Living as I do on the Camberwell/Peckham borders in South East London, I have grown up with the number 12 Routemaster bus looming large in my life. I started out on it, on a ‘Red Bus Rover’ day from Peckham bus garage as a kid, taking in Big Ben, Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly, Soho, and Oxford Street. In my late teens, it got me to pubs and clubs and then in my early twenties over in Bayswater to see an early girlfriend, or onto Notting Hill Gate for Portobello Road market when I was buying and selling in my days as a stallholder. It really was the perfect route for my all my needs.
My old granddad Stan even drove one and if he noticed his daughter (my mum) on board, he dropped her off as near as he could to her flat, official bus stop or no official bus stop….
As a nipper, we all used to love to get in the front seats upstairs and ‘drive’ the bus and as we got older, we’d edged further down towards the back ‘lovers seat’ hopefully with a fragrant young lady. Whatever the journey, more often than not, we’d run downstairs and jump off the open platform, as the bus was moving and just rounding a corner.
Those were indeed the days.
So, today, I’m paying homage to that big red double decker bus that is still missed by many today. Initial work on it began as far back as 1947, under the instruction of Colin Curtis OBE and his mentor AAM Durrant, with the interior design elements worked up by Douglas Scott, including the tartan moquette seating, the on board heating, and also the windows that wound up and down, by the turn of an handle.
This new design used aluminium as the core component, so everything was lighter, and they achieved seating for 64 passengers, a few more than previous buses could hold at 56. Power steering, hydraulic braking, and independent suspension were also incorporated.
It stood 14 foot 6 inches in height and 8 foot wide with a top speed of 47MPH. It was 27 feet and 6 inches in length, with the hoped for introduction of a longer version of 29 feet and 11 inches held up by the unions as the extra two foot, was considered as ‘extra work for the conductors.’
A working prototype was ready for use in late 1954, built by AEC (Associated Equipment Company) and Park Royal Vehicles. The driver was housed in a small half cabin type structure at the front, sitting behind and slightly above the engine. As mentioned previously, it had a permantely open rear platform, which was very useful for jumping on and off, though it would give the health and safety bods the horrors today. Indeed 12 people died over the years, from accidents due to the lack of a door by the time the bus began to be phased out in 2012.
A Conductor stood in a little recess on the back platform to allow passengers room to get on and off, and then they popped out to collect the fares from upstairs and downstairs. Female conductors were known a ‘clippies.’
The streets of London got their first glimpse of the bus from February 1956. Its first route was the number 2, leaving Golders Green, one of 72 bus garages in London, and heading towards Crystal Palace. The bus was in effect replacing the trolleybuses, which finally ended running in 1962, after they in turn had taken over from the trams, which ended in July 1952.
For the next 25 years the familiar red bus reigned supreme. By the early 1980s however, the early models were being withdrawn with the last of the ‘new’ Routemasters having been delivered in 1968. From the 1970s, the new ‘OMO – one man only’ buses took over and slowly became the norm. As with many things in the 80s and 90s, buses were privatised and a whole manner of different companies and fleets, were now on the streets.
The end for the Routemaster, was now fast approaching. Access for wheelchairs and those with children’s prams or buggy’s became a major issue, and new ticket machinery, eventually leading to the introduction of the Oyster Card in June 2003, was now gathering pace, meaning the end of conductors.
The last scheduled service of the bus in London occurred in December 2005 when RM2217 finished its shift by pulling into Brixton garage, with crowds in attendance cheering the bus home.
Routes number 9 and 15 got permission to continue to run as ‘heritage’ buses, complete with fresh ‘paint and trim’ to satisfy the needs of tourists and locals alike. Route number 9 went on with this until 2014 and the number 15 finally finished in September 2015.
Often thought of as a ‘London Bus’ they were in fact in service in places like Manchester, Rotherham, Glasgow, Dundee, Scarborough, Blackpool, and Carlisle among many other areas. They were painted in the various bus company colours, as de-regulation in the mid 80s, opened up the market. However by the early mid 90s, many of the buses were back in London, as costs soared for those trying to keep them on the road and as the result of the gradual introduction of the cost saving, single man crews all over.
A total of 2,876 Routemasters were built, of which 1,280 are still in existence, somewhere in the UK and around the world, as the Routemaster continues to operate in lands far away, such as Australia and Canada.
A modern day Routemaster, with a new overall design, but retaining elements of the old model, began a service in 2012. However, the love of the old Routemaster by the general public was never more evident, than when it was voted in the top ten iconic UK designs of all time.
Keeping it company was the K2 telephone box, Concorde, The Mini, The Spitfire and the London tube map.
That just leaves me to say…
Hold very tight now please!
The Mumper of SE5
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