Birch Brothers

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Birch Brothers routes
Maximum extent: mid-1956
Route numbers:  200 

Rushden  203   203M   210 
Souldrop Turn
Sharnbrook Turn
 210  Harrold
Milton Ernest
Bedford  211   213 
Shortstown (Cardington Camp)
UK-Motorway-M1.svg 203M
Lower Stondon
Henlow Camp  209   212 
 213   225  Gravenhurst
 209   225  Shillington
Pirton  209 
 212  Luton
Hitchin Station  204   209   225 
 205   206   215 
Chiltern Green
St. Ippolyts
Peters Green
Dane Street
 205  Kimpton
 206  Horn Hill
St. Paul’s Walden
 215  Stevenage
Welwyn  205   206 
Tewin Road Welwyn
Welwyn Garden City (Valley Road)
Bell Bar
Potters Bar
UK-Motorway-M1.svg 203M
North Finchley
London (Kings Cross)  203   203M 

Birch Brothers was a bus and coach operator in south east England.


William Birch started running horse-drawn cabs in London in 1837. After his death in 1846 his widow, Elizabeth, took over the business and in 1847 extended it to include the running of omnibuses, operating a service between Pimlico and Mansion House. The company was divided between her two sons on her death in 1874. Four years later the two sons parted company and ran separate businesses, John Manley operating buses and mail vans (having obtained a substantial contract with the Post Office), and William Samuel operating buses and cabs. In 1885 William Samuel's son, William Henry, joined his father, but thirteen years later started his own omnibus business.

In 1887, John Manley inaugurated the London–Brighton horse drawn night parcel mail and in 1891 the London–Oxford mail which was operated until 1908. In 1889 the two brothers again joined forces and formed the private company of Birch Bros., Limited. By 1907 the company was operating 16 motor omnibuses, but a series of problems led to the company's withdrawal from the venture. As a result of fierce competition by motor buses, horse bus operation ceased in 1912.

In 1919 Birch commenced operating coaches on "See Britain" tours and in 1925 re-entered the London omnibus business. This continued until 1933, when the London Passenger Transport Act was passed, resulting in the compulsory acquisition of the company's 30 buses by the London Passenger Transport Board.

Birch launched a service between London, Hitchin and Bedford in 1928, extending to Rushden in 1929. The company built a garage and bus station at Rushden in 1937. In 1938 the company purchased a number of existing operators running services in Bedford, Henlow, Hitchin and Luton, with another garage at Henlow Camp built in the same year. In 1952 the company pioneered the operation of the first diesel-engined taxicab, converting all of its vehicles to diesel engines within a year; by 1956, the Company had converted over 1,250 cabs owned by other London operators.

On 2 November 1959, the company operated the first regular service journey from London on the new M1 Motorway. The new route, numbered 203M, linked the city with Bedford and Rushden.

The two remaining coach routes were given up to United Counties Omnibus in September 1969. The coach hire business was retained until 1971, when it was sold to George Ewer Ltd., and Birch Brothers closed down.[1]


Number Towns Service
203 London - Welwyn - Hitchin - Bedford - Rushden Daily
203M London - M1 Motorway - Bedford - Rushden Daily
204 Hitchin - Whitwell - Welwyn Daily except Sunday
205 Welwyn - Kimpton - Luton Daily
206 Whitwell - Luton Thursday, Saturday and Sunday only
Welwyn - Whitwell - Luton Saturday and Sunday only
209 Henlow Camp - Holwell - Hitchin Daily
210 Harrold - Odell - Sharnbrook - Rushden Weekdays only
211 Harrold - Carlton - Pavenham - Bedford Daily
212 Henlow Camp - Gravenhurst - Shillington - Luton Daily
213 Gravenhurst - Campton - Shefford - Bedford Saturdays only
215 Luton - Kimpton - Knebworth - Stevenage Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays only
225 Hitchin - Henlow - Gravenhurst Tuesdays only
Hitchin - Henlow - Shillington Saturdays only


External links[edit]

Bibliography and further reading[edit]

  • British Bus Fleets No. 11: London Coach Operators; Ian Allan, 1962
  • Buses Illustrated No. 11 (July 1952) by John Manley Birch
  • Buses Illustrated No. 12 (October 1952) by John Manley Birch
  • PSV Circle Fleet History PN3 (1980)