Western National

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Western National
Penzance - Western National 1200 LFJ844W.jpg
Preserved Bristol VRT in Penzance in April 2012
Founded 1929
Service area Cornwall
Service type Bus operator

Western National was a bus company operating in South West England from 1929 until the 1990s.

Early history[edit]

Preserved Bristol H at Liskeard station in November 2012
Preserved Eastern Coach Works bodied Bristol VR in April 2009
Eastern Coach Works bodied Bristol Lodekka with Sealink branding in Weymouth in 1978
Preserved Plaxton Pointer bodied Dennis Dart in Penzance in April 2014

Western National Omnibus Company[1] was founded in 1929 as a joint venture between the Great Western Railway (GWR) and the National Omnibus & Transport Company. The National company had originated in 1909 as the National Steam Car Company, started to run steam bus services in London. The London services ceased in 1919, when the company was renamed National Omnibus & Transport Company. The company expanded outside London, into Essex (1913), Bedfordshire (1919), Gloucestershire (1919), Somerset (1920), Dorset (1921), and Devon & Cornwall (1927).

The GWR had developed an extensive network of bus services in Devon and Cornwall. These services, and those of the National Omnibus in Devon and Cornwall, were transferred to Western National. A few months later, the new company bought the operations of the National company in south west Somerset, Wiltshire and Gloucestershire, and also the GWR bus services around Trowbridge and Stroud. The result was an operating territory stretching from Cheltenham to Penzance, in five areas: Gloucestershire (based in Stroud), Wiltshire (based in Trowbridge), south and west Somerset (based in Taunton), south Devon (based in Plymouth) and Cornwall. Western National's operating territory was interspersed with those of three other major operators: Bristol in south Gloucestershire and north Somerset, Southern National in north Devon and north Cornwall and Devon General in south and east Devon.

In 1931, a controlling interest in the National Omnibus was acquired by the Tilling Group. From then on Western National was run as a Tilling company, although the GWR retained its shares until 1948. Western National and Southern National shared a common management, based in Exeter (although curiously neither company had a depot in Exeter).

At the end of 1934, Western National and Southern National bought Royal Blue Coach Services.


On 1 January 1948, the Great Western Railway was nationalised, and shortly after, the Tilling Group sold its bus interests to the government. Western National therefore became a state-owned company, under the control of the British Transport Commission.

The new regime resulted in some rationalisation of the company's area of operations. In 1950 the Gloucestershire area operations were transferred to Bristol Tramways.

On 1 January 1963, Western National was included in the transfer of the British Transport Commission's transport assets to the state-owned Transport Holding Company, which in turn passed to the state-owned National Bus Company (NBC) on 1 January 1969.

The NBC embarked on more rationalisation of Western National's operations. In 1969, the operations of Southern National were merged with those of Western National, so that Western National acquired the operating areas of north Cornwall, north Devon and Dorset. In 1970 the Wiltshire area operations of Western National were transferred to Bristol Omnibus Company. Then in 1971, the NBC transferred the operations of Devon General to Western National, although Devon General was retained as a brand. Western National pulled out of north Cornwall in 1971, leaving the area to local operators. Then in 1974 the former Southern National operations in the Swanage area of east Dorset were transferred to Hants & Dorset.


In the lead up to deregulation, in January 1983 Western National was divided into four companies:

  • Devon General Limited[2] in the old Devon General area in south and east Devon
  • North Devon Limited[3] trading as Red Bus in North Devon
  • Southern National Limited[4] in Somerset and Dorset
  • Western National Limited[5] in Cornwall and Plymouth

On 19 August 1986, Devon General became the first National Bus Company subsidiary to be privatised under the Transport Act 1985 being sold in a management buyout led by managing director Harry Blundred.[6][7][8] In 1996 it was sold to Stagecoach[9] and in 2003 rebranded Stagecoach Devon.

Preserved Leyland National-Ex Western National. Now in preservation with Steve Kirk of Huntingdon Cambridgeshire

On 7 August 1987 Western National, was sold to Plympton Coachlines[10] with Badgerline having an initial 39% shareholding, which was increased to 66% in August 1988.[11] Western National was included in the June 1995 merger of Badgerline with GRT Group to form FirstBus.[12][13]

North Devon and Southern National were jointly sold to their management on 29 March 1988.[14][15] On 4 April 1999, both were sold to FirstGroup.[16][17] First split Southern National into two, the Dorset operations became part of First Hampshire & Dorset, and the Somerset operations part of First Somerset & Avon. The North Devon operations were combined with those of First Western National to form First Devon & Cornwall.

Therefore, today almost all of the operations of the original Western National and Southern National companies are part of FirstGroup. The only exceptions are the old Gloucestershire area, now part of Stagecoach West, and the small Swanage depot, now part of the Go Ahead Group's Wilts & Dorset.


  1. ^ Companies House extract company no 236066 Western National Omnibus Company Limited
  2. ^ Companies House extract company no 1673326 Devon General Limited
  3. ^ Companies House extract company no 1662631 North Devon Limited
  4. ^ Companies House extract company no 1673334 First Coaches Limited formerly First Southern National Limited formerly Southern National Limited
  5. ^ First South West Limited formerly First Devon & Cornwall Limited formerly First Western National Limited formerly Western National Limited Companies House extract company no 01669417
  6. ^ Devon bought out Commercial Motor 30 August 1986 page 19
  7. ^ Blundred leads Devon buy-out Commercial Motor 30 August 1986 page 20
  8. ^ "First NBC operator sold". Buses. Ian Allan. 38 (379): 452. October 1986. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  9. ^ "Devon companies sold by Transit Holdings". Buses. Ian Allan. 48 (492): 7. March 1996. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  10. ^ Morris, Stephen (October 1987). "Badgering onwards". Buses. Ian Allan. 39 (391): 437. ISSN 0007-6392. 
  11. ^ NBC privatises two more subs Commercial Motor 13 August 1987 page 22
  12. ^ Badgerline links with GRT The Independent 5 April 1995
  13. ^ Link-up creates second largest bus group: GRT and Badgerline in agreed £265m merger Herald Scotland 5 April 1995
  14. ^ Hansard House of Commons 18 April 1988
  15. ^ Morris, Stephen (September 1996). "NBC since NBC: a history of the former NBC subsidiaries". Buses Focus: 46. 
  16. ^ Annual Report Year Ended 31 March 1999 FirstGroup
  17. ^ Issues Affecting Public Transport Funding in Somerset House of Commons

External links[edit]

Media related to Western National Omnibus Company at Wikimedia Commons