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!


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.



K12: The Triangle

K12.jpgThe area of Norbiton/New Malden now occupied by Kenley Road and Clarence Avenue was once land forming Dickerage Farm, the farm buildings being located towards the north end of present-day Dickerage Lane.

The Triangle was constructed in the mid-1930s to provide local shops and amenities for the new Coombe Berg estate of Clarence Avenue and surrounding roads. It is first listed in the Kelly’s street directory of 1938. Original shops on both sides included: Job dairymen at No.1, Bettawear Drapers at No.4, Triangle Wine Store at No.7, The Triangle Household Store hardware merchants at No.9 and Coombe Fisheries at No.12. There was also a newsagent, butcher and baker.

The planning record for No.12 shows that a shop and flat were completed on 19th March 1936. Later records show a covered way and a fish curing chamber/smoke house added when the property was taken on by the fisheries business. It later became a general grocery store.

Brewster Public House

Completed in December 1955 at No.15 The Triangle, permission for The Brewster was granted in 1951 to Courage Breweries. Renamed the Hungry Horse in the 1990s then The Brewster again, it became the Willow Tree in 2002 and a Korean restaurant in 2005. A small alleyway called Brewster Place links Arundel Road and Dickerage Road behind the pub building.

Today, in 2016, a Tesco occupies Nos. 11,12 & 14.




  • Holmes, R (undated) Pubs Inns and Taverns of Surbiton and Malden with Tolworth Hook and Chessington Echo Library Fairfield, Glos
  • Kelly’s Street Directories for Kingston and District: 1938, 1939, 1948, 1960, 1971 [Available at Kingston History Centre]
  • Malden and Coombe Official Guide, 1960-1961
  • Ordnance Survey map of the Triangle, TQ2069SW for 1952
  • Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames Planning department Building Control site: https://www.kingston.gov.uk/info/200156/building_control/580/your_property_history

K06: Gordon Road

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The story of 155-157 London Road, Kingston

The present site of Wickes Superstore was previously Norbiton Bus Garage and before that the site of Snapper’s Castle. Snapper’s Castle wasn’t actually a castle, but its history was really interesting, and Snapper wasn’t a king, dragon or monster, but a man called Michael who sold antiques. The failure of Norbiton Garage is linked directly with the move towards privatisation of public bus services, a move which was not welcomed by passengers or staff at the time and had to be semi-reversed in London at least when it failed to deliver. The following story is one of opportunity lost, of destruction both of material heritage and the livelihoods of some local bus workers.

Hertingtoncombe Manor House

The origin of two semidetached houses on London Road, Nos.155 and 157, with their Gothic facade and roof crenelations date back to the 17th century. In 1644 it was the residence of Sir Robert Wood, a Cromwellian supporter. Later, John Rous resided there – he was sugar plantation owner and a Quaker who was imprisoned and publicly flogged for his beliefs. Later still, a resident called Edward Belitha left money to Kingston Corporation to education “20 poor persons’ daughters”; the chief clark of the House of Commons, Nicholas Hardynge resided there and so too for a time the Reverend Richard Wooddesson, Head of Kingston Grammar School. From 1774 to 1839 it was the Parish Workhouse, extolling virtue, sobriety, obedience, industry and labour upon its residents.

In 1841 it underwent extensive alterations made by Charles Molloy Westmacott, a publisher, art critic and historian who came from a family of sculptors, artists and architects. He installed wood paneling formerly used in Kensington Palace, whilst incorporating many of the earlier buildings’ features and fittings. The ground floor was 2 main rooms split by sliding doors, its facade had oriel windows, elaborately carved oak doors, corner turrets, and 4 tall ecclesiastical windows;. It was successfully listed Grade II in 1975 for architectural and historic interest.

In its final years it was affectionately known as Snapper’s Castle due to the distinctive nature of Michael Snapper’s antiques shop. Meanwhile, next door a local firm of automotive suppliers Derrington’s ploughed their trade.


