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WILES BUSES - Annette Gilroy

There must be quite a few people still around who travelled on a Wiles bus at some time in their lives. To school or work. to a wedding or a funeral, or there might even be some who can't remember being on a Wiles bus when they were brought home from a night out in the early hours of the morning!
It all started a long time ago when Terence Wrigley Wiles was born in Sheffield in 1900. He was in the forces in WWI for a short time and then he moved north with a friend to Kirkcaldy. He joined the General Motor Carrying Company which ran haulage during the week and then on Saturdays and Sundays the lorry platforms were replaced by bus bodies for passenger service and he soon knew that he wanted to be more involved with buses.
In July 1924, he took over a small business in Port Seton. It had a motor and cycle repair shop and a private hire business consisting of a model T Ford taxi and a Ford 14 sealer open charabanc with solid rear tyres. During the summer months tours ran to North Berwick and on Sundays there was a service to Aberlady and GulIane so that bona Fide travellers could visit licensed premises! In the Spring of 1925 a new 14 seater Chevrolet was bought to help take Ficidworkers to various farms for the pIanting and in the June of the same year. a 14 seater Fiat was also acquired to cope with increased bookings and to face competition.
It was soon realised, though, that good weather was needed to make the summer Sunday runs pay. so. with the collaboration of Hugh Inglis. the owner of the Thorntree Inn in Cockenzie and who also had a pub in Ormiston. a regular hourly service commenced between Port Seton and Ormiston on Sundays. It started in July. 1926 and was an immediate success, so much so that competitors transferred their vehicles to this route and undercut the fares. It was a good summer so you can imagine all the jostling of the buses for the passengers - Wiles, Dunsmuir. Armstrong and Small - but it was different if there was a sudden downpour - as happens today they took the First bus to come along to get out of the rain. However, to try to create some loyalty the sendee was run all winter and this attracted other business. Some of the competitors ran themselves off the road through cut prices. inferior maintenance and unreliability and when the 6d return fare from Tranent was introduced in 1927. competition was Finally eliminated as the passengers had to wait for a Wiles bus to use their return ticket - a real "Wilcy" move! The first miners service was started around this time between Tranent and Fordell Mains, near Dalkeith, and later, the night shift run between Tranent and Prestonlinks. By this time. regular buses, not canvas topped, were needed for protection from the weather. so two new Chevrolets were bought and from then onwards one vehicle was replaced annually until 1931 when the Chevrolet model was discontinued and 20 seater Bedfords with opening roofs took their place.

1930 Chevrolet . Driver J Arch holdfrom Tranent. Ills son. Sih. later drove the Railway goods lorry locally for many years

