The Bus Up the Dale

Tim Scratcherd
Reeth Motor Service
—to be featured in Chapter IV of The Bus Up the Dale.

At the beginning of the Twentieth Century, the Black Bull at Reeth had for many years been run by the Garbutt family. During the Great War, a Darlington man by the name of Tim Scratcherd was courting a daughter of the family, Doris Garbutt. Tim and Doris were married in 1918, and in due course became proprietors of the Black Bull in their own right.

1920s advertisement—Swaledale Museum archive.

You might think that running a licensed hotel was a full-time occupation in itself, but the Scratcherds also acquired large motor-car for private hire work. By 1921 Tim Scratcherd, with one Percy Harker, was running a fleet of three motors: a 26-seater, a 16-seater, and a 6-seater. Percy Harker’s family had long been grocers at Langthwaite, and also carriers between Arkengarthdale and Richmond. Percy Harker moved to Leyburn in the mid-1920s and took up other employment, but Tim and Doris Scratcherd carried on, and by the end of the decade were running two regular bus services: one connecting Arkengarthdale with Reeth and one running down Swaledale to Richmond.

The shed behind the Temperance at Reeth—just down the hill from the Black Bull—served as their main depot until they bought George Metcalfe’s garage at Dolly Garth on the Arkengarthdale road. At one time they also garaged a bus in Muker.

The fleet name Reeth Motor Service was adopted, and the Scratcherds aimed to have three buses at any given time: two out on service, and one spare—and, if you have any experience of buses, you’ll know very well what a wise policy this can be! We are amply justified in saying “the Scratcherds” because both Tim and Doris were licensed bus drivers.

One of the Scratcherds’ Chevrolet saloons in wintry conditions on the High Row at Reeth, early 1930s. Photograph: Swaledale Museum archive.

Quite a few locals were dabbling in motor-bus operation of one kind or another in the early 1920s, but by the 1930s most of these enterprises had ceased, and the only real competition was between the Scratcherds and the Percivals of Gunnerside, who had also begun running a regular Swaledale service. There are tales of Tim Scratcherd and Willie Percival racing one another down the dale, vying for fares—indeed, the Road Traffic Act 1930 was brought in partly to prevent such frantic rivalry between bus operators (which was not unique to Swaledale). However, the Scratcherds and the Percivals had already addressed this issue by the time the Act came in, and were sharing the Richmond bus route as the “Swaledale Joint Service”.

Reeth Motor Service retained sole operation of the Arkengarthdale route, and each firm continued to offer its own private hire services.

Advertisement from the Joint Service timetable ca 1930: Joan Percival collection.

In 1938, the Scratcherds sold up, leaving Reeth shortly after to run a shop in Darlington, on the corner of Sandriggs and Bates Avenue in the Faverdale part of town.  The Scratcherds’ buses, and the Dolly Garth garage at Reeth, were bought by the Percivals, although it is said that Tom “Fire” Sunter of Gunnerside—more widely remembered as founder and managing director of Sunter Bros’ heavy haulage business—tried to outbid Willie Percival, with the idea of breaking into what was self-evidently a lucrative line of business.

One of the Scratcherds’ drivers was Claude Coates who came originally from Teesdale. The Reeth Motor Service Bedford 26-seat saloon, VN 8881, acquired by Percival’s in 1938, continued to be known as “Claude’s Bus” until it was taken out of service in 1960. Maurice Barningham, a Reeth lad who was taken on as Tim Scratcherd’s parcels boy in the 1920s, continued to drive the Arkengarthdale service for Percival’s until they finished in 1971, and then drove the school bus from Reeth to Richmond for Ken Sayer of Bellerby until the 1980s. Likewise Billy Burrells, remembered by many as a favourite Percival’s character, originally came to Swaledale to drive for the Scratcherds in the mid-1920s, and moved over to Percival’s at the beginning of the 1930s.

Post-War snap of Doris (L.) and Tim Scratcherd behind their shop counter. Photograph: Liz Atkin.

An article by Reuben Frankau of Low Row on Tim and Doris Scratcherd’s bus operation appeared in the February 2010 issue of Vintage Roadscene, including some additional details and photographs. Further information has come in since that piece was written. As published, the article also included an unfortunate misprint which was not of our making—indeed we spotted it with horror at the proofing stage, and were assured that it would not come out in print. We can only apologise for any confusion caused. This error was eventually corrected in the May 2010 edition. When the long-awaited book, The Bus Up the Dale, is finally printed, it will of course include a chapter on the Scratcherds—the current draft of this (Chapter IV) stands at 7,000 words, but don’t worry, there are lots of lovely archive images to break up the text!

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