Safety First on the buses

Don't run across the road to catch a bus
The Safety First Campaign had its own publicity emblem – a white triangle with red interior lines and the words ‘Safety First’.

The rise of motor traffic in the Edwardian era led to an unprecedented rise in accidents. Pedestrians accustomed to the slow meandering nature of horse vehicles were unprepared for the speed of new buses like the B-type. The increase in accidents sparked a number of public safety initiatives.

Starting in the 1910s, the Safety First campaign used posters to emphasise the correct behaviour passengers and pedestrians should employ when near buses. One poster strictly explained how to alight a B-type bus in a safe manner, whereas others exclaimed ‘look before you leap!’ This latter point seemed to be a common problem, as passengers were accustomed to leaping on and off transport because traditionally it had been so slow-moving. The advent of faster motor buses meant this became considerably more dangerous.

One 1915 poster underlines this problem with speed. It read ‘don’t dodge out in front of a slow moving vehicle unless you have made sure that a fast moving vehicle is not overtaking it’. Graphic drawings and photographic mock-ups of accidents were used as a shock tactic to encourage people to act safely.

Look before you leapThe staff magazine of the time, called Train Omnibus Tram (TOT), also expressed the importance of Safety First and of being cautious while using the transport network. Photos from training classes show instructional Safety First posters plastering classroom walls, and there were awards for drivers whose record was free from accidents.

Safety is still a high priority for Transport for London. It runs a programme, based at London Transport Museum, called Safety and Citizenship which aims to promote safe and responsible behaviour amongst young people on London’s transport system. The team visit schools across London, organising activities to improve understanding of safety on the network. Transport for London also runs a continuous safety marketing campaign. Although today’s messages may have slightly different priorities, the notion of responsible behaviour as originally described in the initial ‘Safety First’ campaign is still relevant today.

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What’s in a number?

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The identity of a vehicle starts with its chassis and the project team has been fortunate to establish that ours used to be B2737. From scrutinising witness marks (rivet holes) on both side rails, it is evident the chassis once carried a four figure LGOC fleet number starting with ‘B2’. In addition, a second set of screw holes overlaid on top show the remains of where a ‘National Omnibus and Transport Co’ number plate was once fitted. From researching company fleet records, only eleven ex LGOC double decker ‘B’ types starting with ‘B2’ were sold second hand to the National. Of these, just the numerals of B2737 fit all the remaining frame fixing holes in the correct order.

Through answering this most intriguing question, it has been possible to research further the history of our vehicle. Within the depths of our archive there is an old leather bound ledger charting the allocation and disposal of a number of B-type buses. One page notes that B2737 was requisitioned for use by the War Department, not returning to the LGOC until 19 May 1920. It then served for several months as a ‘ Khaki traffic emergency bus’ before being withdrawn from London service on 28 January 1921. Another page notes that on 24 February 1922 our B-type chassis was joined with body number B2364, for onward sale to the National Omnibus Company. Whilst research is still ongoing, it is pleasing to note how a four digit number can help reveal such a wealth of information.

On this day in 1920: King George V’s inspection

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In 1920 the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) nominated a single bus to represent the contributions of their bus drivers and mechanics who played such an important role during the First World War. The chosen bus was B43, later known as ‘Ole Bill, after a famous wartime cartoon of the same name. Built in 1911, B43 was one of the first London buses requisitioned for the war effort and saw action along the Western Front, in Belgium and Northern France. One of only 240 B-Types to return from France, B43 was refurbished by the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) in 1919 and put into service as a Traffic Emergency Bus, on routes 8 and 9.

On 14 February 1920, the bus was inspected by King George V at Buckingham Palace, becoming the first time the King had boarded a bus. The LGOC staff magazine – Train Omnibus Tram (TOT) – dedicated four pages to the event and it received wide press coverage. Thirty-five LGOC drivers were carried as passengers into the courtyard of the Palace where they were congratulated by the King. As well as the drivers, a number of high profile public figures also attended, along with Lord Ashfield, the chairman of the Underground Group that owned the LGOC.

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After the King’s inspection, a brass representation of the celebrated cartoon character ‘Ole Bill was attached to the B43’s radiator, along with a name plate and a plaque recording the major battles it was associated with. ‘Ole Bill was created by cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather in 1914-15, depicted as an elderly, pipe-smoking ‘tommy’, complete with a walrus moustache. The cartoons were sometimes controversial, but always extremely popular during the war, raising morale for the troops with ‘Ole Bill himself even starring in his own West End musical in 1917.

‘Ole Bill appeared in the first Armistice Day parade in 1920, and for many years afterward, with a group of surviving LGOC men, as well as special events and funerals for fallen soldiers or LGOC employees. After leaving public service in 1924 ‘Ole Bill was maintained as a kind of mobile war memorial by the wartime busmen’s ‘old comrades’ association.

On May 5 1970 Ole Bill was presented to the Imperial War Museum driven by a veteran. It remained on display there for more than thirty years. As part of London Transport Museum’s Goodbye Piccadilly – From the Western Front to the Home Front exhibition, which focuses on the role of London’s transport during the First World War and the effect of war on the Home Front , ‘Ole Bill will appear at the Museum next to a B-type bus which already resides within the Covent Garden collection.

