The LONDON TRANSPORT Merlins

This page updated 17th August 2012.

Induction: the Reshaping Plan

The Reshaping Plan would mean a rather different job for drivers - as well as making a large number of conductors redundant. Negotiations between management and Trades Union were protracted.

During the winter, spring and summer of 1968 the new single deckers poured into Aldenham for checking, then were put out to grass (or if they were lucky, under cover) in garages wherever there was space. Some were allocated storage sites in order for staff to become familiar with the presence of the new buses. That so many new buses spent so many months standing idle seemed quite scandalous at first sight, but there was some kind of method in LT's madness: the new Bus Grant scheme would defray a substantial part of the cost of new buses meeting the criteria, if registered for the first time after 1st August 1968. What Civil Service mind thought of the start date, and didn't realise that this would actually delay the entry into service of new buses instead of expediting it, I don't know. Anyway, the Merlins spent the best part of a particularly wet summer getting damp in their new-fangled electrics before they were supposed to leap into life in the autumn. Most came from the factory with SMM...F registration plates (although they had not been registered, just allotted a registration mark), so in August there was a mass registration, with most of the early buses receiving new VLW...G plates.

A few did make it into service before August:

The Central Area took MBA18 into Red Arrow service at Victoria on the 500, in February 1968. This route and garage of course already had Merlins in the shape of the Strachans prototypes.

The Country Area had some RTs reach the end of their certificates, and rather than recertify them put eleven MBs, (MB 81-89, 91-2) into service at Reigate on the Reigate-Redhill circular 447 route in March. Some of them also spent part of their summer on loan to the Central area as trainers, as LT wanted to minimise the number of buses that had to be registered before the date.

Some of the Strachans Merlins also had spells as trainers or mechanical trainers at garages due to receive the September influx.

Into service at last: September 1968

7th September 1968 was the Big Day. Not only were there hundreds of new buses but three whole area schemes were introduced, first wave of the Reshaping Plan. Bus routes within each Area were totally revised, with trunk routes and feeders. The latter were where the new buses came in, on routes feeding into nodal bus stations. All of the route replanning scheduled for 1967 and the first half of 1968 were focussed into this one day, and not surprisingly all did not go well. The thousand buses that needed to shuffle round the night before did so, but all was not well with the Merlins, and there were snags with the Reshaping. There were just too many new things at once: new buses, new routes, new bus stops, new fares structures, new tickets, new ticket machines, exit doors... People didn't like having to wait outside a bus to buy a ticket before getting on. They did NOT like the new ticket machines, and insisted on using the driver. They didn't like having to lug their shopping to the nodal interchange, instead of catching a bus at the shops. They didn't like having to stand instead of having a seat. They didn't like not being able to use Red Rovers on the flat-fare routes. They didn't like the higher fares for short journeys. They didn't like having the travel patterns of thirty years disturbed. They didn't like it when the new buses broke down.

Break down they did. Get stuck they did. It was not a good start for Reshaping. Lessons were learned, and changes to London's bus patterns went back to evolution instead of revolution.

Red Arrows

September 7th saw six more Red Arrow routes join the 500:

No.RouteGarage
501Waterloo - Holborn - Bank - Aldgate (M-F)WL (Walworth)
502Waterloo - Fleet St - London Wall - Liverpool St - Bank - Fleet St - Waterloo (M-F)H (Hackney)
503Victoria - Westminster - WaterlooGM (Victoria)
504Waterloo - Fleet St - Bank - Liverpool St - Bank - Fleet St - Waterloo (Sat)H
505Waterloo - Charing Cross - Oxford St - Portman Sq ( - Marylebone (pks)) (M-F)WL
506Victoria - Piccadilly Circus - Pall Mall - Victoria (M-F)GM
507Waterloo - Lambeth Bridge - Victoria (M-S)GM

MB588 Walworth received 25 MBAs, Hackney 9 and Victoria (Gillingham St) an extra nine MBAs to add to its XMSs. The new network in the hearts of London and Westminster caused drastic changes to many long-established cross-town routes.

MBA588 on Red Arrow Route 501.
Photo, used with permission, by BusSpotter.
Click image for a larger version.

