Who are the Bowen Travel Group?
Operating across central England, Bowens, Applebys, Yorks & Jeffs are the companies that make up The Bowen Travel Group.
In 1976 the Mosley Group acquired L F Bowen Limited, a coach operating company in the West Midlands and subsequently forming Bowen Travel Limited as a separate tour operating and retail travel agency.
The company grew over the years and in 1998, with the expansion across central England included a further acquisition of Yorks Bros (Northampton) Limited, a company with similar activities to Bowens operating in Northamptonshire.
In December 2000 the coaching division and retail division of R W Applebys, based in Lincolnshire was acquired and then in 2005 Jeffs Coaches of Helmdon was acquired.
L. F. Bowen coaches were established when Les Bowen, a haulier since 1928 needed more space and bought the premises of W. Stilgoe in Saltley. With the new garage came the “Royal George Coaches” fleet and an operator’s licence to run excursions and tours. The out break of the war saw the coaches requisitioned by the Government for transportation of workers to the Austin factory.
After the war the haulage business continued and on identifying an emerging market in tourism, Les Bowen began expanding his fleet and the name “Superior Coaches” was adopted.
In 1976 Les Bowen had grown his business to be the largest independent coach operator in the Birmingham area owning more than 70 coaches and 4 depots. Upon his retirement later that year the company was sold to Moseley Group (P.S.V.) plc of Loughborough. In 1977 the name “Bowens” was adopted and applied to all the vehicles in the fleet. The company continued to grow.
William Appleby started his empire as a coach operator, ice cream manufacturer & retailer in 1913 at the Village Store in Conisholme which is where the offices remain to this day.
The business eventually passed to Ron Appleby, and ultimately, in the 1970’s, to Stuart Appleby and his cousin Monica Stones.
In the early 1980’s the de-regulation of the coaching industry meant that Applebys could start to operate their own coach tour programme, which Stuart & Monica built up between them from zero to 30,000 passengers in ten years. Not bad for rural Lincolnshire!
In November 2000 Bowen Travel Group purchased the Coach Tour Operation of Applebys, with Monica staying on as General Manager. Monica Stones was subsequently appointed Managing Director of the Bowen Travel Tours & Groups Division in March 2006.
In 1924 George York after leaving school equipped himself with a horse and cart and undertook general carrying work from his family home in Station Road, Cogenhoe.
Like many 18 year olds today, he decided he needed a better set of wheels and so he persuaded his father, Anderson to provide the finance for a Ford T truck. George used the truck to carry parcels and general freight.
George soon saw another opportunity and became involved in conveying coal, delivered by rail to Billing Station, which he hawked in the locality on days when he was not busy carrying other merchandise.
It wasn’t too long before he started carrying passengers as well – obviously not at the same time as the coal!
In response to demand, on 30th May 1925 a Ford T 14 seater saloon bus was delivered. The new Ford T was used for private hire commissions when the need arose. These journeys were usually over a short distance – e.g. darts, football team transport, flower shows, and longer journeys occurred during summer months.
1926 saw the establishment of a regular Northampton to Great Yarmouth service.
In the same year Frederick York joined in partnership with his brother and the Yorks Bros. partnership was established, using
“EASY” MOTOR COACH CO” as its brand name.
In 1935 an enquiry and general office opened at No 1 Derngate.
On 7th January 1939 the Easy Motor Coach Company trading name was abandoned in favour of “Yorks Bros. (Northampton) Ltd.”
The company had garages in Cogenhoe and West Bridge and also South Bridge and a fleet of 14 coaches.
The coal and coke business was sold to Ernie Tysoe (husband of their sister Francis) in order to concentrate on bus and coach operations.
Following the outbreak of war, on 11th May 1940 the Yarmouth service and excursions were cancelled, replaced by contracts transporting workers to munitions factories in Coventry and distributing children evacuated from London to Northamptonshire villages.
By September 1940 9 front-line coaches had been commandeered by the Military Authorities.
The York Bros (Northampton) Ltd coaching fleet became famous for being named after the naval Fleet , the name being displayed in illuminated panels. Possibly it is due to a sense of national pride, as Fred’s eldest son served in the Royal Navy. Another theory is that the practice developed as a result of Northampton adopting HMS Laffery during the war.
On 31st December 1945 George York resigned to take up farming and, following his demobilization, his nephew, (Frederick) Alfred York (Fred Jnr) joined York Bros (Northampton) Ltd.
On the 7th June 1946 the Great Yarmouth service resumed and the booking office in Derngate was packed the day after this was announced with prospective travellers
Robert York (Frederick’s youngest son) joined the company as a mechanic on 1st August 1948 and soon after this the company opened a booking office at 13 Market Street in Kettering.
The company continued to expand, during the 1950s with a travel shop in Rushden, and a new larger travel shop at No 5 Derngate.
In 1959 the company was awarded the Concours d’Elegance prize. The winning coach bore a livery of light blue and even lighter blue replacing the old dark and light blue colours. This colour scheme was phased in across the fleet.
The company ventured into the travel agency business in the early 1970s – some 14 – across the area, offering coach holidays and a full leisure and business travel service, joining ABTA and acquiring an ATOL licence.
In the late 1980s the company acquired Wesleys Tours and, thanks to relaxation of the rules regarding leisure travel, was able to offer a more extensive touring programme.
In 1997 the majority of the share holdings in the business were sold to Bowen Travel, although Ken York (son of cofounder George) is still a shareholder in the business.
Jack Jeffs bought his first coach in June 1958. It was a 37-seater, the business started to grow when Jack purchased his second coach early in 1959.
At first Jack just did day trips and very soon he had taken on school and works contracts. The bus was kept in a barn on The Square (now a house conversion – The Old Barn, Cross Lane). Jack was the driver and was helped at weekends by his son John who had served his apprenticeship at Daimler and then worked at Self-Change Gears, Coventry. He returned to Helmdon at the weekends to help his father run the business.
The same year, 1959, Jack obtained planning approval to use the old goods shed and station yard as a coach garage. He also purchased his second coach that year.
During this period of expansion John became a partner with his father, and the name of Jeffs Coaches was born. By the end of 1961 they had a total of seven coaches and an 11-seater minibus. Business continued to expand and on 16 April 1964 the station yard was purchased from British Rail for one thousand and three pounds, seven shillings and ten pence. In June of 1964 Jack and John took the decision to purchase three brand new coaches to add to the fleet.
Throughout the sixties and seventies Jack and John developed the firm, expanding into a large variety of operations. There were the “run of the mill” school runs, work runs, day trips, weekly shopping services, theatre trips, holidays in this country and Jeffs Coaches became a familiar sight abroad operating regular trips to the South of France and other parts of Europe.
In the seventies Jack’s elder son, Ken, joined John and his father as a partner in the business, although Ken did not work full time until 1988. The business continued to grow during those years until the cream and green coaches with the Impala silhouette not only became a familiar part of the village scene in Helmdon but a national and international coach firm.
Ken Jeffs continued to run the family coach business after the death of his father and younger brother John eventually selling the company to the Bowen Travel Group in December 2005.
• Coach Holidays in the UK and on the Continent
• Private and Corporate Coach Hire and contract work
• Day Excursions
• Coach, cruise and flight Group Travel
• Operation of 39 travel agencies across central England
For details on holidays please visit www.coachholidays.com
Source: Bowen Travel Group