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Through Time: Recalling The Days of Cooke’s Coaches

Published on: 12 Dec, 2012
Updated on: 14 Dec, 2012

By David Rose

Courtesy of Brian Holt (a regular reader of this website), I recently added some great photos of vehicles used by Cooke’s Coaches of Stoughton and some of its drivers. Another avid reader and regular contributor Bernard Parke knows a thing or two about this coach firm, as his late father was a driver for Cooke’s. Here he adds some details about the business that I am sure many readers will remember.

The Cooke brothers lived in quite a modest house with their parents in Barrack Road, Stoughton. Being near Stoughton Barracks, they honed a living by collecting army personnel to and from Guildford railway station offering them a virtual 24-hour service.

On of Cooke's coaches parked at the firm's site when it was in Barrack Road, Stoughton.

On of Cooke’s coaches parked at the firm’s site when it was in Barrack Road, Stoughton.

In the early days horse transport was used, until they invested in a small 14-seater coach. It was parked on a patch of land at the rear of the family house in Barrack Road.

However, it was not long before they acquired further motor vehicles. They built a wooden garage to ensure the coaches remained in an acceptable condition, as in those days vehicles were not entirely water proof.

Three of Cooke's Coachers drivers. During the Second World War the firm was employed to transport prisoners of war out on working parties.

Three of Cooke’s Coachers drivers. During the Second World War the firm was employed to transport prisoners of war out on working parties.

With the coming of the Second World War,  some of this fleet was commandeered by the Government who merely put them in a field where they were left to rot!

The war bought valuable work to Cooke’s Coaches by way of transporting locally held prisoners of war mainly to work on nearby farms.

Driver Steve Stevens.

Driver Steve Stevens.

However, petrol was in short supply and, for long journeys, drivers often had to spend nights away from their homes and return the next day with other passengers as this was more cost effective than using up valuable fuel returning with an empty vehicle.

With the end of hostilities Cooke’s excursion coach business took off again as many people were anxious to get about after six weary years of restricted travel. Remember, there were few private cars then and many of those had been laid up during the war years. Those cars that could be brought into use again were sold for many times their original pre-war purchase price. For example, a Vauxhall saloon car that was bought for £37 was sold for £300, in 1946. The limited supply of new cars built on the pre-war pattern went for export.

The Cooke family strived to make their postwar fleet of coaches the best in Guildford, and they were able to build a new garage in with an inspiring tower block, next to the house at 285 Worplesdon Road. This was near Johnston Walk – the road leading to Tilehost estate. The garage cost £4,000 to build! It was built by Swayne & Co, of Stoke Road.

Those halcyon days of coach travel were soon eclipsed as more people were able to acquire their own transport. The motorbike and side car was a popular form of transport until the Mini was introduced in the 1960s.

With more and more people owning their own cars, the coach trade and its once popular day excursions were hit hard. Many firms began to go out of business including Cooke’s Coaches, with its blue and yellow liveried vehicles.

David Rose adds: Although I remember Cooke’s garage in Worplesdon Road, I have never seen a photo of it. From the road, vehicles had to negotiate a slope in and out of the garage. I think it must have been pulled down sometime towards the end of the 1970s, or perhaps early 1980s. Apartments are now on the site. Any photos or exact details of when it went would be appreciated.

Below are some more pictures of Cooke’s Coaches.

Cooke's 02

Cooke's D

Cooke's C

Cooke's 05

This is a picture from the Guildford carnival of 1953. With the horse is Steve Stevens and Margaret Cooke is riding in the cart. Bernard Parke adds that the horse was born in 1935 at about the time of George V’s silver jubilee. Margaret died in her forties.

More drivers.

More drivers.

Bernard Park also adds the following…

My father was the brother -in-law of John Cooke. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 my father was deemed not physically fit for military service and was therefore granted reserved occupation status. He joined Cooke’s Coaches mainly on Governent contract work. This was often taken up by transporting prisoners of war on working parties to various locations.
As a small boy I came into contact with the Italian prisoners who were made to wear a blue circular patch on the rear of their pants. Germans POWs wore a white cicular patch on the rear of their tunics.
The Italians frequently made toys and other trinkets out of waste materials, and when I was quite young I found favour with them and received many such items.
At the time children’s toys were scarce and consisted mainly of second-hand pre-war items.
However, the Italians would insist on calling me “Bambino ” ( Baby), which I felt in apropriate for I had reached the exalted age of six years by 1943!
In the early postwar years Guildfordians enjoyed evening trips to theatre land in the West End by coach at very affordable prices, to see stage shows such as Oaklahoma.
Ice shows and ice hockey at Wembley were also favourites and motorcycle speedway at Wimbledon.


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Responses to Through Time: Recalling The Days of Cooke’s Coaches

  1. Andrew Webb Reply

    May 30, 2017 at 10:36 pm

    I was a pupil at St Nicolas Primary School in Portsmouth Road in Guildford and lived in Littleton. Cooke’s gave up the contract in about 1965 when Gastonia, who were just starting up, took over. The contrast between Cooke’s smart blue and yellow coaches and what must have been Gastonia’s first and very downmarket acquisition was very noticeable.

  2. Andy Cooke Reply

    July 13, 2019 at 12:57 am

    John Cooke is my grandad and I have some very early memories of this garage in Worplesdon Road. I lived next door to it. It was knocked down in the early 80s. He died in 1996 but my dad, Christopher Cooke, is still about at 75. I see Bernard Parke has commented. Is he still around?

    Editor’s note: Sadly, Bernard Parke died earlier this year. Please read his obituary here:

  3. John Lomas Reply

    July 13, 2019 at 12:44 pm

    I may have mentioned in articles about Drummond Bros or Yellow Buses that Drummonds also used Cookes for trips to the coast and London theatres etc.

    I remember the last theatre trip I organised was for Camelot with Laurence Harvey and Elizabeth Larner.

    Does Andy Cooke remember if Percy Lawes went on to work for Cookes after YBS closed?

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