© Mike Sutcliffe

Date: 1924
Registration: XU 7498
Acquired by Museum: 2011, on loan from its private owner
Current State: Fully restored, operational

The Chocolate Express Omnibus Co Ltd

The “Chocolate Express” is probably the best-remembered of London’s 200+ independent operators (colloquially known as the ‘pirates’) which ran between 1922 and 1934, when the last was compulsorily purchased by the new London Passenger Transport Board. Chocolate Express was the first such operator and was founded by former London Road Car Company driver Arthur George Partridge who, after discharge from the Army after WW1, spotted the opportunity for independently-provided bus services to supplement those of the General.

Partridge was a cut above the average ‘pirate’ operator and possessed considerable business acumen which even won the grudging respect of the LGOC’s senior management, to the extent that he was later offered a managerial position with London Transport, which he declined. The Chocolate Express operation won a deserved reputation for service, cleanliness and reliability and its buses were always spotless, even in bad weather.

Operations commenced in August 1922 with the first of the company’s five Leyland LB-types and, despite initially intense on-road harrassment from the LGOC, the Company eventually settled into a secure and profitable business, operating its buses mainly on route 11 on weekdays and the 33D on Sundays. Four of the LB buses were replaced by new Leyland Titans in 1929-31 although LB XU 7498 was retained as a spare and survived to the end of operations in August 1934 when the company was compulsorily acquired by London Transport. At just short of 12 years, Chocolate Express was the longest-lived of the pirate operators.

Leyland LB5 XU 7498

The Leyland LB marque was developed by the manufacturer in an attempt to break into the London market which was dominated by AEC, not surprisingly since that company was an associate of the largest operator, the LGOC.  The LB-type was based on the standard Leyland lorry chassis but widened behind the dash to give greater stability as a bus. A constant-mesh gearbox was fitted which, together with the smooth-running and efficient Leyland 4-cylinder, side-valve engine, provided relatively silent operation.

XU 7498 was the fourth of five LBs purchased by Chocolate Express, entering service in September 1924, and the only one retained by the company right to the end of its operations, towards the end acting as a spare. The body was built by Christopher Dodson Ltd to a standard design stipulated by the Metropolitan Police who had authority over such matters (the Museum’s own 1925 Dennis has a similar body which makes an interesting comparison as the vehicles are exhibited side by side.) Dodson was a great supporter of the independent operators, refusing to accept work for the LGOC and offering his customers beneficial terms.

Originally running on solid tyres, the bus was fitted with pneumatics in March 1930. When the Chocolate Express company passed to London Transport in August 1934, XU 7498 headed the convoy of the company’s buses to LT’s Chiswick Works. Currently, it is not known whether the bus ever operated for LT (although this seems doubtful) or when it was finally disposed of by them. It was discovered in 1984, derelict on a farm near Norwich, by the esteemed Leyland restorer Mike Sutcliffe who spent the next 3 years painstakingly restoring it. The bus has since won several awards and we are most grateful to Mike for allowing the Museum to display this magnificent vehicle.

 

Chassis: Leyland LB5
Body: Dodson 48-seat, open-top, rear entrance
Engine: Leyland S19 5.36hp 4-cylinder petrol with Leyland 4-speed manual gearbox
Date into service: September 1924
Date of withdrawal: August 1934

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