After the close of the First World War in 1918, returning war veterans needed to find work and so it was that two friends who had been in the Army together, Percy Watts and Albert Falconer, decided to pool their resourses and start a small taxi business in their home village of Llanishen. This was 1919 and Cardiff was then flourishing as a major port, and was around this time the world's leading coal port. Over the following decades, Cardiff increased in size, absorbing many outlying villages including Llanishen, to became Wales' capital in the mid-fifties.
Soon after the company started, a small shop and with a single hand operated petrol pump outside was opened in the middle of Llanishen village some four miles from the Cardiff city centre.
In 1922, two add a new dimension to their taxi and wedding business, a second-hand Fiat 14-seater coach was purchased from Charlie Hinton, a coach operator based in Cardiff.
During these early years, many coaches were purchased from local operators such as Charlie Hinton and Cridland's. The first fifteen coaches purchased, from 1922 to 1936, were a mixed bag that included many Continental makes: after the Fiat, came three Crossleys, three Berliets, three Reos, two Lancias, a Bean, a Clement-Talbot and a Leyland.
Sadly, Albert Falconer was not to see the continued growth of the business as he passed away in the mid 1920´s from pneumonia, and, on 12 March 1925, Albert's brother, Edgar, took over the partnership with Percy Watts.
In 1927, there was serious fire at the main garage behind Station Road, in Llanishen which was largely a wooden construction, and was totally destroyed by the fire, resulting in the destruction of four cars. Nevertheless, business progressed satisfactorily over the years and the coach and car fleet increased.
During and after the Second World War, replacement vehicles were always hard to obtain and the coach fleet was made up of "whatever they could get their hands on," and so never really became standardised despite the presence of several of the almost-ubiquitous Duple-bodied Bedford OB. Two "new" vehicles acquired in 1949 were ex-War Department vehicles re-fitted with coach bodies.
During the fifties, it became easier to obtain new vehicles and a new Bedford OB Duple (FBO 57) was bought in 1950 and new Bedford SBG Duple coaches in 1951 (GBO 319) and 1957 (NKG 507). As more choice became available, the fleet began to be based almost entirely on Bedford Duples, although the smaller vehicles showed more variety: between 1951 and 1972, all vehicles purchased with more than 14 seats were Bedford Duples, except for one Commer Plaxton.
Graham Falconer, Edgar's son, joined the company after his National Service. He was expected to be able to turn his hand to most things, but took particular satisfaction in hand-painting the coaches and always insisted that the fleet was well turned-out something that continued to the companyies closure.
One of the first liveries for the entire fleet was blue and cream, which was used from very early on until the late thirties or early forties, when BDL 322 was acquired and its livery of golden brown and light buff was adopted. This livery was very smart and distinguished, but, just before "mixing and matching" colours became generally available, these colours became unobtainable, and so the colour scheme was again changed to green and grey (based loosely on the livery of a coach purchased from Cosy Coaches of Poole): very soon, a large yellow flash was also incorporated, and this made the livery more eye-catching.
The moquette chosen was also thought important. Firth Royd 711, similar to a green tartan, was specified for new coaches CKG 470L, HDW 873N, MTX 106P, and RHB 114R, and the seats in XKN 158J were re-covered in this moquette allowing one regular customer to thank the company for sending the new coach: it was in fact the oldest in the fleet, but the smell of the new upholstery was very persuasive! Later, the pattern was deleted from the range, but one artful coach dealer's representative managed to find enough somewhere to ensure that the next deal was his, and XKG 808T was similarly treated, a photo of this coach is seen below.
In the sixties, the coach fleet began to be run down to some degree, even though this was undoubtedly the more financially-important side of the business.
Upon the death of Edgar on November 23 1970, Graham took over his half of the partnership, and was finally able to let the coach operating side of the business improve. It had upset him greatly to see three beautiful Bedford Duple Super Vegas, all in the same livery of golden brown and light buff, sold and replaced by only two similar but newer machines, neither of which were put into a corporate livery for some time.
Gradually the fleet was improved, although it was always of a fairly small size. In the industrial valleys at that time, there were many lucrative contracts during the week, mainly conveying workers to the collieries. There was obviously far less work of this type in Cardiff, and the capital seemed not the best place to support large coach fleets. This might seem surprising in view of its tourist industry and the large number of people interested in group private hire for leisure purposes (especially at weekends).
Those Cardiff operators who began to increase their fleet size invariably found themselves the object of a take-over from what would eventually became the National Bus Company: Forse's (who had an important garage in Kingsway in the very centre of Cardiff) and Cridland's both sold out to Western Welsh. Many other operators ceased operating.
