Thomas Tilling

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Thomas Tilling
Thomas Tilling bus ST922 AEC Regent 1 Tilling bodywork GJ 2098 in Cobham Bus Museum, Surrey October 1997.jpg
Thomas Tilling bus in Cobham Bus Museum, 1997.
Service typeRural and urban bus services

Thomas Tilling Ltd, later known with its subsidiary companies as the Tilling Group, was one of two conglomerates which controlled almost all of the major bus operators in the United Kingdom between World Wars I and II and until nationalisation in 1948.

Conglomerate (company) two or more corporations that fall under one corporate group

A conglomerate is a combination of multiple business entities operating in entirely different industries under one corporate group, usually involving a parent company and many subsidiaries. Often, a conglomerate is a multi-industry company. Conglomerates are often large and multinational.


Tilling, together with the other conglomerate, British Electric Traction (BET), became the main constituents of the country's nationalised bus industry in the late 1960s and was sufficiently well known to have entered popular culture as part of London's Cockney rhyming slang (Thomas Tilling = shilling). [1]

British Electric Traction

British Electric Traction Company Limited, renamed BET plc in 1985, was a large British industrial conglomerate. It was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index but was acquired by Rentokil in 1996, and the merged company is now known as Rentokil Initial.

Shilling unit of currency formerly used in the United Kingdom, Australia, United States, and other British Commonwealth countries

The shilling is a unit of currency formerly used in Austria, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, United States and other British Commonwealth countries. Currently the shilling is used as a currency in four east African countries: Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Somalia. It is also the proposed currency that the east African community plans to introduce . The word shilling comes from old English "Scilling", a monetary term meaning twentieth of a pound, and from the Proto-Germanic root skiljaną meaning 'to separate, split, divide.' The word "Scilling" is mentioned in the earliest recorded Germanic law codes, those of Æthelberht of Kent.

The company continued as an industrial conglomerate after nationalisation of its bus interests; it was acquired by BTR plc in 1983.

BTR plc was a British multinational industrial conglomerate company headquartered in London, United Kingdom. It was founded in 1924 and merged with Siebe plc in 1999 to form BTR Siebe plc, later renamed Invensys. BTR was listed on the London Stock Exchange and was once a constituent of the FTSE 100 Index.


Ink sketch of Thomas Tilling, from an 1893 South London Press article. Thomas Tilling - Ink Sketch.png
Ink sketch of Thomas Tilling, from an 1893 South London Press article.

The company traces its origins to 1846, when Thomas Tilling started in business. Thomas Tilling was born in 1825 at Gutter's Hedge Farm, Hendon, Middlesex, of parents who had moved there from Gloucestershire. In 1846, at the age of 21, [2] he went into the transport business in London as a jobmaster in Walworth using a horse and carriage which cost him £30. In January 1850, he purchased a horse bus together with the right to run four journeys a day between Peckham and Oxford Street. This bus he drove himself, and at the time had only one employee; a conductor, Mr. Joseph Eagle, who stayed with the firm until the end of his working life, well into the 1890s. [3] [4] [5] [6] By 1856, he owned 70 horses, which he used for bus and general carriage work. When the Metropolitan Fire Brigade was formed in 1866, Tilling was contracted to train and supply horses to haul the fire engines; the horses were trained to respond quickly and, prior to handover to the fire brigade, were employed on bus services (primarily the Peckham route) to gain experience with heavy traffic. Tilling soon became the biggest supplier of horsepower and vehicles in London, with a stable of 4,000 horses by the time of his death in 1893. Tilling is buried at Nunhead Cemetery.

Hendon suburb situated in the London Borough of Barnet

Hendon is a London urban area in the Borough of Barnet, 7 miles (11 km) northwest of Charing Cross. Hendon was an ancient parish in the county of Middlesex and has been part of Greater London since 1965. Hendon had a population of 52,972 in 2011 which includes the West Hendon and Colindale wards that are separated from Hendon by the NW9 postcode area

Middlesex historic county of England

Middlesex is an ancient county in southeast England. It is now entirely within the wider urbanised area of London. Its area is now also mostly within the ceremonial county of Greater London, with small sections in other neighbouring ceremonial counties. It was established in the Anglo-Saxon system from the territory of the Middle Saxons, and existed as an official unit until 1965. The historic county includes land stretching north of the River Thames from 17 miles (27 km) west to 3 miles (5 km) east of the City of London with the rivers Colne and Lea and a ridge of hills as the other boundaries. The largely low-lying county, dominated by clay in its north and alluvium on gravel in its south, was the second smallest county by area in 1831.

