History is the story of Mavericks, and few places do better at creating them than Notts – and by extension, Beeston.
DH Lawrence, Lord Byron, Paul Smith, Sleaford Mods, Susanna Clarke….all have cut their own unique swathe, but no list would be complete without Thomas Henry Barton, who filled a bus with passengers and took them around Mablethorpe, perhaps the first motor bus service in Britain.
The Barton family had long been known for quarrying and stone masonry, but from an early age Thomas had shown a fascination with making things move, handily at a time when the first motorised vehicles were appearing. Thomas was a born tinkerer, and would play around with engines to constantly improve. By 1908 he was confident enough to make this official, and set up Bartons, whisking a bus full with 28 avid passengers from Long Eaton, Chilwell and Beeston to Goose Fair. Barton’s Buses was now up and running, and would change the way we see public transport.
Expansion was rapid, and regular buses were chugging up and down the local roads. The outbreak of war in 1914 could have cut short the dream, but Barton simply repurposed for the war effort, running workers to and from the Chilwell Shell Filling factory. With fuel rationed, Barton hit on the idea of sticking a big bag of gas on the roof of the bus, which would slowly deflate as the fuel was used up. There were many who assumed that this would simply be too dangerous. but Barton was wise to the physics. If if was to leak or ignite, it would do so upwards, out of harms way. Doubts were quelled, and soon the company were making the bags for other companies. In 2023, as public transport increasingly moves towards using natural gas to cleanly power fleets, remember Beeston was a century ahead.
Bartons grew into a huge company, and their distinctive coaches with the Robin Hood logo and evocative maroon, cream and red livery (not to mention the mildly trippy upholstery) were a fine sight to see, and a finer sight to ride on: anyone over 40 who grew up round here will wistfully tell you tales of travels to Bramcote Baths in a luxury not usually enjoyed in anything with the prefix ‘public-’ in it.
In 1989, they were merged into Trent Barton Buses, still very much running. Yet Barton’s spirit didn’t see itself snuffed out into history. Scion of the clan, Simon Barton, had plans, and in 2011, during the first Beeston Oxjam, I recall us both rather tipsily deciding that this would do for Beeston what the Hacienda did for Manchester. It didn’t happen that way: the Hacienda itself blew out after a few years, while Barton’s just got better, Simon and his offspring taking that inherited habit of tinkering and that unquenchable need to be a Maverick and have turned it into a something remarkable. Thomas Humber – the Guv’nor- would be proud of his ongoing legacy.