Time on the 213

Yesterday, as I was waiting for the bus at Lindsay Road, an older gentleman asked me to move so that he could sit on the less wet patch of the bus stop seat, ‘I’m 84 you know, can’t stand for long!’. He had a shopping trolley and was wearing a thick woolly jumper. Anyway, I didn’t think too much more about him until we got on the 8.53 213 bus (running a few minutes late). As we boarded, the man handed something to the driver. It was his wife’s bus pass, ‘She’s dead now’. But the driver didn’t initially understand ‘Who is she?’, and the man had to repeat a few times that his wife was dead, in front of the whole bus. You could see a veil of grief pass over the old man’s face, visibly transferred to the driver and it really upset me too. That bus pass belonged to a real person, it had its own history, it held significance and by returning it, the man was letting all of that go, and it became just a piece of plastic again.

On September 7th, a bus will have been on the 213 route for 92 years. That’s 11 months less than my granddad has been alive. I found the first mention of the bus in the Surrey Comet the other day (at Kingston Local History Room), edition of 10th September 1921 page 9, under the Worcester Park column: a new omnibus linking Kingston to Kingswood via Sutton ran on Wednesday and it ‘found considerable favour’. Reading old papers is a form of time travel really, but the most striking thing is the similarity between people today and in the past, just as me and my granddad are similar.

Bus travel (and travel generally) makes you think differently about time. Whether it is the stillness of waiting at the stop, which can drag if you are in a hurry, the slow crawl through congested traffic, the speed of late night bus travel, the staccato of stop-start, the sound of the bell and doors opening-closing. Or the view out, the mish-mash of old and new buildings, the tree that you have seen grow from a sampling, a bus pass that is used for 20 years and then just becomes nothing overnight.

I’m not sure what this post is about really. It just tells you a bit about what I’ve been thinking in the last few days.

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London Transport Museum

Today I went to the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden. I’ve been in touch with their curatorial team already and hope to search their database once I can get some time to visit the library. Before that, I wanted to dedicate a few hours to looking around the museum itself, and there is certainly a lot to see!

My first experience of the LTM was nearly 2 months ago when I found myself with an hour spare in town and went to see the  ‘Poster Art 150’ exhibition. This is a great collection of posters advertising the Underground from way back in the late 19th century to present day. There are some beautiful designs and the graphic style varies greatly even when keeping distinctive elements such as the ‘Underground’ lettering and symbol, so everyone should find a few to be particular favourites.

The admission charge for the Museum is quite steep at £15 but the great thing for Londoners (and repeat visitors to London) is that the ticket allows entry for a year. So I rocked up today and went straight in. My major piece of advice is follow the chronological sequence laid out for you, the museum displays make a lot more sense this way! I’m not sure if there is an adults’ map for the museum, but I was using ‘The Stamper Trail’ to do so and it was fun punching holes in cardboard like a Clippie (Female bus conductor).

The permanent displays begin at the top floor. These detail the initial development of the railways, the decline of water travel, and the development in the 19th century of horse drawn buses and trams. There are three vehicles on this level: an omnibus (horse drawn, single deck bus), a horse bus (double deck, upper level exposed), and a horse drawn tram. Bus travel in the early days was pretty expensive, and not in high demand as most of London’s population lived within walking distance of work. However, ‘Omnibus’ is Latin for ‘for all’ and this development in transport really was the beginning of what is now a very impressive public service – the London Transport Network.

The major restriction on bus development was that is relied upon horse power. Increased bus use led directly to demand for horses, leading also to the need for horse feed, which was finite. By the mid 19th century, Parisian bus companies had merged to reduce prices, London followed and by late 1856 the ‘London General Omnibus Company’ (LGOC) had acquired 75% of London’s buses, becoming the largest bus company in the world.

