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Horse-bus services in Bristol were started in 1887 by the Bristol Tramways and Carriage Company. The horse-buses were replaced by motor buses from 1906, when the company started a service from the Centre to Clifton.

From 1887 to 1986, Bristol Tramways (renamed Bristol Omnibus Company in 1957) had an almost complete monopoly of bus services in and from Bristol. The exceptions were in the 1920s, when Greyhound Motors provided competition until taken over by Bristol Tramways in 1928; a few small independent operators, the last of which, the Dundry Pioneer, was acquired in 1950; and Red & White Services, which started joint services with Bristol Omnibus Company to South Wales when the Severn Bridge opened in 1966.

Between 1937 and 1978 Bristol Omnibus Company was the operating partner in Bristol Joint Services, a joint undertaking with Bristol Corporation which controlled bus services within the city. The company owned and operated the buses, and shared revenues with the Corporation.

Bristol Omnibus Company was state-owned from 1948, but in 1980 the Thatcher government embarked on a programme of privatisation and deregulation of bus services. In preparation the company was split into two operating units in 1983: the city services, which in 1985 adopted the brand Bristol City Line, and the country services, which in 1986 became a separate company, Badgerline Ltd. Badgerline was sold to its management in 1986, and the original company was sold in 1987 to Midland Red West, who kept the City Line brand.

Deregulation meant that Badgerline was able to begin bus services within the city, in competition with City Line. However, in 1988 Midland Red West was itself acquired by Badgerline, so that Bristol's bus services were again controlled by a single company.

In 1995 Badgerline merged with Grampian Regional Transport to become First Bus, later renamed FirstGroup. First adopted a policy of common branding, and the City Line and Badgerline brands were dropped. Bristol Omnibus Company was renamed First Bristol Buses in 1999.

A few small independent operators have competed with Badgerline, City Line and First since deregulation. Buglers ran a few tendered local services from 1988. Abus began with a competing service to Keynsham in 1991. South Gloucestershire Bus & Coach built up a small network of local services from 1997 until it was taken over in 2007 by Rotala, who rebranded the services Wessex Connect. However, the independents have been unable to shake the dominance of First.


Until 1958 the route network grew, but was relatively stable. The first bus route, from the Centre to Clifton, was unchanged from 1887 to 1958. Routes were first numbered in 1913.

Most services started from the Centre, Prince Street or Old Market, although the tram replacement services started between 1938 and 1941 were mostly cross-city routes. In 1958 routes were linked, so that almost all routes ran across the city. This was to reduce congestion caused by standing buses in the central area, and also to provide better access to the new Broadmead shopping area.

In 1966 and 1967, many routes were renumbered to fit into a new numbering scheme:

  • 1-99: Bristol city routes
  • 100-199: Weston-super-Mare and Wells areas
  • 200-299: Bath area
  • 300-399: Bristol country area
  • 400-499: Swindon and Stroud areas
  • 500-599: Gloucester and Cheltenham areas

In the mid 1970s, growing congestion was creating delays and unreliable timing on the long cross-city routes, and many services were again split.

In 1978 the end of Bristol Joint Services enabled city services to be linked with routes in the eastern suburbs which were outside the city boundaries. Then in 1981 the NBC's Market Analysis Project[1] triggered more changes, with the abandonment of some long-established routes. Privatisation and deregulation resulted in more changes.

In recent decades, bus services have been extended to serve new suburbs to the north and east of the city and to serve the new out of town shopping centre at Cribbs Causeway.

In the 1980s, limited stop express services were started to the outer suburbs, initially under the Clipper brand. These routes have now mostly been abandoned.

In the 1990s the policy was adopted of using distinctive route numbers for services subsidised by local authorities. Subsidised city routes were numbered in the 5xx series, and subsidised country services in the 6xx series.

Early bus services[edit]

The tram services were given the numbers 1 to 17, so the first bus routes were allocated numbers 18 to 33 in 1913:

