Tag Archives: London buses

The man on the Clapham Omnibus

The Man on The Clapham Omnibus is a hypothetical ‘reasonable’ person, used by the courts in English law where it is necessary to decide whether a party had acted as any ‘reasonable’ person. He is deemed to be reasonably educated and reasonably intelligent but nevertheless a nondescript person. This broadly fictional person is measured against the defendant’s conduct.

The term was thought to have been introduced into English law during the Victorian era, although the exact derivation is disputed.

At the time Clapham was viewed as a commuter suburb seen to represent ‘ordinary’ London, and the man was seen to be commuting to work using the most common form of transport of the day.

Over time the original route of the Clapham Omnibus has been lost but is thought by some that the number 88 bus follows the route of the original Clapham Omnibus from Camden to Clapham Common. The 88 bus has 49 stops departing from Parliament Hill Fields, just north of Clapham terminating at the fortuitously named Omnibus Clapham, operating from 00:01 and ending at 23:49, taking an average 84 minutes to complete the journey.

So today using the terminology of The Knowledge, followed by the appropriate bus stop denoted in italic, I’m following this classic route of a ‘reasonable’ person.

L on L Highgate Road
Parliament Hill Fields (GK)

Parliament Hill is so named when Guy Fawkes intended to blow up Parliament on 5th November the plotters intended to watch The Houses of Parliament burn from that vantage point.

F Kentish Town Road
Gordon House Road (GN)

In 1966 The Kinks used nearby Little Green Street as a backdrop for their 1966 song Dead End Street is has eight bow-fronted homes which were originally shops, selling goods such as ribbons, coffee and mousetraps.

B/L Camden Street
R Camden Road
L Bayham Street
R Pratt Street
Pratt Street (CS)

Pedestrian crossings are the brainchild of the gloriously named First Baron Hore-Belisha, of Devonport in the County of Devon, who in 1934 as Transport Minister was appalled by the statistics that in one year 7,343 had died on Britain’s roads. Soon after being appointed to the post he nearly became a statistic as he used one of his pedestrian crossings. His brush with death came as he was crossing Camden High Street when a sports car shot up – or was that down? It was two-way then – the street narrowly missing the good Baron.

R Camden High Street
L Delancey Street
L Parkway
B/L Albany Road
Chester Gate (Q)

The site of 37 Albany Street was once home to naturalist William Buckland, his friends were guests at Albany Street and were treated to a roasted hedgehog, grilled crocodile streak, slug soup, horse’s tongue, boiled elephant trunk, rhinoceros pie and boiled porpoise head which tasted like ‘broiled lamp-wick’. If you partook of his generous hospitality, the chances are that the dish of the day came from an animal that had roamed Buckland’s house and garden a little earlier as a pet. The stewed mole was a dish that Buckland announced to be the most revolting thing he’d eaten, though this was before he tried ‘horribly bitter’ earwigs and ‘unspeakable’ bluebottles. Buckland acquired exotic creatures when there was a death at nearby London Zoo. On one occasion returning from holiday he was furious to discover in his absence, the zoo had buried a dead leopard. Buckland eagerly dug it up for supper.

L Osnaburgh Terrace
R Osnaburgh Street
F Great Portland Street
R New Cavendish Street
L Portland Place
New Cavendish Street

Over the entrance of the BBC is a  statute of Prospero sending Ariel, the spirit of the air, symbolising the future of broadcasting to the world. Eric Gill, its sculptor, insisted on carving the statute in situ. Standing on scaffolding above the entrance, female employees on arriving would be greeted by the unwelcome sight of London’s first ‘builder’s bum’ for Gill wore a monk’s habit with nothing underneath.

F Langham Place
F Regent Street
Conduit Street / Hamleys Toy Store (T)

In the 1960s the Regent Street Association realising their less prestigious cousin had started erecting Christmas decorations and was taking all the compliments were not to be outdone. They hired an Italian designer charged with producing a ‘tasteful’ display to rival their competitor. His solution was to produce giant white flying angels made out of papier-mâché posed with their faces looking down serenely at the crowds below. This particular November saw an exceptional amount of rain, even by London standards. The Italian designer just hadn’t taken in the fact that England is considerably damper than the Mediterranean. Soon the press was running the story about Pregnant Angels as the decorations filled with water, no doubt to the amusement of Oxford Street retailers.

