The LONDON AREA BRISTOL LHs
This page created 31st May 1999, updated 21st March 2007: best on 800*600
BSLondon Transport had been using small Ford Transits with Strachans bodywork since 1972, and had opened up a number of routes where other buses feared to tread - through narrow-street estates and along exclusive suburban avenues. But they wanted something more substantial, more bus-like than the "bread-vans" (or MLK floats).
They trialed various midibuses (a Bristol LHS6L from Devon General, a Seddon Pennine IV from SELNEC, another Seddon IV demonstrator), and in 1975 chose the Bristol LHS in a very short, narrow format.
The BS class were only 24 ft long, and 7ft 6in wide. As they used the LHS chassis for buses that were normally 26ft 5in long, this made the rear overhang very short. They always looked ready to fall over frontwards! Most unusually for LT they had manual gearboxes: a 6-speed box with first blanked off and a low geared differential. The ECW bodies seated 26, and were liveried in red with a broad white band surrounding the windows and the waist-band.
Into serviceThe first six started in August 1975 on the C11 route from Holloway garage, replacing FS class Transit vans. They must have been deemed successful, for another eleven were delivered in autumn 1976 for other Transit routes, the B1, W9, and P4.
Their service was short, however, as it was soon found that their routes could be negotiated successfully with the more versatile (and automatic gearbox!) BL class. (Was this a cunning ploy by LT to get the Unions to accept larger buses on the once-minibus routes?). Anyway, by 1981 they had all been displaced by BLs, and went to happy homes with Tyne and Wear Buses, British Caledonian Airways, Western National, Guernseybus and the Isles of Scilly.
BLThe BL class was adopted for a different purpose. London Transport still had a number of RF operated routes that were unsuitable for Leyland Nationals - even the short LSs - due to width restrictions. In the case of Kingston garage, the centre of RF operations in Surrey, the restriction was the width of the inspection pits! Despite the Aldenham renewal programme, the RFs were getting OLD, passing their quarter century of intensive town service. The Bristol LH was chosen as a replacement, probably because it was the only narrow bus still made! In other ways its specification was not as good as the RF it was replacing: both were underfloor mid-engined buses with high floors. Certainly the RF was quieter, the Bristols being raucous beasts.
ConstructionThe BLs were 30ft long, 7ft 6in wide Bristol LH6L with Leyland engines and automatic gearboxes. They had 39 seater ECW bodies, with a modified doorway and a destination indicator on the nearside above and behind the doorway. (This last feature was a great identifier for the ex-London buses once they had moved to other operators.) Livery at first was red with white window surrounds and waist-band.
The Hillingdon ThreeThe last three of the class (BL93-95) were further modified. They were sponsored by the London Borough of Hillingdon, and had transponders to operate the hospital traffic barrier at Mount Vernon Hospital. They were also fitted with an offside destination indicator box. This displayed signs such as "Normal" to indicate the state of the service to passengers waiting for buses in the opposite direction! To distinguish them they were painted with yellow instead of white round the middle, with Hillingdon Local Service written below the windows. The blinds were also green with yellow writing rather than black/white or black/yellow.
Preserved Hillingdon BL95 at Cobham Open Day 1998. Photos by Ian Smith
Into ServiceNorth Street garage (NS) was the first to get the Bristols, in April 1976, on the 247 and 250, replacing RTs and RFs respectively.
They gradually spread round the suburbs, settling at Hammersmith in May for the 290; at Sutton in June for the 80 and 80A; at Fulwell in July for the 264 and in August for the 206. Fulwell's BLs also appeared on the otherwise RF-operated route 201 at weekends. Kingston was next, in September 1976, converting the 216, using spares to replace RFs from the 71 on Sundays.
BL49 revisited Walton-on-the-Hill with the 80A during the Carshalton Running Day in april 2007. Local residents came out to ask whether the Sunday service had restarted.
When introduced, the BLs were not received with rapture, the driving and riding experience not being what drivers and passengers were used to with the RF, or even other modern London classes. Their reliability was not everything expected either. Routes 80 and 80A, only four months after conversion to BL, were abbreviated and replaced in part or whole by extending double-decker routes. Four released BLs went to Norbiton to convert the 215 (although 2 RFs were still required as well on Saturdays for the next month). November 1976 saw the rest of the 201 allocation converted, with extra BLs going to Norbiton, Fulwell and Kingston.
BL49 worked the 71 from Leatherhead to Kingston via Chessington on the Leatherhead Running Day in September 2010.January 1977 saw the 250 disppear as a separate route, the route being amalgamated with the 247. Of the two BLs released by the change one was used on new route 247B, connecting Romford Station and Ongar.
New BLs continued to arrive. Croydon received six (plus a spare) in January to convert the 234A from RF operation, while Edgware took thirteen for the 251. In April the 215 was abbreviated to Esher, and was given to Kingston to operate. Hounslow received nine new BLs plus eight culled from elswhere to convert the 202 and the 237.
Uxbridge received the last three new ones for Hillingdon's route 128 service, commencing in September 1977.
CutbacksBefore January 1978 was out, with the last BLs only four months old, BL routes in Surrey were cut back. The 264 disappeared, and reductions on the 201 saw Kingston's four redundant. The 216 was also reduced by one. Consequently the 215 moved to Kingston from Norbiton, and Fulwell found work for its BLs on the 270, where they displaced SMDs. But this was short-lived, as DMSs took over in April. Another conversions from BL to double-deck operation also happened in early 1978: the 237 was extended to Shepherds Bush and converted to RM. But the BLs were proving more reliable than the Swifts, and Norbiton began to substitute them on the 211.
They were found to be able to negotiate the "minibus routes" so recently taken over by the BS class, and began to displace them: the B1 was the first in April 1978, when they also took over from RTs the mainly-rural route 146 from Bromley to Downe.
