An announcement recently stated that Sir Tom Cowie had passed away aged 89-years on the 18th January 2012. Arriva’s chief executive, David
“Sir Tom was a dedicated and talented businessman whose determination and vision built his small family motorcycle business, T Cowie
Ltd, into a successful national motor retailing chain and laid the foundations for Arriva’s international business today. Following Sir Tom’s
retirement from the group in 1993 he became our honorary president. Whilst this was not an active role on the board, Sir Tom remained interested
in and supportive of Arriva’s successful expansion into new passenger transport markets.”
It was way back in 1931 that the Cowie family established a motorcycle repair business in the Sunderland area of North East England. A few years
later a shop was opened in order to sell motorcycles. These premises eventually became the head office for the Arriva Group in later years.
Like many businesses the war years intervened and affected the business and it closed for several years. However, by 1948 the premises were
back in the business of selling motorcycles to a booming market so much so that several more outlets were established around the North East in
Durham, Newcastle and Stockton-on-Tees. Further expansion occurred in 1960 with outlets created in Edinburgh and Glasgow.
But soon the motorcycle was under threat from the motor car due to expansion of that market. Not to be left behind a car dealership was acquired
in Sunderland during 1962, and soon after further purchases meant that T.Cowie plc was formed and by the early 1970s had expanded along with
associated franchises with Ford in both North West and North East England.
A new company was established in 1972 as Cowie Contract Hire, but it was not until 1980 that the George Ewer Group was acquired and thus Cowie
made their first entry into the bus and coach market. Two coach operating bases were established at Stamford Hill and Dagenham in the
In 1984 there was more expansion when the Hanger Group was acquired, in 1987 with the acquisition of vehicle dealerships from the Heron Group
followed later by Marley Leasing to add a further string to the bow, so to speak. Further leasing opportunities were added by the acquisition in
1991 when RoyScot Drive and Ringway Leasing came on board. The Keep Trust Group was then acquired in 1993 and was probably one of the last such
activities before Sir Tom Cowie retired later that year.
The Grey-Green company’s origins lay way back in the mid-1800s when a George Ewer established a horse carriage business in 1855. This became a
family business and continued to grow with his successors. Then came the transition from the equine variety to the mechanical horse, when vehicles
with such propulsion were introduced to carry both goods and passengers. With a base established in East London services were introduced to
serve both East Anglia and the South Coast resorts. Once again though the war years intervened during which vehicles were requisitioned and
services curtailed. At the cessation of hostilities, like Sir Tom the family took advantage of the growth in travel and gradually built the
business back up. Acquisitions over the following years included Baker Brothers, Fallowfield & Britten and Ardley Brothers along with Orange
Luxury Coaches from south of the river. With several other smaller operations acquired between 1945 and 1965, all retained their local identities
until 1965 when the decision was made to culminate the operations under the two trading names of Grey-Green and Orange. Further growth through
the 1970s saw names such as World Wide Coaches and Dix become part of the George Ewer Group. Grey-Green was also one of the early organisations
to become part of the British Coachways consortium of independent coach operators, formed in 1980, this as the result of the Transport Act of
that same year. Regrettably circumstances led them to depart from this operation the following year, but instead they took on London commuter
services to and from North Kent.
However, it was during the 1980s that Grey-Green became one of the first private operators to take advantage of the opportunities that
were created following the process that had started with the privatisation of London bus services, eventually operating nearly 20 routes in all.
In 1987 the company successfully bid for and was awarded contracts to operate routes 125, 173, 179 and 379 in the North London suburbs. The
following year in 1988 they were awarded route 24, which operated through the centre of London and passed the Houses of Parliament, along
with further North London suburban routes 298 and 313. East London suburban route 103 was also taken over in 1991.
From Grey-Green to Arriva
Despite Sir Tom no longer taking the active part in which he had previously been involved, by 1994 the list had expanded to include the 20, 141,
167, 168, 210, 235, 275, 473 and D9, all routes mostly operated on the north side of the River Thames. Major changes then occurred at a fast pace
over a relatively short period of time. In 1994 the Leaside subsidiary of London Buses was acquired, followed in 1995 by the South London
subsidiary. These became respectively Cowie Leaside and Cowie South London. But it was in 1996 that there was a massive leap forward with the
purchase of British Bus plc, an act that saw a large number of bus operations up and down the country acquired in one foul swoop. Included were
companies in the South East, which then lined up alongside others from Yorkshire and the North East, and this aspect will be dealt with in a
But suffice to say the Cowie Group was eventually rebranded as Arriva, and Grey-Green's London operations were absorbed into Arriva London,
with the other bus operations absorbed by other Cowie group companies.
