When It Happens Panel Get involved: send your photos, videos, news & views by texting 'OXFORD NEWS' to 80360 or email
90 years on the buses
No-one could live in West Oxfordshire for long without becoming accustomed to the familiar sight of all those blue buses run by Worth’s Motor Services — an Enstone business which this year celebrates 90 years in operation.
And some of us have fond memories of the old double decker that used to ply the country route to Oxford — through Charlbury, Stonesfield, Combe, and Woodstock — proudly displaying the company motto: For a Rattling Good Ride.
Some of us, too, remember the weekly service to Witney, used by dozens of people living in outlying villages to reach the market there. Then there were all the charabanc outings from industries such as Smiths of Witney, or Morrells of Oxford, not to mention countless expeditions to the seaside undertaken by various village clubs, including the Women’s Institute.
The company ran scheduled services from the mid-1930s to Oxford and Witney, but in 2004 it lost the Oxford route to Stagecoach, and the Witney route ceased in 2008.
Transport manager Paul Worth said: “Its a cut throat business nowadays with margins cut to the quick. Fuel alone is expensive. And of course larger companies are sometimes able to squeeze out smaller ones.
“Stagecoach were able to adapt their existing main road service to take over the country route to Oxford. And on the Witney route the council wanted a late service — which we had tried before and knew wouldn’t work.”
Now the company has 12 coaches for hire at its base at Worth’s Garage on the A44 and employs 12 drivers (including eight full-time), two mechanics to service the coaches, six forecourt workers and two office staff.
It is all a long way down the road from 1922 when Thomas Edmund Worth (known to all as Dickie) started the business in a shed behind the now-demolished coaching inn, the Litchfield Arms, which stood in the middle of Enstone.
In the best-selling account of Enstone life in the early part of the 20th century, Lifting the Latch (Day Books 2003), long-time Enstone resident Mont Abbott tells author Sheila Stewart of an early coach trip to visit a zoo in Kirtlington.
He recalled: “It were women and children first to board the wagon in the vast queue for potential disaster outside Worth’s New Garage. Us called it Worth’s New Garage, but it was still only a shed behind the Litchfield where Dicky Worth — like Mr Morris — had begun his climb in the motoring world by mending bicycles.”
Dickie (1903-1985) came to Enstone from Oxford as a young man. His business at first involved servicing and repairing bikes and motorcyles and then, crucially, he set up a taxi service consisting of one Model T Ford.
His firm prospered to such an extent that he was eventually able to buy the Litchfield Arms.
Confusingly, Paul Edmund Worth (the transport manager and grandson of the founder), is now known as Young Dickie; and his father, present owner of the business, Richard — even more confusingly — is also known as Dickie!
Paul said school runs are now the bread and butter of the business, though hiring out coaches for tours and outings still plays an important role.
Indeed, Worths has some loyal customers on its books who have regularly used its services for more than 70 years — such as St Edward’s School in north Oxford for instance, which has been employing Worth’s to ferry pupils about since the 1930s.
Founder Dickie originally had the idea for the bus business after taking the wheel of an early machine in Enstone. It was apparently a weird and wonderful object owned by local farming family Adams. Mont Abbott remembered it too in Lifting the Latch.
He described the bus as “fundamentally a flat-bedded lorry with no sides. The make I think were a Rio. It were a proper Meccano job to convert it into a charabanc for occasional village outings.
“First the seats, long box pews was bolted to the bed of the lorry . . . the roof were a rolled-back canvas effort strapped into a neat bundle across the rear. If it rained it took two chaps, one on either side, to unroll it.”
Paul said that from that shaky start the business grew and grew until, by the 1980s. there were 26 buses and coaches parked in the yard. He explained: “That was the heyday of the coach hire and bus business because there were many more bus grants around then which could be used to buy new vehicles.”
Now coach operators everywhere have hit a bumpier stretch of road, what with public money harder to come by.
All the same, Paul is confident about the way ahead and, he also has a son, Thomas Edmund, now 18 and at college, who already sometimes works at the depot. More immediately there is the question of how to celebrate the firm’s 90 years.
Mr Worth said he was still undecided where exactly all the staff will go for their busman’s holiday, scheduled to take place on the Queen’s Jubilee day in June.
But since he is the brewery liaison officer for the Campaign for Real Ale to Hook Norton Brewery, it is probably a safe bet to predict beer will be involved.
“It is a funny thing,” Mr Worth mused, “but my grandfather was in the Home Guard during the war and one of his duties was to guard the Hook Norton brewery.”