Wood Green

The Wood Green reorganisation was supposed to be the exemplar for the Reshaping Plan. Its unpopularity with the public caused a re-evaluation of further area schemes. It involved a number of flat-fare routes to the interchange at Turnpike Lane Station, to be operated by MBS standee buses, feeding the underground station and double-decker operated trunk routes:

No.RouteGarage
W1Edmonton - Turnpike Lane Stn (- Wood Green (off-peaks))WN (Wood Green)
W2(Finsbury Park Stn(pks) - ) Alexandra Park - Wood Green - Turnpike LaneWN
W3Finsbury Park Stn - Turnpike Lane Stn - Wood Green - Northumberland Park Stn (M-F, Sun)WN
W4Winchmore Hill - Wood Green (- Turnpike Lane (off-peak))WN
W5Finsbury Park - Alexandra Park - Wood Green - Turnpike Lane (Sat)WN
W6Northumberland Park - Wood Green - Turnpike Lane (Sat)WN

Walthamstow (and Hampstead)

The Walthamstow Central scheme was to feed the new Victoria line tube, just opened. The new feeder routes were too long for flat-fare routes to be economical in most cases, and three routes received new MB OMO buses, with the odd one out, the W21, receiving MBS standee buses. Several long-established trunk routes were shortened.

Unrelated to the Area scheme, but introduced at the same time on 7th September 1968, was Hampstead Village's first bus route,the 268, operated by MB buses from Cricklewood. This route was a SUCCESS.

No.RouteGarage
W21Walthamstow Cen- Highams Park - Chingford Mount - Walthamstow CenWW (Walthamstow)
235Chingford Hatch - Highams Park - Walthamstow - Leytonstone - Woodford Br - Chigwell StnT (Leyton)
275Walthamstow Central - Woodford - Woodford BridgeWW
276Walthamstow Central - Chingford Mount - Yardley Wood EstateWW
268Golders Green Station - Hampstead Village - Finchley Road StnW (Cricklewood)

October 1968: South-East London

South-East London joined the fun on 26th October. It was not an Area scheme, but normal reorganisations, in diverse places involving several garages.

Sidcup received eleven MB buses for the 21A, which was extended to Eltham (Well Hall) from Sidcup to allow the new buses to turn.

Bromley received thirteen MB buses for the 126, previously RT-operated. The route swapped Sunday ends with the 160 so that the buses could turn at Bexleyheath garage. The 126 had been intended for conversion from RT to RF, but this would have required more buses than the garage could hold. I missed out on the change, being away at university, but experienced the joys of Merlin travel when I came home for Christmas.

New Cross had ten MBS standees for new routes P1 and P2, in the area around Surrey Docks, Rotherhithe and Bermondsey, replacing the southern part of RTL-worked Rotherhithe Tunnel route 82. (The tunnel, restricted to 7ft 6in width vehicles, had to wait for minibuses to get a service back). The RF-operated 202 was also subsumed in the new flat-fare operation.

Poplar had nine MB buses for the Blackwall Tunnel route 108, using the new tunnel, which would no longer accommodate double-deckers.

No.RouteGarage
21AWell Hall Stn - New Eltham - Sidcup - Swanley (- Farningham)SP (Sidcup)
126Beckenham Junction - Park Langley - Bromley - Grove Park - Eltham Well Hall (- Bexleyheath (Suns))TB (Bromley)
P1New Cross - Surrey Docks - Bermondsey Loop (c/w) - Surrey Docks - New CrossNX (New Cross)
P2Rotherhithe - Surrey Docks - Bermondsey Loop (a-c/w) - Surrey Docks - RotherhitheNX
108Bromley-by-Bow - Blackwall Tunnel - BlackheathPR (Poplar)

November 1968: Country Area: High Wycombe and Reigate

Now it was the turn of the Country Area to experience the Merlin, in both North and South Divisions, commencing on 23rd November 1968.

photo of MB108 High Wycombe received six and Amersham two 45-seater Country MB buses for an area shakeup, that involved some route pruning and conversion of routes to one-man operation. These included the 305/A and 455 between Uxbridge and High Wycombe / Chalfont Common where the extensions to West Wycombe, Wooburn Common and Horn Hill were lopped off. As these were weekday or peak workings there was also work for the MBs on the 362/A and on Sundays the 353.

MB 108 at Amersham Garage (MA), dressed for the 305. Note the low driving position.

Click on image for larger version. Photo, used with permission, by BusSpotter


The 373 was reintroduced, between Penn and Beaconsfield, separated from the 363.

