A brief history of Hedingham Omnibuses 1960-2012.
The highs, lows and luck needed to survive in business 52 years.
By Robert MacGregor
4th June 1960
In June 1960, Donald MacGregor purchased Letch Motors from Aubrey Letch for £3,000. This was done with a loan from the Westminster bank (now NatWest). The fleet consisted of 8 petrol buses and the freehold of the depot at Sible Hedingham. The livery was changed from blue to red, and the name was changed to Hedingham and District Omnibuses.
January 1963 saw 'The Great Freeze' which lasted 3 months. It caused large disruptions. Buses froze, and others ran all night to keep services going. Severe cash flow problems arose this year and L20 DUY 961 was subsequently sold for £2,000 which allowed Hedingham to survive.
Blackwells of Earls Colne was taken over, which expanded the Hedingham services. Hedingham also acquired route 88 Halstead-Colchester. This service was run jointly with Eastern National (now First), an arrangement which lasted until November 17th 2012. Harold Wilson's Labour Government introduced Fuel Duty Rebate (now BSOG) enabling bus companies to claim back the tax on fuel.
This period saw steady, organic growth whilst still operating from one depot at Sible Hedingham. The site was improving consistently and and the fleet grew to 15. new buses were being purchased, one a year, and paid for in full.
Copeman and Regan Coaches purchased. C and R Coaches was a major coach firm in Colchester based at Little Tey. This use of this second site enabled Hedingham to expand into private hire.
Jennings of Ashen purchased and four more coaches added to the fleet.
Deregulation of the bus industry and the privatisation of the state owned National Bus Company by the Thatcher government was a wonderful stroke of luck for Hedingham Omnibus. It was also fortunate for a state owned bus company in Newcastle, which would one day cross paths with Hedingham. Kelvedon depot was purchased in this year and and many bus services were won under tender for Essex County Council - including busy routes such as service 90 Witham to Maldon. This particular service ran until 2003 when Stephensons of Essex, based in Rochford, took it over.
A busy year, 1991 saw three significant take overs occuring in 6 months. In January, Kemp Coach Travel was taken over followed by the purcahse of 9 coaches plus a rented yard at Tendring Village. Following this expansion, Hedingham became Clacton's biggest coach operator! The previously rented depot at Walton-on-The-Naze railway station was also purchased to help run the newly won school contracts.
Norfolk's of Nayland was taken over with a rented depot and service 84, Nayland to Colchester, was the main route. In July, the expansion continued with the takeover of Wents of Boxted along with the operationg of their main route, Boxted to Colchester.
Hedingham purchased land and built a depot at Meekings Road in Sudbury (this is now the Chambers depot after Go-Ahead Group purchase in July 2012). Hedingham shut Norfolk's depot in Nayland and moved operations to Sudbury.
The first low floor buses in the Essex fleet were Dennis Lance SLFs L211/2 (M212/1WHJ), which became part of the fleet in 1994.
In a prestigious event, Donald MacGregor received an M.B.E from the Queen at Buckingham Palace! This was awarded "for services to the bus industry in north Essex" and recognised his hard work and the company's growth. In September, CJ Partridge of Hadleigh was also purchased. This came with 24 vehicles and included a major MOD contract to transport troops all over the country. All of the former Partridge fleet was moved to the new depot at Sudbury where it joined the former Norfolk's fleet.
Freemans Travel was taken over - its 6 strong fleet was moved from a rented site at Fordham to the main depot in Sudbury.
1996 saw a lot of change. A new depot at Gorse Lane Industrial Estate in Clacton was purchased off Dairy Crest. The engineering site at 14 Brunel Road was expanded to help meet the demands of a growing fleet. Walton and Tendring depots shut along with the C and R Coaches depot at Little Tey, and operations were merged at Kelvedon.
G. W Osbornes of Tollesbury was taken over. This was the biggest takeover in Hedingham's history. 25 vehicles and an impressive depot, used to house 55 buses under cover, was bought freehold. This gave Hedingham a large fleet of 132 vehicles, including 50 coaches. Additionally, a central administration office was opened at Dugard House in Stanway, Colchester. Now operating numerous routes out of 5 depots, the pressure was really on!
Hedingham won a big contract to transfer DFDS cruise passengers from Harwich into Colchester for shopping and day trips.
Hedingham invests in 6 new Enviro 200s for Clacton town services, putting the investment into Clacton.
Government "kick start funding" saw Essex County Council subside the new service 136 Jaywick - Brook Retail Park. Essex CC paid for half of a new bus for service. This bus, EU06KCX L346, is still in service to this day (March 2018)!
DFDS closed ferry services to and from Harwich and moved their operations to Hull. In the same year, the MOD ended the contract transporting troops around the country. The MOD purchased their own in-house bus fleet, operating from Colchester Garrison. The going starts to get tougher.
The year of the banking crisis saw local authority austerity hit Hedingham.
Hedingham and District Omnibuses sells to the GoAhead Group PLC and becomes part of Go East Anglia, and an exciting new era begins!
Robert MacGregor was born in November 1958 and has lived in Colchester nearly all his life. All his schooling was in Colchester and he qualified as a PE teacher in 1981. Before that he gained his PCV license working, part time as a driver for his father's bus company, Hedingham Omnibuses. Hedingham had one depot at Sible Hedingham which was dominated by his father Donald Macgregor, the owner and MD of the company. The life changing moment came when Hedingham purchased C and R Coaches based at Little Tey near Colchester. Robert MacGregor was put in charge and a love affair with the challenge of business began. Over the next 40 years he followed in his father's footsteps and became MD, and in 1995 he became the owner of Hedingham Omnibuses. Robert's wife of 36 years, Claire, worked at Dugard House for 16 years where she was in charge of the back office operation. There was to be no third generation at Hedingham with children James, Helen and Alison choosing careers outside the bus industry. In March 2012, Hedingham Omnibuses was sold to the Go-Ahead Group. Robert MacGregor continues to work for Hedingham as a part time driver who can provide local knowledge to the management. Robert is now a grandfather to Annabelle, now 5, who loves buses!