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Shillibeer was born in St Marylebone and his early career was as a midshipman in the Royal Navy. He then joined Hatchetts, a coachbuilding company in Long Acre and learnt the wood and metalworking skills necessary to build horse-drawn carriages etc.   In the 1820s he moved to Paris, France, where he was commissioned to build some large horse-drawn coaches of a "novel design" that could convey up to two dozen people at a time.

He returned to London with the idea of introducing such coaches here, using a name that was then current in France - the "Omnibus".  On 4th July 1829, Shillibeer’s first Omnibuses went into service between Paddington (The Yorkshire Stingo) and "Bank Junction" (Bank of England) via the "New Road" (now Marylebone Road), Somers Town and City Road.  The first Omnibuses carried 20 passengers and were drawn by three horses. The fare was one shilling (5p) all the way; sixpence (2½p), half-way.  Newspapers and magazines were provided free of charge for passengers to read. 

Four services were provided in each direction daily. This service was described in the first advertisements as being "upon the Parisian mode" and that "a person of great respectability attended his vehicle as Conductor".  The first few conductors employed were naval friends of Shillibeer's, who were attired in 'blue cloth uniforms, cut to the style of midshipman's'.  An account of the new service was given in the Morning Post of 7th July 1829:

Saturday the new vehicle, called the Omnibus, commenced running from Paddington to the City, and excited considerable notice, both from the novel form of the carriage, and the elegance with which it is fitted out. It is capable of accommodating 16 or 18 persons, all inside, and we apprehend it would be almost impossible to make it overturn, owing to the great width of the carriage. It was drawn by three beautiful bays abreast, after the French fashion. The Omnibus is a handsome machine, in the shape of a van. The width the horses occupy will render the vehicle rather inconvenient to be turned or driven through some of the streets of London.

Shillibeer’s first difficulty was that hackney carriages had an exclusive monopoly on licensing in central London, forcing him to run his route outside the jurisdiction, from Paddington to Islington. The fare was one shilling, not cheap. His second problem was that competition was immediate, mainly from fifteen passenger vehicles which attracted less vehicle tax, which soon led him to bankruptcy, although he somehow managed to remain operational.

The hackney carriage  monopoly ended in 1832, allowing Shillibeer to run a service to Greenwich in addition to his existing London to Brighton service. But by now his problem was not only competition from his many omnibus rivals, but also from steam riverboat operators and the new London and Greenwich railway. What’s more his omnibuses were still too big for London’s narrow streets. Once again, Shillibeer was in default of his road taxes, but this time his property was seized and he absconded to Boulogne with angry creditors in his wake. On his return, the debtors’ court sentenced him to several months in the Fleet prison. He wasn’t out long when the authorities discovered 130 gallons of smuggled French brandy in his premises in Camden and back to prison he went.

Shillibeer spent the rest of his career as an undertaker, but he couldn’t get carriages out of his system, developing and patenting a new type of funeral carriage, again modelled on a French idea. He is buried in Chigwell, Essex, where the busmen of London commissioned a memorial tablet to him in 1929.

The only commemoration in London of the father of the London bus is Shillibeer Place in Marylebone, near where he had his depot and stables.

 

Shillibeer was born in St Marylebone, London the son of Abraham and Elizabeth Shillibeer. Christened in St Marys Church, Marylebone on 22 October 1797, Shillibeer worked for the coach company Hatchetts in Long Acre, the coach-building district of the capital. In the 1820s he was offered work in Paris, France, where he was commissioned to build some unusually large horse-drawn coaches of "novel design". The aim was to design a coach capable of transporting a whole group of people, perhaps two dozen, at a time.

 

Shillibeer's design worked, and was very stable. It was introduced into the streets of Paris in 1827. Shortly afterwards, Shillibeer was commissioned to build another by the Newington Academy for Girls, a Quaker school in Stoke Newington near London; this had a total of twenty-five seats, and entered history as the first school bus. In 1827 Joseph Pease, a railway pioneer and later the first Quaker MP, wrote in verse about the school bus:

    The straight path of Truth the dear Girls keep their feet in,

    And ah! it would do your heart good Cousin Anne,

    To see them arriving at Gracechurch Street Meeting,

    All snugly packed up, 25 in a van.