Reigate converted the 430 to MBS Autofare operation.

No.RouteGarage
305 Uxbridge Stn - Denham - Gerrards Cross - Chalfont St Peter - Seer Green - Beaconsfield - High Wycombe (M-Sat)HE (High Wycombe)
305AUxbridge Stn - Denham - Gerrards Cross - Chalfont St Peter - Chalfont Common (M-F)MA (Amersham)
455Uxbridge Stn - Gerrards Cross - Beaconsfield - High Wycombe (M-F pks) HE
373Penn - BeaconsfieldHE
353Berkhamsted - Chesham - Amersham - Chalfonts - Gerrards Cross - Slough - Windsor (on Sun)MA
362/AHigh Wycombe - Holmer Green - Amersham - Chesham - Ley Hill (some)MA
430Redhill - Earlswood - Woodhatch - South Park - ReigateRG (Reigate)

Preserved MB90 at Lingfield Post Office on 428 Preserved MB90 at Heaverham on 421

Preserved MB90 at Lingfield Post Office on 428, April 2010, and at Heaverham on 421, July 2009.

November 1968: Ealing Area, plus points north

Ealing was the next recipient of a flat-fare scheme, but one without a central bus station. Three flat fare routes, E1, E2 and E3 were established, taking over all or part of established routes, with Turnham Green working on E3 with 13 MBS and Hanwell on all three with 36 MBS. At the same time the 232 was split in two, the northern half becoming OMO route 282, using 14 MB from Southall garage.

North London received thirteen MB for the abbreviated 143, working out of Highgate, and Potters Bar took fifteen for the quite rural 242 and one for the 284 (only recently converted to OMO RF).

No.RouteGarage
E1Brentford - Boston Manor - Hanwell - West Ealing - Ealing Broadway - Drayton Br Rd - GreenfordHL (Hanwell)
E2Brentford - Northfields - West Ealing - Ealing Broadway - Pitshanger Lane - GreenfordHL
E3Chiswick - Turnham Grn - Acton - Northfields - West Ealing - Hanwell - Greenford Ave - GreenfordV (Turnham Green, HL)
282Greenford - Yeading - Northolt - Eastcote - Northwood Hills - Northwood StnHW (Southall)
143Archway - Highgate Stn - East Finchley - Finchley Central - Hendon - Hendon Central StnHT (Highgate)
242Chingford Stn - Waltham Abbey - Waltham Cross - Cheshunt - Cuffley - Northaw - Potters Bar (- South Mimms) (- Flamstead End (Sun))PB (Potters Bar)
284Potters Bar circularPB

MB641 at Cobham Open Day, April 1998 MB641 at Cobham Open Day, April 1998

Route 242 took Central Area Merlins out into the countryside north of London. Preserved MB641 provides a reminder at Cobham Museum Open Day, April 1998.
Photos by Ian Smith. Click for larger versions.

February 1969: Country Area North

Mid-February saw MBSs and MBs start work in several of the Northern Division towns, in some cases sharing routes with RTs! But the Country Area was always more relaxed about such things, trying to fit buses in where they suited the patronage at that time of day and availabilty, with inter-working the norm rather than the exception. Eleven MBSs went to Hemel Hempstead for the town services (314/A/B/C), eleven to St Albans for the 325, 354, 391/A, ten to Garston (Watford) for the 346 group, and three to Hatfield for use in Welwyn Garden City on town service 324.

Six MBs went to Garston for a share of the 318 and 335, and five to Hatfield for a share of work on the 340 group and the 315.

No.RouteGarage
314A Warners End - Gadesbridge - Hemel Hempstead - Moor End - Bennetts GateHH (Two Waters)
314BWarners End - Gadesbridge - Hemel Hempstead HH
314C HE
325New Greens Estate - St Albans - Cottonmill EstateSA (St Albans)
354Marshalswick Estate - St Albans - Marshalswick EstateSA
391Tyttenhanger / Mile House Estate - St Albans - Firbank RoadSA
391AMill End - St Albans - New Greens EstateSA
346Kingswood - Watford - Oxhey Estate (Hallowes Crescent)GR (Garston)
346AKingswood - Watford - Oxhey Estate (Heysham Drive)GR
346BOxhey Estate (Hallowes Crescent) - Oxhey Estate (Heysham Drive)GR
324Welwyn Garden City circularHF (Hatfield)
318Abbotts Langley - Garston - Watford - Croxley Green - Sarratt - Bovingdon - Hemel HempsteadGR (Garston)
335Watford - Croxley - Rickmansworth - Chorleywood - Chalfont St Giles - Gerrards Cross - Slough - WindsorGR
315Welwyn Garden City - Welwyn - KimptonHF (Hatfield)
340New Barnet - Potters Bar - North Mimms - South Hatfield - Welwyn Gdn CityHF
340APotters Bar - Welham Green - Hatfield Technical CollegeHF
340BNew Barnet - North Mimms - South Hatfield - Hatfield - Welwyn Gdn CityHF

