Steam Buses

built at Granton



John D Stevenson

Trinity, Edinburgh

John Stevenson asks:

Ferry Road

"Does anybody know anything about the Thomson steam bus that used to run along Ferry Road?

It's route was from Leith to Davidson's Mains which used to be named Muttonhole."

John D Stevenson, Trinity, Edinburgh:  November 20, 2012




Peter Stubbs


I've checked DLG Hunter's book, 'Edinburgh's Transport - The Early Years' to see if it provides an answer to John question.

I found no mention in DLG Hunter's book of any steam bus running along Ferry Road.  However here are a few comments about other steam buses in the book:

Steam Buses

"The Edinburgh area ... was the scene of some of the earliest experiments with steam driven carriages, such as those of Burstall and Hill of Leith."

Queensferry Road

"James Naysmyth had successfully demonstrated his on the Queensferry Road for a few months in 1827."

Edinburgh & Leith

"There was a revival of interest  ... in the late sixties.

RW Thomson ... had been designing designing light traction engines ... built for him by Messrs Tennant & Company.

These machines of six horsepower and weighing under six tons had india-rubber tyres and were being successfully used in 1870 to haul substantial loads in the docks and elsewhere.  ...

A Ritchie thought this machine might be an improvement on his horse buses between Edinburgh and Leith ... and he had a passenger carrying trailer built ... carried on a single axle ... seated 21 passengers inside.  44 passengers could be carried on top and were protected - in some measure - by an awning."


"When the outfit had been tried with success, Mr Ritchie was prevailed upon to run it on the Portobello route and this service started on 2 June 1870..

Andrew Nairn ... produced a somewhat similar traction engine, a three wheeler of 8 horsepower with hemp tyres and he was nw at work on an omnibus incorporating this engine. ... carried 18 passengers inside 32 on top ...   Contemporary reports refer to [it as] 'Pioneer'.

This machine was either rebuilt or replaced by a ten-ton 'Pioneer' in 1871  ... hired by a bus proprietor named Johnson ... [who] put it to regular public service on the Portobello route on 2 June that year.

It ran twelve trips a day for four months until it caught fire."

Edinburgh & Leith

"Another steam bus appeared in April 1872, designed by Leonald J Todd of Leith.  This was a four-wheeled machine seating 20 inside and 50 on top ... bearing the name 'Edinburgh', was operated between the West End and Bernard Street."

Source:  'Edinburgh Transport - The Early Years' (DLG Hunter), pp.11-12,
 Publ. James Thin, The Mercat Press, 1992

Peter Stubbs, Edinburgh:  November 25, 2012




John Stevenson

Trinity, Edinburgh

Thank you to John Steven, who asked the question above, for telling me:

Steam Buses

"I've just received a message from a contact down south, in which he refers to a steam omnibus operating on the Edinburgh-Leith route.  So perhaps the 'Leith-Davidson's Mains' route that I mentioned was a figment of my imagination!

My contact wrote:

Thomson's Road Steamers

"Thomson's road steamers, often drawing four fully-loaded coal wagons totalling 40 tons up and down steep gradients, excited great interest in the streets of Edinburgh.

Soon the first omnibus was in service between Edinburgh and Leith.

Engines were exported to Java, India, Canada and Australia, and by 1871 were being manufactured under licence in both the UK and the US by companies such as Tennants of Leith***, Charles Burrell in Thetford and Robey in Lincoln.

*** Messrs. T.M.Tennant and Co., of Bowershall Iron and Engine Works, Leith, made a large number of road steamers for Mr Thompson.

The company was finally wound up. The site was later occupied by Bonnington Castings.

John D Stevenson, Trinity, Edinburgh:  November 25, 2012


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