Category Archives: Battle Bus

Unveiling the restored B-type Bus

Today, on a glorious sunny morning, the Museum unveiled a restored double deck open top B-type bus No. B2737 in Covent Garden Piazza as part of its commemorations of the First World War.

Battle Bus

Appearing in public for the first time and featuring advertisements from the pre-war era – including Camp coffee, Veno’s cough medicine and Wright’s coal tar soap, the bus was resplendent in its red and cream livery in the early summer sunshine.

Battle Bus Press Launch Venos Advert

Battle Bus Press Launch

Throughout the day the public were welcomed on board the bus to admire the decoration on the lower deck saloon with its wooden fretwork panels and the original cushioned moquette fabric seat covering design, recreated thanks to a fragment of material that was discovered during the restoration process.

Battle Bus Interior

After navigating the narrow staircase, it was hard not to imagine the challenges of travelling on board the upper deck with its exposure to the elements and signs warning passengers ‘keep your arm inside and do not lean over the side of the omnibus otherwise you may receive some hurt’.

Battle Bus Press Launch Warning Sign

One of only four surviving B-type London buses, B2737 was built at the AEC Works in Walthamstow in 1914 and served on route 9 out of Mortlake garage in south west London operating between Barnes and Liverpool Street. The B-types could reach a top speed of 16 mph and seated 34 passengers. With its top deck open to the elements and solid rubber tyres providing a bumpy ride, travelling on the B-type was not a comfortable experience for passengers or indeed the drivers who were also exposed to the extremities of the weather.

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At the beginning of the War over 1,000 B-type buses were commandeered into military service and deployed for use on the front line along with their civilian drivers and mechanics. With their windows boarded up and painted khaki to disguise their bright red livery they were used to transport troops, and also served as ambulances and even mobile pigeon lofts enabling messages to be sent from the Front Line back to headquarters.

B-type turned into a pigeon loft during the First World War. Copyright TfL.

The public will have a limited number of opportunities to admire the restored bus before its transformation into a war time ‘Battle Bus’ in September, after which it will embark on a tour to the battlefields of France and Belgium visiting  key sites including Ypres, Arras and Passchendaele to pay respects to the sacrifices made by so many during the First World War.

London’s Buses on the Western Front

Poperinge WW1

Recently we launched a crowdfunding campaign asking you to help us get our ‘Battle Bus’ back to the Western Front. But what does this really mean, and why is it so significant?

During the First World War London’s buses were to become crucial to the war effort. Our B-type bus, B2723, was one of the 1,200 buses requisitioned by the War Office and used as troop transport, ambulances, lorries and even pigeon lofts. In September, the Museum is taking B2737 back to key sites in Northern France and Belgium to commemorate the Londoners who fought and the busmen who supported them in the early months of the war.

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Back in April we reconnoitred the route and places to visit. We tried to compare postcards and photographs of buses at the Front with those places today. This sometimes possible, such as in the market square at Poperinge in Belgium. In other places, rebuilding after the devastation of the war, as at Bethune, had radically changed the view and such comparisons were not possible.

It is difficult to reconcile the small towns and rolling countryside of the Somme and the wooded Messines Ridge today with the devastation of the wartime photographs, the huge systems of trenches of the aerial photographs, the highly dangerous places like Hell Fire Corner, now a roundabout on the Menin road out of Ypres, or the evocative place names where so many men fell, at Passchendaele, High Wood, Gommecourt or the Hawthorn Redoubt. Visitors need a mental overlay, such as provided by a good guide, in our case, Andy Robertshaw, to ‘see’ the First World War once again in the landscape.

Goodbye Piccadilly: World War 1 Facts

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The B-type bus was surprisingly easy to adapt for military use. Many buses were used to transport troops into battle. However the London bus chassis was versatile and could be adapted into a range of specialised vehicles, from ambulances and messenger pigeon lofts to anti-aircraft gun carriages and freight lorries.

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WE’RE CROWDFUNDING!

Can you help get ‘Battle Bus’ to the Western Front? You can get involved and back the project for free by becoming a project Cheerleader and sharing it with friends and family or make a pledge from as little as £20 and in return for your support you’ll receive some exciting and unique rewards!