F Piccadilly Circus
F Coventry Street
R Haymarket
B/L Cockspur Street
Cockspur Street, London

This statue of King Charles I is the point used as the starting point to measure distances from London. In 1649 John Rivett, a brazier, was ordered to destroy it by Cromwell, but he buried it in his garden and made a fortune by selling souvenirs allegedly from the metal. He gave it back to Charles II upon the Restoration of the Monarchy.

Comply King Charles I Statue
L/B Whitehall
Whitehall / Trafalgar Square (N)

In the 18th century, London’s streets were not paved, leaving many thoroughfares boggy and treacherous. Craig’s Court was no exception and the sodden road, coupled with the dead-end’s narrowness resulted in Lord Onslow’s coach becoming lodged as he approached Harrington House. So tight was the squeeze that a hole had to be cut in the coach’s roof so that the flustered and infuriated Speaker of The House of Commons could drag himself out. When he returned to Parliament, Arthur Onslow pushed through a bill which required London householders to ensure kerbstones were laid outside their door- thus giving birth to ordered pavements.

F Parliament Street
53 Parliament Street, London

On 2 June 2001, Brian Haw decided to begin camping in Parliament Square in a one-man political protest against war and foreign policy. Unfortunately for Brian, the Second Iraq War overtook events making him a cause célèbre and preventing him from ever giving up his one-man protest against the forces of the State. Westminster City Council then failed to prosecute Brian for causing an obstruction on the pavement, and his continuous use of a megaphone led to objections by Members of Parliament. Then in a glorious twist, a House of Commons Procedure Committee recommended that the law be changed to prohibit his protest as his camp could provide an opportunity for terrorists to disguise explosive devices. The Government then passed a provision to the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act banning all unlicensed protests, permanent or otherwise, however, because Brian’s protest was on-going and residing on Parliament Square prior to the enactment of the Act, it was unclear whether the Act applied to him.

Comply Parliament Square
b>L/B Broad Sanctuary
F Victoria Street
L Great Smith Street
F Marsham Street
R John Islip Street
L Vauxhall Bridge Road
F Bessborough Gardens
43 Ponsonby Place, London

On 26 May 1906, Vauxhall Bridge was opened by The Prince of Wales. Finished 5-years behind schedule it has decorated on its arches eight allegorical figures: agriculture; architecture; engineering; pottery; education; fine arts sciences; and bizarrely local government. The architecture features a model of St. Paul’s, but you have to lean over the parapet to see it. It was the first bridge to incorporate tram lines.

F Vauxhall Bridge
R & L Vauxhall Bus Station
R South Lambeth Place
F South Lambeth Road
South Lambeth Road / Stockwell Station (B)

On Lansdowne Way is Stockwell bus garage which was described by author Will Self as “a pod of whales, a concrete Leviathan, frozen in the mid arch as they swim through the rather choppy brick sea of south London”. So how is it that the overnight parking space for 200 buses is so admired and has been given Grade II* listing Opened in 1952, its 410-feet long roof structure formed of ten, extremely shallow ‘two-hinged’ arched ribs covering 73,350 square feet, was Europe’s largest unsupported roof span at the time of construction.

L Lansdowne Way
R Clapham Road
F Clapham High Street
Clapham North & High Street Stations (G)

Clapham’s earliest settlers arrived to escape London’s fire and pestilence of the 1660s later the area expanded due to its easy access to London by stagecoach started in 1690, the village was given prestige by the residence of Samuel Pepys, diarist and naval administrator, from 1700 until his death three years later.
B/R Clapham Common South Side

R Rookery Road
R Clapham Common North Side
F Omnibus Clapham
Omnibus Clapham

When Caribbean migrants stepped off MV Empire Windrush on 22 June 1948, many had nowhere to live. The lack of housing in London following World War Two meant even temporary accommodation was in short supply. So 236 were bussed from Tilbury docks to Clapham, where for six shillings and sixpence a week they got food and a bed in a shelter underneath Clapham South Tube Station. The underground passages had been fitted with bunk beds and washing facilities when they were used as civilian shelters during the war.
Those same immigrants were employed by London Transport to drive buses along the route of the Clapham Omnibus.

