South Wales Transport Co. 100th Anniversary - Book

   The South Wales Transport Co. LTD. 100th Anniversary

This publication has been produced to celebrate the 100th anniversary of The South Wales Transport Company Ltd.

The company, a subsidiary of the privately owned British Electric Traction Company Ltd, (BET) was inaugurated on 10th February, 1914, and operated its first buses on 2nd May, 1914, as a feeder service to the Swansea tramway system known as the Swansea Improvements and Tramways Company (SITC), owned by Swansea Corporation was already operated by the British Electric Traction Company (BET) on behalf of the Swansea Council. 

Gradually, a process of amalgamation of many of the independent companies occurred, and in 1936/7 the company absorbed the Swansea tramway system, replacing it with 74 motor buses. 

The company continued to be privately owned by BET until 1967, when all the bus operating interests of BET passed to the Transport Holding Company, a state owned by NBC. This resulted in a management buy-out of SWT, and three years later the privatised SWT was sold to Badgerline Holdings. In June 1995, Badgerline Holdings merged with Grampian Regional Transport and formed First Bus PLC.

The SWT name and licenses continued to be used by the new owners until 1999.

It includes a brief history of the company together with a pictorial history with 400 views and a family tree which records the 168 companies involved in the structure of the company. 

IBSN: 978-0-9574045-1-9

29.5cm x 21.0cm
150 pages
Price: £22.50  Now sold out.
Publisher/Distributor: Vernon Morgan, Llanelli +44(0)7751 260069

(From the introduction)


Public transport is the life-line of civilisation. Its meteoric development in the late 19th century is the most spectacular chain of events in the industrial history of man. From the horse-drawn coach and covered wagon, to jet aircraft and the modern omnibus, the span of time was less than a hundred

The history of public transport in South Wales is a very complex one that began during the horse drawn mail-coach days of the 18th century, changing to the railroad and later to the mechanical mode of

This publication, illustrated with views from throughout the company’s operational area, has been published to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the inauguration of ‘The South Wales Transport Company Ltd,’ in 1914.  South Wales Transport was a subsidiary of the privately owned British Electric Traction Company Ltd, (BET), a company that was already operating the Swansea tramway system, known as the Swansea Improvements and Tramways Company.

The South Wales Transport Company Ltd., continued to be a BET group subsidiary until 1967, when all the bus operating interests of BET passed to the Transport Holding Company (THC), a state owned concern, and in 1969, South Wales Transport inevitably became part of the state owned National Bus Company (NBC).

Under a Tory Government in 1986, a new era of competition began as a result of the 1985 Transport Act. This act also provided for the privatisation of NBC, resulting in a management buy-out of SWT in May 1987. Three years later, SWT was sold to Badgerline Holdings retaining the South Wales Transport name.  On 16th June, 1995, Badgerline Holdings merged with Grampian Regional Transport and formed First Bus PLC with a fleet of 5,600 vehicles, yet the South Wales Transport Company name continued to be used.

The name was finally phased out in April 1998 in favour of ‘First Cymru’, a regional name for First Bus PLC, but the vehicle legal lettering still remained as ‘South Wales Transport’ until 28th March, 1999.

The South Wales Transport Company’s operator license discs, PG 421 continued to be used until 31st May, 1999, which was consequently the final demise of the SWT name.  However, the ‘O’ licence disc number PG 0000421 continued - as ‘First Cymru Buses Ltd’, and is still currently operational.

It is interesting to note that in 1994, the South Wales Transport group (Badgerline) was by far the largest bus operator in Wales. Having absorbed numerous companies throughout the years, there were no less than 168 companies involved in the structure of the company, so to conclude, a South Wales Transport family tree has been incorporated into this 100th anniversary publication.


Although we are now celebrating the one hundredth anniversary since the inauguration of The South Wales Transport Company Limited in 1914, we must, to get the story in its proper perspective, go back as far as 1874 when the first horse drawn trams appeared on the streets of Swansea. Since that time, Swansea has been faithfully served by a forward looking and progressive public transport system which, without doubt, must rank as second-to-none with any city of comparable size.`

A Swansea horse drawn tram circa 1900.

The first major change came in 1898, when the British Electric Traction Company Limited took over the running of the Swansea tramway system, and through the Swansea Improvements and Tramways Company Limited, set about discarding the horse drawn trams for the electrically operated type. By 1900, the change was completed and Swansea became the first town in Wales to have electric tramways. Within the confines of Swansea’s boundary, Ynysforgan, Sketty and Port Tennant, the tramway service may have been adequate at that time, but it was becoming increasingly obvious that a means of road transport for the public between Swansea, and its out-lying districts, was necessary. It was economically and geographically impossible to extend the tramways to many of the districts but already mechanically propelled vehicles were making their presence felt and of course in this system was the solution to the problem. The visionaries of those days were quick to see the adaptability of the mechanically driven vehicle and the advantage of its mobility. However, the idea was not to compete with the tramway system, but to act as feeders to it. It was this idea which led to the formation of The South Wales Transport Company Limited on 10th February, 1914, and by May of that year, Swansea saw its first motor omnibus.

