Charabanc 1931, Bristol Tramways & Carriage Co. Ltd
Bristol Charabanc No 173 Operated By Bristol Tramways & Carriage Co. Ltd.
Registration is 'HT 1512'
Did you know that charabancs were once made in Bristol?
JUST over a century ago many Bristolians must have been surprised to see long, open-topped motorised charabancs appearing on the city’s streets for the very first time.
The man responsible was Sir George White, the entrepreneurial businessman who had already given the city its electric tram network.
The same man would, in 1910, start the city’s fledgling aircraft industry.
The name charabanc is derived from the French “char à bancs” which simply means “a carriage with wooden benches”.
The original vehicles were pulled by horse.
The charabanc bodies, designed by Charles Challenger, Bristol Tramways and Carriage’s young traffic manager, had been put together at the company’s Brislington works.
Carrying 27 to 32 passengers, the long vehicles were hailed a great success.
They were designed for all year round working (except during the worst winter months) on both town and country routes, but were generally booked for summer excursions and private parties.
Charabancs were immortalised by Laurie Lee in his autobiographical Cider with Rosie which focuses on the annual Slad village outing.
The villagers, I recall, took a particularly bumpy ride in a convoy of charabancs to Weston-super-Mare – young Laurie’s first visit to the seaside.
The early models were followed by two new “all-season” charabancs,
built on similar lines, but having a more enclosed body, fitted with removable windows.
By the 1920s, charabanc trips were at the height of their popularity.
One favoured day trip out from Bristol was to Cheddar via Burrington Combe and the top of the Mendips.
But smaller vehicles were needed for about town, and in the summer of 1907 the company decided to start making buses from scratch to its own design.
The first 19-seater entered service on the Clifton route in the spring of the following year.
It wasn’t long before new, Bristol-built, single-deckers were replacing the more unreliable, bought-in, Thornycroft double-deckers.
In 1912, a “motor constructional works” was set up just along the road from the Brislington tram depot.
A year later, a four cylinder-engined four-tonne chassis with solid tyres went in to production, starting a tradition of bus building in the city which was to last, with the exception of the war years, until 1983.
The name of the company? Bristol Commercial Vehicles.
Although you’ll not see the vehicles about today, a few road signs have survived from that era.
A notable example, at Wookey Hole, warns drivers that the narrow road to the neighbouring village of Easton is, “unsuitable for charabancs”.