In the meantime there now follows a selection of the Grey-Green operations around the time that they expanded into the London market.
4-5. During 1988 the London Country North East company that had been awarded the London Regional Transport (LRT) contracts to operate routes
298 (Turnpike Lane-South Mimms) and 313 (Potters Bar-Chingford), found themselves at the mercy of a strike by bus drivers. As a result two
emergency tenders were temporarily assigned for a while to the Grey-Green company. Without any suitable buses available at the time the company
made use of some of their coaches such as 814 (on the 298, which only ran between South Mimms and Palmers Green) and 818 (on the 313), Leyland
Leopards with Duple bodywork.
6. Later in the year from Guy Fawkes Day 5th November the company began to operate the prestigious route 24 (Hampstead Heath-Pimlico),
which aptly due to the date, passed through Parliament Square and by the Houses of Parliament. Here two of a fleet of thirty new Volvo Citybus
B10Ms with Alexander bodywork acquired in 1988 are illustrated on layover at the northern terminal point of Hampstead Heath in the first weeks
7. On the 8th October 1988 the LRT contract for route 298 was awarded on a permanent basis to Grey-Green to the detriment of the previous
operator, London Country North East. Thus without any suitable buses readily available the company was required to source a selection of buses
from elsewhere. Without a trace of any grey or green apart perhaps for some dust, here one of a number of former South Yorkshire Transport (SYT)
MCW Metrobuses were placed quickly into service in their previous owner’s livery. Assigned fleet number 451 the bus is seen here out in the wilds
of Hertfordshire passing over the A1 trunk road between Potters Bar and South Mimms.
8-9. Another of the former SYT buses is shown here at the North Finchley terminus of route 125 (North Finchley-Winchmore Hill) the buses used
as a stopgap until new double-deck buses were delivered. By now these secondhand buses were repainted some like number 452 here, in an alternative
brown, orange and white livery of the Dix subsidiary based in Dagenham. The route had been one of four already operated under contract to LRT, the
others being the 173, 179 and 379 with single-decks.
Eventually new double-deck buses were acquired in the shape of six East Lancs bodied Scania N112DRB type, the bodywork similar to that supplied by
the Alexander company. Number 113 also in the Dix livery passed through on a grey day soon after delivery.
10-11. Sixteen of these former SYT MCW Metrobuses were acquired by Grey-Green and soon they received the attention of the man with a
paintbrush. There were a couple of attempts to revise the livery along the way and number 450 here at the South Mimms Clare Hall Hospital
terminal point showed off one example in September 1988.
The nearside aspect of similar bus 456 is shown here as it trundled alongside one of the reservoirs in the Lea Valley between Chingford and Ponders
12-13. Bus 465 however, was one that received the Dix colours and was captured on the forecourt of Potters Bar Station in September
In contrast though was this relatively new secondhand Leyland Olympian with Northern Counties bodywork. Route 103 (North Romford-Rainham)
had initially been awarded by LRT to the County Bus & Coach company who had acquired fourteen new double-decks to run the service. However, as
the result of the sale of operating subsidiary Simco 314 Ltd, these circumstances led LRT to transfer said contract to another operator, thus
Grey-Green became the beneficiaries of both the route and the relatively new buses. They were immediately placed into service with the only
notable difference, the company name placed prominently between the decks on the green and cream livery of the previous operator. 409 passed before
the lens in June 1991 as it ran through Romford town centre.
14-15. The offside aspect of similar bus 413 is shown here taking on board passengers at a stop in the middle of one of the many council
estates in Becontree.
However, it was not long before the paintbrush was yielded yet again, this time on this fleet of inherited Leyland Olympians, number 415 in question
as it passed along South Street in Romford the same year.
16-17. Single-deck buses operated by Grey-Green from an early stage were a batch of six Leyland Lynx ostensibly for routes 179
(Barking-Chingford) and 379 previously 179A (Chingford Station-Yardley Lane Estate). These worked alongside further secondhand
double-decks in the shape of Leyland Fleetlines previously operated by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive. Lynx 887 in the
revised Grey-Green livery and 888 sporting the Dix company’s brown, orange and white livery are both shown on the bus station forecourt adjacent
to Chingford Station.
18-19. There were various sources found for secondhand buses during this period and a single Leyland Olympian previously operated by
Southampton Citybus came into the fleet during 1992. With bodywork supplied by East Lancs it became number 479 in the fleet and was quite often
found in service alongside the Northern Counties bodied versions on route 103.
