Internal transport in the Isle of Man at the end of the 1800’s was provided in the main by the predecessor of the Manx Electric Railway, which centred on the Howstrake Estate, just north of Douglas, and the Isle of Man Railway Company, who operated throughout the rest of the island.
The Manx Electric Railway started life on the 7th September 1893, when a short section of tramway from Douglas to Groudle Glen just two miles away, promoted by the Douglas Bay Estate Ltd., opened.
By the time an extension to Laxey had opened on the 28th July 1894, the line had come under the control of the Isle of Man Tramways and Electric Power Company, who had also purchased the Douglas Bay Tramway, and the Snaefell Mountain Railway.
A northern section to Ramsey opened on 24th July 1899 completing the tramway system, which totalled just over 17 miles.
Shortly afterward the company found itself in financial difficulties and went into liquidation and was purchased in 1902 by a new consortium under the name of the Manx Electric Railway Company.
In 1907 the Manx Electric Railway became the first bus operator on the island when it acquired two Argus charabancs with which to commence service between the Bungalow (the mid-point on the Snaefell Mountain Railway) to Tholt-y-Will, where the company had built a hotel and tea rooms.
Apart from a few privately owned charabancs operated on tours and excursions around the island there were no regular stage carriage services, a fact noted by a director of Cumberland Motor Services, Thomas Meageen.
In 1927 he imported a fleet of twelve buses and commenced a network of routes, centred on Douglas, to destinations such as Peel, Ramsey and Port St. Mary, as well as several other inter-connecting and local services. On 17th May 1927 the company was officially registered as Manxland Bus Services Ltd.
The arrival of the new company was viewed with alarm by many of the local coach and charabanc operators and, of course, the Isle of Man Railway Company, who had enjoyed a near monopoly of the internal transport market.
As a result a rival bus company, Manx Motors Ltd., was formed and registered on the 8th June 1927, the shareholders being a co-operative of local bus operators and the Isle of Man Railway Company.
On the same day two other bus companies were also registered, Farghers Omnibuses Ltd., and P. Richmond Ltd., and all three commenced operations in competition with Manxland Bus Services.
On 28th April 1928, Farghers Omnibuses Ltd. became a wholly owned subsidiary of the Isle of Man Railway Company, who, at the same time, withdrew from the Manx Motors co-operative.
A large number of Thornycroft single-deckers were ordered for delivery in May 1928, some of which appeared in Farghers brown livery, but others appeared in the railway’s blue livery and carrying a new fleet name – Isle of Man Road Services.
These vehicles were used to run directly in competition with Manx Motors and Manxland Bus Services vehicles.
Although the vehicles were carrying the Isle of Man Road Services fleetname, they were still legally owned by the Isle of Man Railway Company and it was not until June 1930 that Isle of Man Road Services Limited officially operated as a separate company.
The competition for passengers continued into the off-season, but as the tourists departed, it became obvious that there was insufficient local traffic remaining to sustain the level of services on the island.
By the early months of 1929 the competition was over, the railway company had purchased Manx Motors in January 1929, and the following month Manxland Bus Services withdrew from the fray, selling out to the railway company.
The livery adopted by the new concern was the former red and cream livery of Manxland Bus Services, although for a number of years buses continued to operate in their former owners’ liveries.
By June 1930, Isle of Man Road Services were operating from Douglas to Port St. Mary, via Ballasalla, Castletown, Colby and Port Erin; Douglas to Peel, via Crosby and St. Johns; Douglas to Ballasalla, via Braaid, St. Marks and Ballamoda; Douglas to Port Soderick; Douglas to Baldwin; Douglas to Onchan; Ramsay to Bride, via Andreas; Ramsey to Kirk Michael, Ramsey to Maughold; Ramsey to Jurby (West and East), via Sandygate and The Cronk; Peel to Castletown, via Foxdale; Peel to Kirk Michael, and from Peel to Dalby, via Glen Maye, and this network of services remained largely unchanged until the 1960s.
The fleet consisted of a variety of chassis and body types, with 22 vehicles being purchased from Manx Motors and 31 from Manxland Bus Services, as well as the Thornycroft’s purchased by the railway company. Depots were maintained at Douglas, Ramsey, Peel, Port Erin and Laxey.