Find out more: www.ltmuseum.co.uk/battlebus

Goodbye Piccadilly: Florence Cordell’s Story

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Florence Cordell in 1916

Florence Cordell was one of the first women to work as a bus conductor in Britain. She, along with hundreds of other women, worked as a ‘conductorette’ for LGOC during the First World War, replacing the men who had left their jobs for war service. Before the war, Cordell worked for Faraday and Son making luxury lampshades but as fighting  continued it became clear that such luxuries were no longer appropriate and she knew her job was in jeopardy.

In 1916 Cordell began training as a bus conductor, taking medical, IQ and maths tests to determine her suitability. She was based at varying locations including Willesden, Twickenham, Turnham Green and Highgate Archway garages. Women conductors earned five shillings a week less than men and they went on strike to demand equal pay.

As with all women who worked on the buses during the war, the end of the fighting in 1918 meant Cordell lost her job as she was replaced by the returning men.

Florence Cordell’s story features in our Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front exhibition, on until 8 March 2015.

TELL YOUR STORY

If you have any personal family stories, photographs, mementoes, medals, letters or diaries that you would like to share with us then we’d love to hear from you. You can email us at collections@ltmuseum.co.uk

web-sidepanel-batlebus

WE’RE CROWDFUNDING!

Can you help get ‘Battle Bus’ to the Western Front? You can get involved and back the project for free by becoming a project Cheerleader and sharing it with friends and family or make a pledge from as little as £20 and in return for your support you’ll receive some exciting and unique rewards!

Find out more: www.ltmuseum.co.uk/battlebus

Becoming a bus driver…100 years ago!

bus driver training

Everyone at London Transport Museum is getting excited about the restoration of the B-type bus. It will be some sight to see it driving the streets of London, and northern France and Belgium, to commemorate the beginning of the First World War. Bus drivers today require special licenses, but what was the situation over a century ago when B2737 was new in public service?

For ordinary vehicles, driving licences were introduced courtesy of the Motor Car Act in 1903. Initially issued by County authorities, it was not until 1930 that they were accompanied by competency tests. However, prospective bus drivers had to complete an extensive programme of training and testing before they were allowed on the road.

Predictably, if you wanted to drive a bus you had to fulfil the criteria for an ordinary driving licence. For example, any applicant had to be a minimum age of 21 years, have a certificate of good conduct for the preceding three years, and provide a medical certificate of personal fitness. It was down to the particular bus companies to enforce more stringent rules to assist with selection. London General Omnibus Company enforced a number of supplementary rules. It raised the minimum age, extended the good conduct requirements to five years, selected married men in preference to single men and selected men with previous driving experience in the streets of London.

Applications were made by letter and likely candidates were interviewed. If a candidate did not already possess an ordinary driving licence he was required to obtain one immediately. Subject to a successful medical, the applicant travelled down to Scotland Yard to apply for a Stage Carriage Licence (to supplement the ordinary driving licence).  The police, in turn, required the equivalent of a P45 and two references.

Once these requirements were successfully negotiated, the candidate would finally go to a garage for training. However, there was still no guarantee of a job afterwards and he did not get paid. Training was spread over about five weeks, with a combination of practical and theoretical teaching. Prospective drivers learned about mechanics, road rules and driving in different environments. Once trained, drivers took police tests and the Public Carriage Licence test. If successful, the driver was finally allotted to a garage for employment where he continued to train and learn.

New Apprentices Visit Battle Bus

On Friday 21 February, Richard Peskett and his restoration team hosted an event for a range of Museum stakeholders to see the progress being made with the restoration of the Museum’s B-type bus. In attendance were key representatives from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), the London Transport Museum Friends, Transport for London, bus operating companies and historians. The event was the perfect way to showcase how the restoration of the bus has progressed over the last few months.

FretworkIt was also a chance to get to meet the team behind the restoration and hear more about its fascinating story.  A number of discoveries have been made since the restoration began including several tickets and newspaper clippings found tucked behind an original seat in the bus body. Also in attendance was a group from the HLF, who had travelled down to take a look at the bus and to meet the apprentices who had started a few weeks before.

