Omnibuses (’Buses) and Charabancs

The noun “omnibus” originated in the 1820s as a French word for long, horse-drawn vehicles that transported people along the main thoroughfares of Paris. The word travelled over to England, much later in the century, for vehicles of the same type, doing the same job, and, later, motorised versions – what we know as buses.

In Latin, the word, “omnibus” simply means “for all.” For convenience, the word became shortened to ‘bus, with an apostrophe at the front, which was used to indicate that some part of the word was missing – not generally done, now-a-days.

The following report appeared in the Bexhill Observer, dated 11th May 1901. This report gives us a lot of information such as the type of vehicles, the destinations, fares, and timetable – and what was intended in the future. It, also, talks about “Char-a-bancs” – generally pronounced, “Charrabangs” or “Sharrabangs, depending on where you come from, and run together as one word. So what were these Charabancs?

Once again, as with “Omnibus”, “Char-a-banc” came over from France in the early 19th century. They were, originally, horse-drawn vehicles known, in France, as “char-à-bancs” – basically a carriage or cart with benches. In the age of the motor car they were stretched vehicles with several rows of seats. It wouldn’t take many years before the “Coach”, as we know it to-day, replaced this vehicle but it gave the ordinary person, something they hadn’t had before and what we, to-day, are used to – day-trips just for excitement and fun.

Motor Car Service for Bexhill

“A clause in one of the reports adopted by the Urban District Council on Monday states that licences have been granted for the running of a number of motor omnibuses in Bexhill. This innovation is to be warmly welcomed as providing not only a source of attraction for visitors, but a much-needed convenience for residents.”

“The enterprise is that of the Bexhill Motor Company, of which Mr Bradney Williams is the Secretary and Manager. In conversation with the gentleman yesterday we learned that it is the intention of the Company to put on four first-class Daimler motors, each capable of seating fourteen people. Three of the cars will be of the Omnibus type, and the other of the char-a-banc pattern. The former, which can be open or closed according to the weather, will run from the centre of the town at regular hours to Hastings, Sidley, and Little Common, while that char-a-banc motor will be reserved for a long trips into the neighbouring country, such as to Eastbourne, Herstmonceux, Tunbridge Wells, Rye, and other places within similar distances. These all-day excursions should prove a great boon to visitors, by whom, it may be anticipated, they will be largely patronised.”

“The value of the local service of motor ‘buses will be greatly enhanced by a timetable, which will be published in the local Press, and regularly and he had to. Thus anyone wishing to go to Sidley or to Little Common will be able to depend on the car starting at a particular time and frame a certain place. The fares are very reasonable. For the Hastings return journey one shilling will be charged. It was hoped to make an arrangement for single fares 6d each way, thus giving passengers the opportunity of returning by train if they wished, but as the Corporation of Hastings will not allow motorcars to ply for hire in that town it has been necessary to fix a return fare. The single journey to Sidley, Nazareth house, or Little Common will cost a small sum of threepence, while a ride to Pevensey and back can be had for eighteenpence.”

“Mr Bradney Williams has taken premises in Sackville-road, Bexhill, where the motors will be kept, and here private cars can be repaired or attended to. The motive power will be supplied by petrol. It is hoped to have the cars running in about a fortnight’s time.”

“If the venture succeeds, the service will be continued throughout the summer, and, probably in a limited form, during the winter. Bexhill will doubtless feel proud of its public service of motor omnibuses, and we wish Mr Bradley Williams and his Company every possible success.”


Scroll to Top