Devon General was the brand name for the principal bus operator in south Devon from 1919. The name was first used by the Devon General Omnibus and Touring Company which was created in 1919. In 1922 it was purchased by the National Electric Construction Company which merged with British Electric Traction in 1931. Nationalisation in 1969 resulted in 1971 with the company being merged into Western National. In 1983 a new Devon General Limited was created which became the first operating subsidiary of the National Bus Company to be privatised in 1986 when it became the first company of Transit Holdings. It was sold to the Stagecoach Group in 1996 and renamed Stagecoach Devon in 2003.
Coaches were operated under various names, principally Fleet Cars from 1925 until 1933, and Grey Cars from 1932 until 1971.
Its main principal depots were in Exeter and Torquay, but the area of operation covered most of south, east and mid Devon.
The Devon General Society was formed to support the history of the company.
The Devon General Omnibus and Touring Company started operations in south Devon in 1919 with two bus routes from Exeter to Torquay. In 1922 Torquay Tramways bought the company for £36,000, although it was operated as a subsidiary of the National Electric Construction Company (NECC) and the motor buses already owned by the tramway company were transferred to Devon General. Some charabanc tours had been operated by the Torquay Tramways and this continued under Devon General. A local independent company that traded as Fleet Cars was purchased in 1925 but continued to operate as a separate business for a few seasons, during which time a number of other small operators were also acquired and merged with Fleet Cars.
In 1931 the NECC became a part of the British Electric Traction Group (BET). The Torquay tram network was closed in January 1934. The Tramways company was sold to Devon General, the fleet of which was enlarged by 24 buses to allow it to operate the former tram routes.
Devon General had turned down the chance to buy local independent coach operator Grey Cars in 1930 so it had instead been purchased by A. Timpson and Sons of Catford in 1931. Timpsons sold the business to Devon General in 1932 and the following year both Grey Cars and Fleet Cars, which had been operated as separate businesses, were merged into Devon General. Most coaches continued to operate under Grey Cars’ name, although some small operators that were subsequently bought out by Devon General continued in their old names for a while.
National Bus Company
BET’s bus operations, including Devon General, became part of the National Bus Company (NBC) when it was formed in 1969. Devon General had worked closely with the Corporation of Exeter’s bus services since 1947. In April 1970 the Corporation’s buses and routes were transferred to the NBC and merged into Devon General. The city’s unusual use of route letters (as opposed to numbers) continued.
In January 1971 the NBC transferred the bus operations of Devon General to neighbouring Western National but the Devon General name was retained as a brand while the Grey Cars coaching operation was transferred to Exeter-based Greenslades. NBC split Western National into four new companies on 1 January 1983, one of which was Devon General Limited. This operated in south and east Devon as the old Devon General had done, but the Tiverton area became a part of a new North Devon operation.
On 19 August 1986 Devon General became the first NBC operating subsidiary to be privatised under the Transport Act 1985 by being sold to a group of its managers led by Managing Director Harry Blundred.
An experimental high-frequency service using 22 minbuses had been introduced in Exeter on 27 February 1984. By the time the company was privatised in August 1986 the minibus fleet had expanded to more than 200 vehicles, more than half the buses in service. By the end of 1990 all regular services had been converted to minibus operation using a mixture of 16 and 24-seat vehicles.
The new owners of Devon General formed Transit Holdings to operate number of other bus companies, most of them in southern England.
- Bayline (Torquay)
- Devon General (Exeter)
- Docklands Transit (London)
- Portsmouth Transit (Portsmouth)
- Thames Transit (Oxford)
- Transit Australia
Bayline was established in 1992 for the operations in Torbay and Newton Abbot, after which Devon General operated in the Exeter area. Both companies were sold to the Stagecoach Group in 1996, and became Stagecoach Devon in 2003.
Area of operation
Devon General quickly expanded beyond its original routes between Exeter, Newton Abbot and Torquay. A number of small operators were bought out (see below), but area agreements with larger neighbours set out the company’s area of operation. While the boundaries changed in detail from time to time, the area was largely set out in two agreements.
