RT75 anniversary; being a bus spotter

  • RT75 anniversary recreation of Route 22

    If you live in London and keep your eyes and ears open, you can always discover something you didn’t know before.  Its one of the reasons I love living here. On Saturday 12th April 2014 I discovered the history of London’s iconic red double decker bus at an event run by the London Bus Museum to celebrate the 75th Anniversary of the RT1.

    A few weeks earlier, a notice had appeared on my local bus stop which said.

    Special One Day Heritage Service.  Saturday 12th April. Free bus service using 60 year old buses.  

    Route 22 towards Piccadilly Circus.

    I made a mental note to take some photos at the bus stop on Saturday morning but I had no idea I would see a sight like this at my local bus garage in Hackney.


    Display by London Bus Museum at Ash Grove Bus Garage

    The RT-family bus display at Ash Grove Bus Garage

    In a large open space at the back of the garage approximately 50 vintage buses, all part of the RT-family, had been assembled by the London Bus Museum. And in pride of place at the centre of this row is the silver topped prototype, the RT1. Don’t worry bus lovers, you’ll get better views later.

    I cropped the photograph above from a wider, establishing shot.  And it was doing that that I noticed the photographer you can just make out snapping the RTI is Colin O’Brien.  And it was thanks to Colin going along that I discovered the buses were also on display that day.  Earlier that morning, I had bumped into Colin as he was dashing off to Ash Grove Bus Garage to cover anniversary display for the blog about East London, Spitalfields Life.

    I love old vintage buses but I wasn’t there to collect shots of the different models. I was looking for pictures which showed our love for them.  I mooched around taking shots of people and buses and gravitated to a group of bus enthusiasts who were focused on this silver topped bus. And it was then I saw Colin asking the driver of the silver topped bus to pose for this shot.  I didn’t know its significance at that moment in the day.

    Driving the RT1


    The RT model double decker bus

    After I narrowly missed stepping on the toes of one enthusiast and blocking his view, I enjoyed some friendly banter with a couple of them.  That is how I learned that the silver topped bus was an RT1.  And then one of them pointed to another red bus which looked similar to my uninitiated eye and said,”that’s an RTW.”   After a moment of confusion I discovered that he was referring to the gold letters and numbers on the side of the bus near the front.

    The London Bus Museum website is a great resource and it was there that I discovered what the model numbers meant. The original London double deckers were called RT+ model number.  And the prototype, produced in 1939 was the RT1.  It entered service on route 22 which travelled from Homerton in North East London to Putney Common in South West London just before WW2.

    The RTWs are a slightly wider, later version and also there is the RTL which were also on display that morning.  In the photograph below, the bus on the left is an RTW and the one on the right is an RTL. The Green buses are also RTs and they were used on the country routes around London.

    Route 22 - Homerton to Picadilly Circus

    For bus lovers, I gather that spotting the RT1 is like a trainspotter seeing the Flying Scotsman.  And for £10 you could travel on that RTI as it journeyed from Homerton to Piccadilly Circus.  To travel on all the other vintage buses covering the same route was free.

    I left Colin to take his pictures whilst I explored on my own and then rather luckily came across him a short while later setting up this shot of the three conductors who were all collecting the fares on the RT1 that Saturday.  I’d love to know how they were chosen for the day and why did they pick three?  So as not to disappoint anyone?  This must have been a very exciting day for bus aficionados.  And you can glimpse them again, en route in Hackney in the gallery below

    Conductors on RT1

    Vintage buses on the streets of Hackney

    I didn’t have time to travel into central London on the 22 that day but I did have time photograph the buses around my local neighbourhood.  I nipped onto one of the free buses heading out of the garage and immediately felt at home.  As I’ve said before on this blog, I grew on these old double deckers and always feel a sense of belonging when I get on one.  And they are far more comfortable than the modern buses because the seats have more padding.  Sitting on the modern no 38 bus which covers the same route is like sitting on a plastic chair in comparison.

    On the old buses there are no bells to request the bus to stop, instead you pull a cord which makes a ‘ding’ noise.   You can see more photographs of the vintage buses around Hackney in the gallery below.

    RTL 453


    RM model

    For visitors to London you can still experience travelling on the model which replaced the RTs, the Routemaster, which has the model number RM. This appeared in service much later than I realised in 1979.

    Two London routes still run a few of RMs.  The No 9 runs 4 until July 2014.  And the no 15 will run some from Trafalgar Square to the Tower of London until 2017.

    No 9 Routemaster, Cockspur  Street

    Spitalfields Life

    Do check out Colin’s photographs and what the Gentle Author had to say on their blog post On the Buses with Colin O’Brien. They covered the buses at the Piccadilly Circus end of the route beautifully.

    2014 The Year of the Bus

    Finally, my hawkeyes noticed stickers on central London bus stops pronouncing 2014 as Year of the Bus which bodes well for my summer bus project based around the no 15 bus route.

    The photo gallery this week is better viewed as a sequence of pictures viewed in gallery mode. Click on any picture to switch to that mode.




























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