By Roland Eglinton

Chalkwell Coach Hire is a family-run business, established in 1931.

Our dedicated coaching team provides high quality coach hire for a wide range of clients including social clubs, businesses, schools, universities and sports groups. We also have a comprehensive programme of DayBreaks, offering a wide variety destinations around the UK and Northern Europe.

We also provide pupil transport to and from school, as well as local bus services, cementing our place in the local community by providing vital transport links.

Today Chalkwell is run by Managing Director Roland Eglinton, grandson of founder Harry Eglinton, along with a management team. Harry’s son, Clive, is the Chairman, having run the business between 1969 and 2018.

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"When my grandfather started his business in Sheerness on 1 April 1931 as Island Luxury Coaches, with one 26-seater coach operating an express service to the East End of London, where he grew up, he had no idea what the business would develop into."

Roland Eglinton

Our Story

Early Days

Founded by Henry William (Harry) Eglinton, a former chauffeur and motor engineer born in 1904 in Bethnal Green in the East End of London, Chalkwell’s first footsteps were as a coach hire business on the Isle of Sheppey, operating under the name of Island Luxury Coaches. The first coach was a 26-seater 1929 Gilford 166ST with a Duple body, which cost £800.

The business developed as my Harry enjoyed driving long distances, spotting an opportunity for one of the earliest express coach services when he started to offer a Sheerness to Dalston and Islington route. This service first ran on the 1 April 1931 and it resulted in Harry operating on hire to South Wales Express and Red & White.

The company’s first brand new coach was a 20-seater Duple-bodied Bedford which arrived in 1935, while in the same year Harry bought out Medway operator, Stella Coaches.

With the business benefitting from Sheerness’s status as a port and the demand for express coach travel, it rapidly expanded to the point where Harry sought a mainland location. He moved of the island and relocated to Berry Street in Sittingbourne before moving to the company’s current head office and retail garage site on Chalkwell Road, Sittingbourne in 1938.

During the period of the Second World War Harry joined the Civil Defence, maintaining and driving emergency vehicles. His coach hire business had ground to a halt, and most of the company’s seven vehicles and its buildings were requisitioned by the Government, effectively closing the coach operation until 1948, when Harry was again in a position to purchase a coach.

The pre-war shortage of vehicles limited supply, but Harry managed to obtain a 29-seater Bedford OB Duple Vista with which to restart his coach business.

In the intervening period up to 1969 the business combined coach hire with car hire and a car delivery operation, but failing eyesight forced Harry to curtail operations.

Second Generation

Having left school in 1963 and worked for the MOD, Clive pursued a career in air traffic control, but he couldn’t resist the urge to get back into coaching.

He worked part-time for Ken Moody, having passed his PSV test when aged 21 on the coach his father used to own.

A period with Maidstone & District followed. Then on 1 August 1969 he started on his own with a Humber Imperial and an Austin A70, trading from his father’s building in Chalkwell Road, Sittingbourne.

This location subsequently gave rise to a change in the company’s name and Clive bought his first bus, a Commer 12-seater in 1974.

Clive’s first step was to build a fleet of chauffeur driven limousines, but his first foray into coaches came in 1974 when he purchased the Commer.

“My first regular contract came in 1975. This was to transport worshippers between Milton and Sittingbourne, a contract that would continue for 23 years.”

Clive’s marriage to his wife Christine took place in 1975. The ceremony happened on a Sunday as all the company’s cars were out on hire on Saturday. The same year also saw the beginnings of Clive’s retail garage business.

The rest as they say is history with Chalkwell expanding through 29-seater and 53-seater coaches to become one of Kent’s leading coach and bus operators, expanding from its coach tours and holidays roots to develop a network of scheduled services, school runs, specialist shopping and  one-off coach hires.

The 1980s was a busy period of growth for Chalkwell with a rapid expansion of the coach side of the business with several vehicles being added to the fleet, and by the late 80s it had 13 coaches on its books.

In 1987 Chalkwell was awarded a contract by the prison service to transport prisoners from Kent jails to court. At its peak this required 10 vehicles.

Also in 1987 the company purchased a one-acre site on the Church Road industrial estate on which it could house a depot and maintenance facility for its growing coach fleet.

Chalkwell’s diversification into bus services followed the award of a contract to run between Sheerness and Warden Point on the Isle of Sheppey, while a limited company was formed in 1990, leading to a period of further growth.

Chalkwell’s day excursion and short breaks programme started in 1992 following Maidstone & District pulling out of this line of business, which has remained central to the company’s success ever since, and the first London commuter service was launched in 1993.

Growth in the commuter services led to a major investment in nine Plaxton-bodied Dennis Javelins as the routes from Sittingbourne, the Medway Towns and Maidstone proved extremely popular.

The retail garage site remains with car repairs undertaken, but the bulk of the company’s revenue is derived from the coach and bus operation, which has resided on Church Road since 1988.

Third Generation

Clive’s son Roland joined the business at the age of just 13, working part-time at weekends and school holidays. After graduating college Roland joined the business on a full-time basis, working in all aspects of Chalkwell’s bustling operation.

After taking a break from the family business in 2010 to pursue a career in the Australian bus and coach industry, Roland returned to Chalkwell in 2014. Since that time there have been a number of important developments to ensure that Chalkwell stay on the forefront of the transport industry.

Having operated London commuter coach services since 1993, the decision was taken in 2017 to cease these services. Increased journey times in and out of London due to congestion, as well as an improved rail service, meant that these services were no longer financially viable and the time had come to move on and focus on Chalkwell’s core activities.

Today, Chalkwell also provide vehicle repairs for many clients, including car repairs, servicing and MoT’s. Chalkwell also provides specialist engineering for operators of vans and large vehicles, including trucks and other bus and coach operators.

Harry Eglinton was a meticulous record keeper, with every booking and activity logged in paper diaries. Today, customers can benefit from the convenience of being able to book a coach hire or DayBreak using just their mobile phone, something that could not have been imagined in those early days.

It is Roland’s view that Chalkwell should continue to grow, but retaining the essence of being a local family-run business providing a high level of service.

“In those 80 years we have developed services such as tours, day breaks, schools and local bus,. That said, we have remained true to his philosophy and we firmly remain a Swale-based, people-driven business with a dedicated staff of drivers, engineers and those who work behind the scenes in our offices.

“The growth and success that we have achieved is thanks to the dedication that so may have brought to Chalkwell over the years and from the kind support of our many customers.”