Norbiton Bus Garage

The garage originally opened in May 1952 on a site behind the Car and Antiques shops on London Road. Its opening wasn’t covered in the local press, but it was big enough for 75 buses and included a maintenance area. Routes 65,131,201, 206, 213 and 264 were based there.

By 1973, the London Transport Executive believed that the only solution to improving bus operations in the Kingston was by expanding Norbiton Garage, for which a Transport Act was granted in 1975. This gave them compulsory purchase powers among other things and they wished to use these powers to demolish Hertingtoncombe Manor. There was local opposition so a public enquiry took place, London Transport versus Kingston Council, Kingston Society, Kingston upon Thames Archaeology Society, Surrey Archaeology Society, and the Ancient Monuments Society, with the additional backing of the Greater London Council. The arguing was extensively covered in the local press, but in the end, London Transport won out. In giving permission for the demolition,  Mr John Eyre, Inspector for the Department of the Environment who conducted the public enquiry stated that “the public good would best be served by a better transport system”. The site was eventually cleared in 1978, but then in 1980 plans for the garage were shelved and the site left derelict.

Eventually, Norbiton Garage extension was built and opened officially on 13th January 1984 (and for operations the following day). It had accommodation for a fleet of 115 vehicles, and 400 staff over three areas – an operating block with workshops, administration, lockers, WCs, a games room and canteen (for 56 people at a time), a dock area and ancillary block. Kingston  Garage remained in use as a station for passengers. It had cost £4.6 million and the Brick Bulletin No.1 of 1985 wrote that is featured “a textured facade of considerable dignity”, it was also described as ‘the jewel in the crown of the London Bus Service’. Grade II listing hadn’t saved the Manor House but interestingly, 3 tree preservation orders had to be adhered to and water mains to the south of the site had to be left accessible, severely limiting the layout of the design.

Sadly, Norbiton Garage was shortlived. Everything changed in 1987 when the  Conservative government decided to privatise London’s bus services, creating London Bus Ltd, a process of deregulation which is against my own political standpoint and seems to involve running a fairly efficient public service into failure through a lack of investment and by disenfranchising your dedicated workforce (nobody is in the public sector for the money!), offering privatisation up as salvation, a process which I see repeated elsewhere today. London Bus Ltd tendered operations at Norbiton as a lower rate of pay which led to a reduction in drivers wages by £37 per week (equating to -25%) and increased working hours, plus a worsened pension deal. If the workers didn’t agree to contract changes then they would be made redundant at the end of June 1987 without redundancy pay, affecting drivers, mechanics, cleaners and other staff. Staff naturally went on strike, with disruption to services and graffiti appearing throughout Kingston at bus stops, and regional television coverage. Watch this video which explains the changes to contracts in 1987, and follow the links to other exerts including interviews with affected drivers. One of those was Graham Burnell who said:

I was a driver at Kingston and Norbiton garages from 1975 until 1990 … Unfortunately in June 1987 Norbiton became the first London bus garage to become a low cost unit where all routes were put out to tender and were won by reducing the drivers’ pensionable pay to £3.20 per hour whilst the London fleet rate was £4.17 per hour. We were also given decrepit vehicles to drive and the 39 hours week became 45 hours. Instead of the economical operation of a garage each end of the route i.e. Sutton and Norbiton, the tender trap meant all buses must come from one operator and consequently Norbiton ran empty buses to and from Sutton and West Croydon as positioning journeys whereas previously all buses ran in service. Our pay cut helped pay for this uneconomic operation.

The routes were re-tendered in 1990 and all but the 57, 71 and X71 were lost by London United to operators based at other garages. Subsequently, it was uneconomic to keep Norbiton Garage open and the last service ran just after midnight on 6th September 1991. The Surrey Comet described it as “the most visible casualty of privatisation” (6/9/1991), for the 100 staff still based there in 1991, it probably felt pretty personal. London Transport went on to sell the site for redevelopment, and Wickes opened there in 1995, “the finale to a sorry story of instransigence and needless loss” (June Sampson, in Surrey Comet, 7/4/1995).