The Museum’s Director Sam Mullins introduced the background to the project and the Museum’s programme for the year ahead, while the restoration team spoke on a range of subjects including how the team uncovered the bus’s unique fleet number B2737 and the work to return the engine to operational working order.

engineAlthough the body had not yet been mounted onto the chassis, the visit provided us with a wonderful opportunity to see the beautiful restoration work undertaken on the chassis and the engine. It was thrilling to see parts of the vehicle which won’t be visible when the body is reinstated, such as the gear box and the engine. We were also given the opportunity to see an original seat removed from the body during the restoration, as well as the seating moquette that will be used on the new seats when they are fabricated and the fret work that will accompany them inside the body of the bus.

bus stakeholder visit 3The event was also an opportunity for myself and Gianna Fiore, as the Battle Bus project apprentices, to witness the project for the first time. We collected feedback from the visitors and both thoroughly enjoyed the event and the chance to meet the key stakeholders in the project.

Even though it is not completed yet it was still impressive to see the bus chassis and the body mid restoration. It was the first time I had seen the bus and after weeks of hearing about it and seeing pictures it was a real thrill to see it with my own eyes. It was equally fantastic to meet the people behind the restoration and hear some of the fascinating stories unearthed during the restoration process.  It was also a pleasure to meet representatives from the HLF who have funded the project, including our Project Grants Officer Laura Butcher, London Committee Member Jennifer Ullman and Wesley Kerr, Chairman of the London Committee. Having now seen the half completed bus, I can’t wait to see the bus in all its glory this summer.

Having visited Haslemere to view the progress of the restoration, Gianna couldn’t wait to get started on the upcoming project. She enjoyed the opportunity to meet all the interesting people involved in the project, incuding the project funders from the HLF (and was fortunate enough to interview some of our guests and get their views on the project.) Gianna discovered that two people had even written books about B-type buses and was excited to find one stocked in our very own library at the Museum.

Post written by Harry Young, Battle Bus Project Apprentice

What’s in a number?

ledger

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.

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.

Happy Birthday B2737!

StreetsceneatHammersmith
Street scene at Hammersmith, with buses and pedestrians. B-Type Bus, number B204, LGOC, Route 9, Copyright TfL

The B-type bus we are restoring, B2737, is turning 100! Introduced into service in January 1914, B2737 originally worked out of Mortlake garage in south west London and plied its trade on route 9 before being requisitioned by the War Department. Although Mortlake garage no longer exists, route 9 is still flourishing. Today it is worked by the New Bus for London as well as a small fleet of heritage Routemasters in the central London area.

The early 20th century was an exciting period, with new technological developments revolutionising how we travelled and the way we lived. Whilst the B-type bus was London’s first mass produced standardised motor bus, a number of other transport developments took place the same year it was built. The world’s first electric traffic light was introduced (Ohio, USA). Whilst in the air, the first scheduled commercial flight took place (St Petersburg to Tampa, USA). Although now a ubiquitous sight, the first road cone was invented by Charles P Rudebaker in 1914.

Recently our project engineer, Richard Peskett, also celebrated his birthday (not another centennial, I hasten to add!). He received a wonderful B-type themed birthday cake and it seems fitting to also dedicate it to our bus. Happy birthday B2737!

The Kitemark on our B-type bus

British Kitemark on rear wheel

A small but intriguing discovery during the restoration has been the sight of a British Standard ‘Kitemark’ found on the rear wheels. The recognised symbol that something is ‘up to standard’ has existed since the beginning of the twentieth century. On 22 January 1901, Sir John Wolfe-Barry, who designed London’s Tower Bridge, persuaded the Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers to form a committee to discuss standardising iron and steel sections. This led to the creation of the British Standard Mark in 1903, which later become known as the Kitemark. Today it can be seen displayed on a variety of products, traditionally those which require a high level of safety.

Tramway rails were the first item to be standardised, with the introduction of the Kitemark reducing the number of Tramway gauges from 75 to 5. From April 1929, the British Engineering Standards Association was granted a royal charter.

The Kitemark on our B-type suggests the sort of quality that led to its reputation for reliability. It would have certified the construction methods and materials necessary to build a safe and effective wheel. Unfortunately, after further research we have been unable to locate the record for BS850 in the British Standards Institution archive. It possible that being such an early Kitemark, the record was simply lost as the technology evolved or became redundant. It is worth noting wheels with solid rubber tyres had almost completely vanished by the early 1930s whilst the only record found relating to BS number BS850 dates from 1939, and is completely unrelated to tyres.

Employees of the London General Omnibus Company were constantly advised to put ‘Safety First’ and the doctrine ran through to the design and construction of the vehicles used by the company. This small but important sign acknowledges this early emphasis on safety in transport.