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Kit No. SWN 40

Bristol L5G 1940 - Bristol Tramways Body - Southern & Western National


Background Note – Southern & Western National Companies Ltd.

The National Steam Car Company was founded in 1909 by Thomas Clarkson with a view to operating steam buses in London. The Company’s intended expansion in London was thwarted by the London General Omnibus Company and National sought other operating areas, from 1919 as the National Omnibus & Transport Company Ltd, first in Essex and Bedfordshire and subsequently expansion throughout the West Country.

The Railway (Road Transport) Acts of 1928 formalised the position of the main line railway companies in respect of the operation of bus services and they generally exercised these powers by buying into existing bus companies. In the case of the NOTC, the company was split into three parts in 1929, the area with LMS and LNER interests becoming Eastern National and the West Country operation becoming the Southern National and Western National Omnibus Companies, respectively, according to the operating areas of the Southern and Great Western Railways. In 1931 the NOTC’s interests in these companies were purchased by the Tilling Group.

In the case of both Southern and Western National, their operating areas were split by virtue of a territorial agreement with Devon General, which operated in Torbay, Exeter and East Devon. Thus Southern National had a North Devon and Cornwall area centred on Bude, Bideford, Barnstaple and Ilfracombe and a Somerset and Dorset area centred on Seaton, Yeovil and Weymouth. Western National’s South Devon and Cornwall area extended along the south Cornish coast from Lands End via Plymouth to South Devon. Its Somerset area was centred on Minehead, Taunton and Bridgwater. Western National also had two small isolated operating areas at Stroud in Gloucestershire and at Trowbridge in Wiltshire.

Whilst being two separate companies, Southern and Western National shared the same head office in Exeter and had a common vehicle purchasing policy, with the buses being numbered as one fleet.

The Bristol L5G

The Bristol L type 17’ 6” wheelbase single deck chassis was introduced in 1938 as successor to the previous J type and some 800 had been built by 1942, when production ceased, to be resumed in 1946. The majority of the chassis built prior to the Second World War were L5Gs with Gardner 5 cylinder 5LW diesel engines. All pre-war L types had the tall “KV’ radiator and bonnet.

The Southern and Western National Omnibus Companies took delivery of some sixty seven Bristol L5Gs between 1938 and 1940. The bodies were to a distinctive house style, also built on other chassis during the same era, by Beadle of Dartford, Mumford of Plymouth and Bristol Tramways & Carriage Company (BT&CC). The kit represents the last 1940 batch of L5Gs with BT&CC bodies, of which 337 to 340 were delivered to Southern National at Weymouth.

The L5Gs were built in three batches:

·          The 1938 batch of 28 with Mumford 31 seat bodies, six window bays between the front bulkhead and the rear entrance door. High waist rail. Tubular metal luggage container.

·          The 1939 batch of 21 with Mumford 31 seat bodies, five window bays between the front bulkhead and the rear entrance door. Low waist rail. Sheet metal luggage container.

·          The 1940 batch of 18 with BT&CC 35 seat bodies, six window bays between the front bulkhead and the rear entrance door. Sheet metal luggage container.

The body of 331 (DOD 516) was destroyed in an air-raid on Plymouth in 1941 and a replacement body to the same pre-war style was built by BT&CC. This differed from the original in having solid rain shields above the side windows, no side destination indicator display, fewer opening windows and no luggage carrier. This bus avoided the post-war Beadle rebuild program and was extended to 30 foot length as an “LL equivalent” in 1955 and fitted with a new ECW body. “Coachwork by Bristol Tramways” has a 1952 photograph of it, still with its 1942 body.

Enemy action at Plymouth also destroyed the bodies of 262 (ETT 956) and 297 (DDV 7) and these are understood to have been replaced by new Mumford bodies.

Most of these Bristol L5Gs were rebodied by Beadle in 1949/1950.