The utility bus painted light grey and with wooden slatted seats

Two coaches leaving Port Seton on public tour in the fifties

The OB is still held in great affection and many have been preserved. One such vehicle in Wiles livery was used in the Strathblair and City' Lights series on television and also on the programme about the Scottish Bus Museum near Dunfermline. Model-makers. Corgi produced a very fine copy which has proved popular and sold all over, bringing a touch of nostalgia.
During the war a lot of the non-essential service work came to a stand-still because of scarcity of petrol and spares though there was a little extra from Gosford Army Camp bringing soldiers to the Pond Hall dancing. Miners services also increased and. in 1946. when the coal industry was nationalised the runs to Chesterhall at St Germains, the Fleets outside Tranent. and Prestongrange were put on a contract basis.
Vehicles were again getting bigger and by the time Coronation year (1953) came. with better wages, more leisure, the public wanted to be entertained and coaches provided this - mystery tours. works outings, Sunday School picnics, day tours to the North, and weekends to Blackpool Illuminations.
There were more field workers being transported too at this time. The Tranent contractor. George Fairgrieve. or Doddy Fairy as he was called, was responsible for organising squads to the farms throughout the country and the tattle lifting was popular with the drivers too as they shared in the perks of a free boiling? of potatoes.
The Port Seton/Tranent/Prestonpans service was very much the bread and butter of the business. Some wag made the comment. "Wiles? - whiles it comes and whiles it doesn't!" and in 1956 when the new logo for the company appeared, 'W M S'. it was quickly renamed the "Wait a Minute Service!"
Around 1959 a new introduction to the fleet was the Glasgow-built Albion Nimbus 31 sealer service model. They were not the prettiest of buses but were great little workhorses. They could zoom up Church Street and had good entrances for the passengers. Over a period of nine years five were bought and they were ideal for this area. They were also quite rare vehicles and bus enthusiasts from all over would appear on Bank Holidays to photograph them. In 1966 the members of the Omnibus Society especially requested the use of a Nimbus for their tour of the then not inconsiderable number of bus operators in East Lothian, Dunsmuir. Armstrong, Glass. Stark. Eastern Scottish. Sadly, none of these is still in existence. Most of the Nimbuses were cannibalised and eventually broken up when they ended their days but one became the rugby team bus for Waid Academy F P Club in Anstruther, after it was sold for scrap to a Fife dealer! Another can be seen for posterity in one of the starring roles in Jim Hickie's award-winning film "The Flee Market", part of which was made in Sam Burns' yard!
Now to the sixties which saw the closing of Prestongrange and Prestonlinks Collieries and the building of Cockenzie Power Station. This brought a lot of prosperity to the whole district and provided many jobs. Monktonhall Colliery opened in 1962 and the contract was awarded for transporting all the men from Port Seton, Prestonpans, Macmerry, New Winton, PencaitIand, Ormiston. Elphinstone, Tranent and Wallyford on three shifts to and from Monktonhall.
By the mid sixties roads were better and wider than ever and longer, more ambitious tours were started to Rothesay, Oban and the English Lakes. The wave of prosperity continued but it had a knock-on effect with people going abroad on holiday. The shorter tours to North Berwick and Dunbar were no longer needed as most of the holiday makers had cars. Evening Mysteries also finished as the Clubs started to put on entertainment. For a while the new Forth Road Bridge was the big attraction.
Mention should be made of some regular hirers from Prestonpans, although Tom McKinlay did most of the private work.
Mrs Hooker and Mrs Stewart booked the annual outing of the Sisterhood. This was like the Woman's Guild and had a big following up until about the early sixties.
A similar outing was organised for the Salvation Army Home League by Mrs Donaldson, then Mrs Gilbertson. and now Mrs Bunty Cunningham is looking after it. Both of these outings were for the whole day and the ladies enjoyed their meals out.
At one time, a Mr Thomson from the Hawthorn Road area booked as many as three coaches to Wemyss Bay where the passengers got the steamer for Rothesay to go to the Co-operative Holiday Camp at Canada Hill for the Trades Fortnight. He was quite an organiser! Thorntree Golf Club were regulars in the summer for their Sunday away matches. Then there was Mr Davie, the Barman of Fowler's pub, the Queen's Arms. He had an outing for his customers one Sunday in the year and it was quite an event. Tlie boot was loaded with crates of Wee Heavies, no restrictions, and off they went to visit some other places of refreshments. It did not seem to matter where they went as the men all ended up in the same state! Alex (Dickie) Dickson always drove for that day, perhaps because he was teetotal, but he never had any bother with them.
Before there was a Catholic Church in Prestonpans a bus went up to Drummohr Monastery once a month and one came from Port Seton every Sunday morning, picking up at the Shrine and Hawthorn Road area, first to the hall then in later years to St Gabriel's Church after it was built. This was for anyone in need of transport including old Mrs Boyle and Mrs Tinny and the buses were also used to take the children to St Martin's School in Tranent before St Gabriel's School opened.
In later years, Monktonhall Silver Band was another regular, sometimes to play in a parade or a gala or other event and other times to transport the band to a competition and they still seem to be doing well.
Very popular in the summer months for the Prestonpans and Tranent folk especially, were the public tours. English Lakes, Rothesay, Dundee, Arbroath, Ayr, Dumfries, Whitley Bay. They all had their appeal and such was the attraction that some customers booked every alternate day instead of going away on holiday.
Another source of work at this time was created by the great number of small football teams in the area. Cockenzie Star, Thorntree United and Preston Athletic of Prestonpans, and Tranent Juniors. There was great support for them all and if any managed to get even near the finals, the whole town seemed to turn out for the game. Tranent Juniors made it more than once and the strong supporters' club used to hire as many as seven or eight buses to take the fans. On at least one occasion the visiting team came by special train to Prestonpans Station and then Wiles provided a ferry sendee up and down to Tranent.
Eventually, interest in the local teams waned and the younger generation transferred their loyalty to the First Division. The Clubs, in general, were well run and there was very little trouble from them whether they supported Rangers, Celtic, Hibs or Hearts, but sooner or later the fans from the opposing team caused friction with brick-throwing and thus window damage, and when this grew worse and a few passengers and a driver received slight cuts from broken glass, it was time to stop.
1973 saw the purchase of a new Ford 45 seater bus-cum-coach, a dual-purpose vehicle and it was a very happy day. The Ministry' of Transport had a grant scheme for stage service operators and because of the large mileage this was to happen three times over the next three years. These new vehicles also saw the start of a new livery from cream and blue to dark blue and light blue. School rolls were increasing and the mining industry was booming so these bigger 45 seater vehicles were certainly needed. Newer models were appearing, mostly Ford and Bedford, and some were disposed
of. One went to the Isle of Lewis and in 1975. one made the trip down to Dartford where it joined a few others and set sail for the isIand of Mauritius. That's the farthest any Wiles vehicle ever went!
September/October 1983 saw a short miners strike but it was also when a 53 sealer Ford coacli appeared, a much larger vehicle than had been accustomed to but was well used from its arrival.