Gloucestershire County of England

Gloucestershire is a county in South West England. The county comprises part of the Cotswold Hills, part of the flat fertile valley of the River Severn, and the entire Forest of Dean.

Tilling's horse buses stopped at predetermined points and ran to a fixed timetable, making them more punctual and orderly than the other operators' buses. [2] This was one of the reasons for his success with customers. Because his buses operated on time, they earned the nickname of "Times" buses, and this became the fleet name painted on the side.

Early history

Portrait of Tilling Mr. Thomas Tilling.jpg
Portrait of Tilling

The business passed to Tilling's sons, Richard and Edward, who, with Thomas's son-in-law Walter Wolsey, formed a limited company, Thomas Tilling Ltd, in 1897. In addition to bus work, the company hired carriages to individuals and to a range of public utilities. [7]

Limited company company in which the liability of members or subscribers of the company is limited

In a limited company, the liability of members or subscribers of the company is limited to what they have invested or guaranteed to the company. Limited companies may be limited by shares or by guarantee. The former may be further divided in public companies and private companies. Who may become a member of a private limited company is restricted by law and by the company's rules. In contrast, anyone may buy shares in a public limited company.

The company put three Milnes-Daimler 24 horsepower (18 kW) motor buses into service in 1904. These were open top double-deckers with 16 inside seats and 18 "outside" on the upper deck. These were the first double-decker motorbuses built for public service in London. By 1905, Tilling had 20 motor buses but still owned 7,000 horses, kept in 500 stables. The horses worked the company's 250 horse buses were hired to companies and individuals for hauling goods vehicles, cabs, and carriages. In 1907, Tilling began the first long-distance motor bus service, running 13 buses between Oxford Circus and Sidcup in Kent. [2]

In 1909, Tilling entered into an agreement with the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC), which pooled their resources (and allowed Tilling to remain independent when LGOC led an amalgamation of most of London's bus companies), but which restricted their expansion in the capital. [7] Then, LGOC and Tilling co-operated on a joint route from Peckham to Turnham Green, via Oxford Circus. The LGOC had introduced numbers on all its routes, and this was route number 12. This service between Peckham and Oxford Circus still operates and is still the number 12. It may be the oldest operating bus route in London. [2] In 1915, the first woman bus conductor in London worked on Tilling route number 37. [2] During World War I, women were recruited to replace men who had joined the Armed Forces. In 1911, Tilling introduced the Tilling-Stevens TTA1 petrol-electric bus into its fleet; despite some drawbacks of the technology, this type formed the mainstay of the fleet for some years. [7] In 1914, just before the outbreak of World War I, the last horse-bus operated on the Tilling Honor Oak – Peckham Rye Station route, [7] after which the horses were requisitioned for war work.

National expansion

Tilling horse bus in use. 10 granddad Houghton in boater, date unknown (cropped).jpg
Tilling horse bus in use.

Starting in 1914, with the LGOC dominant in London, the company looked to the rest of Britain outside London for growth. Tilling started to seek new markets in the provinces. The company began operating in Folkestone in 1914, Brighton in 1916, and Ipswich in 1919.

BET had entered into a similar agreement with LGOC in London, and was also expanding outside London. Instead of destructive rivalry, the two companies agreed to work in close co-operation. By 1928, a BET subsidiary, British Automobile Traction Company (BAT), had interests in nineteen bus companies, with Tilling being a co-owner of eleven of them, and at the same time was partly owned by Tilling itself. To simplify the arrangement, BAT was reconstructed with a new title, Tilling & British Automobile Traction Ltd (TBAT), and Tilling exchanged its shares in the various operating companies for an increased shareholding in the new company. [2] [7]

The railways of Britain had grown significantly and many companies had developed bus services. In 1923, most of these "pre-grouping" companies merged to form four mainline companies: Great Western Railway; Southern Railway; London, Midland and Scottish Railway; and London and North Eastern Railway. During the 1920s, the "Big Four" divested themselves of much of the operations of their bus networks by transferring their interests to Tilling and BET in exchange for shares.