By the end of the sixties, Falconer and Watts was the only long-established private operator in the Cardiff area. Graham was pleased to see a return to buying new coaches again in 1973 (the last previous new purchase had been in 1957), when a new Bedford 29-seater Duple was purchased. A new 53-seater followed two years later, and thereafter one new coach was added to the fleet each year. The livery was now the striking green, grey and yellow which had been allowed to evolve from that of a second-hand purchase from Cosy Coaches of Poole.
Although the company had been almost 100% loyal to Bedford Duples for some time (as had many small firms during this period), increasing dissatisfaction with Bedfords led to a change during the 1970's, and the fleet became almost 100% standardised on Ford chassis: the 360 turbo diesel seemed more suited to motorway work than the larger normally-aspirated Bedford engines.
Small but still luxurious coaches were of particular interest to Graham, to some extent because of the need to supply vehicles for the tourism industry which were comfortable, but still able to access places of interest or hotels in fairly inaccessible places. To this end, a Leyland Asco Clubman 19-seater was bought in 1975 seen in the photos section below. This found a ready niche in the local market, and so this was followed in 1977 by the first production Ford A-series with a Moseley 25-seat body, which was far more professional. Falconer and Watts had been involved in discussions with Moseley's at an early stage of design, and they entered the coach in the 1977 British Coach Rally at Brighton. However,it failed to win any awards, as did entries in 1978 and 1980, but Falconer and Watts was more successful the following year when they carried off the 1981 Cymru Trophy at Brighton, with a new Ford Duple Dominant IV which had sealed double glazed windows, one of, if not the first so equiped. The coach had been driven through unususual heavy April snow straight from Duple's at Blackpool to Brighton for the weekend: another vehicle collided with it en route, but this did not stop it from gaining the award.
As it was intended to concentrate on the coach operation, the wedding cars were sold off. Also, the hire car business was becoming a less attractive proposition as new bye-laws meant that large, comfortable, but older, limousines were no longer acceptable.
To celebrate the company's diamond jubilee in 1979 when a new 53-seater purchased that year, XKG 808T, a Ford Duple Dominant 2, had a legend to that effect prominently displayed on each side.
An Excursions and Tours granted probably in the forties ,the earliest date traced was 1947. These tours were at one time very popular, but declined in popularity particularly in the sixties as the use of private cars became more widespread. An attempt to bring these tours up-to-date was made when Rob, Graham's son, joined the business in 1973, and some new day trips were applied for and added to the list. At that time, Falconer and Watts was the only company licensed to operate excursions and tours out of Cardiff except for the local Council and the National Bus Company.
However, extended tours did become more popular. Sealink contacted Falconer and Watts in 1976 with a view to a linked advertising campaign with Jenkins of Skewen (now part of the Shearing Group) and R. I. Davies of Tredegar (later taken over by Hill's of Tredegar and Warners Fairfax): this was to feature Bonus Breakaways to the Channel Islands. These inclusive tours were very good value for money, and became a tremendous success, both financially and in terms of loadings, perhaps because each coach tour was accompanied by a member of the Falconer family to ensure that everything went smoothly .
A second campaign, similar but specifically using the Jersey Holiday Village, was run with Sealink in early 1977: the price of £39.50 included return coach travel from Cardiff to Weymouth, three nights' half-board accommodation, coach transfers, a tour of the island (with lunch), and a litre of spirits and 200 cigarettes.
An Excursions and Tours Licence was required to run these extended tours (including an additional pick-up point in Newport, in the lay-by at the entrance to the bus station), and these were granted despite objections from other operators, including one from S. A. Bebb in respect of future applications! These tours were run from 1976 to 1981, to both Guernsey and Jersey, and rarely had other than full loads.
Percy Watts passed away in the late seventies (1. January 1978), but he had only dabbled in providing a hire car service for 'his' customers for the last few years before retirement.
The amount of work involved was especially apparent when both Graham and Audrey were simultaneously temporarily incapacitated in the late seventies, and it was decided it would be as well to sell the business whenever a suitably reputable purchaser could be found.
Advertisements in the trade press were made as vague as possible, but, as the only private operator with E & T licences in the area, one would have thought it fairly obvious to which operator they referred!
Eventually, Warners Fairfax of Tewkesbury made an offer which was accepted, and Falconer and Watts passed into their hands on 7. April 1982.
As the company had built up its excellent reputation on the back of the service they provided their clients and tradition had been looked after so carefully by the Falconer family for so long, it is perhaps better that the name should just pass away, rather than be passed into someone else's hands.
Sadly, Graham Falconer passed away on 1.August 2002.
For a complete Fleet List click the following link
Complied by David Griffiths, Registrar of The Bedford Register based on information provided by Rob Falconer. 2006