On Diversion: To Kingston (upon Hull)

Yesterday I went to Kingston upon Hull.

Hull is the UK’s City of Culture this year and I was really happy to see so many great cultural activities and trails, venues and events advertised. My positive impression of the city was possibly influenced by the glorious sunshine – albeit also a little windy – and the fact I was off work for a day! Whoop! (Though arguably, the day was nothing other than a bus man’s holiday [a phrase which Wikipedia says dates back to 1893, a mind-blowing surprise to me as it seems so ‘modern’!]).

Bus operations in the city seemed to be run by Stagecoach with their distinctive blue and orange swiggly livery and East Yorkshire buses with what looked like vintage branding livery of cream and maroon. I saw lots of them about because I had buses on the brain.

I found myself in Queen Victoria Square and confronted by the giant artwork ‘Blade’ – a huge wind turbine blade, 75m long, produced by the local Siemens factory. I then walked along the marina, through cobbled streets and pedestrian ways of the Old Town, passed Holy Trinity Church and industrial buildings. I loved seeing all the statues of local people including poet Philip Larkin at the station, passing the Town Hall and Sessions Courts, along the High Street. The Museum of Clubbing was closed but I found myself in the Museums Quarter with an hour or two to spend. This was very enjoyable and I managed to quickly whizz around the Hull and East Riding Museum (highlights being the Roman mosaics and glassware and a giant ancient wooden boat), the Streetlife Museum (more below) and the Wilberforce Museum (which is a beautiful house telling the horrifying story of slavery and how social and political action has fought against the still prevailing trade in human life).

Treats for my next trip: the Fish Trail and the Ale Trail, hopefully with some friends.

Streetlife Museum of Transport

This museum recreates the streets of Hull from the 1940s, with associated shops and vehicles. There are examples of an ice cream van, a Regal III bus in dark blue livery, tramcars and road vehicles dating back 200 years including a rare three-wheeler Hackney Carriage. I particularly enjoyed seeing inside an old fashioned cycling shop and also how a railway signal box operated. It was fun to be surrounded by shop frontages, signage, streetlights and vehicles. Visitors ranged in age from pre-school to retirement age and it seemed to be engaging for all. It was quite refreshing to not be bombarded with huge amounts of signage and information panels and a major success for me was the opportunity to just enjoy the environment and learn from looking at the actual objects. Another display I particularly enjoyed was the recreation of Hull Museum’s first Director’s office in the entrance way, complete with a rather grizzly item – his waste paper bin made of an elephant’s foot!

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P.S. Last night I delivered a talk about Saxon Kingston – Kingston so called because it was a royal estate, much like Kingston upon Hull (though that wasn’t named Kingston until 13th century)! I’ve decided I should start collecting ‘Kingstons’ and am happily looking for a benefactor to send me to Canada and/or Jamaica. Applicants need only comment in the section below and I will carefully consider your proposal! HA HA HA.

 

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Bus to Nowhere

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This rather forlorn figure sits outside the Tate Modern on Southbank. It makes me feel really sad, because someone has decided to make a bin look like a bus. But then they’ve made the front of the bus face a lamppost. This bus is a Bus to Nowhere. Why do this?!  N.B. beginning to think I have an unhealthy emotional relationship with buses, this just doesn’t seem right!

 

Night Bus Home

Last night was my first experience of the N87 from Charing Cross back to Kingston, then the 213 from Kingston home to little Worcester Park, in the small hours of a Sunday morning.

The N87 was absolutely packed when we first boarded around 1.30am outside Charing Cross Station. Everything was going smoothly, I really liked watching the crowds pass down below, the sparkling lights and tall buildings, the width of the gushing river as we crossed Vauxhall Bridge. And then somebody threw up at the back of the bus. Luckily, I’m not too bad with sick but the smell wasn’t very pleasant and I did wonder what the driver was meant to do (if anything) about it. In the end, the bus didn’t stop and we acclimatised to acrid stench quite quickly (!).

The Route from Aldwych to Kingston

The Route from Aldwych to Kingston

I saw a few interesting things on the route, like the New Covent Garden Market which is in Battersea – I think this is such a shining indictment of London really, as the the real messy business of food and flower growing and trading is relegated from the centre to be replaced by swish but mostly uninteresting restaurants and stalls. Markets selling fresh meat, veg and flowers should be where the people are.

Most of  the route through surburbia is a blur really, but I remember passing Lavender Hill Library, South Thames College, Wimbledon Station. By this point we were playing leap frog with another N87 and I was going on about service regulation. We passed Raynes Park station and were then in familiar territory of Shannon Corner and through New Malden to Kingston (the grounds of Kingstonian FC in Norbiton being pointed out to me on the way).