MB90, SMS369 at Sandown Park

Preserved MB90 and SMS369 meet up at Sandown Park on a Running Day to celebrate red RFs, March 2009.

March 1969: Windsor, Northfleet, Crawley and Harlow

The Country Area continued its major re-equipment during March. Displaced RTs and RFs were absorbed by the Central Area, where roofbox RTs were being sold and replaced by heater-fitted Country RTs, and where RFs were suddenly in demand again for OMO conversions. The Country Area actually ended up short of new buses, and borrowed some from the Central Area to complete the scheme!

Windsor took eleven Autofare MBSs for the 400, the 446 group and the 484, in place of RMLs; Northfleet had nine for the 495 and 496; Crawley received one green and two red MBs to work alongside RFs on the extended 473 and 434 (extended from Crawley to Horsham in place of the 405), and Dorking had just one MB for the 449, in place of an RT.

Later in the month Harlow took the last six Country MBSs for New Town services 804/A/B.

No.RouteGarage
400 Britwell - Slough - Upton Lea - Slough - BritwellWR (Windsor)
446Slough - Whitby Road - Farnham Road WR
446ASlough - Manor Park - Farnham Road WR
446bWindsor - Slough - Slough Trading Estate WR
484Langley Village - Slough - Salt Hill - Farnham Road WR
495Northfleet - Waterdales - Gravesend - Christianfields EstateNF (Northfleet)
496Northfleet - Gravesend - Kings Farm EstateNF
434Horsham - Crawley - Three Bridges - Copthorne - Crawley Down - Turners Hill - East Grinstead - EdenbridgeCY (Crawley)
473Horsham - Crawley - Three Bridges - Turners Hill - East Grinstead - Dormansland CY
449South Holmwood - Dorking - Chart Downs Estate - Holmwood CommonDS (Dorking)
804Staple Tye - Harlow - Latton BushHA (Harlow)
804AHarlow Mill Stn - Templefields - Latton BushHA
804BHarlowHA

MB90 on 434 at East Grinstead, April 2012 MB90 on 405B at Crawley, April 2012

London Country did not have the automatic right to use Johnson Script for its blinds, and so new blinds were in a slightly different typeface. MB90 illustrates this in April 2012, working at East Grinstead on the 434 and then at Crawley on the 405B.

Spring 1969: Morden (M1), Muswell Hill (W7) and Bromley (138)

The late March changes in the Morden area involved RFs as well as ten MBSs. The RFs (at Sutton) took over on the 80 and 80A, on truncated routes with OMO, instead of RTs, and the MBSs (from Merton) started the M1, formed from ends of the now-shortened 151 and 118.

May saw Muswell Hill-based MBSs take over on the 212 in North London, which was renumbered W7 as a flat-fare route. Bromley received eight more MBs for the 138. On both routes RTs were displaced.

No.RouteGarage
M1Raynes Park - Lower Morden - Morden - HackbridgeAL (Merton)
W7Finsbury Park Stn - Stroud Green - Crouch End - Alexandra Park - Muswell Hill BroadwayMH (Muswell Hill)
138Bromley North Station - Pickhurst Lane - Hayes Stn - Coney HallTB (Bromley)

June 1969: Red Arrow changes

The Red Arrow network was not uniformly successful, especially route 505 with its peak Marylebone workings. Route 505 was modified in June to run to Marble Arch throughout the day, while Marylebone was given a second chance with new route 508, which looped through the West End.