The middle level is about the early Underground and the railway network, with full scale locomotives and carriages to sit in. There are also drawers with ephemera such as tickets, leaflets and postcards which are fascinating. It details the basically uncontrolled development of the suburbs in the 1920s which was part driven by, part facilitated by the rise in public transport, and only ceased by the Second World War. This is also the floor where you start the Posters exhibition, and the library and an interactive zone are also located here.

My favourite objects were the unfurled bus ‘blinds’, the things buses use to display where they are going to. I hope to reconstruct one for the 213, or ask Sutton Bus Garage whether they can show me what destinations it should have (It needs Kingston, Sutton Bus Garage, North Cheam, New Malden The Fountain, Norbiton, the one it uses when it terminates next to Coombe Girls ??, and ??? you tell me!).

The ground floor is vast, illustrating the development of the Underground to the present day, and the change in bus design over the 20th century. There are lots of historic bus types, but the main builder was the AEC (Associated Equipment Company). London Transport began existence in 1933, and at that time inherited 6,000 buses and coaches from LGOC (above) which had been operating 95% of London bus routes. There is an RT type bus, a Routemaster and a number of earlier types too to which vistiors have limited on board access.

Some bus-y facts for you: on average, one bus can transport 95 passengers (imagine the lack of traffic if people didn’t use cars!), the bus is the most used form of transport in London, there are 6 million passenger journeys a day on over 700 bus routes, and the London bus network is the greenest in the UK.

First World War bus use: buses were used to transport troops to and from the battlefield. They originally retained their livery and signage but were later painted khaki green. Some buses were rebuilt as lorries, ambulances and mobile carrier pigeon lofts due to the massive shortage of function vehicles.

Second World War buses: still no women drivers (indeed none until 1974 equality legislation), the key bus travel accessories were gas masks, and something white to be seen in the black outs when waiting at your stop. Transport was in high demand during the war and apparently services were very overcrowded.  Windows were fitted with anti-blast netting, blacked out and vehicle lights dimmed or shaded at night.

My bathroom break was delightfully accompanied by wallpaper based on 1940’s moquette from an RT-type bus. I am currently making a cardboard person-sized RT which were used on the 213 route from 1963 to 1972. The easiest way I’ve found to tell RTs from Routemasters it to look at the radiator grills on the front, the former are taller and thinner, the later squatter and wider. My boyfriend is now convinced I have become an anorak, and to be honest, I probably am.

World War 213

One of the trail ideas I have which may now be implemented (possibly not before September MA deadline) is to reconstruct the 213 World War 2 landscape identifying various features along the route: bomb sites, shelters, barbed wire fences, road blocks etc. This will be done by examining aerial photography from the period, English Heritage are the experts,  and I will also use the bomb maps at both Sutton and Kingston archives. I also want to collect reminiscences, photographs and newspaper clippings from the period. In this trail, the bus route is a means to connect stories together across the physical landscape – so it’s less about the bus experience itself although there are some fascinating stories about bus use in the war too!

A lovely gentleman called Patrick gave me a book of war time recipes yesterday along with some of his reminiscences of life in New Malden over the years. I have copied some of the WW2 related ones below. It is amazing how life goes on, even under strained circumstances such as war.

My family moved to New Malden in August 1938. We lived in our Anderson shelter on and off for about a year in the early 1940s and sometimes saw “dog fights” in the air over London which were quite exciting. All this from our garden in Cambridge Road, where we had moved from 3 Malden Road in 1941. We had been next to the Malden Tavern at the station. The rent there was £1 a week, but during the air raids, my father thought it was wise to move further away

After a short time in the Kingston Sea Cadets learning to row a boat and climb a rope etc, I joined the “Air Training Corps” and enjoyed marching down the High Street blowing and playing the bugle or the drums. Once, when we went for two weeks summer camp in Kent, I flew in a Lancaster Bomber over bombed out Cologne, I still have the photo from my “Box Brownie” camera.