On this day in 1956: The first ever Routemaster enters service

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RM-type bus No, RM1. The bus is seen with its original radiator grille (later redesigned) in a procession for the 1956 Lord Mayor’s Show in London. Copyright TfL

The first London Routemaster (RM1) came into service on 8 February 1956. Routemasters remained in full-time service until December 9 2005, showing incredible longevity on London’s busy streets. The Routemaster was conceived as an idea in October 1947, just five months after the first post-war RT buses went into service. The vehicle that emerged from the extensive design process would become a vital part of the capital’s identity.

The design team, headed by Arthur (‘Bill’) Durrant, set out to design a low maintenance bus with performance as good as a private car. The stylish bodywork was designed by Douglas Scott, a freelance industrial designer who had previously worked on one of London Transport’s RF types. Constructed from a lightweight aluminium alloy, following the successful use of the material for aircraft during the Second World War, the metal body frame and stressed skin eliminated the need for a conventional chassis. As well as the bodywork, Scott gave the Routemaster a distinctive moquette fabric design. Matching the colour of the interior, the vivid design remained inviting whether in broad daylight or under the evening tungsten lighting.

The first of four Routemaster prototypes was originally unveiled at the Earl’s Court Commercial Vehicle Show in September 1954. On a snowy February 8 two years later RM1 entered service on route 2 from Golders Green to Crystal Palace. Passenger response was generally positive, with some complaints about spongy seats and unfamiliar noises. A number of alterations were made, including an entirely new engine, and the Routemaster went into full production in 1959.

The Routemaster soon became synonymous with London and it developed into an international icon. Today a fleet of heritage Routemasters ensure their presence has not been entirely removed. Transport for London’s New Routemaster is being gradually introduced onto London’s streets, bringing back the open rear entrance of the original Routemaster and continuing the design heritage of its predecessor.

Poster Parade – I Love London

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Summer outings by private bus, Verney L Danvers (1925)

This year London Transport Museum is celebrating the Year of The Bus and to mark the centenary of the First World War the Museum is restoring one of the last surviving B-type buses. At the beginning of the War over 1000 operational B-type London buses were commandeered for transporting troops to and from the Western Front. They were also used as ambulances on the front line and even as a mobile pigeon lofts. Once restored to full working order, our Battle Bus will act as the centrepiece for a programme of commemorative events and displays.

Our latest Poster Parade I Love London features 20 posters specially chosen by staff here at the Museum that demonstrate what they love about living and working in London. Included in the poster parade is Summer outings by private bus by Verney L Danvers (1925).

In order to maximise profits at weekends from the late 1920s up until the early 1960s London transport offered many of their vehicles for private hire at a fee. Often these busses were hired out for leisure to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and venture out into the country.

This delightful poster was designed at a time when London’s population was continuing to grow in the early decades of the 20th century and the city expanded rapidly through suburban development at the outskirts of London and into the counties of Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Middlesex and Surrey.

Time to indulge in leisure activities was becoming more widely available, not least day trips to the beautiful London countryside of the Home Counties. In London days out by bus were promoted by the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) and included private bus hire as illustrated in the poster.

The excursionists are wearing their Sunday best outfits ready to enjoy a delicious picnic in the bucolic setting of a bluebell wood. Country walks were marketed as a healthy antidote to a week spent in an office or factory. Longer distance ‘rambling’ became particularly popular during the interwar years. The shadows on the pathway show that it is a brilliant sunny day and the image communicates blissful tranquillity and leisure, giving no hint of the undercurrents of the famous General Strike which took place the following year.

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The London bus companies also laid on transport for the thousands of Londoners who went to the Epsom Derby every year. Buses hired out for use at The Epsom Derby, June 1931 showing people sitting eating at a table on board the top deck of B-type bus.

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The Underground Group also organised many such trips on buses and trains to take children all over London.  The charitable outings, often for underprivileged London children, also generated positive publicity for the transport services.

Children’s outing arranged by Dalston bus garage, here the K-type motor buses have been hired out for an underprivileged children’s outing on 17th of August 1927.

Private hire children

Post written by Chloe Eden Winter Taylor, Assistant Curator

A B-type Paper Trail

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Having already discovered a collection of fascinating newspaper fragments inside our B-type bus seat cushions, it was remarkable to find three tickets also tucked away.  Although we will probably never be completely sure, the tickets provide some useful clues as to the history of our bus.

The tickets are from a bus company named Road Motors of Weymouth, who were part of the Road Motors of Luton company operating in the early 1920s. Documents show that Road Motors bought a number of used buses from the London General Omnibus Company, including two B-type buses (B1616 and B2558). In addition, a number of their other vehicles had B-type bodies fitted including Dennis NM2146. The private company did not last long though, and was bought by the National Omnibus & Transport Company in April 1925.

It is feasible that the B-type bus body we are restoring was at one time used in Weymouth; or our seat cushion was switched between buses that once served the seaside town. Based on this circumstantial evidence, tracing the history of our cushions with any accuracy is extremely difficult. Despite all the guesswork, it is certain that Road Motors would from time to time, transfer buses between Luton and Weymouth and back again. This goes some way to explaining how a Weymouth bus ticket was found inside the cushion. The rest of the story remains a mystery.