Service Route Subsequent history
18 Centre - Clifton Unchanged until 1958; then linked with part of route 284 to Downend; in 1975 replaced by new routes 7 and 8, now part of routes 8 and 9.
19 Centre - New Clifton By 1930, extended to Fishponds, starting from Old Market. By 1949 renumbered 133. In 1962 renumbered 13. Extended to the Downs (1962-65), later to Bedminster, later to Stockwood Road. Now part of route 6.
20 Centre - Redland (Clyde Road) By 1930, extended to Bedminster. In 1965 replaced by parts of routes 13 and 14. The route is no longer a bus route.
21 Centre - Ashley Down Road By 1949 extended to Lockleaze. In 1958 linked to route 132 to Knowle West. In the 1970s renumbered 71 and terminus changed from Lockleaze to Filton. Now part of route 70.
22 Centre - Ashton Gate By 1930 extended to Sneyd Park and to Bedminster Down, extended again in 1958 to Hartcliffe. Renumbered 42 in 1970, but route north of Centre abandoned in 1970s (remaining route numbered 79). No longer a bus route.
23 Centre - Bedminster In 1921 extended to Bridgwater. In 1963 cut back to Highbridge and Burnham. Renumbered 369 in 1966. Route abandoned in the early 1980s
24 Centre - Brockley Combe In 1921 extended to Weston-super-Mare. Renumbered 352/353 in 1966. Now routes 351 to 354.
25 Centre - Nailsea In 1921 extended to Clevedon. Renumbered 362 in 1966. Now route 364.
26 Centre - Frampton Cotterell In 1921 extended to Wotton-under-Edge, then to Dursley and in 1948 to Gloucester. Renumbered 526 in 1967. In 1981 split at Dursley and southern section numbered 326. Renumbered 626 in 1987, now operated by Wessex Connect.
27 Bristol - Wells By 1930 extended to Street. Renumbered 376 in 1966.
28 Centre - North View - Avonmouth Unchanged until 1958, then linked with route 138 to Withywood. Later extended to Hartcliffe. In 1992 renumbered 528. Withdrawn in 2002. Parts of the Avonmouth half became part of route 41, but other sections are no longer a bus route.
29 Downs - Tockington The route became part of route 30A, renumbered 330 in 1966, later abandoned. By 1921 route 29 was used for the Bristol - Gloucester service, extended to Cheltenham from 1928 to 1971 (renumbered 529 in 1967), but abandoned as a through route in the 1980s.
30 Filton - Thornbury A tram feeder service, extended to the Centre by 1930. Renumbered 329 in 1966, now part of routes 309 and 310.
31 Old Market - Barton Hill Merged with route 36 in the 1920s. By 1930 route 31 was used for the Bristol - Malmesbury service, later extended to Swindon. Renumbered 418 in 1966, later abandoned as a through route. Route number 31 has been revived for the Malmesbury - Swindon service, operated by Andybus.
32 Old Market - Fishponds Extended to Chipping Sodbury in 1921, to Tetbury by 1930 and Cirencester in 1935. Renumbered 432 in 1966, later abandoned.
33 Brislington - Newton A tram feeder service, extended at each end to run from Bristol to Bath by 1930. Renumbered 339 in 1966.

In 1921, three more routes were started:

Service Route Subsequent history
34 Westbury - New Passage/Severn Beach Unchanged until 1963; then extended into Bristol. Renumbered 324 in 1966, now route 624 operated by Wessex Connect
35 Kingswood - Marshfield By 1930, extended to Chippenham and into Bristol. Renumbered 335 in 1966, now route 635 operated by Faresavers.
36 Old Market - Barton Hill - St Anne's The oldest route still using its original number.

In the 1950s extended to Knowle, and in 1961 to Withywood. From 1963 to the early 1970s it was a cross-city route to Patchway, the longest city route (a running time of 1 hr 30 mins). In the late 1970s it was extended to Hotwells for a period.

The next route numbers were allocated to other parts of the Bristol Tramways network:

  • 40 to 44: Weston-super-Mare area
  • 45 to 64: Cheltenham and Gloucester area
  • 65 to 79: Swindon area

New routes started or acquired in the Bristol area were then allocated numbers on an ad hoc basis. In the 1920s and 1930s new routes included

Service Route Subsequent history
28B Centre - Henleaze - Filton Started in the 1920s. Renumbered 142 by 1949. In 1958 linked to route 238 to Highridge. Renumbered 12 in 1966, but withdrawn in the mid 1970s.
80 Bristol - Dundry Renumbered 373 in 1966. Now part of route 672.
81 Old Market - Ashley Down Road - Horfield Renumbered 281 and extended to Filton by 1949. Became part of route 236 in 1958. No longer a bus route.
82 Old Market - Eastville Became part of route 83 by 1949
83 Eastville - Downs - Clifton By 1949 extended to Old Market. In 1958 linked to route 89 to Cheltenham Road/Zetland Road. From 1963 to 1966 a circular route. In 1990s renumbered 586. In 2005 Cheltenham Road section discontinued; extended to Hotwells. Now operated by Wessex Connect
84 Centre - Fishponds A Greyhound Motors route. Extended to Hotwells in 1938, and later to Downend (with 284). In 1958, the Hotwells section was cut and the route extended to Cribbs Causeway. Replaced in the mid 1970s by route 51. Now mostly part of route 48.
85 Bristol - Portishead Renumbered 358 and 359 in 1966.
88 Bristol - Radstock Renumbered 365 in 1966, now part of 178 and 179 to Bath.
89 Clifton - Cheltenham Road In 1958 became part of route 83 (later 586). Since 2005 not a bus route.
99 Hotwells - Avonmouth A Greyhound Motors route, started in 1922 when the Portway opened. Extended to Princes Street in 1938. From 1958 to 1963 extended to Patchway; from 1963 to the mid 1970s extended to Knowle, then renumbered 26. Now part of routes 695 and 902
133 Eastville - St George By 1949 renumbered 82. In 1966 renumbered 90. Now part of route 584.
134 Bristol - Bitton - Bath Started in the 1920s. Renumbered 332 in 1966
139 Old Market - Pennywell Road - Stapleton In 1962 linked to route 239 to become a cross-city route to Ashton Vale, renumbered 19. Now routes 24 and 25 terminating at Lockleaze.
145 Horsefair - Kellaway Avenue - Henleaze In 1958 extended south to Stockwood and linked to route 28C to Shirehampton. In 1965 split at Hosefair: the Stockwood end became part of route 40, the Shirehampton end was extended to Hotwells and renumbered 15. In the early 1970s cut at the Centre and renumbered 25. Later linked to route 37 to Rookery Farm and renumbered 22 and 23. Now routes 20 and 21 but serving Southmead, not Shirehampton.