Ford Supreme 53 seater coach standing in front of Pond Hall in 1983

Then in March 1984 another miners strike began and it was realised from the start that it was going to be a bad time. The buses on the service runs suffered damage to scats, panels, broken windows and there was a lot of animosity. The ironic part was that hires were carried out for local miners support groups into demonstrations and parades. It was a very unhappy time as everyone had friends, neighbours, relatives in the coal industry. Gradually things got back to normality and there was an immediate return to full service. However, by May 1986 manpower at the Colliery had been drastically reduced until there was only one daily run, three shifts, being done for the small number of men left from this area.
October 1986 was deregulation date when the licensing conditions of bus routes were greatly relaxed. Advantage was taken of this to extend the Tranent service to the Muirpark area. Eastern Scottish and Lothian Region Transport decided to extend some of their routes to Prestonpans and Meadowmill and this took away much of the local traffic. Eastern Scottish soon withdrew but. to the dismay of all involved with Wiles, Lothian Region extended their run to Muirpark in December 1987.
One bright spot in 1988 was the Glasgow Garden Festival. Local interest was not great at first but memories came back of how Mr Wiles talked of the '38 Exhibition and when July came it was included in the tour list. The public responded magnificently and extra runs had to be included, an unheard of happening, and it continued thus throughout the season, even on Sundays! It certainly was a wonderful show.
There was also the very popular outing to the Metro Shopping Centre and tours to the Beamish Heritage Museum too which were an instant success and of great interest.
Very successful financially but just not enough overall revenue to keep going as all the bus routes were operated without subsidy and, among other things, there was a sudden 300% rise in road fund licences. In common with many other long-established operators throughout the U K. deregulation was a disaster for Wiles and this, coupled with the closure of Monktonhall. forced the decision to finish on 31 December 1989. A few of the regulars travelled on the last run and some of the annual Hogmanay Gala Dance folk appeared from the Pond Hall to bid their farewells.
Other companies took over the service routes and contracts and what had once been a local institution now faded from memory except perhaps for the first few summers when the older generation missed the very popular public tours. Nothing quite replaced them.
A lot of readers will recall their own stories and it is hoped this account will jog a few memories to bring back more tales of Wiles buses.

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