Shillibeer, George

SUBJECT AREA: Land transport
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fl. early nineteenth century
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English coachbuilder who introduced the omnibus to London.
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Little is known of Shillibeer's early life except that he was for some years resident in France. He served as a midshipman in the Royal Navy before joining the firm of Hatchetts in Long Acre, London, to learn coachbuilding. He set up as a coachbuilder in Paris soon after the end of the Napoleonic Wars, and prospered. Early in the 1820s Jacques Laffite ordered two improved buses from Shillibeer. Their success prompted Shillibeer to sell up his business and return to London to start a similar service. His first two buses in London ran for the first time on 4 July 1829, from the Yorkshire Stingo at Paddington to the Bank, a distance of 9 miles (14 km) which had taken three hours by the existing short-stagecoaches. Shillibeer's vehicle was drawn by three horses abreast, carried twenty-two passengers at a charge of one shilling for the full journey or sixpence for a part-journey. These fares were a third of that charged for an inside seat on a short-stagecoach. The conductors were the sons of friends of Shillibeer from his naval days. He was soon earning £1,000 per week, each bus making twelve double journeys a day. Dishonesty was rife among the conductors, so Shillibeer fitted a register under the entrance step to count the passengers; two of the conductors who had been discharged set out to wreck the register and its inventor. Expanded routes were soon being travelled by a larger fleet but the newly formed Metropolitan Police force complained that the buses were too wide, so the next buses had only two horses and carried sixteen passengers inside with two on top. Shillibeer's partner, William Morton, failed as competition grew. Shillibeer sold out in 1834 when he had sixty buses, six hundred horses and stabling for them. He started a long-distance service to Greenwich, but a competing railway opened in 1835 and income declined; the Official Stamp and Tax Offices seized the omnibuses and the business was bankrupted. Shillibeer then set up as an undertaker, and prospered with a new design of hearse which became known as a "Shillibeer".
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Further Reading
A.Bird, 1969, Road Vehicles, London: Longmans Industrial Archaeology Series.
IMcN

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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