Between 1938 and 1941, the city's tram services were withdrawn. The replacement bus services were numbered 1 to 9:

Service Route Subsequent history
1 Brislington - Centre - Westbury Extended to Henbury by 1949. The southern terminus was switched to Broomhill in the mid 1970s. Numbered 501 for a time.
2 Eastville - Old Market - Downs Extended by 1949 to Sea Mills and Lockleaze. Extended in the 1950s to Lawrence Weston. Renumbered 22 in 1970. The western section is now part of route 40 (until 2006 route 43).
3 Fishponds - Centre - Knowle Extended to Whitchurch and Oldbury Court by 1949. In the 1950s the northern half became part of route 11. In 1958 linked to route 5 to Filton. In the mid 1970s the route was split: the Filton half became route 73 (now route 75), and the Whitchurch half became route 32 (now not served by city buses).
4 Staple Hill - Old Market - Knowle By 1949 extended to Knowle West. Renumbered 44 and 45 in 1970. Split in 1975: the Staple Hill end became routes 54 and 55 (now 49), the Knowle West end route 30 (now route 52).
5 Centre - Filton In 1958 rerouted to Filton Avenue (old route 5A) and extended to Broomhill. In the mid 1970s, the route was split: the Broomhill end became part of route 1, the Filton end was renumbered 72 (now part of 73).
6 Old Market - Filton In 1958 linked to the southern half of route 8A to Hartcliffe. In the early 1970s withdrawn north of Haymarket. Renumbered 76 in the mid 1970s, still part of 76.
7 Centre - Zetland Road - Downs In 1958 extended from Centre to Hotwells. In 1962 replaced by parts of routes 13 and 14, in 1965 part of route 40, in 1975 renumbered 34. Now not a bus route.
8 Kingswood - Old Market - Bedminster Down Extended to Hartcliffe in 1953 and also to Warmley. In 1958 the Hartcliffe end became part of routes 6 and 6A; extended to Southmead by the route of the old 2A. In 1970 renumbered 87 and 88. Now the Warmley end is part of route 43, the Southmead end is part of route 54.
9 Hanham - Old Market - Ashton Gate Unchanged until the 1980s. Today the Hanham end is part of routes 44 and 45, the Ashton end is not a bus route.

Variants to pre-war routes included

Service Route Subsequent history
2A Stapleton - Old Market - Downs - Southmead In 1958 the Southmead end became part of route 8, the Stapleton end was extended to Frenchay and linked to route 132 to Knowle West. In 1961 renumbered 10. The Frenchay end is now part of routes 4 and 5, the Knowle West end part of routes 89 and 90.
6A Old Market - Gloucester Road - Southmead In 1958 linked to the southern half of route 8 to Hartcliffe. In 1965 renumbered 7, in 1970 renumbered 77 and extended to Henbury. Still route 77 today, but operating via Centre, not Old Market.
19A Old Market - Staple Hill - Pucklechurch In the mid 1950s renumbered 319. In 1966 renumbered 389.

Post war bus services[edit]

After the war, several routes were extended to serve new housing estates: Lawrence Weston (2), Henbury (1), Lockleaze (2 and 21), Withywood (138) and Hartcliffe (8, 22 and 238). Other new routes included

Service Route Subsequent history
17 Temple Meads - Centre In 1958 extended to the Zoo. In 1970 renumbered 41. In 1975 combined with route 18 to form circular routes 7 and 8. Now part of routes 8 and 9.
400 Bristol - Yate - Wotton-under-Edge - Stroud Started in 1950 when Bristol Tramways acquired the Stroud routes of Red & White. In 1981 replaced by route 325 (Bristol - Wotton) and 440 (Yate - Stroud), through services withdrawn in 1983.
11 Oldbury Court - Centre - Hengrove. Started in the mid 1950s when route 3 was changed. Split in 1975: the Oldbury Court end became route 51 (now part of route 5), the Hengrove end became route 31 (now part of route 51).
33A Bristol - Keynsham (Park Estate) Started in the mid 1950s. Renumbered 349 in 1966. Now operated by Abus and First jointly.
300 and 301 Bristol - Cardiff Started in 1966 when the Severn Bridge opened. The stopping service (300) was cut at Chepstow in 1968. The express service (301) became part of the Expresswest service (611 and 612) in the 1980s. Now limited stop service X14 via Chepstow to Newport and Cwmbran.
  1. ^ Competition Commission report 1982