No.RouteGarage
505Waterloo - Charing Cross - Oxford St - Marble Arch WL
508Marylebone - Oxford Circus - Piccadilly Circus - Cambridge Circus - Charing Cross Road - Oxford Circus - MaryleboneWL

Summer 1969: bits all over

June and July saw MBSs and MBs taking over individual routes in various corners of the Central Area. Enfield joined the flat-fare revolution with seven MBSs on the W8 in June, replacing the 128 in the Lea Valley.
Harrow Weald used nine MBSs to dispose of the lowbridge RLH class in North-West London, when the 230 was converted to become flat-fare H1.
West Ham introduced ten to the East End, when the S1 replaced the 272.
Loughton used MBs on the 20, unusually extending the route in the process by absorbing the 20B.
Alperton used MBs to convert the west London 297 during the week, from July.
Potters Bar received another input of MBs for the long finger to St Albans, the 84, in August.
Plumstead took some for south-east route 122A.
The last MB conversion was in October, when Alperton replaced RTs with MBs on the 79 and 79A. This involved the 297 changing over on Saturdays as well, plus the 83A on Sundays.
Hounslow took some modified MBS buses for the 110 and 111. Instead of twin turnstiles with afc equipment they had only a nearside turnstile with the left-hand queue buying tickets from the driver. The driver could tell the machinery which fare stage it was at, and an illuminated display showed passengers the fare for up to fifteen fare stages ahead! With long routes, and the need to find out the fare, it was inevitable that most users would choose the driver option, but LT had to learn this lesson the hard way. Hindsight is a most valuable analytical tool!
Hounslow also received almost-standard MBSs for the A1. This A1 was a novelty in another way, as an express bus linking Heathrow Airport and the tube network at Hounslow West. It charged a one shilling flat fare, and only managed being categorised as a stage carriage service because there was a seldom-used sixpenny fare on the garage runs!
Red Arrow route 509 replaced the unsuccessful 508 in October, this time aiming at the Victoria - Knightsbridge peak flow, with the Knightsbridge shopping and South Kensington museum traffics during the day.

No.RouteGarage
W8Lower Edmonto Stn - Enfield Town - Gordon Hill - Chase Farm HospitalE (Enfield)
H1Rayners Lane Stn - North Harrow - Wealdstone - Kenton - Northwick Park StnHD (Harrow Weald)
S1Stratford Broadway - Upton Park - East Ham - Stratford BroadwayWH (West Ham)
20Walthamstow Central Stn - Leyton - Whipps Cross - Woodford Wells - Loughton Stn - Epping Town - EppingL (Loughton)
297Willesden Garage - Neasden - Wembley Central - Alperton - PerivaleON (Alperton)
84New Barnet Stn - Barnet Church - South Mimms - London Colney - St AlbansPB (Potters Bar)
122AWoolwich - Plumstead - ErithAM (Plumstead)
79Colindale Stn - Kingsbury - Wembley Central - Alperton Stn (- Perivale - Northolt (pks))ON
79AEdgware Stn - Queensbury - Kingsbury - Wembley Central - Alperton Stn (- Perivale - Northolt (pks))ON
83AWembley Empire Pool- Wembley Central - Alperton - Ealing BroadwayON
110Twickenham Stn - Hounslow - Heston - CranfordAV (Hounslow)
111Hanworth - Hounslow (- Cranford (pks))AV
A1Heathrow Airport Central - Hounslow West Stn (express)AV
509Victoria Stn - Sloane Square - Knightsbridge - South Kensington.WL (Walworth)

Tribulation: Problems in service

At their first job the Merlins were an undoubted success. The Red Arrow routes were crowd shifters, moving people in bulk along good city highways between bus-stations, with limited stops. This was the job the new buses were designed for, and they did it well (and continued to do so for a respectable fifteen year stretch).

It was at their main task, RT replacement on radial routes and suburban duties, that they did badly. No doubt some of it was psychological: they were replacing the very familiar and much-loved RT. But much of the problem was the operating conditions, that the design did not properly match:

* Suburban routes around London were too tight for the 36ft x 8+ft buses. Scrapes and accidents abounded, inevitably lengthening journeys. Within days of their entering service it was noticeable that they were dented and scratched.

* Frequent stops and lengthy loading times put the engines under great thermal stress. The engine would be worked hard, accelerating between stops, and get hot. Then came a stop, and while the engine idled, so too did the cooling fan. The engines overheated, and it soon became a common sight to see one stopped with its engine cowl off, or to hear stories of their catching fire.
MB182 MB565

MBS565 on the London Airport Service:
Welcome to swinging London!
MBS182 on Inner London Route 42,
operated by Camberwell (Q).
Photos, used with permission, by BusSpotter.
Click images for larger versions.

