Our History

The various local bus companies that now make up Arriva each have an amazing heritage of their own, with some surprising stories to tell. You can learn more about the history of your local bus services. You might be surprised to find out just how long we’ve been an important part of your local community.

Arriva is now one of the leading transport operators in Europe. But our roots are in Sunderland, in the North East of England, in a second-hand motorcycle shop opened in 1938 by the Cowie family. To find out more about the history and growth of Arriva plc please visit the Arriva group website.

In the UK, our buses are organised into regional units, each of which has a fascinating story of its own. The core UK bus business outside London came into what is now Arriva ownership when the then Cowie Group acquired British Bus plc.

Until 1985 many buses were nationalised. But the 1985 Transport Act broke up the old National Bus Company and privatised it, a subsidiary at a time. A variety of fates were in store. Some companies were sold to their management teams or employees, while others were bought by entrepreneurs. It wasn’t long before a number of groupings started to form. Some of the newly privatised bus companies started to acquire other operators, and some started to change hands. One of these emergent new groups became British Bus plc.

There is a fierce loyalty amongst our longer-serving employees to some of the old companies, and many have family connections spanning several generations. Customers often remember the old names with fondness too. These links will take you to the fascinating histories of our local bus operations.

Arriva’s operations in the south east of England were grouped together in 2010, combining units previously known as Arriva the Shires and Essex and Arriva Southern Counties. Both developed from an amalgamation of several sections of former National Bus Company subsidiaries, each with long and illustrious histories of their own.

Luton and District Transport was formed in 1986 from the Aylesbury, Luton and Hitchin depots of United Counties. These had belonged to Eastern National until 1952. The United Counties operation grew rapidly when the former Luton Corporation municipal operation was taken over in 1970. There was further growth when it took over the collapsed Court Line business in 1973.

In 1987 Luton and District became the first National Bus Company subsidiary to be sold to its employees. A year later it acquired Red Rover in Aylesbury. Luton and District also assisted in employee buy-outs on Clydeside (which became Arriva Scotland West) and in Derby (now part of Arriva Midlands). Two significant additions in 1990 were two-thirds of the Stevenage operations of Sovereign and all of London Country North West.

London Country Bus Services had been divided into smaller units in readiness for privatisation, just like United Counties. London Country was the former ‘country area’ operations of London Transport which formed a ring around central London. The western part of the North East sector of London Country became Sovereign. The former London Country North West Slough depot was sold to Bee Line in 1993.

The Luton and District business was bought by British Bus in 1994. Further smaller acquisitions followed and in 1995 a new identity - The Shires - was introduced.

The former North East sector of London Country was privatised as County Bus and Coach in a management buy-out in 1990. It was sold to what became part of the National Express group in 1998. This business passed to Cowies in 1996 as East Herts and Essex.

Arriva Southern Counties grew from a diverse background. The bulk of the former operations of Maidstone and District Motor Services were at its core. This former National Bus Company subsidiary was founded in 1911 and we celebrate its centenary with pride. Maidstone and District was sold to its management team in 1986. The business was expanded with the purchase of New Enterprise in Tonbridge (still operating under its separate identity) and Maidstone Boro’line, the former municipal operation in Maidstone. It was sold to British Bus in 1995.

The south-eastern sector of the former London Country operation became Kentish Bus and Coach. It was based in Northfleet, and was sold to Proudmutual in 1988. Proudmutual was formed as the holding company for the Northumbria Motor Services buy-out (see also Arriva North East). Kentish Bus and Coach expanded successfully by providing tendered bus services in London, and passed to British Bus in 1994.

London Country’s south-western sector, based in Reigate, became London & Country. This was bought by Drawlane at privatisation in 1988. It too expanded successfully into the London tendered market. It added the former Alder Valley operations in Guildford, Woking and Cranleigh in 1990. The municipal operations in Southend and Colchester were bought in 1993.

There was significant reorganisation once all had come under British Bus ownership The businesses were amalgamated as the Invictaway Group. Later this became Arriva Southern Counties, based at the former municipal bus operator offices in Maidstone.

After Cowies’ transformation into Arriva a reorganisation took place. An Arriva the Shires and Essex management team took responsibility for the operations of The Shires, East Herts and Essex and the former municipal operations in Southend and Colchester. Those in Grays, Southend and Colchester passed to Southern Counties in 2003 and Colchester was subsequently sold. The Wycombe Bus operation of GoAhead Group was acquired in 2000. This was once been part of National Bus company subsidiary Alder Valley, an amalgamation of the former Thames Valley and Aldershot & District companies.

MK Metro was acquired in 2006. This had once been the Milton Keynes section of the former United Counties company.

The acquisition of the Tellings Golden Miller Group in 2008 brought the Colchester operation back into the Arriva fold, but this hasn’t been re-integrated into the Arriva South East operation.

Today our operations run from depots in High Wycombe, Aylesbury, Milton Keynes, Watford, Hemel Hempstead, Luton, Stevenage, Ware, Harlow, Southend, Grays, Dartford, Northfleet, Gillingham, Sheerness, Maidstone, Tonbridge (New Enterprise), Tunbridge Wells, Cranleigh and Guildford.

A separate but still utterly fascinating story covers the iconic Green Line coach brand. Find out more about the history of Green Line.