There were a further four Bristol L5Gs delivered to SNOC and WNOC. These were “unfrozen” buses from Bristol’s 56th Sanction, delivered in 1942. Western National 365 - 366 (GTA 390 - 391) received front entrance utility bodies from Bristol Tramways, while Southern National 372 - 373 (GTA 394 – 395) received similar bodies from Strachans. Their subsequent conversion, also that of 262 and 331, to 30 foot LL5Gs in 1954/55, is another story.

A further batch of 39 bodies, similar to those on the 1940 L5Gs, was built by BT&CC between 1940 and 1943 on 1933 Bristol H type chassis, which had been re-engined to JO5G standard. These differed from the bodies on the L5Gs in being higher set to suit the H chassis and having the front dash slightly further forward to match the slimmer J type radiator.


List of Southern and Western National Bristol L5Gs: 




Fleet number


1938 (10)

ETT 937 – 946

Southern National

271 – 280

Mumford B31R

1938 (18)

ETT 947 – 964

Western National

253 – 270

Mumford B31R

1939 (14)

DDV 1 – 14

Western National

291 – 304

Mumford B31R

1939 (7)

DDV 32 – 38

Southern National

305 – 311

Mumford B31R

1940 (13)

DOD 508 – 520

Western National

323 – 335


1940 (5)

DOD 525 – 529

Southern National

336 – 340


1942 (2)

GTA 390 - 391

Western National

365 – 366


1932 (2)

GTA 394 – 395

Southern National

373 – 373

Strachan UB 34F

Modelling and Livery Notes:

The pre-war green livery of Southern and Western National was lighter than the post-war Tilling green. During the late ‘30s the roof was painted a darker green. However builder’s photographs of 1939 Mumford bodied 309 and the aforementioned photographs of 340 at Exeter, suggest that the 1939 and 1940 L5Gs carried only one shade of green.

Cream was provided on the waist band, round the side windows extending up to the flat advertising panel and on a panel below the rear windows. The cream extended round the front windows, including the underside of the canopy, the panel round the destination indicator and the autovac. The cream was lined out in black, both pre- and post-war. A post-war model of Weymouth’s 337-340 requires the appropriate Devenish advertisements in red, shaded black, on a yellow panel.

A 1952 photograph of the rebodied 331 shows a simplified livery with more green, the cream being confined to the area round the side windows only, plus the advertising panel above them.


Source material for this model came from “Coachwork by Bristol Tramways” by Allan Macfarlane – Millstream Books, 1999, from “The Years Between, Vol 3” – Crawley & Simpson – 1990 and from Colin Morris’s two recent books on Southern and Western National Omnibus Company, published by Ian Allan in 2007/2008. Classic Bus Issue 66 has a good front view of Western National 329 (DOD 514) en route from St Austell to Goran Haven.  Brian Jackson describes Weymouth’s 1940 L5Gs in “Isle of Portland Railways, Volume 3” – Oakwood Press, 2000, with good photographs of 340 (DOD 529) in Exeter on the 42 through service from Weymouth and of 337 (DOD 526) en route to Southwell (probably on the 36 from Bournemouth) at the King’s Statue in the late ‘40s.

Intriguingly there are two published almost identical wartime photographs of 340 at Exeter Central Station (which is in Queen Street and adjacent to Southern National’s Head Office) both from the same angle although the backgrounds suggest two slightly different locations. A few details suggest that the two were not taken on the same occasion. The undated photo in “Isle of Portland Railways” has the rear door closed and the destination set for WEYMOUTH, while the photo in “Coachwork by Bristol Tramways” and “Southern National Omnibus Company”, which is dated as May 1943, has the rear door open, a slightly distorted front mudguard and the destination set for EXETER. Both have the intermediate blind set for the 42 Route, BRIDPORT, LYME REGIS, AXMINSTER, in tiny letters. These may well have been Southern National official photographs and 340 was, at that time, the pride and joy of the fleet, but why two different photographs? Did the Board ask for the front mudguard to be fixed and another picture taken?

Good luck with your model.

© Tony Swift, Kirribilli NSW 2061, Australia - 2009

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