It was a business empire that will never be forgotten in the fascinating story of West Yorkshire’s public transport and whose name continues to evoke warm nostalgia.
Independent bus operator Samuel Ledgard was held in high regard by both passengers and staff alike between 1912 when it was founded and 1967 when it closed, so much so that a society of former employees and bus enthusiasts remains active - and visibly so in the market town of Otley today to mark a special anniversary.
It is 50 years ago this month that the company was taken over by the West Yorkshire Road Car Company after a revolutionary period for public transport in the region, and to commemorate the milestone vintage buses lined up in Otley’s North Parade car park for people to inspect close up, while free vintage bus rides departed from the bus station.
It was inn-keeper and brewer Samuel Ledgard who launched the company, which had a depot in Otley, in the years before the outbreak of the First World War.
The story of its origins begins with Mr Ledgard’s decision to buy his first motorised charabanc.
Samuel worked for his father, who was a publican with several pubs in Leeds. When he was 21 he bought The Nelson on Armley Road where he stayed for 55 years. He turned the pub into a hotel which developed into outside catering, tent hire and haulage. To provide food for his catering business, he set up a small farm to grow his own vegetables and he began to increase his haulage operations.
It was at this time that he noticed that many hauliers would take the backs off their lorries at weekends and fit seats to take people on trips to the coast - a trend which triggered his decision to acquire a charabanc of his own.
From then on his firm grew rapidly as a number of local competitors were bought up.
Samuel died in 1952 aged 77, leaving son Tom to run the firm until it closed in 1967, by which time its fleet numbered some 112 vehicles and had achieved the distinction of having transported regular Leeds folk far afield and giving them access to a hitherto unaccessible style of life.
That heritage was celebrated yesterday at The Samuel Ledgard Society’s event where Don Shaw-Bate, 77, of Horsforth, was one of the vintage bus exhibitors.
Mr Shaw-Bate used to work as a fitter at the firm’s depot in Armley and acquired the last of the company’s fleet of 31-seater 1949 Leyland Tiger buses in 1968.
Having subsequently sold the bus, only to buy it again in 2000, he has spent the last 17 years lovingly restoring it to something like its former glories.
Reflecting on the repute of Samuel Ledgards, he said: “They were very good to work for. When I started there the pay went up by 50 per cent on the previous job I’d had - I thought I had won the Pools!
“Back then you always caught a Sammys bus. People were very loyal to them and the drivers treated people properly. If they saw someone running for the bus they would stop for them. It was things like that which made them popular.”
Former bus conductor Chris Youhill, 81, who was also in Otley for the celebrations and spent six years working for Ledgards, said: “It was special for bus enthusiasts. Everything to do with the firm was one-off and every day was enjoyable. The wages were also very good for the time.”
A founding member of the Ledgards Society, Mr Youhill, added: “It’s still a local legend in Otley. Ask anyone what they say about present bus operators and they’ll say ‘bring back Sammys!’”
SAMUEL’s FIRSR CHARABANC
The Inn-keeper and bus operator Samuel Ledgard gave the first motorised charabanc that he bought the name ‘The Nelson’.
Although he owned a pub of the same name, his choice of title for his new vehicle was inspired by his idol, Admiral Lord Nelson.
In a quirk of fate during the First World War, when the Ministry of Transport were requisitioning vehicles, they came to see Mr Ledgard and asked for The Nelson charabanc.
He agreed and even provided his most loyal employee, Benny Clough, to drive it when it went to France and although Mr Clough was to return safely, The Nelson charabanc was never seen again.