October 1978 saw more Surrey cuts. The 206 disappeared, and a truncated 215 was turned back along it to reach Hampton Court. The 202 allocation was moved from Hounslow to Fulwell.
BL33 at Bromley North on the 146, in the company of an RT on the 94 and RM613 on 119. Photo, used with permission, by Mark Dales. Click for larger version.
BL29 at Bromley North waits another trip to Eltham through the stock-broker estates of Elmstead Woods. Photo, used with permission, by Mark Dales.
From 1979 the BLs started to be repainted into plain red livery:
those with an anticipated future with London Transport anyway.
The 71 disappeared in the west, and was replaced by the 265 using BLs, and Norbiton sent its last official BLs to Kingston with its share of the 201.
After a pilot overhaul to BL22 during 1980 the survivors started to go through Aldenham from 1981 onwards. The overhaul round lasted until 1985, when a second was started. Any red and white survivors were repainted red at overhaul.
The other BS routes were converted in 1981. Sutton lost its remaining BLs in April. Some went to Croydon for the 234A, which was stretched to reach to Streatham Garage.
BLs started to go to the Sales Department. On the other hand, BL1 became Croydon's pet bus, and was treated to a showbus livery: a cream band below the windows and small gold fleetnames.
But 1982 was the year when BLs suffered most, following on from Bromley's legal challenge to the London Fares Fair policy, resulting in savage service cuts, frequency reductions and fare rises throughout the LT system. Fulwell turned the 202 over to Metrobuses, and Croydon converted the 234A to National operation. Bromley's 146 was converted to LS operation (and lost its Sunday service). The 290 was transferred from Hammersmith to Fulwell and adopted Metrobuses. Kingston's 215 and 216 became LS-operated - by Norbiton, together with the Sunday workings on the 71. Edgware's 251 lost its evenings and Sunday services. That left just the Hillingdon 128 service (UX); and the reduced 251 at Edgware, plus the reduced ex-BS routes, B1(TB), C1(HT), P4(SW) and W9(E). The requirement for BLs thus dropped drastically. Many were sold for further use, some were overhauled. BL1 was now Edgware's pet.
BL81, in all-red livery, rounds Bromley Market Square to stop outside Caters supermarket, ready for another trip on the B1. Photos, used with permission, by Mark Dales. Click for larger version.
Gradually the BL system withered or outgrew the buses. The P4 was extended to Lewisham in 1983, with ex-Red Arrow Mk2 Nationals. The 128 gained another bus (BL56). Elmtree Coaches borrowed BL32 and BL79 for various periods for their tendered 98B. Edgware fitted their BLs with blinds for other routes. The C11 was extended to Brent Cross, and required an extra BL. Enfield's W9 was taken over by Eastern National in July 1985 during the first tender round. Bromley's B1 received Leyland Nationals from November 1985 - the erstwhile FS-route having proved very popular.
By the start of 1986 only 38 remained in LT service of the original 95, but only routes 128, 251, and C11 still required them. With its Brent Cross terminus the BLs were now also too small for peak shopping loads, and Metrobuses began to appear. Holloway's BLs started to appear on the 210.
The Hillingdon Three had meanwhile grown to Four.
To provide cover for overhauls and maintenance, BL 56 was rescued from the Sales Department in 1984 and given the Hillingdon treatment.
By now this included an increased yellow livery, with LARGE Hillingdon route branding applied.
This was first worn by BL 94 in 1981, when it went into works for fire damage repair.
It emerged with the new livery and a standee configuration: 29 seats plus 19 standing. The others were so modified too.
But the standee idea was never popular in this country, and they regained four seats in 1983.
PersistenceTwo of the dwindling band received dual purpose seating in 1986-7 (BL36, 81), for Selkent contract work. They were given a broad white band, with blue Selkent lettering.
The Holloway and Edgware buses were brightened up by a repaint into "Leaside" livery, with black skirts and a narrow white band. The 128 was converted to LS operation in July 1988.
There were occasional other services operated by the class, particularly during Christmas shopping periods: Lewisham in 1987, Peckham in 1988 and Wood Green in 1989 used the Selkent BLs for such services. Holloway clung on to BL36 as a spare, and BL81, after a period in store, was used by Westlink from July on their 592 and 602.
1990 saw their remaining role taken over by new, quieter, more modern-looking Dennis Darts, as DTs, DWs and DRs began the Dart revolution in London. The BLs found a new role, in places where they had been seen years before, and in places where they hadn't been before, as driver-trainers ready for the rush of Darts.
The C11 went in July 1989, R&I taking over the route with new Darts. Route 251 from Edgware was the last to operate the Bristols, in November 1989, by which time they were sporting a white waistband, grey skirt and Metroline flashes.
Westlink continued to use BL81 until June 1991, still with the grey skirt and broad white band.
A reprise came in 1993, when BL85 was repainted, with a white waist-band and Roundabout fleetnames.
It was used by Orpington Buses while their MC class was modified, between November 1993 and May 1994,
when it returned to training duties after an appearance at Hounslow garage open day.
Last appearance: Centrewest trainer BL81 at Showbus 98. Photos by Ian SmithMeanwhile the sold buses had dispersed round the country, notably to OK (Bishop Auckland), Tally Ho! (Kingsbridge), Grampian Regional Transport (Aberdeen), Thamesdown, Rhymney Valley, Tyne and Wear Buses and in particular Guernseybus. Guernseybus had bought some direct from London Transport, but bought others third-hand. Some were still in operation on Guernsey into 2000, but a sale of the company has rendered them redundant, and they have returned to the mainland via Mike Nash. Perhaps some will find new homes in preservation?
OK's BL55 was a welcome sight on a drear afternoon in Weardale,