FORMER bus driver Bill Dixon is among those who enjoyed the heyday of the coach business.

“As a qualified coach painter, I painted one of the old coach for the Royal Blue Coaches centenary in 1980,” said Mr Dixon.

The vehicle took part in the centenary coach run from London Victoria to Bournemouth and then on to Exeter.

“The run stopped at Terrace Mount car park, overlooking the former Royal Blue Coach Station in the Square,” said Bill of Parkstone.

Thomas Elliott founded the Royal Blue Coaches in 1880 after discovering the lack of a direct rail link from London. He obtained a hackney-carriage driver’s licence and set up the venture in Avenue Road, Bournemouth, taking passengers to the railway at Holmsley.

The business soon expanded and gained the reputation of well turned out coaches and teams of horses.

He was joined by his three sons, delivering the first Bournemouth Daily Echo by pony and trap in 1900. Over 200 horses were stabled at the Royal Blue Mews with more stabling at Bourne Hall, Branksome Mews Stables near the Winter Gardens and seven hotels.

Royal Blue Coaches were pioneers in the development of long distance express services by road throughout the South and West of England. By the First World War motorised charabancs had replaced horse-drawn carriages.

In 1935 the firm was sold to Thomas Tilling Ltd and merged with the express services of Western and Southern National who continued to use the Royal Blue name, and were part of the National Bus Company from 1969, to be then absorbed into the National Express network. The last Royal Blue liveried vehicle was withdrawn in 1994.

Bill also painted 1964 Bristol MW coach for the centenary, with the help of Herbert Carter School pupils. The boys did the external preparation, whilst the girls decorated the interior. This coach was put on display at Poole Bus Station.