The arrival of the very first motor cars in the grandest local families brought new status to the job of the grooms and coachmen, who quickly taught themselves to drive and became chauffeurs. This week, our series on Transport looks at the first chaffeurs and taxi drivers, and the first motorised bus services which brought the benefits of the combustion engine to ordinary people for the first time, so that the motor car was no longer the privilege of just the very rich.
"When I was with the Hood family, Admiral Hood, he was connected with Viscount Bridgenorth, Lord this and Lord the other, the Duke of Northumberland was his uncle and all that sort of thing, we were in all the biggest houses in the country and mind you, we were treated in those days like gents ourselves. I never washed a car. When I drove in, I drove to the front door and then I opened the door and they went in, I drove it round to the stables, stepped out of it and went to my own room. There would be a strip of a lad there to wash it, and there was a good bit of brass about in those days...and the next time I wanted it, the brass was cleaned. i used to go in about ten o'clock in the morning and he'd say, 'Morning, Morning...No, I don' think i want you today, Harold, and I'd finished. If we travelled by train he used to put his hand in his pocket and give me a hand full of golden sovereigns, I had to pay the cabbies and train tickets and all that and he never knew how much he'd given me. People wouldn't believe it now."
Grasmere's first taxi driver never went anywhere without his gun to hand:
"Transport was rather non-existent in those days until The Ribble started but two local men had Model T Fords which they used as taxis and one kept a shotgun underneath his seat as he drove and it wasn't uncommon for him to stop and shoot a pheasant over a hedge, get out and collect it, come back, out his gun under his feet and drive on as if nothing had happened - thats true!"
Coach passengers were always expected to get out and walk up the hills to save the horses, and the first cars were little better on steep ascents:
"Cars were rather primitive in those days, because we found it quite a feat if we could get over The Raise without getting into bottom gear - nowadays these buzz boxes run up! We thought we'd done well if we got to the top. We had a big, heavy car,a Lanchester."
The first bus services began running in the 1920s, and by all accounts there was much competition between many small companies. The Lake District Road Traffic Company were the first to run a fleet of fifteen buses between Keswick and Kendal, all painted bright yellow and known affectionately as "Yellow Perils":
"When they had to be overhauled, instead of having the pits as they have now to go underneath to attend to them, we used to have to get on these little creels to slide under the wheels with; I had the job then of going underneath there with a full tin of paraffin, a brush, weashing off all the engine and the parts underneath had to get all the grease off, had to dry it all off, all the parts that required painting. I had to put all the black on underneath, snadpaper any of the woodwork or axles down on the doings, was allowed to put undercoating on but never put the varnish colour or varnish on. The only thing I was allowed to do was to stain the frames of the old canvas covers that covered the main charabanc."
The famous yellow varnish required days of careful drying:
"You either had not to breathe nor hardly move on account of bringing the dust, those had to stand for two or three days before they were allowed to move again."
However, Yellow Perils were not to be confused with the Yellow Earls' famous fleet of saloon cars which occasionally swept over the Kirkstone Pass.The Earl of Lonsdale, whose love of sport and the good life were legendary, painted the livery of his entire transport fleet in bright yellow, the colour he chose for all his favourite things , and crowds would gather to see the Earl and his friends pass on their way to or from Lowther Castle. Outings to see the bumpy Yellow Perils were just as popular:
"It was quite something to row across the Lake to White Cross Bay and have a look at the Yellow Peril!".
Fares were far from cheap:
"I can't remember the correct date when the first bus service started but it was relations of mine who kept The Sun Hotel at Hawkshead called Aireys, they started the first bus service to Ambleside. I think it brought the post as well. It was one of those with a step at the back and you got in and sat looking at each other, you know. And I think the fare was half a crown return to Ambleside. And they ran it for many many years, the Aireys, and they got a proper 20-seater, a proper bus. And then there was competition struck up from a firm called Creightons at Ulverston...and they had this stand outside the Bank at the side of The Salutation. And then alomng came more competition called The Furness, so there was three running at one time between Ambleside and Ulverston."
There were no less than three more take-overs in ten years before the firm was eventually taken into The Ribble service, but during that time buses vied with each other to collect more passengers,there were fare-cutting wars and competition on journey times ran high. But blood is always thicker than water and local support couldn't be shaken:
"Yes, there was competition, and with fares and one thing and another but us locals would try and stick to old Aireys that had the pub at Hawkshead, and they also had the petrol pumps there."