Motorised transport in Forncett
The arrival of the omnibus
When William Knott of Chestnut Tree Farm retired as the local carrier, the role was taken over by Walter John Smith who is listed as the Forncett carrier in the 1908 trade directory. Walter Smith was born in Tacolneston and married Clara Humphreys from Forncett End in 1883. Initially he farmed in Cheney's Lane, but around 1908 he moved to Maltings Farm in West Road (then called Duck's Mud), Forncett End.
Initially, Walter Smith ran a traditional horse-drawn carriage but around 1916 he started a carrier service by bus to Norwich from his farm; the buses were fitted with solid rubber tyres and built on a conventional lorry chassis as used by military vehicles in World War 1.
Walter Smith's bus in Norwich (courtesy of Picture Norfolk)
Walter's granddaughter, Muriel Pymer, wrote about his work as a carrier in her diaries (published by Forncett History Group as "Muriel's Story").
"He would carry parcels and do shopping for folk along the way. He was held in great respect in the neighbourhood for he was a generous hearted fellow. His customers were many and included the Cavell household at the rectory in Swardeston (the family of Edith Cavell). Later Grandpa took to making calls at pubs and stopped too often! His behaviour lost him much of his reputation and made Grandma Smith very unhappy."
Muriel records that Walter's sons, Harry and Eric, also had
buses. The buses not only provided a service to and from Norwich but could also
be hired for private outings such as trips to the seaside at Great Yarmouth.
The body of one of Walter Smith's old buses was used in the farmyard at Maltings Farm as an office for the Independent Order of Oddfellows. Smith was local secretary of this friendly society, a means of insuring against sickness etc. in the days before Social Security.
Around 1920 a second bus service was set up by Chellis Lord Humphreys, the great grandson of James Humphreys who built the Trowel and Hammer public house. Chellis had followed in the family trade as a bricklayer and builder and he and his family lived at Ashdell House in Tabernacle Lane. Chellis set up his omnibus business (C L Humphreys & Sons) with his sons Norman and Leonard. They started with one bus but later they added two more, all of which were kept at Ashdell House.
Norman Humphreys with an early Humphrey's bus (photo courtesy of Bill Thurston)
Omnibus excursion from Forncett to Great Yarmouth in a Humphrey's bus
Humphreys' buses at Ashdell House
The three buses are (L-R) : VF2638 Karrier ZX with Taylor's of Eaton bodywork. VF5936 Karrier
CL4, and VF 8261 Karrier Chaser 4 (Both latter probably with Eaton Bodies). Reproduction of photos with kind permission of K.L. Humphreys
Kelly's Directory of 1933 lists both Chellis Humphreys and Eric Smith as offering bus services to Norwich. The business was acquired by Eastern Counties Omnibus Company in December 1934.
With thanks to Rob Horsley for information on the Humphreys' buses at Ashdell House.