The Ewer Group, once one of Britain’s largest coach operators, can trace its origins back over a century to the foundation of George Ewer’s horse carriage business in 1885. The business prospered, and remained in the Ewer family after the death of the founder in the early years of the 20th century. A major step forward was the introduction in 1919 of mechanical traction, when several vehicles were used for the carriage of goods during the week and passengers at weekends, a common practice at the time.
Services were soon operating to many south coast resorts, and before the end of the twenties, East Anglia was well covered too. The first service to operate throughout the year (the south coast services being run only during the summer), was the London–Ipswich service, started in June 1928. The 1930s started with the introduction of a London–Harwich route, and operations continued to expand rapidly until the War interrupted progress at the end of the decade. Several takeovers occurred in the 1930s; 1934 alone saw the acquisition of the 45-strong Eva’s Coaches, operating many more south coast services; and Sid Page Ltd. (Bee Line) and W.H. Jacobs (Monty Super Coaches), both of whom ran to East Anglia. Additional developments during the thirties were the joint takeovers of routes formerly run by the Prince Omnibus Company of Edmonton, and Eclipse Motor Coaches.
Expansion recommenced after the end of the War, during which many coaches had been requisitioned and all services curtailed. The first step was the acquisition of the small Baker Bros. fleet in 1945, while the next year saw the reintroduction of some of the express services. The position remained steady for a few years while the company recovered from the War, but in 1952 another spate of takeovers began: Fallowfield and Britten, of Hackney, and Ardley Bros. Ltd. were acquired in that year. In order to maintain the goodwill of these companies, vehicles continued to wear their distinctive liveries and fleet names for a number of years. A year later Orange Luxury Coaches Ltd. was acquired, and this long-established company remained as a subsidiary of the main company until finally wound up in December 1975.
Several other companies followed, including Classique Coaches and Black and White (Walthamstow) in 1956; Batten’s Coaches and Viney’s Coaches in the early 1960s; and the large-but-ageing United Service Transport fleet, based in Balham, in 1965. Several of these companies, like those taken over previously, retained their separate identities, but in 1966 it was decided to concentrate the group’s operations on two trading names: Grey-Green and Orange.
Subsequent acquisitions included the London coaching business of Birch Bros. Ltd. Upon takeover in 1971, this was the last relic of a family empire which stretched back to horse-bus operation from 1847 onwards, encompassed the “pirate” era of London’s buses between 1922 and 1934, and developed express and stage services between London and the Bedfordshire/Northamptonshire area (which passed in 1969 to United Counties). The small Birch fleet retained its red livery and fleet name for a while, but by 1977 the last coach bearing this famous name had vanished from the streets.
The Ewer Group bought a 70% controlling stake in World Wide Coaches of Camberwell in 1974, buying out the remaining minority interests two years later. World Wide continues to operate as a separate high-class tour company at Camberwell, and its vehicles carry blue livery. They included one of the largest Mercedes coach fleets in the British Isles. Further takeovers were of Wimbledon and Mitcham Belle Coaches in 1974, and of Dix Coaches and Universal Cream Coaches in 1976. In turn, the Ewer family sold a minority interest in their own firm to CCH Investments Ltd., who sold this 30% stake to Trafalgar Tours in 1977.
The basic livery became green and white, having varied from the green and grey that gave Grey-Green its name. The Dix Luxury Coaches and World Wide fleets are painted in separate liveries. From 1956 onwards almost all vehicles delivered to the Ewer Group were registered in a series that started at 300, and reached 737 by 1978. However, this “invisible fleet number” has been confused by later acquisitions from constituent fleets; there are now one or two clashes of registration numbers.
Grey Green evolved into the George Ewer Group of companies as they expanded into the London bus operations, which became the Cowie Group when the private car dealerships were sold on. This Group grew to become Arriva, which is now one of the largest bus operating groups in the U.K., and also has international operations. From humble beginnings with a horse bus in Stamford Hill…