* The Automatic Fare Collection System was unreliable. This caused extra long loading times as two queues tried to use the driver.

* People did not appreciate the standee mode of travel. Frequent corners, and stop-start travel made it an experience to avoid, even for the short journeys MBSs were expected to make. A programme to provide seven extra seats in the front section of MBSs was pushed through in summer 1969. Extra new buses were allocated to garages to maintain availability.

* The long stand at bus-stops for fare-collection made Merlins much slower than crewed buses. People noticed, and where possible would wait for a crew bus, sure that it would get there first,

* The original driving position was too low. After driver complaints this was remedied in new buses from MBA166 onwards, and the low-driver buses were relegated to spares in the Central Area as soon as enough new buses were available.

* The roofs began to gape during 1969, necessitating an urgent rectification programme at MCW! This was not restricted to the MBSs (with that huge hole halfway along the body structure), but MBs too.

Changes in service

Even while the service introductions were being made London Transport was reviewing the situation. The fiasco on 7th September 1968 caused hard questions to be asked immediately, and it was noticeable that there were few Area Schemes to follow, with wholesale change. Piecemeal evolution became the order of the day. Nevertheless, all was not well with the MB/MBS programme, for the reasons mentioned above.

The Central Area tackled the problem of the low driving position in September 1969. The reduction in the planned conversions to MBS had produced a surplus of new ones, so enough were converted to MBA specification to allow the replacement of all the Strachans prototypes plus the earlier batch of MBAs. These all went into store, for conversion to 46-seater OMO buses.

Simpler fare-taking was decided on, with Fareboxes instead of turnstiles. Passengers would drop the right money into a transparent box for the driver to check, and it would then drop through into a money bin. No change, no ticket. But it WAS quicker, except when passengers didn't have the right money at all..

For Red Arrow Services the original single-denomination afc equipment proved a liability, and was another factor in their mass replacement in September 1969 with later buses with MBS-type machines that could accept three different coins. All the Central Area Strachans XMS buses went into store - almost all at Bexleyheath, while the early MCW variety were put into storage at Clapton, Dalston, Camberwell and Walworth, pending conversion to OMO MB with extra seats.

London Country

photo of MBS420 London Country was established in January 1970 as part of the National BusCompany, independent of LT. It still had a very high proportion of very old buses, and was to continue to be short of vehicles for several years. They could not afford to put their Merlins out to grass. They HAD to make them work. They did, more or less, and even borrowed some from LT in the 1970s, in some cases for several years. Many continued to wear their Lincoln green and yellow, well past the two-year deadline specified by head office of NBC (where anything other than poppy red or leaf green seemed to pose a threat to someone or other). The NBC green with white body-band did suit them well, however.

London Country's last Merlins operated in 1980, from Northfleet.

MBS 420 on the 473 to East Grinstead, in NBC livery
Click on image for larger version.
Photo, used with permission, by BusSpotter

drawing of London Country MBs

1970: settling in

The first flush of enthusiasm for the Merlins was past, and LT was looking in new directions for the ultimate RT-replacement vehicle. Current production was based around the shorter Swift.

The withdrawn early MBAs and XMS were upseated and converted to dual-door MB, and filtered in where useful.
Converted MBAs, now MBs with added seats, made an appearance on Camberwell's route 42, Merton's 152 and Plumstead's route 99 from January, followed by Merton's 293 in April.
The Strachans buses, plus some other MB conversions, spent a brief couple of months at Enfield on the 107/A, from September 1970, but were not popular. They were replaced there by Swifts in November, and went into store, being called out for replacement or supplementary duties only as required. It did mean that they went to a lot of places!

New routes for MBS/MBA buses included the Stratford S2 and Red Arrow 513.

A new introduction were limited-stop services outwith the Red Arrow Network, including the 615 (Poplar) and 616 (Cricklewood).
More MBs appeared in June on the long route 182 in the north-west, which took over most of the 158 and 18 routes between Watford Junction and Wembley.

