In July 1914, Arthur and his son Joseph Hornsby bought a 1910 ten seater Minerva bus from Mann Egertonns of Norwich. They planned to drive the bus home to Ashby before light faded that night. Neither had driven a four-wheeled vehicle and had to learn on the journey, they had hired a driver to help and when they reached Lincoln he thought their driving skills had developed enough for them to finish the journey alone.
A local joiner was given the task of building a new cover for the bus; he used ash trees from Brumby Woods. It was quite common in those days for new bodywork to be built by hand. The joiner used primrose yellow paint for the new bodywork, which was left over from a previous customers order.
There was a fashion in the area at that time for naming buses after flowers, so Arthur and Joseph chose Primrose for the name which stuck until the company changed it to their family name of Hornsby in the 1950s. The joiner was also a sign writer and he painted the name in script on one side of the bus and in block capitals on the other. It’s said the Hornsby’s didn’t notice the different fonts until about a year afterwards.
Arthur and Joseph had originally planned to buy a motorcar but then thought a bus would be a good way of making extra money. On Friday and Saturday nights they would rush back from work in time to take people from Ashby to Scunthorpe for nights out. The drivers dashed between Ashby and Scunthorpe as fast as they could in order to collect more passengers.
As the drivers headed back to Ashby they sometimes picked up passengers waiting on Bottesford Road before any rivals. The last bus back to Ashby was at 10:30pm as most of the entertainment venues closed at 10pm.
There were plenty of popular venues in the town to attract people and Scunthorpe Market stayed open until around 9pm on Friday and Saturdays. The Palace Theatre on Cole Street and the Empire Theatre on the High Street hosted variety shows and orchestral concerts, there were also several cinemas playing silent films accompanied by a pianist or a band. In 1913 the Geisha Roller Skating Rink was converted into the Pavilion Cinema, it was the largest of the towns cinemas with 1,300 seats. The town centre also had a number of dance venues where patrons could try out the latest dance moves.
Their first bus service in 1914 ran between Ashby and Scunthorpe, they soon proved to be the most popular. There were no official timetables and buses ran often too frequently. In the 1920s, buses arrived every five minutes and ran until 11pm – the fare was threepence.
Lost of different companies ran the Ashby to Scunthorpe route in the 1920s causing great disruption. Regulation of the bus operators was needed and in 1926 the Councils Highways Committee introduced the licensing of drivers, conductors, vehicles and services. Badges with an individual number were issued to all drivers and conductors, vehicles had to be licensed every March and their brakes tested on Doncaster Road hill.
In the early 1900s when motorbuses arrived in North Lincolnshire, Scunthorpe didn’t have official bus stops or a station. The number of bus companies rapidly grew in the 1920s and most of them parked near the High Street to pick up and drop off passengers, this caused congestion, noise and pollution problems. The council received complaints from local residents and shopkeepers that the buses were parking in inconvenient places, staying too long and ‘touting’ for business.
In 1929 local bus company, Enterprise and Silver Dawn, built a bus station with three platforms and a head office at the eastern end of the High Street. In 1930, the council opened a new public road on the east of the station for the use of independent bus companies. The council had previously opened a stand in 1928 for buses ending their routes in Ashby – at the bottom of Ashby High Street.
In 1968, a new bus station was built between John Street and Fenton Street. The new station had a café, toilets, workshops, bus washer and a cash office where conductors could empty their bags. This bus station was itself replaced early this century with the current bus station.
Hornsby’s first garage was a brick building on Oxford Street in Ashby. In 1915 Arthur bought Smith’s farm and land in front of his cycle chop, converting the farm buildings into garages. In the early 1920s Arthur bought a temporary wooden and corrugated iron structure from a company that had been building furnaces on the steelworks, he rebuilt it on the Hornsby site and it lasted until the 1950s when heavy snow caused the roof to collapsed crushing one of the buses inside.
Another steel structure was built and more land acquired, further expansion took place from 1966 when Raymond Hornsby took over the business.
In 1959 Hornsby’s took control of W.K. Harslet’s Scotter to Scunthorpe service and added Central Motors vehicles to their fleet.
In the early years as drivers left Ashby Turn there were green fields up to Brumby Corner where only a handful of cottages stood, then fields up to Oswald Road, Scunthorpe. By the 1940s the area had developed with new housing.
When their buses started running in 1914 steelworkers often lived near to the works so they could walk or cycle. As buses and road networks improved, commuting from further away was possible and services increased as the population grew.
Unlike many of their early rivals, Hornsby’s ran more than one vehicle, so several drivers were needed. Early Hornsby drivers included Arthur Hornsby, his sons Joseph and Frank, Mr. Skinner and Fred Stones. The nature of the business meant that drivers could hold more than one job. Arthur, Joseph and Frank all worked in the steel industry. Arthur also ran a taxi and a cycle shop in Ashby. In 1921 Joseph began working for the business full time; his engineering skills meant he could repair the Hornsby vehicles as well as those of other companies.
During the 1930s Hornsby’s shared the Ashby routes with several other bus companies such as Enterprise and Silver dawn and Lincolnshire Road Car Company. At the time Ashby’s main centre lay between Stockshill Road and Bottesford Road – the growth of the shops at the top end of Ashby High Street happened after 1945.
Hornsby’s ran an extended daily town service jointly with the Lincolnshire Road car Company and Central Motors, this linked Ashby with important areas like the hospital
Many of the early buses were one-man operations but as passenger numbers grew conductors were employed to collect fares and issue tickets. In this area conductors were often given the nickname ‘Duckies, Clippies or Clickies’. They had to calculate the fare price in their heads, issue lots of tickets, talk to passengers and manage unruly customers. Their buses became one-man operation in the early 1980s and the conductors disappeared from the buses.
Before drivers’ hours were strictly controlled they could work very long days, especially during pleasure trips. They had to grab snatches of sleep on the back seat of the bus while their passengers enjoyed their holidays.
In the 1950s coach tours of Europe became increasingly popular. For many a coach tour was the best means of enjoying a holiday abroad before air travel became more affordable. In the 1960s the easing of official regulations allowed Hornsby’s to develop the coach tour side of their business and they began offering tips to Europe.
The company was keen for the customer to enjoy all aspects of their trip whilst travelling abroad. The European coach tours included overnight stops so that travelling became a pleasant part of the holiday. Destinations included France, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Holland. However the emergence of package holidays and cheap flights saw the popularity of coach tours decline. The furthest Hornsby travel now is to Bruges in Belgium.
In 1970 Raymond Hornsby expanded the business further by opening travel agencies in Ashby, Barton, Scunthorpe and Gainsborough. These offered holidays and small breaks to destinations all over the UK and Europe – the travel agencies were sold in 2000.
Hornsby’s do still offer short breaks to destinations and special events throughout the UK.