A SPECIAL presentation has been made to local coach and minibus operator C. J. Down to mark the company’s 100 years of driving youngsters to school.

The Mary Tavy-based company was thanked for its services to school transport – which began exactly 100 years ago with a  char-a-banc with seats for 14 passengers which was pressed into service to drive youngsters to the village school. 

Having commemorated this centenary year of what was Devon’s first school transport route, which the Down family ran from Mary Tavy to Peter Tavy, current owner Clifford Down has announced his retirement and the winding up of the business which has been in his family for three generations. As an official thank-you from Devon County Council, Clifford was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation by Damien Jones, Devon’s deputy director of transport, environment and waste.

 Clifford’s grandparents Edwin Down and Emma Down were shopkeepers who ran the local post office, but after the First World War their business interests expanded with a horse drawn carriage available for hire.

The family bought its first Model “T” Ford in 1920, which was initially used for taxi and hire work, but it was in 1923 that their passenger transport business entered a new phase when Clifford’s father Percy purchased a Fiat char-a-banc, registration number TA 2769 with seats for 14 passengers. 

Although it was initially used for private party outings this vehicle was used for the first few years of school bus services. 

By early 1927 the company’s contract with the County Council for school transport was for 14 shillings a day.

Clifford Down said: “I took over my father’s business in September 1968 and since then have driven three generations of the same families to school. It has been a privilege to have a good working relationship with Devon County Council over all these years.”

Councillor Andrea Davis, Devon County Council Cabinet Member for Transport, said: “There are mixed emotions with this news. It’s an incredible achievement for C.J. Down to have provided transport for the county council for a century. 

“Many congratulations to them on this accomplishment and our thanks and gratitude go to Clifford, his family and his team for playing such an important role in their local community for so many years. We wish Clifford all the best in his retirement, but it’s sad to think that we won’t see the familiar sight of his coaches on our roads anymore. It’s the end of an era.”

More than 15,000 school pupils in Devon travel to school and college on over 1000 transport routes funded by Devon County Council.