When I do posts featuring picture postcards I normally focus on the people in the pictures, zooming in on the street life of the ordinary passers by. I have looked at a few buses along the way in an incidental way. But this week I thought I would concentrate on images involving transport, mostly of buses but also a few other ways of getting around in the golden age of the picture postcard. That era spans the transition from the horse drawn bus to the motor bus. You can see both in this picture:
Cromwell Place is the point near South Kensington Station where a number of bus routes converge. If you look on the right of the picture you can see one of the towers of the Natural History Museum. But never mind that. Let’s look at the buses.
Two motor buses and one horse bus. Before the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC ) absorbed them, bus services were operated by a number of different companies and the buses themselves manufactured in small runs by coach building companies who did other types of vehicle, hence some variation in design (although features such as the curved staircase at the rear set a pattern which was followed into the 1960s). Here a lone horse bus with the inevitable advert for Pear’s Soap meets up with a couple of buses from the fleet of a company called Union Jack (later, the London Road Car Company).
Turn to the left of the picture and you would be looking down Harrington Road.
This view would be quite recogniseable today. That grand doorway on the left is still there as is the hotel building. (Then the Norfolk Hotel, now the Ampersand). The low rise building next to it also still exists, and the Local Studies team went for a meal in a resturant on the left very recently. But the young musician crossing the road is presumably no longer with us.
Nor is the woman in the apron crossing behind the private carriage (or is that two?). The bus, whose driver seems to be making some sort of adjustment to the side of the vehicle, looks like it was on a route involving Turnham Green and Kensington Church Street, so it’s odd to find it at South Kensington. Although route numbers were not introduced until the LGOC controlled most bus traffic, the actual routes were often laid down in the horse bus era.
This bus making its way along Notting Hill Gate (with the almost regulation Pear’s advert) terminates at Liverpool Street as many did in this part of London, crossing the west End to get there. Although you can’t really make out the lone animal pulling it, it is another horse bus, with larger back wheels. A little bit of research makes us think it’s a number 7.
Here is a quite sharp detail of a horse bus in Redcliffe Square, festooned with adverts:
Pears again, a committed advertiser. An LGOC 31, heading towards Westbourne Grove with three wild hats on the top dek.
Further north an unusual view of Holland Park Avenue.
You’ll have to take my word for it, but that’s a 12 going past the skating rink to Dulwich, maybe as far as South Croydon.
As well as the rear staircase the horse buses also bequeathed the larger set of rear wheels to some of the initial motor buses which followed them. (Look back at the Cromwell Place picture). Below, on the other hand is a bus with the same sized wheels at front and rear:
It’s waiting at a stop in Ladbroke Grove outside that well known local instituition North Kensington Library.
You can see that this is a more standardised vehicle, a member of the first class of mass produced buses, a London General B-type. This one is also a number 7, indicated on the baord along with the routee from Wormwood Scrubs to Liverpoool Street. Todays’ number 7s, (Gemini IIIs I’m told) sigh to an exhausted halt at Russell Square rather than soldiering on all the way to Liverpool Street, as my transport correspondent has it. Generally speaking the epic bus routes of old have been shortened so it’s no longer possible to make lengthy journeys to legendary places like Homerton on a 19 for example. ( I now regret I never did this. I did take a 49 to Crystal Palace once though.)
At this point let’s pause to look at some of the other vehicles on the roads of late Victorian / Edwardian London.
Delivery carts bringing barrels of beer to the Windsor Castle in Campden Hill Road.
A funeral procession in Ladbroke Grove for William Whiteley, the founder and owner of the Bayswater department store. Whiteley had an illegitimate son named Horace Rayner (paternity was disputed). He was confronted by Rayner at one of his regular inspections of the store. Being asked for financial assistance he ordered the police to be summoned. Rayner shot him. The procession is on its way to Kensal Green cemetery. Rayner was convicted of murder but sentenced to life imprisonment due to the circumstances, and was released in 1919. I had no idea of this when I chose the picture – I was simply struck by the crowds and the carriages.
By contrast, a fire engine ladder outside the fire station in Ladbroke Road.
Nearby in affluent Kensington Park Gardens, some examples of private transport:
The Church in the background is St John’s. Parked outside one house is this luxurious looking vehicle.
The top is down and if the driver or chauffeur is ready to go, the owners can hit the road. Back in the south of the Borough, another couple of cars:
As you can see the original buyer of the postcard crossed out Queen’s Gate and wrote in Cromwell Road. look a bit closer:
You can see an inked X marking a spot, possibly where the buyer was staying. He or she was wrong of course. This is unmistakeably the south end of Queen’s Gate where it meets Old Brompton Road in the background.
There is a proud looking man (a chauffeur?) standing in front of the parked car, mug in hand, possibly watching the woman crossing the road. In the middle a chauffeur driven car goes past with a lady in the rear. Not much traffic to contend with on this particular road.
Let’s jump forward in time to another quiet day.
This is Kensington Church Street looking south sometime in the 1950s.
Four well-dressed ladies wait in the summer sun at a request stop.
Down on the High Street:
The old Town Hall, Barker’s department store (no scandals there) and parked outside Derry and Toms’ , an RTW on the 31 route on its way to Chelsea. The W stood for wide – these models were a whole six inches wider than previous versions and had been subject to trial runs in case they added to traffic congestion.
Through the medium of detailed information gathering my transport correspondent is able to tell us that this particular bus, RTW372 stayed on the streets on London as a 31 or a 22 until 1966 when it was sold to the Ceylon Transport Board for service in what is now Sri Lanka. I wonder how long it stayed in use.
Speaking of 1966:
One of those narrow RTs, comically thin by today’s standards making its way to the same stop. The RTs were actually more numerous than the more celebrated Routemasters. This one, RT2912 had recently come from the Aldenham Works and would subsequently move from Chalk Farm Garage to New Cross in 1968.
We can’t track the individual fates of the old horse buses but you can imagine their mechanical existences were lively:
My thanks are obviously due to my transport correspondent my son Matthew who has had what you might call an interest in buses since I first bought him a Corgi model when he was 3. I didn’t realise at the time that this would be a turning point in all our lives.