I decided to stay on to Kingston as didn’t fancy waiting at the Fountain all alone with not so many people passing by. This proved a bit fatal in the end as the 2.35am 213 from Fairfield didn’t show up which meant waiting for 50 minutes. Not impressed, and I told the nice giggly TfL lady to write it up in her report. If I’d got off at the Fountain there is a chance I could’ve caught the 2.05am from there. In the end, I got the 3.05am running perfectly to time and experienced my first 213 night journey along with a bus full of drunken ladies and gentlemen some of whom had been fighting each other at Cromwell Road. The trip was very straightforward and I enjoyed watching the bloke sitting opposite fall asleep and wake up in panic that he’d missed his stop (in fact – he didn’t get off until Longfellow Road so was fine in the end). Disembarking at Lindsay Road, I ran home as the dawn chorus was just warming up.

N87 bus sign

 

Night Bus Home – ratings

N87: 7/10 due to sick, and not regulating the service effectively

213: 4/10 due to the 2.35am not showing up

 

 

100 Years of Merton Bus Garage

Sunday 17th November 2013

Last Sunday I hopped on a 93 towards Putney Bridge, alighted at ‘Morden Road / South Wimbledon’ bus stop and walked into my first bus themed heritage event – the centenary of Merton Garage.

Organised by Trevor Johnson (General Manager at Merton and Sutton Garages) and his colleagues, the event included stalls, tours of the garage and historic buses to board. They were fundraising for charity Mencap, who provide support to people with learning disabilities and their families.  For the garage, it was also business as usual on the day – so there were bus drivers trying to get on with work when we were poking our noses into their Output (a new definition for me – the room where drivers sign on and off).

One of the buses on display included the new Boris Bus. This was the first time I’d been on one, I’m not so sure about the colour choices but otherwise it’s alright isn’t it? I almost bought a Central area bus map from 1934 but decided against it, instead picking up an 1950s picture of an OK Bus, Country Durham for my dad.

Met up with my 213 friend Roger and he paid for me and him to go through the bus wash (on a bus, I’d add – otherwise a bit rough and wet!). We also went on a tour around the garage which including standing underneath a single decker to look at the engine. Mentioned quite a few times was ‘Adblue’ (cow’s urine) used to clean the engine exhaust fumes (I think , ah… apparently ammonia reduces the nitrous oxide emissions from diesel engines). There was quite a bit of discussion on the restrictions involved in bus provision and TfL’s targets etc. I’m surprised there is any money in it at all to be honest! Each bus is serviced 12 times a year, so every 28 – 35 days and the maintenance team service 25 buses a week. A bus is expected to last for around 5 years and it’s engine power is tempered down using the gear box to ensure a smooth-ish travel experience.

On my way home, I boarded an RTL bus from Merton Bus Garage to Wimbledon Village. The Underground sign of South Wimbledon glowed warmth in the twilight; a male clippy in modern dress gave us a ticket from whirring machine then came round with a bucket for donations; I was slightly concerned that the engine might give up the ghost when going up the hill to Wimbledon Village as it got very slow and you could hear it chugging along. When I got out, I had to walk to the front and shout a thank you to the driver as he was isolated in his little driving booth. The bus looked so beautiful when lit up at night, emitting a warm light rather than the blue tinged glare of modern buses. 

Another highlight was the 50p cupcake – yummy!

The actual anniversary was the 20th November. Originally opened in 1913 by London General Omnibus Company, the garage was modernised in 1960 and again in 1991. It is responsible for the maintenance of vehicles also kept at Sutton Garage – so any poorly 213s come here. The 213 (as 113) was allocated initially to Merton Garage in 1921 for 2 months only before transferal to the newly completed Kingston and Sutton garages.

Becoming the 213 bus

My  life has become the bus. This project has been on my mind for the last 7 months, and there has been no escape because I have to use the 213 bus every day to get to work and back again. On Tuesday I have to hand something in for my MA degree at Kingston. It’ll be ready, but I’ve got the sort of work ethic which makes me want to go right up to the wire, even if that isn’t entirely necessary.

One of the earliest memory fliers that I received was from my course mate Pirrko and this is what she wrote:

My bus stop is NA

I’ve been using the 213 bus for – years

I walk past the Fairfield Bus Station on my way to University of Kingston and often see the 213 bus, which makes me think of Amy who is doing a creative project on that bus route. In a sense, the bus has become to symbolise Amy – her creativeness and love for quirky things.