 

Shillibeer's first Omnibus

 

Whilst in Paris, Shillibeer concluded that operating similar vehicles in London, but for the fare-paying public with multiple stops, would be a paying enterprise, so he returned to his native city. His first London "Omnibus" took up service on 4 July 1829 on the route between Paddington (The Yorkshire Stingo) and "Bank" (Bank of England) via the "New Road" (now Marylebone Rd), Somers Town and City Rd. Four services were provided in each direction daily. This service was described in the first advertisements as being "upon the Parisian mode" and that "a person of great respectability attended his vehicle as Conductor". An account of the new service was given in the Morning Post of 7 July 1829:

 

    Saturday the new vehicle, called the Omnibus, commenced running from Paddington to the City, and excited considerable notice, both from the novel form of the carriage, and the elegance with which it is fitted out. It is capable of accommodating 16 or 18 persons, all inside, and we apprehend it would be almost impossible to make it overturn, owing to the great width of the carriage. It was drawn by three beautiful bays abreast, after the French fashion. The Omnibus is a handsome machine, in the shape of a van. The width the horses occupy will render the vehicle rather inconvenient to be turned or driven through some of the streets of London.

A less successful innovation was his "Funeral Omnibus", which combined a passenger vehicle with a hearse.

George Shillibeer died at Brighton, East Sussex on 21 August 1866 (some sources say 22 August),[citation needed] and is buried in the graveyard at St Mary's Church at Chigwell in Essex.[1]

 

On the morning of July 4, 1829, a large crowd gathered outside the Yorkshire Stingo pub in Paddington, by New Road, now named Marylebone Road. The reason for this large gathering was to see the first two omnibuses leave for the Bank Junction, in the city of London. The route that was chosen was along Marylebone Road, Euston Road, Pentonville Road, City Road, Moorgate and Princess Street. This new service was provided by Mr George Shillibeer, who was born in 1797 at Tottenham Court Road, London. Shillibeer had seen this kind of operation while working in Paris in 1825 for M. Lafitte, who, besides being a banker, was also the proprietor of the world's first omnibus that Shillibeer had been assisting with the building. The omnibus had been started by Jacques Lafitte, in Paris, in 1819 during the reign of Louis XVIII, and had been a popular success. Shillibeer had been a midshipman in the British Navy. He quit the service to work at Hatchett's in London's Long Acre, Covent Garden, to learn coachbuilding. After his training he took over premises in Bury Street, Bloomsbury, where he intended to build a new vehicle called an omnibus, although many people of the times referred to them as Shillibeers, and later on as simply buses.

 

Shillibeer Place

Shillibeer's Stables

Shillibeer Place, Marylebone. This was where the carriages and horses were stabled.

 

These first buses carried twenty-two passengers, all inside. The fare from Paddington to the Bank was a shilling (five pence), half-way was sixpence (two and a half pence). Newspapers and magazines were provided free of charge. The first few conductors employed were friends of Shillibeer's from the navy, who were attired in 'blue cloth uniforms, cut to the style of midshipman's'. As trade picked up Shillibeer was taking £100 per day, and naturally, his buses soon spread all across London. The first company to copy this service was the Post Office, and soon others competed for passengers, Shillibeer renaming his buses as Shillibeer's Original Omnibuses.

 

In 1835 the railways were being introduced into London, so with competition growing, Shillibeer got in trouble with the Stamp and Tax office. Shillibeer was pushed out of the London Transportation network altogether and moved into building 'Shillibeer Funeral Coaches', and his name connected with buses became forgotten. He died at Brighton in 1866, at the age of sixty nine, and he is buried at St Mary's church graveyard near to his home at Chigwell in Essex.

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