To house its buses, The South Wales Transport Company acquired premises in Brunswick Street, Swansea, which they shared with a builders’ merchant for a time before eventually buying the whole premises of 7,549 square yards at a cost of £7,176. It was here, also, that the company established its head office. The original head office had been Rutland Street, Swansea, headquarters of the Swansea Improvements & Tramways Company, (S.I.T.C.). Brunswick Street depot was capable of housing 97 vehicles.

On the 2nd May 1914, the first service was operated. This was between Ynysforgan and Ynysmeudwy, near Pontardawe in the Swansea Valley. The service was further extended into the Swansea Valley by the acquisition of F. L. Lewis Limited of Pontardawe, who operated a bus service between Ynysforgan and Ystalyfera. Mr F.L. Lewis was later to become the Engineer and Manager of The South Wales Transport Co. Incidentally, the Swansea Valley service was listed in the company’s publications as service No. 1. Likewise, the second service which was introduced on 11th July 1914, and operated between Cwmbwrla and Llanelli was known as service No. 2. This service was extended into the centre of Swansea by the acquisition of Thomas Jones, Gorseinon.  By 25th August 1914, service No. 3, Morriston to Taibach (Port Talbot), and No.4, Swansea to Mumbles, were also in operation. Many of the operating staff, of course, came from ready trained men of the Tramways Company who had volunteered for transfer. Also taken over in May 1914, was the horse-bus business of Moses Lee and Son, who ran ‘unlicensed’ between Swansea and Mumbles, and in 1915 the business of T. Evans & Sons, Fforestfach was acquired with his 3 vehicles and a service Swansea to Gorseinon via Fforestfach. Acquiring Evans’ business secured the company’s position on the Llanelli route.

As can be judged the new company was quickly establishing itself, but unfortunately, the storm clouds of the 1st World War had broken and buses as well as crews were called upon to serve the country in its time of need. A large proportion of the buses owned by the company were impressed for military service, and naturally, any further extension of its activities was out of the question, except where it was to help in the war effort. In this connection the records show an introduction of a service between Llanelli and Pembrey munitions factory in 1915, and in 1916 a service to operate between Swansea and Gowerton steelworks.
Similar ventures were tried in south-east Wales, with Merthyr Tydfil to Treharris (4/3/1916 to 19/4/1916), Caerphilly to Bargoed (August 1915 to 19/5/1917) and Caerphilly to Senghenydd (6/5/1916 to 19/5/1917), but all were abandoned. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that Gower R.D.C., refused all of the company’s applications, as it was considered that the area was sufficiently covered by other operators.
During the war years, there was petrol rationing, but nobody can recall the ungainly gas balloons strapped on top of the buses. During World War II, buses again had recourse to the use of gas, but the method of production was eminently more suitable and tidy.

The first fifteen AEC buses were purchased by the company in 1919, and formed an association with AEC which lasted 53 years.


With the end of hostilities there was a period of retrenchment, but from 1920, and for the next ten years, the company established itself rapidly. Many new services were introduced and those already in operation were being extended. In addition, services of other operators together with their fleets of buses were being acquired wherever possible.

A successful bid to take over the gas-powered trams owned by Neath Council, was made in August 1920, replacing them with motor buses, and from July 1923 the company rented the old tram depot as their Neath garage. In May 1923, the Gower route from Swansea to Port-Eynon, was secured by the takeover of Fairwood Motors Ltd., at Swansea, and in July 1928, the business of Bishopston & Murton Bus Service, Bishopston was acquired with a service jointly operated by Swan Motors of Bishopston, running between Swansea and Bishopston. The business of Albert Thomas, Tirydail, Ammanford was absorbed December 1927 with a route from Ammanford to Llandeilo, and the rental of Thomas’ garage at Tirydail for a short period.


This rear entrance AEC ‘Y’ type bus was new in 1923. Registered CY 6198 it carried a 26 seat timber framed body built by Brush.

From early in the 1920’s, buses which were previously only allowed to operate from the periphery of the boundary of the Borough of Swansea, were allowed to run into the town. There was a stipulation that the fares to be charged within the town were to be in excess of those charged by the tramways. The rule was afterwards frozen, not to allow further operators entry into Swansea.

The company at that time was not only concerned with traffic in the Swansea area, but also in the neighbouring towns of Neath, Llanelli, and Pontardawe, and by the mid-twenties, depots had been established in each of these towns, with services operating to Carmarthen, Pontardulais, Ammanford, Ystradgynlais, Banwen, Maesteg and Abergwynfi, by June 1924. Pontardawe depot opened last of all in 1928, with an area of 728 square yards, housing 19 vehicles.