You may remember from a previous post that I did joke about dressing up in a cardboard bus costume at Malden Fortnight. Unfortunately, with one thing and another I didn’t quite get it finished in time. However, it is finished and last week I went on the bus as the bus…You might ask why, and to be honest, if I’d been asked that on the bus I don’t quite know what I would have said.

The essay component of my project is all about the everyday, and how we should find more joy in our daily lives – bus travel can be joyful if you look at it the right way. Yes, waiting at the stop in the cold and rain is rubbish, and the stink of stale alcohol and wee on some late-night journeys can be really unpleasant. But looking out the window, you are bombarded with endless images, some of which are incredibly beautiful: the sunset, daffodils in bloom, pouring rain which makes everything glimmer. The buzzing of the air con relaxes me so much I tend to fall asleep, and eavesdropped conversations can be so funny, or thought-provoking, or utterly bizarre.

On the bus, you are with a whole load of strangers who you might never meet in another aspect of you life. This is important for social equality, if you sit in a car all day you might feel safe, but you are also isolated from the world and other people. On the bus you have to be with people who you might totally disagree with, or you might meet a future husband or wife. The bus is a place of possibilities.

I became the bus because I wanted people to think about the bus for once, I wanted people to be intrigued or amused, I wanted to intervene in the everyday lives of a few unsuspecting bus users. Secondly, I felt the need to possess the bus – I’ve invested so much of my life in this project, I’ve often felt totally consumed by it, becoming the bus is kind of taking it over, making it mine. Thirdly, I’ve got an epic fancy dress costume for Halloween and a great talking piece in the form of a bus costume-bedside cabinet!

A lot of people simply won’t get the point of this project. And it may mean absolutely nothing in the long run to anyone but me. On the other hand, we all have a 213 bus: it might be the bus or train you get to work or school everyday, or even the route you walk to get to your local shops. It’s a time and place where you live most of your lives – I hope my project inspires someone somewhere to re-imagine their 213 as joyful, something worth paying attention to, as you simply don’t know what will be revealed.

It is worth the expense of youthful days and costly hours if you learn only some words of an ancient language, which are raised out of the trivialness of the street, to be perpetual suggestions and provocations

Jane Bennett (2001) The Enchantment of Modern Life. Woodstock: Princeton University Press. p.95. Originally from Henry David Thoreau’s On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.

P.s. Next week the local history starts in earnest with Fairfield Bus Station (K1)  – a history of the Cattle Market Car Park in Kingston. Bet you can’t wait?!

213 v The Rest

This memory from Tim, recounts an aspect of his school days at Kingston Grammar between 1968 and 1975. It is all about a football team which became the ‘213’, and shows how buses can become more than just objects which take us from A to B, they can also become signs for something else.

The bus can begin to represent people you know who use it, and inversely people who use the bus can in a sense become the bus. When I first met my boyfriend (i.e. before we went out), every time I saw a ‘45‘ in Newcastle I would say to myself, that’s Jamie’s bus, and look for him through the windows. Not wishing to compare him to a giant turquoise moving rectangle, Jamie will in a sense always be a 45 bus, because that is how I got to know him. More on this thinking in a forthcoming post ‘Becoming the 213’…

School began, from memory, at 9am. However, boys began arriving before 8, dumping their schoolbags in the classroom, then heading out to the Cage – the fenced area in the centre of the school, between the Victorian teaching block facing on to London Road and the 1950s teaching block facing the Fairfield. Down the side of the Cage was ‘The Covered Way’ – a concrete path, topped by a little flat roof to keep the rain off.

From 8am every schoolday, rain or shine, a little impromptu football match was played in the Cage, on the dusty, mucky, grubby surface. This match was always ‘213 v’. To explain: many of the most gifted natural footballers were, for some reason, from the North Cheam area. They bowled up on the 213 bus, and the rest of us non-North Cheam types had to muster a rival team to play them. So it was 213 v The Rest.

I was fairly rubbish at football, so usually ended up in goal. From about 8am to 8.30am, there weren’t enough people to muster full sides, so we played rush goalies, with the goalkeeper in theory able to gallop up the field to also become a makeshift outfield player. Not that I did a whole lot of galloping. Anyway, 213 invariably won. 

As well as North Cheam, Sutton and Worcester Park, the 213 also mopped up a fair few KGS pupils from New Malden as it trundled to Kingston, and a few from Coombe. Some arrived on the 213A, but the team name never varied from its original 213 title.

That early-morning football loosener was also a bond-builder, and many friendships began in the dust of the Cage in the heat of the 213 battles.  I doubt many football teams are named after buses, but the 213 has that rare honour.

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.