The Tilling family's association with the company ended in 1929 with the death of Richard Tilling. In 1931, Thomas Tilling Ltd acquired the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company, along with the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company, whose bus construction activities were renamed the Eastern Coach Works Ltd (ECW) in 1936. [7]

In 1933, the new London Passenger Transport Board compulsorily acquired the 328 buses that made up Tilling's South London services. [2] In 1935, Tilling took over Royal Blue, which was the premier express coach company in the South and West of England, with a network of routes stretching from Penzance to Margate and Bournemouth to London, having developed tours and local services around Bournemouth and the New Forest in the horse-drawn era and express coach services after the First World War. [8]

Tilling and TBAT continued to trade successfully, but internal disagreements resulted in TBAT being wound up in 1942. [7] The companies in TBAT were split between Tilling and BET, and the two groups continued to operate independently until nationalisation began in the late 1940s. Tilling Motor Services Ltd was formed from the break-up. [7]


As part of the government's moves toward nationalisation of the transport industry, the Transport Act 1947 resulted in formation of the British Transport Commission (BTC). The railway companies were nationalised from 1 January 1948 with the result that their major stake in the Tilling and BET bus companies passed into public ownership from that date. Tilling sold its remaining holdings to the BTC at the beginning of 1949, as did the Scottish Motor Traction group.

Thomas Tilling (BTC) Ltd. was set up as a BTC subsidiary to run Tilling's London private hire business, which continued under nationalisation. [7]

BET retained its independence but the BTC ultimately gained up to a 50% holding in 17 of its companies so, from 1949, there were still two major bus groups, the nationalised BTC (formerly Tilling) and BET (partly owned by the BTC). By 1955 the BTC and BET companies were often known as the "Associated Companies" since "the actual ownership of the buses [was] to a greater or less extent in the hands of one party". [9] The ex-Tilling companies continued to be commonly referred to as the "Tilling Group" long after nationalisation and normally carried one of two standard liveries – a crimson red or a deep green (often referred to as Tilling Red and Tilling Green), each with cream relief. These liveries remained the standard after formation of the National Bus Company until a new corporate livery of NBC Poppy Red/White or NBC Leaf Green/White was introduced from late 1972. The 1930s acquisition of Bristol and ECW resulted in Bristol chassis and ECW bodywork remaining standard amongst former Tilling Group fleets through the 1970s.

On 1 January 1963, a new body, the Transport Holding Company (THC), took over the bus assets of the BTC, and in 1967, BET sold its remaining bus interests to THC. The National Bus Company was formed a year later, mainly from former Tilling and BET subsidiaries.

The "Tilling Group" – Tilling subsidiary bus companies taken over by the BTC

After nationalisation, the group remained as a management unit within the BTC with the following changes:

Non-nationalised Tilling Group

Following nationalisation of Thomas Tilling Ltd's bus interests, a number of subsidiaries continued under separate ownership as the Tilling Group. Tilling Group was taken over by BTR plc in 1983.

Companies within the Tilling Group post-1948 included:

Further reading

Related Research Articles

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London General Omnibus Company

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Eastern Scottish

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First London

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Aldershot & District Traction Company Limited

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Horsebus horse-drawn passenger transport vehicle

A horse-bus or horse-drawn omnibus was a large, enclosed and sprung horse-drawn vehicle used for passenger transport before the introduction of motor vehicles. It was mainly used in the late 19th century in both the United States and Europe, and was one of the most common means of transportation in cities. In a typical arrangement, two wooden benches along the sides of the passenger cabin held several sitting passengers facing each other. The driver sat on a separate, front-facing bench, typically in an elevated position outside the passengers' enclosed cabin. In the main age of horse buses, many of them were double-decker buses. On the upper deck, which was uncovered, the longitudinal benches were arranged back to back.


  1. Thomas Tilling is Cockney Rhyming Slang for Shilling
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Thomas Tilling Ltd – Exploring 20th Century London
  3. "Messrs. Tilling's Annual Excursion". South London Press. Streatham. 4 September 1880.
  4. "Mr. Thomas Tilling's Excursion". The South London Press. Streatham. 31 August 1878.
  5. "Mr. Tilling and his Men". The South London Press. Streatham. 9 September 1865.
  6. "The Funeral Yesterday". The South London Press. Streatham. 14 January 1893.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Thomas Tilling Ltd: 1849–1969
  8. The West Country Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust
  9. Townsin (A. A.), Ed. — Buses and trams Ian Allan, 1955, page 17
  10. Competition Report 1981
  11. Independent, November 28, 1995
  12. Selwood Pumps Company History