It did however, find its way onto other routes in North East London one such being route 20 (Debden-Walthamstow), as it passed through Woodford
Wells in February 1993.
20-21. The majority of routes operated by Grey-Green during this period ran north of the River Thames. However, there is always an exception
to the rule and route 168 (Hampstead Heath-Waterloo) proved to be one, as illustrated by Volvo Citybus 155 paused here alongside the
bus stop on the south side of Waterloo Bridge.
The nearside of one of the initial batch of new double-deck service buses is represented here by number 147, and illustrates the dual-door aspect.
With lower peak vehicle requirement for buses on Sundays, quite often the new buses would find themselves placed into service on other routes.
Complete with route branding for the 24 and far away from its central London surroundings, the bus neared the northern terminal point at South
Mimms when found out in the wilds of Hertfordshire on route 298.
22-23. The company was awarded a second term of operation of the prestigious route 24 and the older Volvo Citybuses were enhanced by the
addition of a batch of new Northern Counties bodied Scania N113s, such as number 178 as it passed through Parliament Square in April 1995.
Some of the initial batch of route 24 Volvos found other duties such as on route D9 through the new developments on the Isle of Dogs and the
former Docklands areas. With the trackbed of the Docklands Light Railway above, number 120 paused at a stop at Canary Wharf an area that has
changed out of all recognition.
24-25. The LRT contract award of route 210 (Brent Cross-Finsbury Park) in September 1990 saw the acquisition of thirteen further
Volvo B10Ms. However, unlike those for route 24, these came as East Lancs bodied single-decks. The nearside aspect of these single-door buses
is illustrated by number 917 on one of the approach roads to the Brent Cross Shopping Centre on the North Circular Road near to the bottom end
of the M1 Motorway.
The offside of similar bus 918 at Hampstead Heath is shown as it reached the top of the verdant winding climb up from Golders Green and made the
turn near to the ponds, before it turned towards the narrow passageway at Jack Straw’s Castle reputed to be the highest public house in London
(and not the residence of a former Labour cabinet minister).
26-27. Ten 9.0metre long Plaxton bodied Dennis Darts were acquired during 1993 in order to provide the allocation on route 173
(East Beckton-Goodmayes) and contrasted in design to one of the earlier and by now 6-years older Leyland Lynx. 888 prepared to pull off
of the forecourt of Potters Bar Station and sported a fresh lick of paint, the grey and green in favour of the previous brown, orange and white
of the Dix subsidiary.
28-29. With the general downturn in the coaching market, some examples of these vehicles in the fleet were downgraded to bus work. One such
was number 107 a Scania K92, which dated from 1988 with East Lancs bodywork. By March 1993 the bus had found new employment in revenue-earning
service on route 179 at Gants Hill.
Another view shows the nearside aspect of the same bus a little further south down the route towards Barking as it passed through the suburban
housing streets of Ilford.
30-31. A further six new single-decks had been added to the fleet during 1992 in the shape of DAF SB220 type with Hungarian built Ikarus
bodywork, principally for operation of route 167 (Debden-Ilford). These were allocated to a new base established in Barking, a replacement for one
in Dagenham. The 167 paralleled the 179 route in the previous image and number 926 followed the former coach double-deck towards Ilford town
At the other end of the route sister vehicle 930 made an approach towards Loughton Underground Station when on its way to the northern terminus at
32. As well as acquiring a mixture of new and secondhand buses the company raised a few eyebrows in 1991, when they announced that to service
new contracts a number of their existing fleet of coaches would be converted to bus operation. Eyebrows were raised further when this entailed
not only replacement with new single-deck bodies, some would feature double-deck bodywork. All were former Volvo B10M type and a selection of
the single-decks duly re-appeared with East Lancs 49-seater bodies similar to those on the batch applied to the buses for route 210.
33-34. But it was the double-decks that really caught the imagination when they too re-appeared again with bodywork supplied by East Lancs to
H44/30D specification. They were similar to bodywork supplied by Alexanders, but the design towards the rear end was most noticeable by the short
overhang behind the rear wheels. This made the vehicles appear to be cut off and along with lower deck window arrangements on the offside,
certainly made them stick out a bit to the practised eye in a crowd. The vehicles were originally built in 1984 and featured either ‘A’ or ‘B’
prefixed registrations, which they retained after conversion and were allocated to route 141 (Wood Green-Moorgate). The front offside of 166
is shown here at the Finsbury Square terminus with advertising between the decks for another element of the Cowie empire, whilst our final
image shows number 170 as it headed north through Hoxton bound for Wood Green.