We’ll Take You There

Humber Museums Partnership - We’ll Take You There

About We’ll Take You There


In the summer of 1914, Arthur Hornsby and his son Joseph created their own bus service in Ashby, near Scunthorpe. In November 1914, the company began carrying passengers between Ashby and Scunthorpe. The business flourished and expanded, offering additional routes and services. Hornsby buses have now been running the same route for the past one hundred years.

This exhibition celebrates and commemorates the one hundredth anniversary of Hornsby Bus Travel. It explores the history of a local family business and how that story fits into the wider social context of North Lincolnshire.

Birth of a Business

In July 1914, Arthur and Joseph Hornsby bought a 10-seater 1910 Minerva bus for £180 from Mann Egerton of Norwich. As neither of them had ever driven a four-wheeled vehicle before, they hired a driver to help them on the way back. By the time they reached Lincoln, he considered that their driving was good enough for them to finish the journey alone and asked them to drop him at his sister’s house.

A local joiner built a new cover for the bus, using ash from Brumby Wood. It was painted primrose yellow as he had paint left over from a previous order. The bus was named Primrose, both after the colour of the paint and because there was a fashion in the area at the time for naming buses after flowers. The name was painted in script on one side of the bus and block capitals on the other so that Arthur and Joseph could choose which one they preferred. However, they didn’t notice until about a year afterwards.

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  • Joseph Hornsby with one of the company's early Primrose buses, 1920s

  • One of the old 'Primrose' buses, around the 1920s or 1930s

  • Primrose double-decker bus to Ashby via Old Brumby, around the 1940s

  • This Leyland bus once belonged to the War Department. It was later bought by Hornsby's and given the Primrose title


Hornsby’s first garage was a brick building on Oxford Street in Ashby. In 1915, Arthur Hornsby bought Smith’s Farm and land in front of his cycle shop at 6 High Street. The farm buildings were converted into garages and the company still stands on the site today. In the early 1920s Arthur bought a second-hand wooden and corrugated iron structure and rebuilt it on the Hornsby site. It lasted until the 1950s, when heavy snowfall caused the roof to collapse and squashed one of the buses inside.

Hornsby’s expanded in 1959, taking over W.K. Harsley’s Scotter to Scunthorpe service and acquiring vehicles from Central Motors. The company expanded still further when Raymond Hornsby took over in 1966.

When motor buses first started running, the steelworkers often lived close to their work so that they could walk or cycle. As buses and networks improved, commuting from further away was possible and services increased as the population grew.

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  • Bus leaving the Hornsby depot on Ashby High Street, 1950s or 1960s

  • The Hornsby garage and office site on Ashby High Street, 1950s

On the Buses

The first Hornsby bus services ran between Ashby and Scunthorpe and this route soon became popular. There were no official timetables and buses often ran too frequently. In the 1920s, buses arrived every five minutes and ran until 11pm. The fare was three pence.

The number of bus companies had increased considerably by the 1920s. TO deal with this, the Council Highways Committee introduced the licensing of drivers, conductors, vehicles and services in 1926. Vehicles were licensed every March and had their brakes tested on Doncaster Hill, timetables had to be submitted for approval and drivers and conductors were issued with numbered badges.

During the 1930s, Hornsby’s shared the Ashby route with several other bus companies, including Enterprise and Silver Dawn and the Lincolnshire Road Car Company. From the 1950s they ran an extended daily town service jointly with the Lincolnshire Road Car Company and Central Motors. Additions to bus services in 1965 led to Ashby becoming the area’s second main shopping centre.

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  • A 1930 20-seater Guy model bus. Bus companies painted some of their buses dark colours so that they could be used for funerals

  • Hornsby's bus outside the Lincolnshire Road Car Company offices, around the 1960s

  • Scunthorpe High Street, looking towards the junction with Cole Street and West Street, around 1910

  • The south side of Ashby Broadway, May 1965

The Staff

Unlike many of their early rivals, Hornsby’s ran more than one vehicle and so needed several drivers. Early drivers included Arthur, Joseph and Frank Hornsby, Mr Skinner and Fred Stones. The nature of the business meant that it was possible for staff to have more than one job and Arthur, Joseph and Frank all worked in the steel industry. Arthur also ran a cycle shop and taxi in Ashby.

Many early buses were one-man operations, but as passenger numbers grew conductors were employed to collect fares and issue tickets. In North Lincolnshire they were known as ‘Duckies’, ‘Clippies’ or ‘Clickies’. In the early 1980s, one-man operation was reintroduced and conductors disappeared from the buses.

Drivers’ hours were not as strictly controlled as they are today and they could often end up working very long days, particularly on excursions. They had to grab snatches of sleep whenever they could, often napping in the bus while the passengers were enjoying their holiday.

Day Tripping

In the early years of bus travel much of Hornsby’s business came from excursions rather than regular daytime routes. Many families did not own cars and therefore relied on public transport to take them on day trips. By the late 1920s, motor buses had progressed and could now compete with the railways for long-distance passengers. Ashby bus companies often borrowed vehicles from each other to cope with demand.

Cleethorpes was a popular destination, and the bus would stop at Brocklesby Park on the way to allow passengers to eat their picnics. In the 1960s Hornsby’s were able to expand their day trip destinations to places further afield. This included autumn trips to the Blackpool illuminations, which began at 6am. Passengers would spend the day at the resort, enjoy the lights in the evening and return home to Scunthorpe around 2am.

The Last Stop

When motor buses first arrived in North Lincolnshire in the early 1900s Scunthorpe did not have official bus stops. As the number of bus companies expanded in the 1920s, most of them parked near the High Street to pick up and drop off passengers. The resulting noise and congestion led to complaints from local residents and shopkeepers.

The Council opened a bus stand at the bottom of Ashby High Street in 1928 and the local bus company Enterprise and Silver Dawn built a bus station at the eastern end of the High Street in 1929. It had three platforms and a head office. In 1930, the Council opened a new public road on the east side of the station for the use of independent bus companies.

A new bus station was built in Scunthorpe in 1968, on the same ground as the old one. The new station had a café, workshop, bus washer and cash office and provided easy access to the shops. The 1960s structure was replaced in 2003.

A Night on the Town

On Friday and Saturday nights Arthur and Joseph Hornsby would rush back from work to drive people into Scunthorpe for a night out. They drove between Ashby and Scunthorpe as fast as possible in order to be able to pick up more passengers. The last bus was at 10:30pm as most of the entertainment venues closed at 10pm.

People were attracted into the town from neighbouring villages by the range of popular venues. Dance venues offered the opportunity to try out the latest dances, the Palace and Empire theatres hosted variety shows and orchestral concerts and the market stayed open until around 9pm on Fridays. There were also several cinemas playing silent films, accompanied by a pianist or band. When the Geisha Roller Skating Rink on Doncaster Road was converted into the Pavilion in 1913, it became Scunthorpe’s largest cinema, with over 1300 seats.

Destination Europe

Coach tours of Europe became increasingly popular in the 1950s. Air travel was unaffordable for most people, so coach tours were one of the best means of enjoying a holiday abroad. When official regulations eased in the 1960s, Hornsby’s developed this side of their business and began offering trips to Europe.

The company included overnight stops on its European coach tours in order to make the trip more pleasant. Destinations included France, Germany, The Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy. This side of the business declined in popularity with the rise of package holidays and cheap flights.

Raymond Hornsby expanded the business in the 1970s by opening travel agencies in Ashby, Barton, Scunthorpe and Gainsborough. They were sold in 2000.

Hornsby’s still offer short trips to destinations in the UK and as far as Bruges in Belgium.

Humber Museums Partnership