The Bus Up the Dale

Albert Morton
The National Road Traffic Co., Ltd

Albert Morton, Mayor of Richmond 1922–’23. Photograph kindly loaned by his granddaughter Kathleen Cupper.

Albert Morton (1864–1950) came originally from Nottinghamshire, where he trained as a schoolmaster before deciding to enter the civil service. He joined the Post Office at Bawtry, where he became Postmaster in 1890, and came to Richmond as Head Postmaster in 1900. Unsurprisingly in a man of his generation, his beliefs were in many ways very Victorian: he believed in hard work, and he believed in public service. However, he was obviously keen to drag Richmond—and Swaledale—into the Twentieth Century.

He soon saw to it that Upper Swaledale was connected to the telegraph network: the line from Reeth to Keld opened on 12th March 1902. The poles for the new line were hauled up Swaledale by a steam traction engine belonging to the Wards of Reeth, who also had Reeth Post Office at that time (Reeth Post Office, then beside the Methodist Chapel in what’s now Leaholme, was run by successive members of the Ward family from the 1880s to the 1930s). Albert Morton managed to have a new Richmond Post Office built on King Street, at the back of the King’s Head: a foundation stone-laying took place on 7th April 1902, and the new Post Office was formally opened on 27th February 1903 (the previous Post Office was down on Millgate; the one we now remember, on Queens Road, opened in November 1933, and closed in September 2001).

In the Autumn of 1902, Albert Morton launched an appeal for a telephone system in Richmond; Richmond’s first telephone exchange duly opened on 16th December 1903.

Kindly provided by John Morton is this 1903 photograph of the diminutive Star 10hp wagonette which would later be registered as AJ 52, parked at the foot of King Street outside the then new Post Office—which was built onto the rear of the King’s Head. The 1930s plate-glass shop fronts afterwards fitted to these premises are deceiving, but the upper storey remains unaltered to this day; the Star is parked in front of what’s now no. 20, King Street, and the schoolboys are standing at the top of Ryder’s Wynd.

Meanwhile, Albert Morton was also keen to improve the speed and efficiency of local mail deliveries. To this end, in 1903, he formed the ambitiously-titled National Road Traffic Company, using motor-vehicles to collect the post from Darlington, and also to deliver it to outlying communities around Richmond, including Swaledale. The vehicles comprised a variety of wagonettes and tonneaux, which could carry fare-paying passengers as well as mail and goods; the fleet also included plain vans for non-passenger work.

The first trial run up Swaledale to Keld with a motor-van took place on 6th October 1903: the journey took approximately two hours, including all stops. The Commercial Motor magazine noted in July 1905 that the National Road Traffic Company’s vehicles were enabling mail to be delivered two hours earlier than had previously been possible.

A few yards further up King Street, with the stucco of the King’s Head visible at the right of the frame, is the larger Aster wagonette, AJ 328, in 1905—Geoff Lumb collection. The vehicle is parked alongside the present-day nos 16 and 18, King Street. The Post Office occupied these premises from the beginning of 1903 to the end of 1933, and was then moved to Queens Road (where Wetherspoon’s now is).

The National Road Traffic Company’s first offices were on the Market Place, at no. 52. In due course Albert Morton acquired a plot on the corner of Dundas Street and Queens Road, where he built a garage and car showroom. The showroom is now the town library, and the garage was latterly the sale-room of a local estate agent and auctioneer, until its demolition in May 2010—at which time, incidentally, the three underground tanks which had formerly served petrol pumps on Queens Road were revealed for what must have been the first time in many decades (these tanks were laboriously removed, and a row of houses built on the site).

The Morton & Lloyd filling station on Queens Road is at the left of the frame, and the former motor showroom, now Richmond Library, at the top of Dundas Street, is at the right. Photograph circa 1960, kindly loaned by Kathleen Cupper. The Ford Zephyr Zodiac is believed to be that of Albert Morton’s grandson Albert, who of course was the Morton half of Morton & Lloyd.

After the Great War, the name of Albert Morton’s business was changed to Richmondshire Garages, and later simply to Morton’s. Albert Morton himself retired from the Post Office in 1923, and after the Second World War he set his grandson up in partnership with R.A.F. veteran Ted Lloyd, who had worked for Morton’s in the 1930s: the garage (following a brief interlude of trading as Firby, Sons and Lloyd) now became Morton and Lloyd, and remained so until it closed at the end of the 1970s.

Two photographs, circa 1930, of Richmondshire Garages’ Ford postbus EF 1042 at Muker Post Office. You can see the front half of what’s really a van body has side windows for the passengers. Both snaps kindly loaned by Susan Restall, whose grandparents Tom and Nancy Parker had Muker Post Office at that time—Nancy Parker would retire as Muker subpostmistress in 1956 after 43 years’ service.

Albert Morton’s mail buses served Swaledale until April 1936. They carried fare-paying passengers and ran to a published timetable, so for our purposes they certainly count as Swaledale buses. Indeed, under the Road Traffic Act of 1930, Albert Morton had to apply to the newly-constituted Traffic Commissioners for permission to continue operating the Swaledale motor-bus service which he had already been running for the better part of three decades!

These mid-1920s Morris 14-seaters—it’s understood the firm ran three—look as though they were a tad more civilized than the Ford seen above. At a later date, Willys–Overland–Crossleys were purchased.

It’s significant that the new 1933 Richmond Post Office included “storehouses for cycles, motor cycles, and five motor vans, quarters for the engineers and a petrol pump” (Northern Echo 14th November 1933, p. 4, col. 2). The G.P.O. rescinded the last of Morton’s mail delivery contracts during 1936 and thereafter used motor vans of its own; postal delivery vehicles in Swaledale have never since carried passengers.

Albert Morton’s purpose-built bus depôt on Gilling Road was subsequently taken over by the Percivals of Gunnerside, who were in the process of establishing a Richmond base at the time—these garages were ultimately demolished circa 2015 (can anyone be more specific than that? If so, please get in touch!).

Ted Lloyd (on the left) with the elder Albert Morton’s son-in-law Edgar Cupper (on the right), at the Queen’s Road filling station—photograph kindly loaned by David Lloyd. The pumps, from left to right, offer a choice of Shell, B.P., and National Benzole.

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Handley’s H 145 FGS by the ex-Morton’s, ex-Percival’s garages on Gilling Road in the Summer of 2010. If you can advise just when this building was actually demolished, do please get in touch!)