THE ABC bus company was formed in 1928, when Aaron came together with Binks and Coulson – it was as easy as ABC for these three omnibus operators based in the Ferryhill area.

The A was for Aaron Brothers, who began in haulage but fitted a bus body to a wagon chassis and on market days ran a bus service, including to Darlington.

The B was for Mr and Mrs R & E Binks, who began their omnibus service using a converted Ford Model T fitted with 14 bus seats on a route around Ferryhill before extending into Darlington.

The C was for Percival Coulson and Son, which was based in Rushyford. Coulson senior ran horsedrawn buses around Wingate initially, before moving to Rushyford and establishing a motor bus route from Chilton to Ferryhill, extending either way to Bishop Auckland and Spennymoor.

The extensions were short lived in the face of competition from the fledgling and somewhat larger United Automobile company. Coulson then settled on operating to Darlington on market days.

When the three operators combined, they only operated a route from Chilton to Coxhoe, although this was soon extended to Sunderland via Bowburn, Sherburn and Houghton le Spring. Shortly afterwards, the route was extended south to Darlington.

In those early bus days, there was great competition. The Triumph company of Darlington also operated from Sunderland to Darlington but by a more circuitous route via Sedgefield and the Trimdons. Meanwhile, intermediate points were also the subject of competition from United, Northern General, Gillett and Baker, Scarlet Band and Trimdon Motor Services.

The entire ABC service required four buses operating hourly. Aaron provided two, with Binks and Coulson making up the balance.

Mrs Aaron collected the takings from all operators and placed them in her apron pocket! Profits were distributed between the three operators in the ratio of 2:1:1.

The 1930 Road Traffic Act introduced a system of regulation for local bus services, and was intended to end the intense competition between rival operators. ABC was granted a licence by the local Traffic Commissioner to operate on its existing route but with some restrictions: it was not permitted to carry local passengers between Darlington and Ferryhill, or between Rainton Gate and Sunderland. This was because United and Northern had more established services on these sections.

ABC operated the route for almost the next 20 years, though the outbreak of the Second World War meant that the frequency was reduced to cope with fuel rationing.

Once peace was restored, Coulson decided to concentrate on private hire, contract and excursion work and he sold his share of the service route to Aaron Brothers. The restriction preventing the carriage of local passengers between Darlington and Ferryhill was removed.

Meanwhile, the incoming post-war Labour government wanted to nationalise road passenger transport through the British Transport Commission, which had control of United. The Commission chose the North-East for a pilot scheme.

There was much opposition from municipal bus companies and British Electric Traction, which owned Northern General, but the Commission made favourable offers to the plethora of independent bus companies, encouraging them to sell up to them.

Aaron and Binks decided to take up the offer, along with the Darlington Triumph company and Express Omnibus of Durham.

Matters were complicated by the arrival of a new Conservative government in 1951, but eventually Durham District Services (DDS) was born under the control of United. A green livery was chosen, and in time the motley collection of buses was replaced with the standard Bristol model buses that United favoured.

Route numbers were introduced, with the DDS services given a ‘D’ prefix – the ABC route became the D7, though local parlance in the Ferryhill area still referred to it as “the ABC”.

Aaron and Binks had run from two depots in Ferryhill, Aaron being based on Darlington Road and Binks in East End. Under DDS, the Darlington Road garage was made redundant and all operations centred from East End where a new larger garage was constructed at the end of Hallgarth Terrace. The smaller garage at the end of North Street was used for workshops and offices, with an enquiry and booking office also set up.

Although strictly speaking DDS was an offshoot of United, the Ferryhill staff in particular were very proud of their green buses and the D7 route enjoyed a degree of loyalty from Ferryhill residents.

The service was particularly popular in the summer when many Ferryhill residents would catch the D7 to Sunderland and then continue by tram to Seaburn for a day at the coast.

Most of the staff were Ferryhill residents and it was not uncommon for the conductors and conductresses to hold a gossip session with the passengers!

When Harold Wilson’s Labour came to power in 1966, it set out to complete the nationalisation that had floundered when the Conservatives had won in 1951. This meant there was no need for DDS as a separate entity any more, and its D7 route became the 217 and its green buses were repainted in United red.

As United made savings in the early 1970s, the Ferryhill depot was closed and operations of the 217 were split between Darlington, Durham and Sunderland, and the Ferryhill garages were sold.

The large one at the end of Hallgarth Terrace was demolished but the smaller garage still stands today, being used by a motor factor business.

Over time, the 217 route was reduced in frequency, and then at deregulation in 1986, was run by a succession of operators under contract to Durham County Council.

The final operator was Scarlet Band, and the subsidy for the route was withdrawn in 2006. Today it is not possible to follow the route of the original ABC service by bus, but many memories of this once popular service and its staff survive. I hope to celebrate them in a book and I am looking for photos and more memories.