The rapid growth of the company was almost unbelievable, and the 1920’s probably represented the most exciting and adventurous era in its history. It was a challenge to its staff at that time too, for it must not be forgotten that bus travel was in its infancy. The vehicles themselves were, by today’s standards, very much of the hit-or-miss type, with no self-starter motors, and no windscreens. The general comfort for passengers and crews alike, was hardly the keynote, with solid rubber tyres, poor lighting, and harsh springing. Coupled with all this, roads were in a bad condition with pot-holes and ruts abounding.

All this, together with cut-throat competition from their competitors, was the issue of the company’s staff in those early days. On many occasions, the privilege of carrying passengers was literally fought for. Timetables were something that appeared to only give a rough idea of starting times, after which, the devil took the hindmost in the fight for passengers. It was certainly the survival of the fittest, and how the company’s staff thrived, can be gauged by the very large number of staff that were engaged in those hectic years, and were still loyally serving 50 years later.

One cannot leave this era without mentioning a major breakthrough in bus operation by the company. Within a few years after the 1914-1918 war, the Swansea Corporation embarked on a major house building scheme. The sites chosen were Townhill and Mayhill, Swansea, some 518 feet above sea level. To reach the summit, it was necessary to negotiate a road some 1.5 miles in length with gradients varying from 1 in 13, to 1 in 5.6, a formidable task for vehicles in the mid-1920’s, having regard to passenger safety. After much experimenting and many tests, it was decided that what was good enough for Alpine climbing in Switzerland, must be good enough for Townhill, and consequently the company purchased a number of Swiss ‘Saurer’ 26 seater buses with a ratchet device to avoid the possibility of vehicles running backward on the hill. Drivers were specially trained for this type of bus, and in negotiating the hill itself. Even after overcoming all the ‘hill’ difficulties, passengers had to be persuaded that travel to Townhill via Mount Pleasant Hill and Penygraig Road was as safe as the houses they lived in, and to prove this point, many free rides were given at the inauguration of this service in April 1926. In 1929, the service was augmented to cater for people living in the Mayhill area. 

Many other housing estates by private builders had also been completed in the western areas of the town, and to cater for the needs of the inhabitants, bus services were continually being extended.   Neither were the areas outside the town ignored, nor was the constant vigilance to acquire the services of other operators relaxed. Even the operation of the Mumbles Railway was taken over by the South Wales Transport Company in 1927, and under powers already obtained, the electrification of the line was immediately undertaken.

The last steam train ran in March 1929, replaced by 106 seater electric railcars weighing 30 tonnes each. They could be operated in pairs, and on bank holidays, could carry up to 40,000 people.

Nevertheless, the financial position of the company during these depression years of the late 1920’s, early 1930’s was very poor with no dividends paid to the shareholders from 1928 to 1937.

The cut-throat competition mentioned earlier was now leading to what could almost be termed as ‘piracy’. Uneconomical fares were being charged, and a great deal of wastage in buses and manpower came to alarming proportions amongst operators, including The South Wales Transport Co., merely to ‘pinch’ a few fares from their competitors. This was not exclusive to South Wales, and the tactic was rife throughout the country. Fortunately, some order eventually emerged from the chaos, with the passing of the 1930 Road Traffic Act, which also introduced the Traffic Commissioners. The whole country was divided into regions with Commissioners who were responsible for each region, working under a full time Chairman.

The Traffic Commissioners with the power vested in them, brought about stability of fares and an adherence to timetables. The granting of licenses to operate services which, hitherto, had been under the jurisdiction of local authorities, could now only be obtained through the new authority. Licenses to drive or conduct a public service vehicle were also their responsibility. The Road Traffic Act 1930, also assured drivers of sufficient rest periods and limited their hours of work. Before the advent of the Commissioners, there was the rather farcical position that a driver had to carry as many as three or four badges to show that he was entitled to drive in each particular town or area, within his scheduled journey.

These are badges which had to be worn by a driver to show that he was licensed to drive in the particular town or area shown on the badge. Assuming his scheduled journey took him through all four places, he would have to show the lot.

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  1. Having previously bought Vernon's tremendous book on James of Ammanford I knew without hesitation that I had to add SWT 100 to the collection.

    You will not be disappointed especially if you are a SWT fan. It comprises of 148 A4 pages containing a splendid mix of mono and colour photographs with very detailed captions of which mostly are from the author's own collection and to my knowledge never been published before.

    Of particular note is the fascinating inclusion of a fold out family tree at the end of the book.This is an extremely detailed illustration of how the company evolved with the numerous mergers and takeovers right up until becoming First Cymru Buses Ltd in 1999.

    This is without doubt a very worthy addition to any public transport enthusiasts bookshelf .Highly recommended.

    Andrew Cox

  2. Probably the most comprehensive selection of South Wales Transport photographs to be found in one book,,,it,s very much a labour of love to produce and publish a volume such as this, and Vernon has done an excellent job