How many people remember the bombs in Malden High Street? One outside what is now McDonald’s, another outside the Railway Inn near the station (I went down in the crater looking for shrapnel), also another behind the fire station. The last four houses at the far end of Cambridge Road were flattened. My friend lived there but survived, he was called Les and stayed with us for a time’.

Graeme Hodge, a local historian, has been researching war memorials in Kingston for a number of years now and is about to embark on another research project into New Malden war dead, and the accuracy of the war memorials, many of which are on the 213 route. Although his work focuses on World War One, memorials remind us of the suffering endured in all wars and are important features in the built landscape. The 213 route goes past prominent memorials on New Malden High Street, Worcester Park, Cheam and Sutton.

Sutton Archives and Local Studies

Finally, last Wednesday, I managed to get myself along to Sutton Local Studies to start my research on the Sutton end of the 213 route.

The day began treacherously, as I boarded a 151 bus to Wallington rather than waiting for the next 213. It was a decision I almost instantly regretted because at North Cheam /Queen Victoria stop a young bloke sat behind me on the upper deck who smelt SO strongly of cannabis, I could hardly breathe! I distracted myself by eavesdropping on the conversation of some young people in front and thought about how to open a window without it being totally obvious. Luckily, he decided to go downstairs at Cheam Broadway, so I was free again to muse on the views outside.

Got off with most of the other passengers at Sutton Civic Centre stop. The Local Studies is part of the library complex (tucked away on floor 2) and I was really impressed by the scale of the library service, with cafe and different reading areas, it is much bigger than Kingston’s central library. The Local Studies room is quite different to Kingston’s Local History Room in atmosphere, as the former has very little/no natural light, and Kingston is surrounded by windows (which makes it quite toasty in the summer months and chilly in winter).

Kath the Archivist was there to assist me and she had kindly got out a few local history books for me to look at. I’m trying to be good and restrict my research to date from September 1921 to present day since that is how long the route has been running for, but also need to collect specific information about each stop name which may take us back centuries…. Since I know so little about Sutton, Cheam and Worcester Park I began by skim reading the books.

  • Sutton, a very brief history: A place called Sudtone was first recorded in 675AD, but the town we know today was mainly developed due to its location on the London-Brighton stage coach route (from the 1760s on). It developed further at the turn of the 20th century when trams and later trolleybuses and buses terminated at Benhill Avenue. NB: The London Borough of Sutton was formed in 1965, previously Sutton and Cheam Urban District.
  • Cheam, an almost non-existent history (only because I didn’t read the right book…): Cheam Village dates back to at least the Tudor period, when Nonsuch Palace was constructed by Henry VIII, began 1538. Whitehall, Cheam was named after the Palace of Whitehall by Charles I, it was originally built in the mid-1500s as a farmhouse.
  • North Cheam, a shorter history: the crossroads at North Cheam is on the site of an old toll gate ‘Lynce’s Corner’ itself replaced by the Queen Victoria Inn (built shortly after her Coronation, rebuilt 1936, demolished 1964). It marked the point where Cheam, Sutton and Malden met.  The row of shops here only developed in the 1930s.
  • Worcester Park, my home: It is made up of the former area of Nonsuch Great Park, and is named after the Keeper of the Park, the Earl of Worcester. It was open fields until the late 1850s when railway construction began, and houses were built on Longfellow Road for the railway workers. The Worcester Park to Waterloo line began in 1859. Along what was Common Hill (now Central Road) were built beautiful semi-detached Victorian and Edwardian villas, which were replaced by shops in the 1930s.

I spent most of the afternoon looking through the photographic collection…. would estimate 8 filing cabinet drawers and I managed to find some amazing photographs. The world is beautiful! ‘Mundane’ and everyday life is full of meaning. Photography is a wonderful tool to capture the world!

After a long day of looking, I managed to finish just as they were closing (6pm), hurried off for a hot chocolate at an obliging coffee shop and caught a 213 at Sutton Post Office stop. I then attended the Maldens and Coombe Heritage Society meeting, giving an update on my research.