Roland Oswald Simonds
3rd October 1902 - 18 October 1976
Roland was the founder of the Simonds of Botesdale business which began when he acquired the garage business in The Street, Botesdale in 1928. He began his career in the motor trade as a mechanic with C Lacon Chapman. The garage offered all the usual facilities for cars including repairs, servicing and repainting as well as cycle spares. Agricultural machinery was also modified and/or repaired.
At the turn of the 20th Century, the village of Botesdale in Suffolk saw the Norwich bound stagecoach call at the "Crown Inn" on the journey from London. Later, the Roaring Twenties saw the advent of the internal combustion engine, and two garages set up alongside the A 143 Bury St Edmunds to Great Yarmouth road running through the village. One of these was owned by C Lacon Chapman who employed Roland Oswald Simonds as one of his mechanics from 1922. The other, further up the hill towards Diss, the nearest small town, was owned by William Walsingham and he acquired the Chapman garage in later years. R O Simonds later moved north-east up The Street to Walsingham's garage as foreman fitter and later became the manager of the site, which was shared with E J Aves who traded as a motor body builder.
In 1928, R O Simonds became the owner of the garage, with his name on the fascias. In those halcyon days, petrol was only 10½d (less than 5p) a gallon, and was dispensed from pumps which involved winding a handle continuously in one direction, and thence in the opposite direction, each action releasing a half gallon. The introduction of the electric pump was welcomed by any employee involved in forecourt fuel sales! As the decade proceeded so the design of motor vehicles developed. No longer were the country folk conveyed to town on market days by a "dual purpose" bus, returning home with produce and small livestock on the roof. R O Simonds recognised this advancement and sought to introduce buses to his well established garage business.
In December 1937, the road service licences of Edward E Sheppard of Rickinghall were transferred to RO Simonds together with two Bedford buses. Four months later, the operations of Bertie Calver of Botesdale were acquired. The first new coach was supplied to Simonds in June 1939 and, while progress slowed down during World War II, the business was allocated a new utility bus in 1945. This was prompted by the large RAF presence in the area, as East Anglia's flat terrain and its closeness to the North Sea was ideal for airfields. As the conflict continued, prisoner of war camps were also established in North Suffolk and South Norfolk. All these sites required transport at times. In 1942 part of Simonds premises were commandeered for storage of military equipment, which remained on site for five years, during which period Simonds staff were never fully aware of the contents.
After the war, the fleet expanded to cope with passenger requirements, to the extent that a double decker was required between 1955 and 1978 as a regular allocation on the service to Bury St Edmunds. Large capacity single-deckers were also supplied new between 1975 and 1985. Although a new workshop and a paint bay were added, the increase in fleet size and the effect of larger vehicles meant that the business was outgrowing the original site by the new millennium, even with some vehicles allocated to Victoria Road at Diss which was at the rear of Denis Simonds' house. The latter was sold for development, as was the Garage in Botesdale, after the superb new premises were completed on the Saw Mills Industrial Estate in Diss. After 75 years in the bus and coach trade, the fleet has grown from seven in 1938 to 47 in 2014, 17 of this total being service buses. The livery has evolved from cream and red with a black roof, to a base white with a colourful leaf design across the side panels.
If you would like to know more about the history of Simonds we have published a book with the help of Geoff Mills which can be obtained from Roswald House Reception on 01379 647 300 or by email