Public transport has come a long way
from the vehicles of the 1800s compared
to today’s modern equivalents.
So, too, has the quality of the roads –
and the quantity of traffic travelling
It is, therefore, fascinating to picture
a bygone world where horse
power literally meant what it said, and
air conditioning would have been a
euphemism for lack of windows.
One man who holds such transport
from the past in warm regard is John
He has a keen interest in the vintage
transport scene of both East Cornwall
and West Devon – living in the former,
and having gone to school in the
So when, several years ago, two restored
horse-drawn buses that once
served the Tavistock area came on the
market from a private collection John
was determined to ensure they stayed
By a fascinating coincidence both
these vehicles, a unique 1896 Wagonette
omnibus and 1893 Penny’s horse
bus, were built by Budge & Co of Lumburn,
near Tavistock. The fourwheeled
Wagonette omnibus began
service with John Backwell of the
Cornish Arms in Tavistock as a
private hire bus.
John Pearce says one of its working
duties was to take prisoners from the
Southern Railway station in Tavistock
up to Dartmoor Prison. A cheerless
journey for handcuffed passengers
on any day – but, if the mist was
down during their last vision outside
the walls of penal servitude, it must
have been especially bleak.
There were, of course, many more
happier excursions, with the omnibus
running trips to Two Bridges, Princetown,
Burrator and Lydford Gorge.
The omnibus was taken out of service
in 1930. Its final outing was or-
ganised by Ginger Maddock, a local
butcher, taking staff and friends on a
34-mile trip at five shillings per head.
Upon return, it went into storage in
the coach house of the Bedford Hotel
in Tavistock. In 1949 it was loaned to
Buckland Abbey, moving to the National
Trust’s Arlington Court carriage
museum in 1987.
Fortunately the bus returned to its
old Tavistock stomping ground when
the Backwell family, its original
owners, brought it back in 1996 – and
eventually put it to auction.
Had the original owner, John Backwell,
not kept it under cover in the
hotel yard it would not be here today.
After much expert help from local
craftsmen, the carriage was restored
to pristine condition.
In 2015 it was then sold at auction
again – and John acquired it.
“I like horse drawn things. My
father worked on a farm and it was all
horses and wagons,” he says.
John was attracted to the omnibus’s
Tavistock connection. At the same
auction he also became the owner of
Penny ’s Horse Bus.
“It was operated by the Penny
family from Luckett and ran from the
village to Callington. My grandparents
used it because they were Luckett
people, ” says John, explaining a personal
reason to be its custodian.
It had wagonette-style seating for up
to eight passengers.
John says the seats can fold up, so it
could double as a removal van.
Smartly finished in black and red with
gold lining, the vehicle would make a
weekly trip to Tavistock on Fridays
for market day.
“There were originally three of
these horse buses – but this is the only
surviving one,” he says.
Fortunately, John is ensuring these
two 19th century transport treasures
remain cared for and preserved for