No.RouteGarage
42Camberwell Green - Old Kent Road - Tower Bridge - AldgateQ (Camberwell)
99Woolwich - Plumstead - Upper Belvedere - Erith AM (Plumstead)
152Mitcham - S.Wimbledon - Raynes Park - Tolworth - Hook - Hampton Court StnAL (Merton)
513Waterloo Stn - Aldwych - St Paul's - Cannon Street - London Bridge StnWL (Walworth)
S2Clapton Pond - Bromley StationD (Dalston)
293 AL (Merton)
615St Paul's Station - Canning Town PR (Poplar)
616Marble Arch - Cricklewood W (Cricklewood)
107Queensbury - Elstree - Barnet Church - Enfield - Ponders EndE (Enfield)
107A(Edgware Stn - Elstree - Barnet Church ) - Oakwood Stn - Enfield - Ponders End - Enfield LockE (Enfield)
182Watford Junction Stn - Harrow Weald - Wealdstone - Sudbury - Wembley (Empire Pool) (- Wembley Trading Estate)HD (Harrow Weald)
ON (Alperton)

In December 1970 many of the MBS flat-fare routes had their automatic fare collection gear removed and replaced by Fareboxes: the approach to decimalisation was having an effect.

1971: minor changes

By now the Swift had taken over as the single-decker RT-elimination tool, and the DMS was starting to make a name for itself (not "Londoner") as the double-decker version. But there was still work for the Merlins, and changes too, where the newer buses were found to be better suited.

In January Fareboxes were introduced in place of afc equipment in MBSs at Hounslow (A1), Merton (M1), New Cross (P1, P2), West Ham (S1, S2) and Enfield (W8).

At the end of January Hounslow's "split-entrance" MBSs for the 110/111 were replaced by Swifts, and moved en bloc to Harrow Weald for the 209, replacing RTs.

In the Country, MBs and Swifts took over the 406 on Sundays, and the Windsor MBSs saw minor route changes on the 446 group.

Decimalisation in February provided an excuse for London Country to eliminate the afc equipment on its MBSs, and replaced it with conventional OMO "Setright" ticket machines operated by the driver. The loss of the unloved turnstiles provided room for another seat, making these 33-seaters.

The last low-bridge double deckers in the LT fleet succumbed in April, when the RLHs on the twisty, bridge-crowded 178 through the railway lands of Stratford were withdrawn and replaced by MBSs on the shorter S3. (MBSs couldn't reach places RLHs could!).

Repaints were due for the MBs, and the erstwhile XMS (now MB) buses came out of semi-retirement to act as a float during the painting programme, appearing at places they hadn't been before, like Southall, Potters Bar, Poplar, Hounslow, and Alperton, as well as at Camberwell.

May saw the Sunday-only work by Alperton MBs on the 83A transmogrify into full operation of the 83 route on Sundays.

Tring's XMB15 became MBS15 in July.

New Cross swapped its Merlins on P1 for Swifts because of continuing problems with narrow roads and tight corners in Bermondsey and Rotherhithe.

Harrow Weald replaced the RFs on the 136 with MBSs.

In September Reigate's 447 was subsumed within an extended 430, with 430A and 430B, using MBSs, with MB on Sundays. Over at Windsor the 484 was extended to Britwell and the 400 was withdrawn. The 484A and 484B became simply 484 journeys.

Harrow Weald was in the news again at the end of October with a new MB route, the 258, replacing the northern part of the 182, and an extension of the flatfare H1, replacing the remnant of the 158.

No.RouteGarage
209South Harrow Stn - Harrow Weald (- Northwick Park Stn (pks))HD (Harrow Weald)
406Redhill - Reigate - Tadworth - Epsom - Ewell - Surbiton - KingstonRG (Reigate)
S3Hackney Wick - Stratford - Maryland StationWH (West Ham)
83Golders Green Stn - Alperton Stn - Ealing Broadway StnON (Alperton)
136Harrow Weald Garage - Harrow-on-the-Hill Stn - South Harrow StnHD (Harrow Weald)
430Merstham - Redhill - South Park - ReigateRG (Reigate)
430AReigate - Main road - Merstham (pks)RG (Reigate)
430BReigate - Blackborough Rd - Merstham RG (Reigate)
484Langley Village - Slough - Farnham Road - Britwell RG (Reigate)
258Watford Junction - Harrow-on-the-Hill StnHD (Harrow Weald)
H1South Harrow Stn - Rayners Lane Stn - Northwick Park StnHD (Harrow Weald)


MB90 at Slough Station, May 2011 MB90 at Slough Station, May 2011

Preserved MB90 made a return visit for the type to Slough and Windsor on a running day in May 2011, here coming in off a 441 trip.

