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1905: Smart new bus - pioneering rural travel

Cuckfield / Haywards Heath / Lindfield the first motor bus 1905

With the decline in (horse and) coach travel it was inevitable that with the innovation of petrol driven motor buses that these would soon replace them. Cuckfield was one of the first rural districts to be served by a motor bus. It was built by motor manufacturer Dennis Brothers of Guildford.

The vehicle matched the very latest public transport being seen in the bustling streets of London at the time. Run by the enterprising Mid Sussex Motor Syndicate the new £850 vehicle (c£100,000 today) could carry 13 passengers [seated inside] plus the driver - they were also happy to hire their omnibus out for parties.

The Sussex Express announced the new service on 15 July 1905:

A Motor Omnibus Service starts today at to and fro Haywards Heath, and will run from Lindfield and Cuckfield. The 'bus, which is handsome in appearance, is 24hp, and will carry 12 persons inside and 14 outside. It cost £850. The Mid Sussex Motor Syndicate are responsible for the enterprise, and Mr CW Wood is acting manager.

The service was based at Liverpool Hotel, Station Road, Hayward's Heath (where the photograph above was taken) and ran between Lindfield and Cuckfield via Haywards Heath. Almost certainly it was the first to be seen operating in Cuckfield. Its base was close to where Hayward's Heath bus station was subsequently built and this may explain how it came to be located there.

Revolutionising local travel

The introduction of the Mid Sussex bus service caught the attention of the national Daily Telegraph & Courier on 14 July 1905, which gave a glowing account of how such a bus service could radically change local transport:

In rural districts is mainly heard at present a voice of discontent with the motorcar; yet in an important direction it is destined in the near future to render them valuable service.

An example of this will be seen from today in the motor-'bus which has been put on the road by the Mid-Sussex Motor Syndicate to ply between Lindfield, Hayward's-heath and Cuckfield - places between which hitherto those who had not carts or carriages were fain [obliged] to travel afoot.

The new service will make a great difference to the residents of these important villages; and so it will be found throughout the whole country where train services are impossible and the horse-omnibus is too slow. The motor-’bus placed on the new route is built by Messrs Dennis of Guildford, at whose invitation a party of gentlemen interested made a test run of the vehicle when it was delivered from the works to Hayward’s-heath.

It has a four-cylinder 24hp* engine, which runs smoothly, and gives ample power for its work. On the run to Hayward's-heath the route chosen was sufficiently undulating to demonstrate the vehicle's hill-climbing ability. It carries thirty-four passengers [note discrepancy with earlier description - this may be a larger version of the bus], and, fully loaded, can travel at twelve miles an hour on the level. A portion of the fore-part of the roof is devoted to the transport of parcels, which it is hoped will be a useful part of the work of the motor-'bus.

* the earliest Mini was about 70hp.

The principal feature of the mechanism is the Dennis worm-drive, a patent application of the transmission of power by means of screw-gear. It certainly ran very smoothly under the heavy strains of the motor-'bus, and seems likely to prove a useful contribution to the problem of propulsion of heavy automobiles.

The length of route of the new service is 4 miles, covered in each direction eight times a day, giving a total of 64 miles. As the fares are low, the motor-'bus should prove very welcome to the district.

A (slightly larger, seating c16 inside and c20 on top Dennis Motor Bus seen in 1910 in central London

As seen in London

above is a photo of an almost identical Dennis bus found in the London Transport Museum's archive taken in 1910 running across the City of London to Oxford Street. Minus the posh passenger curtains.

It was operated by the Great Eastern London Motor Bus Omnibus Company. Here we can see the driver, conductor and passengers and onlookers all posing for the camera. This bus was slightly larger than the Mid Sussex one but seemingly identical in all other respects.

Mid Sussex Times advert' 5 September 1905

Dennis Brothers

Dennis Brothers, founded in 1895, built the first purpose-built motor vehicle factory in Britain in Onslow Street, Guildford. It was run by brothers John Cawsey Dennis and Raymond Dennis who made Speed King bicycles. Their first motor vehicle was built in 1898 and then, in 1899, the Dennis Light Doctor's Car - their first car in the end never went into production. They went on to make lorries, fire appliances, vans, ambulances, waste management vehicles, motor mowers and airport tugs. Now only the brand name exists.

This London Bus Cavalcade video brings back the era of these early buses:


Cuckfield's motor bus in 1905. Photo from 'Haywards Heath Through Time' by Colin Manton, Amberley Publishing, 2013. Extracts from this book can be found in Google Books at

London Transport Museum photograph:

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.



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