Carr’s biscuit tin buses

09 May 2022
Collector and Collectors Gazette reader David Wallace takes us on a bus ride down memory lane...
Carr’s biscuit tin buses Images

This is an item that was manufactured as a container for Carr’s Table Water biscuits and then to be handed on to a child to be used as a plaything. It was a good marketing ploy that is still used today by companies such as Marks and Spencer. The difference is that this tin bus had wheels that moved around and sometimes a clockwork motor as well as being, in the authors opinion, a truly wonderful representation of the real bus it was based upon.

It is a model of an early STL (Short Type Long or Lengthened) known as the ‘Leaning Back’ STL. Early examples of the tin bear the registration number AYV 604 indicating that the real bus it was based upon was registered in 1934. The manufacturers probably used photographs of the real bus and may have visited the garage where it was based. Whilst not necessarily a scale model in the true sense some research clearly went into the development of the project prior to manufacture. Furthermore, the bus carries garage plates showing AP3 which is Seven Kings Garage. STL 446 is pictured on page 28 in the book The STLs by Ken Blacker, published by Capital Transport.

The real bus was STL 446 which was new in June 1934 to the London Transport Passenger Board and is an AEC Regent fitted with a six-cylinder petrol engine and carrying a Chiswick body with H30/26R configuration. Records show that it was converted to diesel in June 1939, and sold to Mann Egerton in Norwich for a rebuild in May 1948. The bus was withdrawn form service by LT in January 1953 and sold to W. North of Leeds. It comprised one of 400 ‘Leaning Back’ STLs operated by London Transport.

The origins of Carr's Biscuits

Carr’s Biscuits was founded in Carlisle by Jonathan Dodgson Carr in 1831. Over the years the company has made around three hundred different varieties of biscuit but they are best known for their Table Water Biscuits, for which the bus is a promotional. Water biscuits were a refinement of the ship’s biscuit; in order the keep the biscuits fresh on long voyages, water was used instead of fat to blend the ingredients. They are still baked today using traditional brick ovens as originally established by Jonathan Dodgson Carr. The Carlisle factory is the oldest continually operating biscuit factory in the world. Carr and Company was sold to United Biscuits in 1972 and is now part of the Pladis organisation. Carr’s water biscuits are still available today.

The first promotional STL biscuit tins were made by Barringer, Wallis and Manners in the mid to late 1930s specially for Carr’s of Carlisle. The author has been unable to find the exact date of production. The staff at Pladis were very helpful but said that records were not available. As the bus is based on a 1934 STL it is reasonable to assume that the tin was made from 1934 or 1935 onwards. Due to the unavailability of records it has not been possible to know how many were produced.

Barringer et al made decorated tin products of various kinds including biscuit tins for the trade, confectionary tins and brewery trays. They made transport related tins for Crawford’s Biscuits, Huntley and Palmers and other items for Carr’s including a tram and a car.

When the Great War ended in 1918, toy imports declined and Barringer et al began to produce tin toys to meet the demand. Printing on tinplate involved an offset lithographic process. The image is inked onto a plate and is offset onto a rubber sheet, or blanket, before being transferred onto the final tinplate surface.

Barringer et al made toys for Burnett Ltd. These included the well known Ubilda series and various transport items such as cars, buses, trains and ships.

By the late 1930s the company was in financial difficulties and was taken over by the Metal Box Company in July 1939. A month later, World War II broke out and production was eventually transferred to manufacturing metal related items for the conflict.

When the war ended in 1945 and normal production slowly and gradually resumed Metal Box was producing tin toys for Chad Valley who had the distribution network, a reputation for toys and a well-known brand name. The old Burnett toys and any special promotionals such as the Carr’s biscuit tin bus, were modified to include the Chad Valley brand name. Before the war Chad Valley had produced a wide range of games, cards, dolls and soft toys but not metal toys.

Chad Valley took its name from the valley of the Chad Brook in Harborne, Birmingham where the factory was located in 1920. The company was started by the Johnson family in the nineteenth century with early production developing from cards to games.

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The company received the Royal Warrant in 1938 after permission was granted to make dolls of the two princesses, Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. A jigsaw puzzle was also marketed with images of the princesses. The warrant reads ‘Toymakers to H.M. The Queen’. Chad Valley made sure that this was printed or sewn onto all of their toys.

The Carr’s biscuit tin bus, when made for Chad Valley after the war, has the Royal Warrant printed onto the base. This has caused some confusion, at times, with toy collectors thinking that the warrant refers to Queen Elizabeth II because it refers to The Queen. It does, of course, refer to the Queen Consort of King George V1. In 1952 the warrant was changed to read ‘Toymakers to Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother’. This warrant is not found on the Chad Valley biscuit tin bus as it was no longer made by 1952.

In 1946 Chad Valley moved tin toy production in-house after acquiring a number of specialist firms skilled in areas such as cutting and folding metal, making clockwork motors and precision engineering equipment.

Due to a steel shortage in the post-War years most of the biscuit tin buses were made of aluminium. They tend to carry the registration number CV10045 front and back but some have AYV604 on the front and CV10045 on the back. The opposite can also be found with CV10045 on the front and AYV604 on the back. They were, of course, toys and not models in the modern sense and perhaps little attention would be given to such details especially as the back section was a separate piece to the rest of the body of the bus. Consequently, the number plates were sometimes mixed up.

The pre-War biscuit tin buses carry advertisements for Carr’s on both the near side and offside of the bus whereas the post-War versions have Carr’s on the offside and Chad Valley on the nearside. Chad Valley liked to show that they made a toy and tended to mention the brand as boldly as possible. Pre-War versions were not made by Chad Valley and as such their name is nowhere to be found on pre-war versions. Barringer, Wallis and Manners tended to prefer anonymity and as such there is no reference to them on the pre-war buses. These items were made solely for Carr’s.

The Royal Warrant gained in 1938 is printed on the rear of the base on all post-War biscuit buses but does not appear on pre-War buses because pre-War buses were not made by Chad Valley. Chad Valley did not make tin toys pre-War and the Carr’s buses were in production before 1938. There is much confusion in the toy collecting world about this, so it is hoped that some measure of clarity has been achieved here.

The biscuit buses were red with a silver/grey removable lid pre-war. Inside the lid was a pack of Carr’s Table Water Biscuits. Post-War the lid was dark grey. Pre-War buses are usually free-wheeling as they do not have a motor. Most post-War versions have clockwork motors operated by a separate pressed tin key. The round Wee-Kin key has nothing to do with this bus and belongs to the Wee-Kin diecast range of Chad Valley toys.

A green version of the bus was made from 1945 and is lacking in some of the detail carried by the red bus and has a yellow roof. It is unlikely that the green bus has any link to Carr’s Biscuits as the brand is not mentioned in the lithography. This was perhaps just sold as a toy. This green bus is usually made from steel (tinplate) and as such is much heavier than the aluminium buses. Both buses are ten inches long.

It is hoped that a measure of clarity has been achieved here and that some of the myths about this wonderful toy have been put in perspective.