Category Archives: Battle Bus

B-type decorative fretwork

Fretwork is a form of decoration usually seen on wood and metal panels. It was particularly popular in the late 19th and early 20th century as a means of adding style to architecture, furniture and household items such as radios. Interestingly, the B-type bus also had distinctive fretwork motifs inside the lower deck saloon. Situated at the end of each aisle of seats, they were constructed through a series of drilled holes.

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During the restoration process, a number of designs were discovered which differ from the fretwork present in the B-type (B340) held in our Covent Garden museum. B340 is decorated with a London General Omnibus Company emblem – the distinctive winged wheel which was the basis of the London Underground roundel.

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Other popular designs included the outline of a star, an attractive fleur-de-lis and a clover leaf. The decorations were simply aesthetic additions to the saloon area which would have otherwise remained rather plain. This kind of decoration was a legacy of the horse bus era, when such fretwork was common. The B-type was the last London bus to display wooden fretwork and the practice soon disappeared. Buses became further standardised and there was no room for the intricate and unique detailing that had been a hallmark of their predecessors.

Thanks to Antony Roskoss for additional historical information

Apprentice Recruitment Day Round-up

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We are very excited to be recruiting for our Battle Bus apprentices, and on Friday 13th December we held a day specifically designed to put a group of prospective candidates through their paces! Each of the day’s activities provided an insight into the workings of the Museum and challenged them to demonstrate innovative ideas and the potential to fulfil the new roles.

First the candidates were tasked to explore the Museum, choosing one object that resonated with them, before collecting facts and stories with which they would hope to inspire their peers. It’s essential that the apprentices have an enthusiasm for heritage objects but more importantly that they are able to communicate and pass on this enthusiasm to others. Each candidate pitched their object to members of a small group before the group negotiated and nominated one object to go forward to the afternoon’s activities.

Engaging with different audiences will be key to the apprentice’s role. To help the participants demonstrate their skills and understand what it takes we asked each group to choose an audience from a hat (for example a local youth group or a class of primary school children). Next they had to think about how they would engage their audience with the object they had chosen, what questions would they ask, what stories would they tell and how? Each group presented their ideas back, the highlight of which saw staff and candidates playing 10-year olds delivering a well thought out school session!

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Following this, each group was asked to develop and design an activity around their object, including a timeline of activities, resources and outcomes. The activity could take any form they wished and we saw ideas emerge around immersive theatre, bus tickets issued with facts on and sessions run in carriages.

It was an inspiring day which tested the enthusiasm, ideas and potential of everyone who took part. It also provided some serious rumination and tough decision making for those of us at the Museum, at the end of a long day, while choosing successful candidates to go through to the next stage…watch this space!

What came before the B-type bus?

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Fischer Petrol-Electric bus, imported from the USA in 1903 and used for experimental road trials by the LGOC. The bus never entered service. Copyright TfL

When put into service in October 1910, the B-type was London’s first standardised and mass-produced motor bus, with an unprecedented level of reliability. But what came before the B-type bus?

In 1829, George Shillibeer began running the first bus services in London, powered by horses. Throughout the nineteenth century, horses continued to haul the majority of omnibus services through London’s crowded streets. The technology for mechanical buses gradually evolved, but their development was hindered by a number of factors. The Locomotives Act of 1865 (the ‘Red Flag Act’) stated that mechanically propelled road vehicles should not exceed 2mph in towns and 4 mph in the countryside. Furthermore, vehicles were to be led at all times by a man waving a red flag in front. This Act – only repealed in 1896 – plus concerns about road surfaces meant mechanical traction did not develop as quickly as it might have done and horse power continued to dominate until the late nineteenth century.

The first notable attempt at a mechanically operated bus was invented by Walter Hancock and introduced by the London and Paddington Steam Carriage Company in April 1833. Named ‘The Enterprise’ the steam bus ran between the City, Islington and Paddington. In 1836 another steam bus was introduced by Hancock called ‘Automaton’. It successfully made over 700 journeys between Paddington, Islington, Moorgate and Stratford during its operational life.

In 1889 the first battery-electric omnibus, albeit unsuccessfully, was tried by Radcliffe-Ward. Built as a single-deck vehicle, it reportedly had a top speed of 7 mph but never entered service.

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First Thomas Tilling Motor Bus 34 seater on Milnes-Daimler chassis. Commenced service 29th September 1904. Copyright TfL

In June 1902 the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) introduced a Fischer petrol-electric bus, but it’s cumbersome size and high petrol consumption was prohibitive. The LGOC then introduced a steam bus from October 1904 to June 1905 between Hammersmith and Piccadilly Circus, and although it lost them money, it convinced the company that mechanical traction was the future. It is interesting to note that the main focus initially was on steam or electric engines, rather than petrol.

