(Article below transcribed from a newspaper at the time, click on the image below to view a larger version)
MR. THOMAS HENRY BARTON O.B.E., Managing Director and founder of Barton Transport Ltd., the pioneer of British bus services, inventor and engineer, familiarly known to all his employees as “The Guv’nor,” passed away last Friday in a nursing home. He had been ill for some time with a duodenal ulcer, having had two spells in the Pay Bed Wing of the Nottingham General Hospital.
To leave the oil and the grime of his beloved engines to enter hospital caused Mr. Barton to revolt on the first occasion after over three score years and ten without a serious illness, and he was not long before he threw caution to the wind and returned to work.
It was vital, however, that he should have constant medical attention, and he was re-admitted to the hospital in June last year where he became more settled than on his first visit.
Mr. Barton was born at Duffield, about eighty years ago, being the son of a prosperous tradesman. His father was a prominent local preacher and a member of the famous Derbyshire Yeomanry.
He lost his mother when he was 8½ years old, and then helped in his father’s office. After having served a two and a half years’ apprenticeship as an engineer at Grantham his father died, and at the age of 17 was left unprovided for.
At that time he earned 7s. for a 54-hour week, of which 3s. 6d. was paid for his lodgings and washing. This income was augmented by overtime and Sunday work to 9s. to 10s. a week.
A year later the firm went on short time and Mr. Barton returned to his native heath walking from Grantham to the Derbyshire Peak District in two days, with only 2s. in his pocket.
He found employment as a labourer in the stone quarries, but was soon given the job of timekeeper with an increased wage of 16s. a week. The work consisted of booking all the goods in and out and keeping the time of the workmen. One of the advantages of this employment was that he was also allowed to sleep in a wooden hut on the premises and act as night-watchman.
Having saved £4 in a few months, he asked for his release, which his employer reluctantly granted, and Mr. Barton made for Manchester where he joined an engineering works as a driller. Promotion was rapid, and he was enabled to complete his apprenticeship as an engineer.
Working in the daytime, Mr. Barton devoted his evenings to the study of gas and oil engines, and electrical work, which was then in its infancy.
On arrival in Nottingham, he attended evening classes at the University College, and combined theoretical knowledge thus gained with his practical training in the workshops.
A large engineering firm was at the time having difficulty in perfecting a gas engine, and Mr. Barton offered his service. The chief engineer, a man of 30 years’ experience, finally allowed him to build a gas engine for no wages.
The success of this venture ensured Mr. Barton the management of a department at a good salary, and he had the satisfaction of knowing he had built the first gas engine in this country.
Hard work resulted in prosperity, but then his health failed and he had to abandon indoor work. He took a small poultry farm in Derby and his health rapidly improved.
When working at the stone quarries Mr. Barton was intrigued with the traction engine used to carry stone, but he was anxious to get some speed on mechanically propelled vehicles, and at that time could see the possibilities of the internal combustion engine.
In 1897 he visited a London exhibition where there were some single cylinder engines fixed on horse wagonettes, driven by belt with two speed and no reverse. He bought one and drove it to Mablethorpe, taking two days for the journey.
At Mablethorpe a service was run from the Pullover to the Cross public-house for 6d. As far as can be ascertained this was the first public motor trip to run in England.
Mr. Barton’s next venture was to obtain a Daimler-Granville wagonette, which he took to Weston-super-Mare. He was ridiculed by the horse cab fraternity, some of whom were town councillors, but when the horse vehicles were left without passengers the opposition to Mr. Barton’s enterprise became fierce. Restrictions were imposed and frivolous charges were made against him.
On one occasion Mr. Barton was frog-marched down the pier with the object of being thrown into the sea, but after being carried about 100 yards it was concluded that he was not worth further exertions.
After the summer season the motor vehicles were used to carry apples from Devonshire to Bristol. While considering a proposition to carry on this freight work all the year round, Mr. Barton received a deputation from a firm asking if he would take over the management of their business which they were proposing to mechanise the service.
He thought he had been unfairly treated in that part of the world, but decided to toss - heads for the leaving the district, and tails for accepting the job. Heads it was, and Mr. Barton left Weston-super-Mare.
Later Mr. Barton took over an established route from Llandaff castle to Cardiff Town Hall, but finally he returned to Beeston.
In 1899, Mr. Barton was licensed to carry passengers in a motor vehicle in the Derby Borough. It proved a financial failure, however, and two similar ventures in 1901 and 1904 met with the same lack of success.
The rest of the story is generally known locally – how patience, indomitable resolution and industry were rewarded, in spite of difficulties in working a service, opposition from certain authorities and heavy taxation. Mr. Barton was known to say that he was thankful there was no “dole” in his young days, or he might have been tempted to manage on it.
The older residents of Beeston will recall those early days when he and his family were the only employees – five sons and five daughters, all either driving of conducting buses, or managing internal affairs.
It was in 1908 that Mr. Barton really established his bus service at Beeston, and by 1920 he had 30 buses to his name. Seven years later Barton Transport, Ltd., was formed, and since then the firm has never looked back, Bartons being one of the main bus services in the North Midlands. It was December, 1934, that the present headquarters were erected at Chilwell.
But Mr. Barton’s final triumph came in 1944, when the King announced his appointment as an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. In recognition of this award a dinner was given in the Chilwell Memorial Hall, when employees of Barton Transport, Ltd., presented their chief with a portrait painted by Mr. Norman Hepple.
Mr. Barton was beloved by his employees for his genius as a mechanic, inventor and human understanding.
Mr. Barton had a variety of interests and successes apart from his bus company, but it was found that the majority of these interests were closely connected with engineering, for Mr. Barton realised that the mastery of such a subject was a whole-time job.
During the Great War of 1914-1918 he invented the running of motor vehicles by coal gas, and introduced “gas bags” or containers, which were used throughout the British Isles for three or four years when petrol was limited.
As a young man he took a great interest in internal combustion engines, when they were in the early stage of development, and the experience he had acquired at his work and at the Nottingham University College later enabled him to take on the development of the Ackroyd Stuart oil engine.
In 1892 he constructed and demonstrated the high compression injection engine, which could not be further developed owing to the lack of precision tools, suitable materials, and money. Nothing was done for several years, and Diesel, in Germany, tried to claim the invention, which had, however been patented by Ackroyd Stuart in 1890.
Over 20 years ago Mr. Barton purchased the old-established engineering business of Messrs. Cowen, of Beck-street, Nottingham. In addition to being a property owner he was also interested in other industries, including quarries, in Derbyshire.
In his early days Mr. Barton did a large amount of work in foreign countries. One of his first voyages was to the China Seas, when he accepted the opportunity of six months’ probation on engine room work and was appointed on board the “Lord Walden.” On another occasion he travelled right through the Continent of Russia, from St. Petersburg to Vladivostock, fixing up lights on railway stations. He could tell many interesting stories of the life and work of Russian peasants under the reign of the last of the Czars.
The funeral took place at Christ Church, Chilwell, on Wednesday, conducted by the Rev. J. Roberts. Two favourite hymns of the deceased, “Abide With Me” and “Fight the Good Fight” were sung.
The coffin, on which was placed the peaked cap the late Mr. Barton wore, was conveyed to the church and afterwards to the Beeston Cemetery on a new bus chassis, and 30 uniformed employees lined the pathway as the cortege entered the church. The bearers were Messrs. E. Wakefield, P. Litherland, C. Briggs, H. Tuckwood, G. Friend and A. Corbett.
In addition to the family mourners every department of Barton Transport, Limited, was represented, and also other municipal and private passenger transport companies, Beeston and Stapleford Council and many local and county organisations.