GREG LAMBERT speaks to TONY HARRISON whose 66-year-old coach firm takes the name of Morecambe all over the continent...
Morecambe’s holiday trade heyday of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was a boom period for the coach hire industry.
When Tony Harrison was a schoolboy, there were 21 different coach firms bringing droves of tourists to and from the town. Dreadnought, Rambler and Hoods were amongst their names.
“There was a designated coach stand from West End Road to Fahy’s Garage, where Aldi is now,” recalls Tony.
“People could get on whatever coach they wanted for day trips.
“Every Thursday was Kirkby Lonsdale Market. Every Monday and Friday everybody went to Fleetwood Market. There were trips to see the Blackpool Illuminations.
“Some days we would fill eight to 10 coaches just to the Lakes, charging just seven and sixpence.”
Back then, Tony’s dad Albert Harrison ran the biggest coach company in town, Battersby’s.
Today, 66 years after Albert first bought the firm from the Battersby family, the company is still going strong with Tony and his wife Maureen at the helm.
Tony was just 11 when he first cut his teeth in the business, which was then based on West End Road.
“I had to start at the bottom,” he says.
“On weekends and school holidays I would clean the coaches, doing all the dirty jobs nobody wanted to do.
“My father always said you don’t ask anybody to do a job that you won’t do yourself. I still try to work to that theory. today.”
Battersbys expanded through the years, buying out much of its competition. One of its main acquisitions was Silver Grey coaches in 1960 hence its name today, Battersbys Silver Grey.
Another was Florence and Grange, which the firm later sold.
“We had offices and depots all around Morecambe,” says Tony. “We used to do a lot for the bathing beauties, taking them to their hotels and to and from the Super Swimming Stadium.”
But then Morecambe began to decline and the number of holidaymakers dwindled in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s.
“A lot of our customers were from Scotland but the Scots started to bypass Morecambe when they built the M6 bypass. We still used to pick them up but we’d take them to Torquay or Bournemouth.
“Then the workers building the power station moved into the boarding houses. Hotels were struggling so they let the workmen stay at a lower rate. When the power station was finished, the guest houses didn’t get refurbished so the holidaymakers never came back. That’s when, I believe, Morecambe started to drop.
“In the coach industry,there was also a big upheaval with the Department of Transport, who deregulated all the licensing in 1980. That’s when the likes of Shearings and Wallace Arnold muscled in.”
But Battersbys survived, streamlining its fleet and expanding its tours into Europe.
Tony and Maureen still run the company from their office, travel agency and depot on the White Lund estate, having moved there in 2000.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we’re a small business who has always tried to give a personal service, and I think that’s the secret of our success,” says Tony.
And they are also a firm who, quite literally, takes Morecambe all over Europe – because the town’s name is written on their fleet of 30 coaches.
ALSO nominated for the Sunshine Business Award 2014 are Promenade Music and Gerry’s Fishing Tackle. The short list was picked by a panel including The Visitor editor Nicola Adam, The Visitor content editor Greg Lambert, Vicky Lofthouse of the Lancaster Chamber of Commerce, Sue Byers, manager of the Arndale Centre and Lynne Lord, from our main Sunshine Ball sponsors Wright and Lord solicitors. The winner will be announced at the Sunshine Ball at the Midland Hotel on Friday, May 2.