However, it soon became clear that the petrol motor bus would win out. The introduction of the Milnes-Daimler double decker – first used by Thomas Tilling’s – was highly influential in bus development from then on. It first entered service on 30 September 1904, the same year that LGOC set aside £20,000 for motor bus development.

Despite further experimentation, motor buses were still unreliable and since there were so many different bus companies, financial difficulty and unproductive rivalries were commonplace. Subsequently, the bus companies came to a decision that they should amalgamate and on July 1 1908 LGOC, Vanguard and Union Jack came together into a greatly enlarged LGOC. With this expansion, LGOC decided it was a better idea to just build its own bus using Vanguard’s overhaul works at Walthamstow. The best features of the wide variety of buses of the previous years were combined into a single bus, named the X-type, until the more refined B-type was completed on October 7 1910.

The genius of these new buses was that the parts were made to such fine measurements that they could be interchanged between buses, increasing reliability and decreasing maintenance costs. The B-type saw revenue and shares leap, and in January 1912 LGOC was taken over by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London. The success of the B-type, however, was the result of years of trial and error.

Pre-First World War Newspaper Clippings uncovered in Seat Cushion

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As part of the restoration of our B-type bus, the Battle Bus project restoration team have been carefully examining an original seat cushion. Intriguingly there were, lodged between the layers of fabric and matting, little scraps of old newspaper. The fragments tell some fascinating stories affecting the everyday lives of Londoners all those years ago.

One contains an advertisement which mentions ‘The Yarmouth Belle’ – a paddle steamer, built in 1898, that regularly sailed between London, Clacton and Yarmouth until the late 1920s. According to the advert, the steamer was due to leave London Bridge at 08.55.

Another fragment describes the cost of a ‘bedstead with bedding’ as 4/-monthly. In today’s money that’s about £15.70 – a far cry from today’s prices! It is interesting to note both cash, or credit was accepted for this item, advertised as an ‘Astounding Bargain’.

A final cutting describes fighting between Reds and Nationalists, with nine people killed and 19 others wounded. The early period of the 20th Century, when B-type buses were first used in London, was particularly turbulent. Although vague in detail, the snippet of information reported clashes, possibly between German Nationalists and Communists. Such incidents were commonplace in an unsettled Central Europe on the eve of the First World War.

It is remarkable to think that a few scraps of newspaper survived for so long, hidden from view since the beginning of the 20th century. As work continues on restoring the bus, the team wonders what other exciting material may await discovery!

The Moquette Story

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The Batle Bus project restoration team have been most fortunate to find the remains of an original moquette covered seat cushion from a B-type bus. Information gained from this remarkable discovery is proving invaluable in aiding the design and construction of our new seats.

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Moquette has been used on London’s buses since the beginning of the twentieth century right up to the present day, including the New Bus for London. It is a unique material, known for its hard wearing and fire resistant qualities and is well suited to the demands associated with public transport use. Another benefit is its good thermal properties, meaning that during summer months it stays cool and during the winter it feels warmer to the touch. The vibrant patterns cleverly conceal dirt, and enliven the passenger environment.

Interestingly, the company we are using to weave our new fabric produced the original B-type moquette in 1913. John Holdsworth & Co was founded in 1822 in the Yorkshire town of Halifax. As public transport proliferated around the country, Holdsworth & Co similarly boomed.  Having been responsible for the original cushion fabric, it only seemed right to commission Holdsworth to reproduce this wonderfully authentic material 100 years later.

Help us Restore Battle Bus!

The project is supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund but the Museum needs to raise a further £100,000 towards the restoration. Please help us to get Battle Bus back on the road. You can find out more and make a donation at www.ltmuseum.co.uk/battlebus

Remembering the First World War – We want your Stories

In 2014 London Transport Museum will be remembering the bus drivers and workers of the First World War and we want you to share your personal family stories and mementoes with us! Did any of your ancestors drive a bus during the First World War? Was your grandfather on the buses? Were your great aunts bus conductorettes?  If so, we would love to hear from you.

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A driver and female conductor photographed during the First World War. Copyright TfL

In 2014 London Transport Museum will mark the start of the First World War by honouring the unique contribution of hundreds of London bus drivers who went to the Western front with their buses. They played a vital role in supporting the allied armies – moving troops, delivering supplies to the front and taking the wounded to safety. The bus crews, many of whom were volunteers, were recruited into the Army Service Corps, serving under difficult conditions and with the crews often living and sleeping in their vehicles. Despite the hardships, buses were a reminder of home.

Within days of the declaration of hostilities in August 1914, the War Department began requisitioning buses from the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) and other bus companies. By October 1914 over 300 buses had been pressed into military service; by the end of the war over 1,000 buses were in use on the front. Immediately after arriving in France the red LGOC livery was covered over with grey, and later khaki, paint.

