Arthur Kitson was one of a number of early charabanc operators that had commenced trading in the Sheffield area following the end of World War 1, a limited company being formed on the 31st December 1926.
Competition amongst these operators was fierce and in order to increase efficiency and reduce wasteful competition, a number of operators joined together in a ‘pooling’ arrangement.
Arthur Kitson became part of the ‘Sheffield Fleet’, along with a number of other Sheffield operators, whilst others joined together to form the ‘United Motor Services’ pool.
Another pool (Direct Motor Services (Sheffield) Ltd.) was set up on the 14th December 1923, to operate goods services and coaches throughout the north of England, and Arthur Kitson became a director of this firm, whilst still continuing his own coach operations.
Kitson’s business was concerned solely with private hire and excursions until September 1928, when he started two daily bus services between Sheffield and Treeton (without the necessary licences from the Watch Committee!).
One of these routes (via Richmond) was eventually licensed, and a further service from Sheffield to Thorpe Hesley commenced on 15th November 1932.
In 1933, Kitson moved to premises in Pond Street, Sheffield and decided to concentrate solely on the coaching side of his business. By the end of 1934 he had sold his stage services to Sheffield Corporation.
At the same time, Kitson was also negotiating with the British Automobile Traction Company for the sale of his express routes, and on 1st January 1935, after several months of talks, the BAT acquired the whole of the share capital of Arthur Kitson Ltd.
In the next few months several other Sheffield operators were acquired by the BAT (including the members of the United Motor Services pool and AF Hancock) and transferred to the ownership of Arthur Kitson Ltd, in whose name the growing company continued to trade.
On the 1st March 1935 it was re-named Sheffield United Tours Ltd. The Sheffield United Tours fleet name was, however, not widely used until after World War II when it replaced the former fleet names of United Motor Services (which had been used predominantly for excursions and express services) and Hancocks Motor Tours (used for holiday tours).
In the years before the advent of the Second World War, the Company acquired a number of other Sheffield-based operators as expansion continued. This brought with it a motley collection of vehicles and it was soon decided that the SUT fleet needed updating.
In 1936, 7 AEC Regal coaches with Burlingham (of Blackpool) 32-seat bodywork joined the fleet along with two 24-seat Leyland KPZ2 ‘Cubs’. More new coaches were delivered over the next few years and several of the older coaches were re-bodied.
By the time of World War II, Sheffield United Tours (still trading under the Hancocks Motor Tours banner) was one of Yorkshire’s best-known coach tour operators and had established a reputation for quality and service.
SUT’s tours and excursions continued to operate almost normally throughout the 1939 and 1940 seasons, with only the South Coast tours being withdrawn because of possible enemy air strikes.
Although plans were made for tours and excursions for the 1941 season, it became apparent that these would have to be scrapped following a number of air raids on Sheffield and the tours and excursions were suspended for the duration of the War, leaving the majority of coaches idle.
A large number of SUT’s coaches were requisitioned by the military and another 8 loaned to Crosville for services to the munitions factories in Wales, whilst a few were retained by SUT for use on workmen’s services.
When peace arrived in 1945, Sheffield United Tours immediately began planning a programme of tours and excursions, although it was too late for the 1945 summer season and the respite was used to refurbish the fleet to post-war standard ready for the following season.
New coaches began to arrive, with the AEC Regal being the preferred chassis, along with the almost obligatory Bedford OB’s, which in the event lasted only a few years. By 1947 the fleet strength stood at 77 vehicles.
In 1949 Sheffield United Tours began operating tours to the continent with a 14-day tour of Switzerland and a 16-day tour to the French Riviera.
One of the touring coaches was entered into the 1st Montreaux Coach Rally by the driver and courier and was judged best coach in the Rally, coming home with a grand trophy!
The success of the Continental Tours prompted the company to increase the number of destinations on offer, whilst the popularity of the home tours continued to rise.
Over the next few years the Continental and British Tours programmes were revised annually in an attempt to increase passenger numbers and the coach fleet was constantly updated with around 67 new AEC coaches entering the fleet between 1951 and 1955.
On the 1st July 1958, Sheffield United Tours acquired the business of Pashley of Bradwell, which brought with it a stage carriage service from Bradwell that the Company continued to operate until it was sold to the North Western Road Car Company in late 1959.
The Company had continued to consolidate its position with the acquisition of a number of other operators and this continued into the 1960’s, with Jeffcock; Whiteley, and Fantom, all of whom were Sheffield operators, being amongst those taken over.
During the World Cup in 1966, Sheffield United Tours was chosen to ferry visiting teams and officials from their respective hotels to Sheffield Wednesday’s Hillsborough ground and involved a number of SUT coaches.
Early in 1968, the British Electric Traction Group sold its bus and coach interests to the state and Sheffield United Tours became part of the nationalised Transport Holding Company, which on 1st January 1969 became the National Bus Company.
1968 also saw a change in the famous SUT winged logo, which was dropped in favour of a plain italicised SUT fleet name.
The red and grey livery was retained for a while, although the last coaches to bear these colours were delivered in 1972; the following year new coaches were delivered in NBC’s all-over white livery.
Initially SUT coaches continued to display the ‘Sheffield United Tours’ fleetname along with the ‘NATIONAL’ corporate lettering, but later the fleetname was reduced to ‘Sheffield’, and finally disappeared altogether.
On the 1st January 1974 the entire shareholding of Sheffield United Tours was transferred to National Travel (North East) Ltd, effectively ending the Company’s separate operating existence.