972, North Western was split up: part going to the SELNEC PTE, the remainder to Crosville and Trent. In 1973 the operations of Midland Red within the area of West Midlands PTE passed to the executive.

NBC bus-operating subsidiaries in 1981
  1. United Automobile Services
  2. Northern General
  3. Cumberland
  4. Ribble
  5. West Yorkshire
  6. East Yorkshire
  7. West Riding / Yorkshire Woollen
  8. Yorkshire Traction
  9. East Midland / Mansfield
  10. Lincolnshire
  11. Potteries Motor Traction
  12. Trent Motor Traction
  13. Midland Red
  14. Crosville
  15. United Counties
  1. Eastern Counties
  2. South Wales / De Cymru
  3. National Welsh / Cymru Cenedlaethol
  4. Bristol
  5. Oxford South Midland
  6. Eastern National
  7. Alder Valley
  8. London Country / Green Line
  9. Western National / Devon General
  10. Hants & Dorset
  11. Southern Vectis
  12. Provincial
  13. Southdown
  14. Maidstone & District
  15. East Kent

NBC 1981.png

By 1978 the following bus-operating companies existed:

  • Alder Valley - formed 1 January 1972 from Aldershot & District and Thames Valley
  • Bristol - absorbed Cheltenham District Traction in 1975, separate "Cheltenham" fleetname retained
  • Crosville
  • Cumberland
  • Devon General became subsidiary of Western National in 1971
  • East Kent
  • East Midland - absorbed Mansfield District in 1975, separate "Mansfield" fleetname retained
  • East Yorkshire
  • Eastern Counties
  • Eastern National
  • Hants & Dorset - absorbed Wilts & Dorset 1972
  • Jones (finally absorbed by National Welsh 1980)
  • Lincolnshire
  • London Country
  • Maidstone & District
  • Midland Red (Birmingham and Midland Motor Omnibus Company) - absorbed Stratford Blue 1971
  • National Travel London - formed 1974 from Samuelson, Timpson's and Tillings (as National Travel South East), renamed 1978
  • National Travel East - formed 1973 (as National Travel North East) from Hebble, Sheffield United Tours. Renamed 1977
  • National Travel South West - formed 1973 from Black & White, Greenslades, Grey Cars
  • National Travel West formed 1977 from National Travel North West (formed 1974 from Standerwick) and National Travel Midlands (formed 1973 from part of former South Midland)
  • National Welsh - formed 1978 from Western Welsh (which had absorbed Rhondda in 1971 and Red and White
  • Northern General - absorbed Sunderland District, Tynemouth & District, Venture 1975; absorbed Tyneside, Gateshead & District 1976
  • Oxford (City of Oxford Motor Services) - absorbed South Midland January 1971
  • Potteries Motor Traction
  • Provincial (Gosport and Fareham Omnibus Company)
  • Ribble
  • South Wales - absorbed Neath & Cardiff, Thomas Bros, United Welsh 1971
  • Southdown - absorbed Brighton, Hove & District, March 1974
  • Southern Vectis
  • Trent Motor Traction, absorbed Midland General 1971
  • United Automobile Services
  • United Counties
  • West Riding
  • West Yorkshire
  • Western National
  • Yorkshire Traction
  • Yorkshire Woollen - under West Riding management

Break-up and privatisation

In 1981 Midland Red, which had lost its core area, was broken into smaller operating companies. Most of the National Travel companies were closed down in the mid 1980s, with coaches mainly going to local bus companies. Wessex National was formed from part of National Travel South West, and Pilgrim Coaches from part of National Travel West.

In preparation for the introduction of bus deregulation in 1986, and for privatisation soon after, many of the companies were broken up into smaller units. In some cases the names of earlier companies - such as Wilts & Dorset or North Western - were revived, although often with quite different areas to their namesakes.

NBC bus-operating subsidiaries at privatisation
  1. Northumbria
  2. Northern General
  3. United
  4. Cumberland
  5. Ribble
  6. West Yorkshire
  7. East Yorkshire
  8. West Riding / Yorkshire Woollen
  9. Yorkshire Traction
  10. North Western
  11. Crosville
  12. East Midland / Mansfield
  13. Lincolnshire
  14. Potteries Motor Traction
  15. Trent Motor Traction
  16. Crosville Wales
  17. Midland Red North
  18. Midland Red West
  19. Midland Fox
  20. Midland Red South
  21. United Counties
  22. Cambus
  23. Milton Keynes City Bus
  24. Eastern Counties
  25. Luton & District
  26. Eastern National/Thamesway
  1. South Wales / De Cymru
  2. National Welsh / Cymru Cenedlaethol
  3. Cheltenham & Gloucester
  4. Oxford
  5. South Midland
  6. Badgerline
  7. Bristol
  8. Western National
  9. North Devon (Red Bus)
  10. Devon General
  11. Southern National
  12. Wilts & Dorset
  13. Hampshire Bus
  14. Southern Vectis
  15. Provincial
  16. The Beeline
  17. Alder Valley South
  18. Southdown
  19. Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company
  20. London Country North West
  21. London Country North East
  22. London Country South West
  23. Kentish Bus
  24. Hastings & District
  25. Maidstone & District
  26. East Kent