1972: Retrenchment

As 1972 developed, so did shortages of serviceable Merlins. But the DMS programme was in full swing, and most of the Swifts had been delivered, so there were some conversions, leaving u/s Merlins on the sidelines.

Red Arrow 509 proved to be another dud, and was withdrawn in February. MBSs also disappeared from the P2 at New Cross, replaced like the P1 with Swift SMSs, and MBs from the 297 at Alperton, where double-decker DMSs took over.
Hounslow's A1 Heathrow service suffered shortages of its specialist MBSs, and some were drafted in from Cricklewood, halting the 616 for a time. The Cricklewood buses were soon returned: they were low-driver early MBAs, and were disliked at Hounslow. The 616 resumed.

MBS4 went to Aldenham in May for overhaul. This was protracted, MBS4 not re-emerging until January 1973. The problems with the overhaul mitigated against any further overhauls of the Strachans Merlins, and sounded another knell for the class.

drawing of MB588 On a brighter note, MBA588 emerged in September repainted with white window surrounds and a large white bullseye on the front. This looked good, but was to remain unique.
MBA606 looked awful in an overall advertisement for Chappells of Bond Street, also revealed in September.

Hounslow lost its last MBSs, from the A1, in September, replacing them with SMSs.

London Country had a shakeup in October, withdrawing some routes and converting others. The 373 to Penn went, but MBs took over from RMLs on some 363 journeys. The Hatfield 340 group was pruned. The 446 group, Windsor changed to Fareboxes, as did the 495/496 at Northfleet.
At Windsor the 460 converted to MBS, but at Harlow the 804 group converted to AN Atlanteans.

Termination

The crunch for the Merlins came four years after their 1968 debut, in 1972. LT was accustomed in those days to a four-year major overhaul cycle. Each bus would be stripped, inspected, and where necessary rebuilt, at the massive Aldenham Works. But the new generation of buses were found to be unsuited to this major rebuild philosophy. They were just too expensive to rebuild.

So as their overhauls became due, most were sent off to gather flies on Radlett airfield, where hundreds gathered during 1973-4, prior to their sale. Many were scrapped, after just four or five years work, but others went to operators who could use them for their designed purpose, and who appreciated the bargain prices!

Click here for a page of Merlins operating after their London work had ceased.

In central London, MBAs kept working on the Red Arrow routes - which suited them - until ousted by new Leyland Nationals in May 1981. Two (MBA 569 and 601), were retained as spares until July, but then retired.

MBS217 stayed on the books somewhat longer. After being withdrawn from service it was allocated to the Chiswick Experimental Section for a while, and was then used at New Cross garage until 1987, monitoring the performance of their Diagnostic equipment.

MB641 at Stevenage, June 2001

Post-script

In one of those strange twists that sometimes enliven the bus world, one Merlin has continued to appear in service. MB641, nominally preserved, has been regularly recerticated, and frequently appears on Rail Replacement services, as well as being a stalwart rally attender. Given TLC these buses COULD have been reliable.
MB641 earns its keep on Rail Replacement at Stevenage in June 2001 (snapped from a passing RF on a Running Day by Ian Smith)

Preservation

Several are known to survive in the UK, although not all are runners.
  • MBS90: preserved, being rebuilt
  • MBS271: donor for MB90
  • MB 306? Australia: Historic Commercial Vehicle Club of Australia
  • MBA444: preserved, Hitchin: appears at rallies
  • MBA464: store shed
  • MBA539: Croftpeak, Rainham
  • MBA541: preserved, in store with Nostalgiabus
  • MBA581: B&B Location Diners: for films
  • MBA582: LT Museum, Acton
  • MBA588: in store, minus engine: was FCA Community Bus
  • MBA594: B&B Location Diners: for films
  • MBA641: preserved in LT livery: rallied and used.
MBA444 at Showbus98 MBA444 at Showbus98
MBA444 in preservation, at Showbus 98 under rain-laden clouds.

Click on images for larger versions. Photos by Ian Smith


Merlin histories photo refs

Bus Stop Part 1: Merlins. Part 2. After London Swifts.