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Royal Blue 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. Following initial development of tours and local services around Bournemouth and the New Forest in the horse drawn era, express coach services were instituted after the First World War. Royal Blue became part of the Tilling Group in 1935 and came under the management of the Western & Southern National Omnibus Companies (both now absorbed into First Group). Royal Blue routes were incorporated into the National Express network in the 1970s, and the Royal Blue name finally disappeared from service coaches in the late 1980s.

Founded in the horse-drawn era of wagonettes, landaus, brakes and stagecoaches, Thomas Elliott obtained his hackney-carriage driver’s licence in September 1880 and established his business in Avenue Road, Bournemouth. The business expanded rapidly and Royal Blue gained a reputation for attention to detail and the turnout of its coaches and teams of horses.

Royal Blue converted from horse-drawn carriages to motorised char-a-bancs before the First World War, and was a pioneer in the development of long-distance express services in competition with the railways. Continued by Thomas Elliott’s sons, the business was eventually sold, on 1 January 1935, to Thomas Tilling Ltd. and merged with the express services of subsidiaries Western and Southern National, who continued to use the Royal Blue name. The Tilling Group was nationalised in 1948 and formed a major constituent of the National Bus Company from January 1969. Royal Blue routes were absorbed into the National Express Network in the 1970s, but the Royal Blue name continued to be used on Western and Southern National coaches even after de-nationalisation, the final Royal Blue-liveried vehicle being withdrawn in 1994.

From 125th Anniversary of Royal Blue Coaches – A West Country Celebration 16/17 September [2005]

West Country Historic Omnibus & Transport Trust