Thomas Elliott was a jobmaster with stables in Royal Blue Mews in Avenue Lane, Bournemouth and established a horse-drawn coach service between Bournemouth and the town’s railway station at Holmesley in 1880.
By 1888, however, the railway had opened a more direct route to Bournemouth and there was no longer a need for the service, but during this period, Elliott had also commenced horse-drawn char-a-banc excursions from the resort, many of which were routed via the New Forest.
Thomas Elliott died in 1911 and his two sons, John and William, took over the business.
The first motor char-a-bancs were purchased in 1913. These had Dennis bodies on Dennis chassis.
After the end of the First World War, more vehicles were obtained, many of which were on chassis that had been built for military use, and the range of excursions increased – notably to include a trip to the Isle of Wight via Lymington, added in 1919.
That year also saw a strike on the railway. The Elliotts’ again seized the opportunity, and started a service from Bournemouth to London at weekend.
This was more like an excursion than an express, as passengers were only carried from one terminal to the other, not intermediately, and only for passengers originating in Bournemouth.
This was so successful that the following year it was stepped up to twice weekly, and passengers could book from either London or Bournemouth.
The company was re-organised in 1921 as Elliott Brothers (Bournemouth) Ltd.
In 1924 Elliott Brothers proposed the implementation of stage carriage services between Bournemouth and Lymington, Ringwood and Wimborne in competition with Hants & Dorset Motor Services.
However, before the services commenced, an agreement was reached between the two companies, whereby Elliott Brothers undertook not to operate the services in return for an assurance from Hants & Dorset that they would not operate any tours, excursions or long distance services from Bournemouth.
As a result, a number of vehicles purchased by Elliott Brothers for the proposed services were transferred to Hants & Dorset.
In 1928, the London service became 3 times daily all year round, and picked up in various towns along the route (Elliott Brothers being one of the pioneers of this form of travel). The journey took 5 hours, and cost 12/6 single or 20/- return from London to Bournemouth.
The express services were quickly expanded, to include destinations such as Torquay, Plymouth, Ilfracombe, Bristol, Birmingham and Margate.
On Sunday 8th March 1931, Elliott Brothers opened a new bus station in Bournemouth, jointly with Hants & Dorset. It was a two-tier building with entrance onto Exeter Road, with Royal Blue coaches using the lower tier and Hants & Dorset buses, the upper tier.
In 1934, Elliott Brothers became a founder member of the Associated Motorways pool, their services to the Midlands becoming Associated Motorways services, although still operated by Royal Blue.
Following an approach by the Tilling Organisation, Elliott Brothers sold out in early 1935. The tours and excursions part of the business was taken over by Hants and Dorset, and the express services passed to the Southern National and Western National companies.
Their express services were incorporated into the Royal Blue network, which continued to be run from Bournemouth as a subsidiary of these companies.
The Royal Blue routes now ran from London – Bristol, London – Bournemouth, and the area between as far west as Penzance, as well as the joint South Coast Express from Bournemouth to Margate, whilst on Associated Motorways duty they ran north from Bournemouth to Cheltenham, Birmingham, Northampton and Liverpool.
The Royal Blue services were incorporated into National Express in 1973 – the coaches becoming all-over white, with the Royal Blue name in red! The organisation celebrated the centenary of Royal Blue, as its oldest constituent part, in 1980.
The use of the Royal Blue name was finally discontinued in 1986.
Sources: A Brief History of Royal Blue; P. M. Delaney 1999; Fleet Histories PK781/782; PSV Circle 1999; Hants & Dorset – A History (Colin Morris, DTS, 1996)