In 1919, Thomas Wilkinson commenced operations on two routes between Fishburn and Stockton-on-Tees, and Trimdon Grange and Darlington, both via Sedgefield.
The services were operated initially by a trio of second-hand vehicles on Ford T chassis, with various seating capacities, garaged in an open yard in Sedgefield. As was common with independent operators of the time, the services had neither fixed timetables nor fixed fares.
The early fleet was a mixture of makes, including Vulcan, Talbot, Reo and Gilford, but in 1930 the first Leyland vehicle (No.15), a Leyland Lion LT1, made such an impression that the company subsequently purchased only Leylands, and it was not until 1958 that another non-Leyland vehicle was added to the fleet.
In 1926 the depot was transferred to another yard in the main street of Sedgefield and in 1928 the final move was made when the company built the North End Garage in Sedgefield, which remained in use until the take-over in 1967.
In 1930, a service station, primarily for the repair and maintenance of cars was built in the centre of Sedgefield. This was also used for bus repairs when necessary.
By this time there had been changes to the routes operated by Wilkinsons. The Trimdon Grange to Darlington service had been sold to Darlington Triumph Services, whilst the Fishburn section of the route from Stockton-on-Tees had been extended to Spennymoor.
A new express service to Blackpool was inaugurated serving the local mineworking areas of Durham, for whom Blackpool was a traditional holiday destination.
In order to extend the lives of the more elderly vehicles, three were re-bodied in the latter part of the 1930’s, including the original Leyland LT1, which received a new Plaxton B30F body in 1937.
The onset of hostilities in 1939 brought severe restrictions on the use of fuel, the War Department commandeered some of the vehicles for use, and, in addition, special wartime services to Durham and the Royal Ordnance Factory at Aycliffe were operated.
As a result Wilkinsons had to curtail its normal stage carriage services. Following the end of the war and due to the shortage of new vehicles, two more buses were sent for re-bodying, including No.22, a 1934 Leyland LT5, which was one of the vehicles re-bodied before the war.
Wilkinsons made no effort to expand its services throughout the 1940’s, and, apart from a change in the composition of the bus fleet, with a steady influx of Burlingham-bodied Leyland PS1’s (Nos. 32-37) to wear the company’s cream and red livery, there was little to report.
As an interesting aside, it has been mentioned that company policy was to allow the longest serving coach driver to drive the newest vehicle; as a new coach arrived each driver moved up to a newer vehicle, an early sort of loyalty scheme.
In 1951 one of the first Leyland Royal Tiger production models (No.39: MPT39) was delivered, sporting a Burlingham Seagull C39C body. It lasted only some 9 years before being sold to Darwen Corporation, where it spent another 6 years as No.21.
Another Leyland Royal Tiger (No.45: OUP45) arrived in 1953, this bore the final Leyland-built coach body before the cessation of bodybuilding activities.
The same year saw the arrival of a second-hand 1948 Leyland PS1 (HOV107), purchased from Medding of Birmingham, it was numbered 31, the only time the number of a withdrawn vehicle was re-used throughout the history of the company, although No.13 was never used, presumably through superstition.
The first non-Leyland vehicles to be purchased since 1930, were, a Bedford SB3 and an AEC Reliance, in 1958. In the event the Bedford suffered higher than expected fuel consumption and was sold after only two years in service.
In 1960, Wilkinsons Motor Services was formed into a limited company, with Mr. T. G. Thompson as Managing Director.
At this stage the company also operated routes on contract to the National Coal Board for the transport of miners to Fishburn Colliery, on contract to Durham C.C. Education Department for school transport, as well as tours and excursion licences from several local towns. Wilkinsons also had a thriving private-hire business.
An application was made in 1963 to extend the Spennymoor end of the route from Stockton-on-Tees through to Willington, which duplicated a route already run by Jewitt and Son who promptly objected.
Following prolonged hearings and a revision of the original application, it was finally granted, extending the company’s stage services for the first time since 1929.
During the same year, the share in the Middlesborough to Bishop Auckland service (which Wilkinsons ran jointly) of Scurrs of Stillington, together with two AEC Reliances, was acquired, although the section between Stockton-on-Tees and Middlesborough was subsequently dropped in 1964.
In 1965, the company’s two stage services received route numbers, W1 and W2, although the express service still remained un-numbered, and at this stage the services operated by Wilkinsons Motor Services were as follows;
W1: Stockton-on-Tees – Thorpe Thewles – Sedgefield – Fishburn – Ferryhill – Spennymoor – Willington.
W2: Stockton-on-Tees – Thorpe Thewles – Sedgefield – Fishburn – Ferryhill – Spennymoor – Bishop Auckland.
Stockton-on-Tees – West Hartlepool – Spennymoor – Bishop Auckland – Barnard Castle – Kirkby Stephen – Morecambe – Lancaster – Blackpool.
The death of the Managing Director, Mr. T. G. Thompson, in 1966 was probably one of the contributory factors, along with a fatal accident the same year, that led to the sale of the company on February 26th 1967 to United Automobile Co, the final chapter in the history of Wilkinsons Motor Services.
At the time of the sale, the fleet strength stood at 14 vehicles, with another 3 on order from Leyland, all of which were absorbed into the United fleet.
In producing this history reference has been made to the following sources;
Wilkinsons Motor Services by RF Spresser (Buses Illustrated No. 126, September 1965); United Takes Over by RF Spresser (Buses Illustrated No. 146, May 1967).