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Changing Times | The Southdown Motor Services Ltd – Part one

THE SOUTHDOWN Motor Services Ltd was well-known for its distinctive green and cream colour scheme for their popular buses and coaches that carried passengers along the South Coast and was iconic among its residents.


The company aimed to provide passengers with a more luxurious service than had previously been available, with better signage, roomier seating and improved reliability.


A series of takeovers meant the service ended up with a geographical remit that spread from Portsmouth to Hastings and all the way up to London. In the first of this two-part article, we will be looking at the founding of the company.


It was formed in 1915 as a result of a merger between a number of smaller, local companies consisting of the Brighton Hove and Preston United Omnibus Co (formed 1884), Worthing Motor Services Ltd of 1909 (itself successor of the Sussex Motor Road Car Co Ltd of 1904), and the London and South Coast Haulage Co Ltd (of 1912).


At the outbreak of the First World War there was an influx of passengers on the move and this put a strain on the services that individual companies offered due to the restrictions that had been imposed on them by the government.


In 1904, military authorities had proposed the need for a 900-strong fleet of lorries to transport the army. Rather than paying the high cost of maintaining such a large fleet they instead offered a reduced rate to transport companies to build lorries and passenger-chassis to certain specifications, for example, with high ground clearance and heavy duty towing hooks. In 1914, the Army Service Corps began to take buses from motor companies.


They entered the war with 950 lorries and ended the war with 33,500. In an effort to save the Brighton Hove and Preston United Omnibus Co, Worthing Motor Services Ltd and the London and South Coast Haulage Co Ltd, it was decided to amalgamate them.


There were a number of key players in this merger, most notably Alfred Douglas Mackenzie (1870-1944) and Alfred Cannon (1883-1952). Mackenzie had started life as a transport enthusiast and train spotter which seems to have developed into an appreciation for the management of motor companies, giving him the impetus to start an efficient and economic bus company.


He was an apprentice to a firm of marine engineers in Sunderland, and in 1901 joined Allen’s of Cowley in Oxford, where he managed a fleet of 80 steam-powered vehicles including lorries, threshing and ploughing engines, and steam rollers. In 1905, Mackenzie became a consultant engineer and started managing buses in 1907 when he was employed by the Isle of White Express Motor Syndicate Ltd.


In April of that year, he became general manager of the Sussex Motor Road Car Co Ltd, which became Worthing Motor Services Ltd, one of the three founding companies of Southdown Motor Services, at the creation of which in 1915 he became traffic manager.


Alfred Cannon had worked with Mackenzie when he was a consultant engineer having apprenticed with Great Western Railway works in Wolverhampton. Mackenzie brought him on board to become general manager of the newly-founded Southdown Motor Services. Among other notable characters in the merger was Walter Flexman French (1856-1925) who had been chairman of Maidstone and District Motor Services Ltd, and became chairman of directors of Southdown Motor Services.


French was involved with the British Electric Traction Co Ltd, which ran tramways in Britain, and as a result William Wreathall and Sidney Garcke joined to represent British Electric Traction Co Ltd.


The final members of the board were Alderman John J. Clark and Sir John Bradford, of the Brighton Hove and Preston United Omnibus Co.


Mackenize and Cannon managed to raise £51,250 initial capital and the company inherited a number of buildings and garages from their former institutions, including property in Worthing, Brighton, Storrington, Newhaven and Seaford.


Researched using information from ‘Southdown Volume 1 – The History’ by Colin Morris.


Next week we will be looking at how the company developed over the next 77 years.


By Portia Tremlett, museum assistant at the Novium Museum

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