- In 1922 an eastern boundary was agreed with the National Omnibus and Transit Company along the road from Minehead via Tiverton, Cullompton and Honiton to Sidmouth. In 1924 a northern boundary was agreed with Hardy Central Garage between Oakhampton, Bampton and Wellington.
- By 1929 the western boundary had settled at the Kingswear, Totnes, Buckfastleigh and Okehampton, with Western National having control beyond.
Offices and depots
Most of the directors of the Devon General Omnibus and Touring Company came from the London area and so the company offices were established in a house in Kilmore Road, Forest Hill. The first buses were housed at the Exeter Garage Company’s premises in Paris Street, Exeter. In 1921 the offices were moved to the new garage that was being constructed at Blackboy Road in Exeter, but the takeover by the NECC the following year saw the office moved back to Queen Street in the City of London.
The merger of NECC with BET in 1932 saw the Queen Street office closed in favour of BET’s headquarters in Kingsway, London. At around this time work started on the construction of a new large garage and central workshops at Newton Road in Torquay. The BET headquarters were moved across London to Piccadilly in 1952 but in 1956 the registered offices of Devon General were moved to the garage at 87 Newton Road, Torquay.
When Devon General was absorbed into Western National in 1971, all the office work was moved to the latter company’s offices in Queen Street, Exeter. The newly independent Devon General Limited of 1983 chose to remain in Exeter, but moved into offices in Belgrave Road where a new bus depot had opened in 1975.
Buses were based in garages or open yards at:
- Dropping Wells 1925–1927
- West Street (Blue Saloon Motor Services) 1927–1928
- New Road 1935–1939
- Mount Pleasant Road 1940–1957
- Bus Station 1957–1992
- Unknown site 1928?–1931
- Mill Street 1931–1954
- Gold’s Garage, Heavitree Road 1919–1921
- Blackboy Road 1921–1971
- Heavitree Road (Exeter Corporation) 1970–1975
- Belgrave Road 1975–(1996)
- New Street 1921 – 1931
- Imperial Road 1931 – (1996)
- Station Road June – September 1924
- Steven’s Garage, Chagford 1924–1928?
- Court Street 1928–1971 Moved to a different site in Court Street in 1931
- Newton Abbot
- BradleyHotel 1919–1921
- Newton Road, Kingsteignton 1921–1960
- Kingsteignton Road 1960–1992
- Roundham Road 1923–1925
- Churston 1925–1930
- Orient Road, Preston 1924–1932
- Bus Station 1988–(1996) The bus station opened in 1954
- Mill Street 1922–?
- Station Road, Newton Poppleford ?–1930
- Woolbrook 1930–1996
- Chapel Street (Croscols) 1924–1938
- Old Road 1938–1971 After 1971 buses were kept at the bus station.
- Westhill Avenue (Torquay Tramways) 1922–1931
- Newton Road 1931–1988
- Torwood Street (Grey Cars) 1933–1940 and 1946–1971
- Belgrave Road (Court Garages) 1940–1946 and 1966–1973
- Regents Close 1992–(1996)
One or two buses were also kept at a number of other towns and villages such as Axminster (1922–1924, 1927–1984), Budleigh Salterton (1930–1939, 1988–1989), Crockernwell (1942–1957), Cullompton (1922–1996), East Budleigh 1921–1931, Kenton (1942–1947), Okehampton (1923–1997), Ottery St Mary (1927–1938, 1949–1967), Tiverton Junction (1955–1977), Uffculme (1942–1954).
The first buses were painted in red with cream relief. Coaches were generally grey with deep red relief and open top buses (introduced in 1955) were given a cream livery with red relief.
In 1972 NBC imposed a standard poppy red colour with white relief, but from 1979 Devon General buses started to be painted in leaf green and white, the same colours as the parent Western National fleet. Six months after the operation became independent of Western National in 1983 a red livery was again adopted. The first minibuses were painted in bright red and yellow colours with a black skirt.
To coincide with privatisation in 1986 a new livery was introduced. Buses were painted an ivory colour with red skirt and lower deck window surrounds.