The Chitterne based coach company of J & O Withers was started in 1951 when the Withers family moved from Warminster to the Bridge Cottage Cafe in Chitterne, next to the Kings Arms, and set up in business there.
The first coach operated came from Clarry White at Longbridge Deverill and was a Bedford WTB with a Willmot body reg. number BMR 690. The initials in the company name stood for John and Oliver. Contrary to most company names John was the son and Oliver was the father. Once both father and son had PSV driving licences, a second coach was required and this came from Haddrell’s at Calne, a Duple bodied Bedford WTB registered AMR 344.
Being on Salisbury Plain much of the initial work was for the Army, both for local private hire and for weekend passes to places as far afield as Manchester, Liverpool and Leeds. Because of the relatively high mileages being inflicted on the little Bedfords it was decided that a spare coach might be a good idea. So a third coach joined the fleet from Safeguard of Guildford, another Bedford WTB reg. number JPB 125.
In 1953 a boost in business came along in the form of the coronation of HM Queen Elizabeth II. Masses of people wanted to go to London to see the decorations that had been put up for the coronation and have a day out in London. Also in that year the first Bedford OB arrived, via Ernie Waterman of Bakers the coach dealers, a 1948 model with body by Pearson reg. number SMY 583. The ex-Haddrell WTB AMR 344 was sold to Jersey Tours and worked on that island for several years.
By 1955 the Withers family had grown in size, with the addition of three children, so it was decided to move just up the road to the recently closed pub, The White Hart. The previously mentioned Army were most helpful late one night when a tank lost control coming down Shrewton Hill. It demolished the wall outside the White Hart. The money the Army paid in recompense helped to pay for a new garage big enough to house two Bedford OB’s. The garage still stands.
Also in 1955 the Wylye Valley bus service to Warminster was taken over from Mr Couchman at Codford. The service was extended to start and finish at Chitterne and initially operated every day except Mondays. The vehicle used on this service was Bedford OB EYG 100 with Duple Vista 29 seat bodywork, having come from Chiltonian at Chilton Foliat.
Two other Bedford OB’s were also operated at this time a 1947 model with Duple bodywork HYN 699 which came from Morden Travel and was usually driven by Oliver Withers. The newest coach in the fleet was LHT 825 a 1949 OB, which had belonged to Feltham of Bristol also with bodywork by Duple, it was reserved for excursions and best private hires.
Sadly in 1957 the decision was taken to sell the business to Cards of Devizes who continued to operate from Chitterne for many years afterwards. The Withers family moved to near Pewsey and entered a phase of transporting race horses before moving back to coach operation at a later date.
Our thanks go to Dave Withers of Lewis Coaches for providing the above information about his grandfather’s coach company.
The history of the Wylye Valley bus service
The bus service from Chitterne to Warminster has been operated by a variety of different bus operators – here is a brief history compiled from information kindly provided by the Omnibus Society, together with timetables from 1934 and 1957 (please click on them to enlarge).
- 1912 – A service from Chitterne via Codford & Sutton Veny to Warminster and Frome is introduced by S.G. Polden
- ca 1922 – the service is taken over by S. Gibbons of Codford.
- ca 1925 – the service is taken over by Messrs Newton and Couchman trading as Wylye Valley Motor Services (see timetable opposite).
- 1938 – Service now terminates at Warminster and no longer serves Frome.
- 1950 – Service no longer serves Chitterne (passengers now have to use Wilts & Dorset bus service 23 instead – see below).
- 1955 – Service taken over by J & O Withers and serves Chitterne once again (see timetable –>).
- 1957 – Service sold to P.J. Card.
- 1971 – Service taken over by G. Browning, passing in 1972 to M.W. Newton.
- 1974 – service taken over by Cruse Coaches.
- 1976 – Service acquired by Beeline (R&R) Coaches of Warminster who still run it today as route 54.
Between 1948 and 1951, Chitterne was also served by Wilts & Dorset bus service 23 which ran on 3 days a week between Warminster and Amesbury. When this service ceased, Withers filled the gap by providing a direct service from Chitterne to Warminster on Saturdays and this was absorbed into the Wylye Valley service in 1955.
If you have photographs or historical information on Withers Coaches or any other bus or coach company that operated in the Warminster area between 1910 and 1970, we would be keen to hear from you – please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org