NBC 1986.png

Original company Year of split Companies formed Privatisation
Alder Valley 1986 Alder Valley North - renamed The Beeline 1987
Alder Valley 1986 Alder Valley South 1987
Bristol 1983 Bristol (Cityline) 1987
Bristol 1983 Badgerline 1986
Bristol 1983 Cheltenham & Gloucester 1986
Crosville 1986 Crosville 1988
Crosville 1986 Crosville Wales 1987
Cumberland Gained Ribble's North Cumbrian operations in 1986 Cumberland 1987
East Kent n/a East Kent 1987
East Midland n/a East Midland 1988
East Yorkshire n/a East Yorkshire 1987
Eastern Counties 1984 Ambassador Coaches 1987
Eastern Counties 1984 Cambus 1986
Eastern Counties 1984 Eastern Counties 1986
Eastern National 1986 Eastern National/Thamesway 1986
Hants & Dorset 1983 Hampshire Bus 1987
Hants & Dorset 1983 Shamrock and Rambler 1987
Hants & Dorset 1983 Wilts & Dorset 1987
Lincolnshire n/a Lincolnshire 1988
London Country 1987 London Country North East 1988
London Country 1987 London Country North West 1988
London Country 1987 London Country South East - renamed Kentish Bus 1988
London Country 1987 London Country South West 1988
Maidstone & District 1986 Hastings & District 1987
Maidstone & District 1986 Maidstone & District 1987
Midland Red 1981 Midland Red East renamed Midland Fox 1987
Midland Red 1981 Midland Red Express - renamed Midland Red Coaches 1986
Midland Red 1981 Midland Red North 1988
Midland Red 1981 Midland Red South 1987
Midland Red 1981 Midland Red West 1986
National Travel East n/a National Travel East 1987
National Welsh n/a National Welsh 1987
Northern General n/a Northern General 1987
Oxford 1986 Oxford Bus Company 1987
Oxford 1986 South Midland 1986
Pilgrim Coaches n/a Pilgrim Coaches Limited 1987
Potteries n/a PMT Limited 1986
Provincial Gained part of Hants & Dorset 1983 Provincial Bus Company 1987
Ribble 1986 Transfer of North Cumbrian operations Cumberland 1988
Ribble 1986 North Western 1988
Ribble 1986 Ribble 1988
South Wales n/a SWT 1987
Southdown 1986 Brighton & Hove Bus and Coach Company 1987
Southdown 1986 Southdown 1987
Southern Vectis n/a Southern Vectis 1986
Trent n/a Trent Motor Traction 1986
United 1986 Northumbria 1987
United 1986 United 1987
United Counties 1986 Luton & District 1987
United Counties 1986 Milton Keynes City Bus 1987
United Counties 1986 United Counties 1987
Wessex National n/a Wessex National Limited 1987
West Riding / Yorkshire Woollen n/a West Riding 1987
West Yorkshire n/a West Yorkshire 1987
Western National / Devon General 1983 Devon General 1986
Western National / Devon General 1983 North Devon (Red Bus) 1988
Western National / Devon General 1983 Southern National 1988
Western National / Devon General 1983 Western National 1987
Yorkshire Traction n/a Yorkshire Traction 1987

Two additional non-bus-operating subsidiaries were also disposed of in 1988:

The Scarborough operations of United passed to East Yorkshire Motor Services in September 1986.


  1. ^ a b c "'State buses plan goes' : report". The Times: p. 1. 4 December 1967. 
  2. ^ "BET could benefit from bus sale". The Times: p. 12. 18 November 1967. 
  3. ^ "BET to accept £35m". The Times: p. 19. 23 November 1967. 
  4. ^ Michael Baily (6 December 1967). "£20m subsidy plan for city transport". The Times: p. 3. 
  5. ^ Public Transport and Traffic (Cmnd 3481), 5 December 1967


  • Stewart J Brown, NBC: antecedents and formation, Shepperton, 1983
  • D R Kennedy and A Kennedy, National Bus Company 1981, Oxford, 1982
  • Ray Stenning, A National Bus Company Album, Wiveliscombe, 1979
  • Ray Stenning, The Years before National 1948 - 1968, Swindon, 1982

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