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SNAPSHOT 308: 1904 Milnes-Daimler Omnibus

The British company Milnes of Birkenhead was founded by George Frederick Milnes around 1888, initially to manufacture tramcars. In 1901 the Milnes company entered into a partnership with Daimler Motorengesellschaft to sell Daimler products in the British Empire; the company was named Milnes-Daimler, located at 221 Tottenham Court Road in London.

Milnes-Daimler developed a double-decker bus in 1902 and provided a bus for the first motorised bus service in the United Kingdom, for Portsmouth and Gosport Motors.

The Milnes-Daimler company dealt in more than just commercial vehicles. The first Mercedes car saw the light of day in March 1901, and Milnes-Daimler became agents for these cars. In March 1904, the date of our Snapshot, Milnes-Daimler were proudly stating that motor lorries, vans, motor launches, Mercedes cars and Mercedes spares were always in stock. They offered immediate delivery of 18 H.P. Mercedes cars: “Send for Prices,” they exhorted.

But at this time their most prominent advertising was reserved for their buses. Under the reminder of their Gold Medal at the Liverpool Heavy Trials and the Glasgow Reliability Trails, both from 1901, they displayed a picture of this fine Milnes-Daimler ‘Motor Omnibus seating 34 persons.’ This one was supplied to Brighton & Hove Omnibus Co., but also listed as customers were Hastings Omnibus Co., Eastbourne Corporation, Great Western Railway Co., Great North of Scotland Railway Co., Preston United Omnibus Co. and Birmingham Motor Express Co.

This was a clear sign of success. By 1907 Milnes and Milnes-Daimler were the largest provider of motorbuses in the UK, with 600 in service. But despite this success in the UK and throughout the British Empire, the partnership between Daimler and Milnes had to be undone at the outset of World War I.

There is very little information on the technical specification of the vehicle here, but some clues come from an article in the Manchester Guardian of 13 February 1905. After a short history of less successful attempts to introduce buses to London the article went on:

“…the motor- ‘bus did not again appear until about three months ago, when Messrs. Tilling placed a big German-made motor-‘bus on their ancient route between Peckham and Oxford Circus. They have now three on the road (writes a London representative of the ‘Manchester Guardian’), and at the end of March expect to have increased the number to fourteen.

“The type is the Milnes-Daimler of 20 h.p., three speeds, and live axle drive. It carries (inside and outside) 31 passengers, and has a speed of twelve miles an hour.”

The article ends with an interesting footnote on the horse-drawn predecessor of the motorbus:

“Every week brings a new motor-‘bus to the street, and they have now come to stay. The ‘bus horses have become used to them, and see them rush past without a snort. It will be a couple of years at least before the horse-‘bus will seem to us an odd thing in the streets, but its end cannot be very far off.”

And so it was.

Photo courtesy of The Richard Roberts Archive.


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