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An army bus company pose for the camera beside their vehicles during the First World War. Copyright TfL

Personal Histories

Charles Lee was one of the first bus drivers to volunteer for war service. In September 1914 he left his bus garage in Putney and joined the crews of 70 London buses sent to Dunkirk. The drivers were attached to the Royal Naval Division. Charles Lee’s unit drove soldiers from the docks to the besieged town of Antwerp.  Following the fall of Antwerp, the same buses helped evacuate wounded British soldiers and some were captured by the Germans.

For his services in the First World War Lee received four medals:  British War Medal 1914-1920, Allied Victory Medal 1914-1919, the 1914 ‘Mons’ Star and the Auxiliary Omnibus Companies’ Association medallion.

Joe Clough was one of London’s first black bus drivers. Born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1887, Clough worked for a Scottish doctor, Dr RC White. When Dr White came over to England, he brought Clough with him and after learning to drive as his employer’s chauffeur, he managed in 1910 to secure a job as a bus driver with LGOC. He drove the Route 11 between Liverpool Street and Wormwood Scrubs.

In 1915, Clough joined the Army Service Corps at Kempston Barracks and drove an ambulance on the Western front in France for four years. Clough was a popular member of the Army Service Corps and he was the captain of the cricket team. Yet as one of few black soldiers, he was sometimes the victim of racism. Demobbed in 1919, he became a member of the Royal Legion and joined the National Omnibus Company at Bedford, where he lived with his wife Margaret. Between the world wars, Clough would drive an open-topped bus in Cambridgeshire every year on Remembrance Day.

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.

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

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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

B-type Restoration Material

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B-type (B1056) and Y-type chassis (numbered as B214) at Acton

During 2013, London Transport Museum curators travelled all the way to North Yorkshire to inspect a surprising collection of B-type bus material in private ownership. Amongst the items for sale were four B-type bodies, three chassis, three gearboxes, one engine and a handful of enamel advertisement signs. After careful consideration and further negotiation the Museum acquired all the available material and transported it to the Acton Depot in West London.

Items earmarked for restoration were promptly relocated to Haslemere, Surrey, where the work is taking place. Left behind at Acton, however, was an intriguing assortment of B-type parts. This includes the chassis of B237, the chassis of a Y-type lorry (previously restored as B214), three B-type bodies in various states of decay and items of metalwork which are surplus to the project.

Although redundant, leftover items can still be of value and offer crucial information. For example, a saloon interior passenger sign (in too poor a condition to reuse) shows the correct style of lettering which will need to be reproduced. Through the layers of paint it is just about possible to read the text ‘Metropolitan Stage Carriage’ and make out an arrow which would have pointed to the location of the bell used for stopping the bus.

Operational reliability is another reason for saving these spare parts. In the case of the gearboxes, the Museum will keep enough key components to assist an overhaul many years in the future. Remarkably, the oldest surplus B-type body might be appropriate for use on the 1906 De Dion chassis that the Museum owns.  There are no plans to undertake a restoration at present, but it is interesting to know that there is a possibility for the future.

Help us Restore Battle Bus!

The project is supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund but the Museum needs to raise a further £100,000 towards the restoration. Please help us to get Battle Bus back on the road. You can find out more and make a donation at www.ltmuseum.co.uk/battlebus

Restoring Battle Bus

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A motor bus park in France during the First World War. Copyright TfL

To mark the centenary of the First World War, London Transport Museum is restoring one of the last surviving B-type buses to full working order. Once restored, Battle Bus will act as the centrepiece for a programme of commemorative events and displays. Plans include a recreation of the journey made by these buses from London to the battlefields of France. At home the bus will take part in a programme of community events involving London’s bus companies and garages.

Over 1000 B-type buses were commandeered for transporting troops to and from the Western Front throughout the war. In often extremely hazardous conditions, civilian drivers manned buses protected by wooden boarding and painted khaki for camouflage.

Known for their reliability before the war as London’s first successful mass-produced bus, the London General Omnibus Company B-type proved an ideal vehicle for such difficult work at the Front. Some buses were even converted into ambulances and pigeon lofts. London Transport Museum’s restoration project will tell the story of the unique contribution to the war effort by the Battle Bus, London bus drivers and their mechanics.  It will also highlight the role of the bus in changing social perceptions, particularly towards women. For the first time, they were employed as conductors, clerks and cleaners as the men went away to the Front.

The bus is being restored through the use of both original and replica parts and once completed will be covered in wooden boarding and painted in wartime khaki. It will be completed in time for the centenary of the outbreak of war in August 2014. The project will also comprise a five-year community learning and participation programme, including restoration apprenticeships and a volunteer scheme.

Help us Restore Battle Bus!

The project is supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund but the Museum needs to raise a further £100,000 towards the restoration. Please help us to get Battle Bus back on the road. You can find out more and make a donation at www.ltmuseum.co.uk/battlebus