Bedwas and Machen were two small coal mining villages situated (until Local Government re-organisation in 1974) in Monmouthshire, and thus technically within the national boundary of England, although most of the inhabitants would have regarded themselves as Welsh, especially as the border with Wales ran along the River Rhymney, just a few hundred yards away.
As befits an undertaking that was once the smallest municipal fleet in Britain, the history is uncomplicated.
Although the UDC was never involved in the provision of tramways, buses were introduced at the end of the First World War, when three Straker-Squire single-deckers were purchased in 1922 for use on the Caerphilly to Trethomas service, which commenced on 12th January 1922. In March 1922, Caerphilly UDC itself began to run jointly on the service, although there was continual disagreement between the parties over timetabling.
In the first year of operation over 195 000 passengers were carried and the UDC made a profit of £295. The numbers of passengers carried peaked in the 1960’s at over 1 million per annum, but from there, in common with most operators, the numbers subsequently began to decline.
A livery of powder blue and white was chosen for the new vehicles and although the white later became cream the basic colours remained unchanged throughout the life of the undertaking.
From 1924 the Omnibus Department fell under the control of the Council’s Engineer and Surveyor, but by 1950, with the increase in revenue, a General Manager, Mr. G. Coleman, was appointed.
Although South Wales Transport had proposed a bus service as early as 1914, it never materialised and until the commencement of the UDC operation only one other operator, Beavis of Risca, ran a service in the area.
Beavis (by now trading as the Danygraig Omnibus Service) was taken over by Western Welsh in 1935 and his Newport to Machen service was included in the deal.
In 1930, Caerphilly UDC handed over the running of their share of the route from Caerphilly to Trethomas to the Western Welsh Company with whom Bedwas and Machen had hoped to run jointly.
However, for some inexplicable reason, the newly created Traffic Commissioners refused the application, and the route was run separately by each concern until 1954, when consent to run jointly was given.
During this decade the fleet size dwindled to three vehicles and made Bedwas and Machen the smallest municipal fleet in Britain.
In 1943 the entire three-vehicle fleet was destroyed in a blaze at the depot and services had to be maintained by Caerphilly UDC until May 1943, when a fleet of Bedford OWB’s resumed the service.
Interestingly Bedwas and Machen were able to return the favour just twelve months later when Caerphilly UDC also suffered a fire.
Up until 1947 the fleet had consisted solely of single-deck vehicles, but in November of that year the first double-deck vehicles, a pair of ex-Wigan Corporation TD1’s, were acquired.
Throughout the 1950’s, the area became a favourite with commuters working in nearby Newport and Cardiff, but there was no major change to the Trethomas bus service until 1967, when it was extended to Bargoed, jointly with Western Welsh.
In the late 1960’s the development of the large Graig-y-Rhacca housing estate between Bedwas and Machen resulted in the council starting a second route from Caerphilly to Graig-y-Rhacca via Llanfabon Drive.
This was known as the ‘back route’ locally. A further service from Graig-y-Rhacca to the Pantglas Industrial Estate in Bedwas commenced in 1971.
In August 1968, a joint service with Western Welsh, Red & White Motor Services and Gelligaer UDC between Rhymney Bridge and Newport was inaugurated.
A notable addition to the fleet in this year was Leyland PD3/4 PAX466F, the last exposed radiator bus in South Wales (although technically until 1974 the UDC was still in England!) and the last side-gangway lowbridge bus built in Britain.
On the 1st April 1974, under Local Government re-organisation, Bedwas and Machen became part of the Rhymney Valley District Council in the new Welsh County of Gwent.
The fleet was subsequently merged with the fleets of the neighbouring municipalities of Caerphilly and Gelligaer UDC’s to form the Rhymney Valley District Council fleet, thus marking the end of over 50 years of Bedwas and Machen UDC Omnibus Department.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
Municipal Buses in Colour 1954-1979 (Reg Wilson, Ian Allan 1997); PSV Circle Fleet History PG6 (1996). Additional information supplied by David Harris (Bedwas Navigation Colliery web site).