In 1934 the first new vehicles for the Isle of Man Road Services fleet were purchased. They were five Leyland Lion LT5A chassis with Northern Counties B28R bodywork, and Leyland was to become the preferred manufacturer over the succeeding years.
They received fleet numbers 35, 50, 56, 67 and 74, to fill in the gaps in fleet numbers caused by the withdrawal of earlier vehicles, a confusing practice that continued for a number of years.
The business of W. H. Cowin of Andreas was purchased in 1936, along with a local service in Ramsay and four vehicles, only one of which found its way into the Isle of Man fleet.
Six more all-Leyland Lions arrived in 1938 (Nos. 36-38, 45-47), just before the onset of World War II, which put considerable pressure on the Isle of Man Road Services fleet with the population being increased by service personnel and internees.
Towards the end of the war, six Bedford OWB’s were delivered (Nos. 26-29, 39-40) with B32F bodywork.
At the time the maximum seating capacity for vehicles operating outside Douglas was 34 seats (it had been just 28 seats until 1939 when it was relaxed because of the war) and a number of existing vehicles had their seating increased to 34 seats.
In 1946 the company purchased their first double-decker, an all-Leyland PD1 (No. 3) with H30/26R bodywork, but, because of the seating restriction, it was operated as a 34-seater with some of the upper deck seats roped off until the legislation was changed in 1947 to permit its use.
Subsequently the company ordered a further 33 Leyland PD1’s and PD2’s between 1947 and 1951, which formed the backbone of the fleet for many years.
In 1950 the business of J. Broadbent of Ramsey (who was trading as Safeway Services) was acquired. The sale included three vehicles and a stage carriage service between Ramsey and Kirk Michael.
The following year four Leyland Olympics (Nos. 53, 83-85) were purchased. The first underfloor-engined vehicles in the fleet had also been a batch of four Olympics (Nos. 17-18, 48-49) the previous year, and two more Leyland Titans (Nos. 62, 66) were added to the growing fleet of PD1’s and PD2’s.
This decade was to see the zenith of Isle of Man Road Services. The influx of tourists to the island meant that during the summer season large numbers of passengers had to be ferried around the island each day and it is reported that up to 20 vehicles were on hand to meet overnight steamer arrivals as early as 5am.
However, as elsewhere in the United Kingdom, the rise of private motoring on the island and the decline in home tourism in favour of destinations abroad meant that passenger numbers slowly fell throughout the 1960s.
In the mid-1960’s some of the less popular rural routes were pruned and one-man operation extended. At the same time ‘limited stop’ journeys were introduced on the main routes.
Between 1968 and 1971 the company made an attempt to diversify its operations with the purchase of full specification coaches with which to operate tours of the island on contract to mainland companies. In 1972 these operations were passed to a new company, Tours (IOM) Ltd.
The double-deck fleet, which by now consisted of ageing PD1’s and PD2’s, was in need of replacement. As a result a large number of second-hand Leyland PD3’s were purchased from Midland Red in 1972.
They were overhauled on the mainland before being sent to the island for service. In 1974, more PD3’s, this time from Bournemouth Corporation, were acquired.
During the mid-1970’s discussions took place between the two major operators (Isle of Man Road Services and Douglas Corporation) and the island’s Government about their possible integration.
Douglas Corporation’s fleet was beginning to show signs of wear and tear and the town was anxious to dispose of them rather than incur the costs of replacement.
As a result it was proposed to merge both undertakings into a single state-owned company, the date of the take-over being finally agreed as 1st October 1976.
On that date the vehicles of both operators were transferred to a new company named Isle of Man National Transport Limited, bringing to an end 46 years of the Isle of Man Road Services Limited.
In preparing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
The Directory of British Tramways (Keith Turner, PSL 1996); Municipal Buses in Colour 1959-1974 (Reg Wilson, Ian Allan 1997); Isle of Man Buses 1907-1988 (Philip C. Miles: DPR, 1989); PSV Circle Fleet History PC6A (1979); Buses (various editions).