. . . And then three came along at once

Ask any cabbie their opinion of London buses and they will come up with the same answer, there are just too many, pointing out that in Oxford Street dozens of buses queue up just to enter this popular shopping nirvana.

There’s a lot of routes

So you don’t have to I’ve had a look at the routes which London’s 8,600 buses travel 6.5 million miles a day. The first on the list is Route 1: Canada Water – Tottenham Court Road Station, the numbers then run in sequence without a break up to Route 238: Barking – Stratford. A Route 239 is absent from the list, then the numbers run from Route 240: Edgware – Golders Green without a break to Route 303: Edgware – Kingsbury.

In fact, there are over 700 routes in total, the oldest being Route 24: Pimlico – Hampstead which was started by The General Omnibus Company in 1911, it has remained on the same journey with only minor changes since then to facilitate modern one-way systems.

If a route is split it often retains the original number. For instance, in 2003 the formation of Route 414: Maida Vale – Putney Bridge to augment historic Route 14 to continue south from Hyde Park Corner.

The original buses and the routes they took were identified by their colour, but in 1906 the London Motor Omnibus Company started calling their routes 1 through to 5.

Now to complicate matters

Today Routes 1-599 are for everyday routes; 600-600 are to be avoided at all costs as they are school routes; 700-899 routes are for regional and national coach services.

To complicate this further a prefix often is attached: C for Central; X for Express; and N for Night. In addition, there are some doubles in the number sequence as other operators have purloined their use.

A little bit of trivia

The longest is Route X26: Heathrow – Croydon at 23.75 miles taking up to 2 hours to complete.

The shortest Route 389: The Spires – Western Way both in Barnet at 1.5 miles long.

Route N29: Trafalgar Square – Enfield has the most stops at 73.

Tesco stores have been twinned, Route H28: Tesco, Bull’s Bridge, Southall – Tesco, Osterley, Isleworth.

The buses red livery is a leftover from The General Omnibus Company who used that colour in an attempt to stand out when colours denoted the operator and the route.

. . . and then three come along at once

The old joke that you wait for ages for one bus, then three come along at once, is bordering on cliché. But it is also, as it turns out, true because of maths. The depressing reality is that, over any length of time, buses serving a single route are likely to end up tootling along directly behind each other.

Because you lot can’t be bothered to discover the reason, Lewis Lehe, a postgrad working on a PhD in transport engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, built a game to demonstrate to the rest of us that it actually does happen. You can play it here. But if, like me, you are both lazy and impatient, here’s how it works.

The game features two buses, serving a circular route with four stops. At the start of the game, the two buses are evenly spaced, at opposing ends of the loop. Passenger flows at each stop are identical to those opposite: when one bus has to pause for a set period at one stop, the other is pausing for the same length of time across the map.

If the following buses’ progress aren’t checked with those same delays and same number of passengers embarking, more passengers will join the upcoming bus stops, making the first bus take longer to pull away, giving those following it even more time to speed past the now-empty stops and tuck itself in behind the back wheels of the first.

Featured image: Blue Eyes, vintage London bus, a common sight at bus gatherings. By Colin Smith (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A Journey by a 1950’s London Bus

I came across this production by the Colonial Film Unit which tells those who find themselves in a foreign land, just how to identify a bus, the reasons we have a conductor, how to buy a ticket, and importantly how to queue. It’s just the sort of essential information our cousins from Africa would have needed in 1950 to assimilate themselves into British society. It also reinforces the perception that everyone speaks in either a plummy received pronunciation BBC accent or is a cockney urchin.

