Shell Refining's Private Bus Service

I was very pleased to see a picture of Leyland Tiger Cub 6127 PU in later ownership. I remember this bus when it was new and although I knew some of its subsequent history I had never come across a photograph other than my own - which is not surprisingly, in black and white and taken with a camera the quality of which befits a young boy. However I am attaching it for interest's sake. The Shell Refining Company's Shell Haven Refinery (the location name is a fortuitous fluke) in the Thames Estuary was by the early 1950s much expanded on its war time configuration and covered a huge area with two sites separated by an equally vast independent oil storage company - London and Thames Oil Wharves - later absorbed. At the far East point there was also a colony of some 25 houses which were variously occupied by key personnel and certain senior management. This is where I was born. Frequently media reports confuse this with a larger village called Coryton, which was adjacent to the nearby Mobil refinery, which also had its own buses. But that is another story. Shell ran its own bus service, although the sites were also served by operators such as Campbells of Pitsea, Westcliff on Sea Motor Services and briefly London Transport with route 349 - their most Easterly route. The Shell service, being run by non psv vehicles of course was only available to Shell employees and their families. Though it did not particularly occur to me at the time, the bus service was not used as a "workers" bus to and from home - often the literal understanding when we see something recorded as "staff transport". Perhaps there were legal complications. Anyway, there was plenty of public transport and bicycles were legion. Frequently empty, Shell supplied a regular service that ran from the houses at Shell Haven up to Corringham and on to Stanford-le-Hope. There was effectively a quick route to Stanford and late services might go just straight there and then return via Corringham. For some reason perhaps explained by parish boundaries, the nearest schools were not available to we Shell kids (numbers of whom would vary according to their parents moving location within the company but I do not think ever numbered more that ten). Hence the Shell buses would take us the five miles up to the schools in Stanford-le-Hope and then, for some, it was public transport (Eastern National or when it ran the route, LT) to grammar schools in Grays. Unfortunately I cannot remember how regular the Shell service was (hourly at peak with gaps mid morning and afternoon I think?) but it ran from early morning until about eight in the evening. Knowing some of the drivers it was a given form of entertainment for kids to ride the route round just for the fun of it. It was free of course. Apart from one, all the buses were originally painted all over dark blue although it was probably not a livery as such because in the end none of them were the same. The destination displays carried the message "Shell Private" and the only other identification was a small Shell pecten on the side in gold leaf. Mobil buses were red with a large Pegasus flying horse in white on the side by the way.
The oldest bus I remember was a double decker - OTW 922 which later on went to Cullings of Norwich. This I am pleased to say has been thoroughly covered by this web site. Compared with the commercial double deckers operating in the area, to a small boy OTW 922 seemed very imposing with its very dark blue paint and droopy style (can I say that?) Weymann bodywork. It had flared out lower panels in the style of this manufacturer of course and this made it seem far older than anything else, but in fact it was not.

Then there were two Bedford SBGs. The first had Mulliner body work and was registered 838 HNO. (Photo given to me by the late Peter Snell). The second I think was not Mulliner but Duple Midland bus bodywork. My confusion stems from the fact that it had a frontal aspect somewhat less severe than most utility buses from that factory, which included those running for Mobil. Unfortunately I do not have a photograph of this bus. Mostly I remember that it was a lighter blue than the others and had a small hydraulic lever for the driver to open the leaf doors. The double decker was seldom used and the two Bedfords comfortably covered bus services.

There was also a "luxury" coach which frequently popped up on service when it was not being used for transporting visitors around (of which there were many in the days when oil refining was a scientific marvel and not an ecological pariah). Originally this was another SBG with the original early Duple Vista style coachwork. Once I had the registration recorded but for the life of me cannot find it now. Even the only picture I have of it is incomplete! Remember of course, photography was banned on site, so what I have comes from making friends with the official photographer who was not actually too interested in the coach itself. Unlike the others with a single colour, this was light blue on top with a dark blue lower half. This led to some confusion because this was the livery of the local coach firm, Audawn Coaches of Corringham and many would be Shell passengers were disappointed when their expected coach appeared in the distance only to sail past them. This memory is especially vivid for me because many years later I bought the offending Audawn coach for preservation. The SB / Duple became very tatty indeed and was replaced by the Leyland Duple Donnington 6217 PU. The original colour was not dissimilar to Tillingbourne blue though perhaps a bit less vivid. It was the first brand new Shell bus I had been on and had impressive swirl pattern blue moquette, a real enamel Tiger Cub badge and magic wipers that hung in the windscreen glass. Oh the things that can impress a small boy! Always (and still) curious about how things work, this coach added electric doors to my knowledge. Years later I spoke to some old Shell drivers and gathered that luxurious though this coach was compared with anything else, it was unpopular being heavy and sluggish compared with the Bedford SBG buses with their lively petrol engines and synchromesh gearboxes. By the mid 1960s Shell Haven's Transport Department found that just like the outside world, private car ownership and a dwindling supply of children and visitors meant there was less need for a bus service. Old people there were none, because on retirement people moved out. Interestingly at this time Essex County Council also upped their game with regard to provided school transport and for a while general school buses ran down to administer the modest needs of Shell Haven and Coryton. City Coaches ran all the way from Upminster. Shell replaced their bus service with chauffeured radio controlled cars. The fleet had always included cars, ranging from Pullman Humbers to Ford Zephyrs and these were were requested when required by telephone. You never knew what kind of car would turn up!

Eventually all the old buses were disposed of although one new Marshall bodied bus, MEV 543C was obtained for inter-site use. This may have been a Ford. I cannot be sure. I do know it vibrated like hell and the interior was completely painted in a peculiar speckle finish called "Dockote" which was also popular as anti graffiti paint in public toilets. It was horrible. Owing to the small scale of this operation and the severe restrictions of the time regarding photography surrounding oil refineries I doubt there is much other information that will come to light but I hope readers will have been interested to know these brief details about a private bus service that would be considered unthinkable in modern economic times.


Nick Webster

16/02/18 - 06:42

I seem to recall that in addition to the single deck vehicles mentioned there was a Weymann bodied double decker with a registration which started OHK ???. Often driven by driver Harry Key.

Duncan Grant

15/06/18 - 08:36

A few comments on the fleet...
There were also 30 VNO a Bedford J1Z7 - Spurling minibus and 85 UOO & 153 WOO two small Ford - Marshall 24 seaters. MEV 543C was a Ford 570E.
Some questions for Nick. The Duple Midland bodied SB was 7534 EV but any idea if it was a 42 seater? The identity of the two-tone ?blue? SBG - Duple coach is a puzzle, that livery was usually the Ellesmere Port colours. Could it have been MXW 862 or 868 or NLU 563?.

Martin I



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