Reserve Collection at Covent Garden

Saturday 5th December 1998: Part 1

Prepared on Notepad by Ian Smith,
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(But it should work on other browsers and resolutions, even if the page layout suffers slightly).

created 11th Dec 98, updated 4th Jan 99.

The London Transport Museum announced that it was going to move some of its reserve collection of buses from its various hiding places, and drive them through the City of London to Covent Garden. After a day on the Piazza, being admired by all, they would then be driven through the West End to the Depot at Acton, new home for the Reserve Collection.

RF537 rounds Aldwych Having looked up the Museum's announcements on their web page, where it said that the morning procession would be through the City "9.00 to 9.30" with vehicles at "approximately 5 minute intervals", we thought a 9.00 arrival in the City would be adequate, and planned accordingly.

We arrived at Charing Cross at 0905, and I hopped on an eastbound bus, hoping to intercept the procession near St Paul's for some dramatic carefully thought-out photographs.

But as my bus turned the corner at Aldwych, I spied RF537 coming along. I hopped off, in time to see it turn up towards the Museum. Obviously they were running earlier than expected.

RCL2229 rounds Aldwych RCL2229 rounds Aldwych

So I revised the plan, adopting a traffic island along with a video-toting enthusiast who had also just arrived.
RCL 2229 was visible up the road, with an RT behind it. After a pause, they individually approached, rounded the corner, and wended their way up into Covent Garden. The RT was RT4712.

I waited a little longer, then made my way up to the Piazza outside the Museum, in case I had missed any earlier arrivals. Oh! ALL the vehicles had arrived by 0920.

Putting my disappointment behind me (I HAD travelled 350 miles to see them on the move) I made my way round the delightful collection: they were in immaculate condition, even if some of the elderly models showed signs of middleage midriff sag. (I won't complain about that, as I suffer it too - and my paintwork doesn't shine like theirs does!)

RF537 in the Piazza RF537 was first in line. This RF was originally from the Country Area batch, as is apparent from its NLE number - matching registration. It was ceded to Central Area in 1956 after Union remonstrances about the loss of new red RFs for GreenLine services. It then operated from Sidcup garage for a while, still in green livery, until its overhaul. It then lost its doors, regaining them in 1959 when converted for Central Area one man operation. Not that it used them immediately. Opposition to opo working led to RF 537's deployment as a crewed bus, with the doors chained open to comply with the arcane Police requirements of the time (No EU directives about open platform buses then!). OPO working began in the mid-sixties, and RF537 soldiered on in the active fleet until June 1977. (More on the RF class can be found by clicking here.)

STL469, RF 573 in the Piazza STL469 in the Piazza

STL 469 was next in line, and one of the main reasons for my attendance. What a smasher! I know that the leaning back STLs are not considered the most elegant of the STLs, but this bus oozes character. Built at Chiswick in 1933 on the then-new longer AEC Regent chassis as a 7STL3/2, STL 469 was one of the last design of the LGOC before the LPTB took over. It was rebuilt in 1939 with a diesel engine, with minimal body alterations, and the extra clearance required gave it the characteristic leaning back effect, amplifying the angle of the already raked front. It was then coded 16STL18. Wartime brought a reduction in blind displays, to comply with blackout requirements and/or to conserve linen. After the war STL 469 was painted in the 1950's livery of overall red with a cream cantrail band, despite its old body, although it kept the restricted displays. The repaint came because of its diesel engine, which meant it had a decent life expectancy. In the event it lasted until March 1954, when it was withdrawn for preservation by LT.

830J in the Piazza: front 830J in the Piazza: rear 830J is a sister to STL 469. Built as STL 390, it was converted in March 1950 into a breakdown tender.

Every rally should have one!

ST 821 is one of the earlier generation of AEC Regents, designed in the General era on the shorter chassis: a Short Type (ST).
ST821 in the Piazza: o/s ST821 in the Piazza: n/s It was actually built as one of four for use on the National services at Ware, so soon found itself in London Transport's Country Area. Whereas most of the Country STs had bodies built by Ransomes, this was a standard Chiswick product, distinguishable by the rounded cab and the rear treatment. But as a Country bus it escaped the strictures of the London Public Carriage Office and thus retained the small front destination blind. The Central STs had theirs replaced by a larger external box which added nothing to their appearance.