Opening scenes show Piccadilly Circus teeming with buses and cabs, some looking to be pre-1914 models. No cars or lorries are to be seen.

In case you haven’t realised, we are told that these “splendid” buses will transport you out of “the largest city in the world”, and yes, they will actually retrace their route back to the Metropolis, but we are told that one must ensure the bus is travelling in the correct direction for one’s needs.

The narrator describes how two “African students studying in London”, who’ve been walking across fields in the badlands of Potters Bar, now need to get back to their studies and prepare to catch the bus. They remarkably manage to join a queue at the bus stop, presumably having been told by the upper-class documentary makers at just what end of the queue to stand.

The Cockney conductor, after ensuring everybody is safely seated, collects the fares. The film is at pains to show even our African students are capable of purchasing a ticket, but our guinea pigs don’t have the correct change, which the narrator tells us that it’s just not the British way.

Later in the journey, as if to reassure the public, the bus manages to stop for schoolchildren at an early pedestrian crossing.

At the end, the students alight from the bus to a cheery wave from the conductor, before unhurriedly crossing the road, presumably the subject of another documentary to teach bright African students how to traverse England’s highways.

Wonderfully politically incorrect, and evocative of post-war Britain, when only those with the correct accent had the brains to use buses and a much-needed teaching aid for Johnny Foreigner.

Featured image: Northward up Old Bond Street from Piccadilly, the 25 bus, the only route on Bond Street, is bound for Victoria from Becontree Heath by Ben Brooksbank (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Barmy Bus Tours

The proliferation of buses in London of late has been the cause of much of the capital’s congestion. Outside the rush hour, especially during the evening, great convoys of these empty red monsters convey nothing but air.

At least some of these leviathans have been put to novel use. These tours offer an insight into what makes our capital city so distinctive, the guides boast diverse interests and expertise.

Afternoon Tea Tours

Combining two English icons, the red Routemaster and traditional cream tea. For one-and-a- half hours you are driven around much of the London tourist sights: London Eye, Houses of Parliament; Piccadilly Circus, nothing unusual you might claim, but while London passes by your window you are served scones, sandwiches and tea whilst seated at your table resplendent with a crisp white linen tablecloth.

Tea-Tours

Afternoon Tea Bus Tour 12.30 and 15.00 from Northumberland Avenue

Ghost Tours

In a city as ancient it’s hardly surprising that reports of a supernatural nature have been reported. Whether real or imagined this tour takes you by night (naturally apparitions don’t appear in daylight). The black gothic themed funeral bus, as it was in a previous reincarnation, takes you on a 75-minute experience full of stories many of which should be taken with a high degree of scepticism.

Ghost-bus

The Ghost Bus Tours 19.30 and 21.00 from Northumberland Avenue

Harry Potter Tour

Somebody had to do it, yes your favourite apprentice wizard takes you to places in London featured in his stories, but you will need to be au fait with the novels. A three-hour mini coach tour of all the London plot locations. Walk through the wall at Platform 9¾ or walk in the footsteps of Rubeus Hagrid with opportunity (naturally!) to buy the merchandise at the end of the tour.

Harry-Potter

Harry Potter Bus Tours of London from Temple tube station see website for tour times and dates

London Spy Tours

With the tag line ‘take a ride on our discretely disguised open top tour bus’ this irresistible tour claims to guide you to the dark and dangerous world of intelligence gathering. It’s all a bit hush-hush, but apparently you meet on route number SP1.

Spy-Tours

London Spy Tours from Aldwych on Sundays 11.30

National Trust Routemaster Bus Tours

Known for stately homes and cream teas the Trust is also involved in preserving the best of modernity. They worked with Aviva Heritage Fleet to restore RMC 1453 the first ever Routemaster coach back to its original condition and green livery. At this time of year they offer tours of London in the vehicle conducted by knowledgeable guides. The limited number of tours this year can be found at the National Trust website.

National-Trust

National Trust Routemaster Bus Tours from Festival Village Southbank Centre Saturdays