Tag Archives: History

Routemaster – The Bus We Loved

2002_18948 routemaster in air_cropped

Excerpt from The Bus We Loved; London’s affair with the Routemaster by Travis Elborough.

The Routemaster was made to measure, Savile Row tailored for the city, ‘an attractive piece of street furniture’ specifically built for London. It exemplified the highest ideals of a public-spirited passenger transport service – physical evidence that London and ordinary Londoners should have the very best. ‘A handsome city deserves a handsome transport’ as All That Mighty Heart, the London Transport film, proclaimed in 1962. We loved it, not because it was old and quirky, but because it was good. Well made. Importantly, it was greeted as an equal. It respected our custom. It was comfortable. Convenient. Efficient. We were free to get on and off, within reason, when we wanted to. ‘Passengers’ an old London transport motto maintained, ‘are our business not an interruption to our service.’

2006_1729 routemaster engineering drawing

Of course it grew out of and was born into another world. The society it was created to serve was more, or more visibly, stratified. It was a world with a certain intolerance of difference; you might see in its straight rows of seats a reflection of those times. A bus built for a city known for forming orderly queues rather than for wild alcoholic sprees; for a city of parsimonious coupon-snippers rather than designer-label consumers. It’s a bus that by today’s standards can exclude (the disabled, the pushchair). But you can also see a more egalitarian spirit at work. It was designed for (nearly) everyone, and everyone aboard is equal. By its careful, skilful design, it was intended in some small was to elevate an everyday experience.

A Live Steam Bus!

This weekend, on Saturday 15 and 16 Sunday March, the Museum Depot at Acton will be opening its doors for its bi-annual Open Weekend. A highlight of the event promises to be the attendance of Walter Hancock’s Enterprise replica steam bus. A faithful replica of the 1833 original, it will be a rare opportunity for the public to see this pioneering bus up close.

Enterprise Replica in Covent Garden Piazza on Friday 14th March 2014

Walter Hancock’s Enterprise was built by Walter Hancock of Streatham for the London and Paddington Steam Omnibus Company. The vehicle represented the first mechanically propelled passenger bus, entering service on 22 April 1833. It ran a regular service between London Wall and Paddington via Islington and required three men to operate it: a driver, an engine man to control the water and a fireman. With the driver perched at the front and the rest of the crew positioned at the back, it must have been a challenge to communicate with each other.

Illustration of the Enterprise steam coach run by the London and Paddington Steam Carriage Company. The engraving shows the steam bus overtaking a lady and gentleman in a horse-drawn carriage with onlookers waving and cheering. A man and a dog run behind the vehicle, unable to keep pace with it, to prove how fast the steam bus travels

Whilst the top speed was about 20mph, the Enterprise usually cruised at a comfortable 10mph. Up to 14 people could travel on the vehicle, sitting in two rows facing each other. A clever design meant that the fumes were driven away by a fan, ensuring that the exhaust was, in comparison to other steam buses, quite clean. Although others were experimenting with this technology, they tended to be noisy and dirty, with Hancock’s bus a notable exception. The Enterprise was innovative, namely thanks to its pioneering engine configuration and the fact that, unlike Stephenson’s Rocket train of the same era, the working parts were all concealed.

Although the Enterprise service was discontinued due to a dispute between Hancock and the operators, Hancock continued to build steam buses. In 1836 he introduced the famous Automaton, running over 700 journeys between the City of London and Paddington, the City of London and Islington and Moorgate and Stratford. Unfortunately, due to the poor state of the roads and opposition from a powerful horse carriage lobby, Hancock had to cease his public services. He did, however, continue to use his buses for personal use!

As well as its appearance on the Covent Garden Piazza today, the replica Enterprise will be on show and in steam at the Acton Depot Open Weekend this Saturday and Sunday. Come and see a crucial part of bus history in action as we continue to celebrate Year of the Bus. The Enterprise replica is kindly provided by Tom Brogden.