Thomas Tilling Limited

Thomas Tilling Limited, named after Thomas Tilling (1825-1893), began operating as a bus company in London in 1897 with his two sons, Richard and Edward. The company grew to become one of two (with British Electric Traction (BTC)) huge transport holding groups that had interests in almost all of the major bus operating companies in the first half of the 20th century.

On Friday 30th September 1904, Tilling put one of three newly acquired Milnes-Daimler motorbuses into service. It had 34-seat, open-top, double-deck, bodywork, seating 34 (16 inside and 18 outside) that was to set the standard for almost 20 years, although he continued to run horse buses for a number of years. The last regular Tilling horse bus operated in London on the night of 4th August 1914, when the horses were requisitioned for war work.

Richard Tilling took the view that to work with the BET, rather than against them, was the way forward. This resulted in close co-operation between the two groups, and Tilling became a major shareholder in the BET subsidiary, the British Automobile Traction Company. By 1928, the British Automobile Traction Company had interests in 19 bus companies, with Tilling being a co-owner in 11 of them, and at the same time was partly owned by Tilling itself. To simplify the arrangement the BAT was reconstructed with the new title, Tilling & British Automobile Traction Ltd, and Tilling's exchanged its shares in the various operating companies for an increased shareholding in the new company. Sadly, Richard Tilling died in June 1929, his death ultimately severing the link with the Tilling family.

In 1942, the company was wound up, Tilling Motor Services Ltd was formed from the break up. After the Second World War, the newly elected Labour Party announced its intention to nationalise the road transport industry, forming the British Transport Commission in 1948. In September of that year, Tilling Motor Services sold out to the BTC for almost £25 million.

By the 1950's, there was a general decline in people using public transport. In 1962 the Transport Holding Company took over the nationalised transport industry, with a new structure. As well as declining passenger numbers, there was a need to shed unremunerative services, constant rounds of fare increases, and, probably most serious of all, a chronic loss of platform staff to more rewarding and less anti-social occupations. In an attempt to solve some of these problems, the 1968 Transport Act formed the National Bus Company, which came into existence on the 1st January 1969, amalgamating the interests of The Tilling Group with the recently acquired BET Group, and the Tilling name finally passed into history after 122 years as a major force in the road transport industry.