The London Bus Museum

I visited the London Bus Museum a few weekends ago. Although the history of buses (types/vehicle development) is only tangentially related to my project – which is more about social and local history – this place is absolutely invaluable as a place to meet people who understand values and meanings surrounding bus travel, routes and the social experiences we have on buses.

The Museum itself shares a site with Brooklands Museum. Admission is pretty steep at around £10 for the whole site. On the other hand, if historic vehicles are your kind of thing, there is plenty to see. I went during a classic car testing event where people drove their Pre-WW2 cars around various courses, but there are also permanent displays of planes and racing cars.

The London Bus Museum‘s website is an excellent resource for people wanting an introduction into the history of the London Bus.

London Bus Museum Leaflet

The Museum itself is within a big shed (can’t think of a better word!) with huge printed vinyl partitions creating the exhibition space – presumably to provide flexibility, moving buses about requires a lot of space! The display is a chronological narrative of the history of the London Bus from the first horse drawn carriages to the Routemaster types (the famous standardised red double-decker). I was super excited because the bus in the entrance was a 1920’s 213 (technically a 113 at this time) and to be honest I didn’t pay enough attention to the overall display as I was so concerned about finding more 213s!

See the photos section for the pictures I took of all the wonderful buses. They have all lovingly been restored by the Museum which is run completely by volunteers of the London Bus Preservation Trust. What is wonderful about this place is it lives up to its tagline ‘A living heritage ‘. This is a working space, most of the buses proudly display their up-to-date tax discs and actually work! There is evidence in plain view of the restoration work taking place behind the scenes for example, buses displayed in various stages of restoration, spare parts left in the Museum environment.

I was lucky enough to meet Kevin, Operations Manager and Alan, a retired bus driver and volunteer, who were really enthusiastic about my project and even took me into the Restoration and Maintenance Workshop immediately behind the Museum. This is where I got my photo taken behind the wheel of a 213. They had just finished its restoration, and luckily they didn’t show me where the start button was until after I’d tried the accelerator pedal! Talking to these guys was the first time I felt that this project really had substance, it gave me confidence that at least some people would appreciate the work I was about to undertake and be interested in the result – Thanks you!

My favourite bit of information from talking to Kevin and Alan was an insight into the subculture which is bus driving. Did you know that a ‘Steering Wheel Attendant’ is long hand for ‘Bus Driver’? With this in mind, what do you think a ‘Steering Wheel Polisher’ is? Answers on a postcard or below!

They suggested a few sites to look up regarding the history of the 213 so that’s what I’ll be doing next, along with an update on my local history research.

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