Andrew's of Tideswell - how the successful coach company began
PUBLISHED: 00:00 20 May 2016
In a look at how a successful local business all began, Sally Mosley visits Andrew's of Tideswell
The first forms of paid public transport were horse drawn stagecoaches, devoid of engines and with minimal horsepower. All this changed in Victorian times with the arrival of the railway network and invention of the internal combustion engine. Suddenly the countryside was accessible to sightseers and seaside resorts were established with boarding houses and grand hotels. By the early 20th century charabancs were in use. These large vehicles, a mixture of lorry chassis and open-topped carriage with bench seats, provided an exciting day out but the ride was often uncomfortable and unreliable as road surfaces were poor and facilities somewhat primitive.
In 1932 Harold Andrew bought his first motor and set up in business, offering a taxi service around the Peak District. Eighty-four years later Andrew’s of Tideswell are still going strong with a large depot for their administrative offices, workshops and enough space to park their million pound fleet of minibuses and executive coaches. Seating from eight to 85 passengers, these are kept in tiptop condition by Andrew’s team of dedicated mechanical engineers.
This friendly family business is now run by third and fourth generation members – managing director Russell Andrew is supported by his parents Robert and Susan, wife Emma and sister Claire Muir, whilst waiting in the wings and eager to get driving are fifth generation Hannah (13), Thomas (11) and Alfie (9). There are 39 drivers and mechanics at Andrew’s, many of whom have been working for the company for many years and are thought of as almost part of the family.
In 1951 Harold was a pioneer of overseas coach tours. The company’s first trip involved taking a troop of boy scouts to Switzerland. The trip there in a 1950 Leyland with four-speed gear box took four days – it limped the last few miles before promptly breaking down. By the 1970s, Harold’s son Brian Andrew was at the wheel and holidaying abroad was in fashion. European coach tours proved especially popular and Andrew’s was offering several trips a year to the Continent, travelling to Italy, Poland, Croatia and Sweden. Now Andrew’s regularly has 10–12 coaches a week heading overseas, many reaching their destination in less than 24 hours. Their 2016 brochure includes ‘Annecy & the majestic French Alps’ in June; A Hebridean Odyssey in July and Cantabria – Green Spain and Andorra in August, to name but a few.
Brian’s son Robert Andrew explained, ‘We generally cross the Channel by ferry allowing passengers the freedom to move around and enjoy the boat facilities. The Eurotunnel may be faster but during that journey passengers are more restricted.’
‘People’s expectations of a holiday have changed,’ added Sue Andrew, who has been organising coach tours all her working life. ‘On the first trips I arranged people stayed in top hotels but none of the rooms were en-suite. Guests were happy to trot down the corridor to a shared bathroom, something that is unheard of today. Bookings were generally for couples, friends, families and groups but rarely individuals. There are now a lot more single travellers who feel confident to be on their own as they know we will look after them. Often they make new friends along the way. We have many customers travelling time and time again, including two sisters from Buxton who have booked on trips every year since 1983.’
‘Our 2016 brochure contains lots of fabulous holiday destinations in Britain and Europe, as well as day trips and theatre visits. The well known holiday resorts such as Llandudno and Sidmouth are always popular, and we try to offer new ideas each year or improve the experience of a tour with added extras. Our Winter Warmer to Pitlochry in Scotland, for example, includes the opportunity to meet a kilted Ranger, feed red deer and have a close encounter with barn owls. Holidays have changed in recent years and people want more for their money.’
Brian Andrew kept several scrapbooks with newspaper clippings about his business, including a story from 1990 when Airforce One brought a party of important Congressmen and diplomats from America on a visit hosted by Euro MP Geoff Hoon. Andrew’s coaches were chartered to transport them. Robert remembered, ‘We went straight through security at East Midlands Airport, which in those days was nothing like as strict as it is today, and parked up on the runway. I had my son Russell with me who was 12 and he was allowed into the cockpit and taken on a tour of the plane. We brought the VIPs back to Baslow with a police escort. It was really exciting!’
Christmas markets are celebrated around Europe, often with hundreds of coaches arriving and parking up in rows. When darkness descends it can be difficult for passengers to find the right one but Joe Andrew, driver and mechanic, came up with a novel idea. If he drives the coach to Rudesheim and Frankfurt this December he will take along a bugle which he plays to guide passengers to him. ‘A while back it came in very useful on a Derby & Joan outing to France,’ said Joe. ‘Two ladies in their 80s were lost in the town but I got them back to the coach with my playing.’
Andrew’s covers lots of local school runs, educational outings and excursions as well as around 450 tours and trips abroad each year for schools, colleges and universities nationwide. They regularly transport private groups or associations to meetings and occasionally bands or celebrities and their entourages between venues. ‘One winter we were booked to take Brendan Cole of Strictly Come Dancing fame from Buxton Opera House to Newcastle. Unfortunately it had snowed heavily at Buxton during his performance and the coach got stuck on the way there, so a few of us with 4x4s headed off to pick everyone up and ferry them back to the depot where the roads were clear and they could finish their journey by coach.’
Robert’s daughter Claire is in charge of offering event advice for tailor-made parties and trips. ‘One 80-year-old gentleman recently hired a minibus to take him and his friends for a surprise tour of the Peak District followed by a meal at the Barrel Inn at Bretton. I helped him to plan it and with our door-to-door service they had nothing to worry about, so all enjoyed the birthday outing.’
‘Most trips go according to plan but if there are any problems we go out of our way to get passengers home safely,’ said Robert. ‘Because we are a family firm we can make decisions that other companies might not be able to and we offer our own insurance cover which certainly helps in a crisis or emergency. With so many years of experience between us, we know how to resolve most situations. Last year we had a coach in France on a Veteran War Graves tour, and a ferry strike was announced when they were due to return so we had to arrange for a freight boat to pick them up in Dunkirk and bring them home through Felixstowe Dock. It was a logistical nightmare to sort out but the passengers thought it was great!’
It was obvious from the warm welcome I received that the 12 members of staff are all dedicated to offering a friendly and caring service to customers old and new. Evidence of this is their annual ‘Meet the Staff & Reunion’ tour, offered to regular customers in January at a cost of just £119.
‘Our yearly get-togethers started in the 1990s as an afternoon tea in a hired village hall. Having made acquaintance and formed friendships on our holidays, many customers told us that they wanted to meet up again,’ explained Sue. ‘It has now turned into a weekend away with no expense spared and this year about 100 loyal customers and staff were transported to Durham, calling in at Harrogate for tea on the way. After a three-course evening meal, party with entertainment and free drinks at the 4* Redworth Hall Hotel, then bed and breakfast, the return journey included a stopover in York.’
Although most of the coaches were out and about when I visited, there was a short line-up of smart motors in distinctive cream and red livery. Robert was also excited to tell me about the latest addition to their fleet, which he had travelled to Spain to view and commission. At a cost of £425,000, the all-singing, all-dancing, top-of-the-range Beulas coach has a 480hp engine, every conceivable extra and can comfortably seat 85 passengers. It just goes to show that touring by coach has certainly come a long way in the last 65 years.