ST 821 was withdrawn from service in 1949, and has been preserved by LT since 1950. It appears in its post-war livery of green and white, with black guards and trims and brown-painted roofs.
T219 in the Piazza: n/s front T219 in the Piazza: n/s rear

T219 represents the prewar GreenLine "coach". This was one of the first batch of T class Greenline coaches designed from the outset with a sliding front door. They were built in a hurry in 1930 in an attempt to get coach services operating before the new Road Traffic Act came into force. They too could hurry. Although having no speedometers they could manage 60 mph, which resulted in a few early speeding prosecutions!
In 1938 T219 escaped being fitted with a 1935 Weymann body from a Reliance, as happened to many of its 1/7T7/1 companions, and was demoted to bus work when replaced by the superb 10T10s. This kept it in business throughout the war, and through the post-war business boom. In 1950 it was retired for preservation by LT.
It appears in pre-war GreenLine livery, with boards for route J (Watford - London - Reigate), and front blinds for Reigate local route 439A, recalling the practice of using Green Line coaches for local services at the start and end of the day.

In the Piazza: o/s front In the Piazza: o/s rear

S742 in the Piazza: o/s front S742 in the Piazza: n/s rear

S 742 completed the row. I confess that I know next to nothing about the S-type, but am rather glad that I didn't have to ride in it over cobbled streets! It must have created a palpitation or two in the West End traffic as it disappeared into the afternoon traffic in the twilight gloom, with its single headlamp, high-tech rear lighting and hand-signals! Trafalgar Square in the rush hour? - no bother!

RT4712 in the Piazza RT4712 was parked next to the Museum, which meant that it was surrounded by the crowd queuing for the Museum's new model releases. But for the patient there were occasional gaps in the crowd to enable a decent view.

Although a pre-war design, the RT was still a strikingly modern bus when it went into full production at the end of the 1940's. London Transport bought over 6000 of them (including variants), so that the class dominated the bus scene in London and the Home Counties for twenty years. They were designed for thorough maintenance for a long life, with chaassis and body detachable for overhaul. This meant that during an RT's working career it could have several different chassis and several different bodies. All that remained fixed was its fleet number and its registration, so that it is rumoured that as a bus entered Aldenham Works for overhaul it could meet another with the same number just leaving!

RCL 2229 was tucked into a corner, where photography was difficult. It represents the culmination of LT's long-standing desire to build a successful double-decker GreenLine coach for radial commuter routes. Following on from the successful RMC class, the RCLs used the 30 ft length allowance to squeeze in an extra passenger bay, improving the economics of GreenLine operation. They came too late, in 1965, competing with newly electrified suburban railways, and were soon relegated to bus work in London's outer suburbia. Another brief span of activity came when they were sold by London Country back to London Buses, which was having acute vehicle replacement problems. At first they were used as trainers, offering the unusual sight of buses wearing NBC green with LBL roundels. In 1980 they were repainted red, lost their doors, and went to work on the 149 route in north London, the most comfortable red buses ever in London.

DMS1 : n/s rear DMS1 : n/s front DMS 1 represents the one person operation revolution in London transport. This doyenne of the DM class came to LT in 1969, using a standard Daimler Fleetline chassis and a Londonised body.
Initially branded the Londoner, the class failed to capture the hearts of the populus in the way that the Routemaster had. It may have been something to do with the slower journeys resulting from increased loading and unloading times, even with two doors. It may have been the unreliable automatic fare collection systems introduced with them. It may have been the on-route failures as the mechanical system failed to stand up to the thermal stresses of London operation. Whatever the causes of the failure, they failed to displace the Routemaster, and were being withdrawn even before the last of the RTs! At Covent Garden, DM1, in its plain red livery, produced an horrific cloud of smoke when restarted in the afternoon, much to the amusement of the driver of the well-behaved little GS in front of it.

GS64 : o/s rear GS64 : n/s front
GS64 was my favourite of the day. One of the few non-standard LT classes during the sixties, the GS class was the acceptable face of one-man operation. They took over from the well-liked Cub class on the little Country routes that were too much of a squeeze for the RFs.

GS64 passed to London Country in 1970, then was sold to Tillingbourne Valley, which had long co-worked some Guildford area routes with LT. It went on into private preservation in 1974, then was most unusually bought back by the Museum and given a thorough restoration, re-emerging last year with a mirror finish. Thoroughly delightful!

After browsing through the display, and wondering where RM1 had got to (it was in the lecture theatre) I went for a wander around Trafalgar Square and the South Bank, arriving back at Covent Garden at 3pm: but that will be in Part 2 (if any of the photos are worth looking at!).

Back to the Bus-stop Part 2