  • Brick Bulletin: ‘Norbiton Bus Garage’ No.1/85 p.9-13
  • Burnell, G (July 2013) personal correspondence
  • Butters, S (2013) “That Famous Place”: A history of Kingston upon Thames Kingston:Kingston University Press
  • Surrey Comet: ‘Buses: Just who is thoughtless?’ 8/5/1987 p.2; ‘Bus Service attacked by Chief’ 17/7/1987 p.3; ‘A Crazy Plan on the Buses’ 31/7/1987 p.2; 16/7/1977; ‘Castle loses fight against bus invasion’ 11/2/1978; 20/1/1984 p.13; ‘Bus Garage to close in autumn’, 28/6/1991 p.1; ‘Snappers Castle loss still rankles’ 7/4/1995 p.18


K05: Norbiton Church

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Norbiton Hall (mansion and estate)

Norbiton Hall estate dates from 1174, when Henry II granted the manor of North Barton to one of his Knights of Anjou. The site was later part of the Lovekyn chapel endowment. Over the years it has been the residence of Eramus Ford (1532; Commissioner of Sewers who complained to the king that 35 of his finest elm trees had been destroyed, possibly for the construction of Hampton Court), Richard Taverner (1547; High Sheriff of Surrey, and protestant preacher who translated the bible into English), George Evelyn (1588; brother to the diarist John), the Countess of Liverpool (1829; widow to Prime Minister, the Earl of Liverpool).

Described by former resident in 1965, William Hardman as ‘one of the prettiest places in Surrey’ with beautiful gardens growing peaches, apricots, melons and a greenhouse full of strawberries, a copper beech under which the children sat with their governess, a great cedar and a vast magnolia where Hardman and his wife entertained their guests. Hardman even held an horticultural exhibition there in 1867.

The lands around Norbiton Hall mansion were gradually sold off from 1868, Birkenhead Avenue was laid in 1882 and by the turn of the 20th century the house and the remaining 4 acres of ground were surrounded by ever busier roads.

*Hardman was a Kingston Magistrate and High Recorder. During his time at Norbiton Hall, he received almost daily in a dedicated ‘Justice Room’ the drunk, disorderly and vagrant of Kingston. In a letter, Hardman wrote ‘they howl and groan before me in vain, [and] tell of piteous tales to a deaf ear’, a compassionate man, clearly!

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Norbiton Hall (flats)

A consortium of local businesses proposed a dog race track on the site in 1933 but this was rejected by both Kingston Council and National Government on appeal.

The site instead was developed into 192 flats by the London County Freehold & Leasehold Properties Limited who by 1935 had £8,000 000 of assets in the form of 7000 flats. Their purpose was apparently to ‘provide a public service for a public need’ through ‘labour saving flats designed on the most scientific lines’ – they had 18 branches including the headquarters at Marble Arch, London.

Norbiton Hall flats had built-in cupboards, dust chutes, constant hot water and for £85 per year – which included rent, rates, water, porterage, grounds maintenance – got you a dining hall, reception room, two bedrooms and tiled kitchen and bathroom. The bathrooms were the ‘last word in luxury’ with generously proportioned baths, chromium fittings, tiled floors and walls; meanwhile the kitchens  facilitated ‘perfect management’, apparently.

The Plaque on the side of the hall was unveiled by Sir Alfred Woodgate, Mayor of Kingston and reads ‘Here formerly stood Norbiton Hall. Built in the 16th century on Lovekyn’s Chapel land. It has been the residence of Richard Taverner, George Evelyn, Sir Anthony Benn, The Countess of Liverpool and others’


  • Butters, S (2013) ‘That Famous Place’: A history of Kingston upon Thames Kingston: Kingston University Press
  • Sampson, J (2006) The Kingston Book London: Historical Publications Ltd
  • Surrey Comet, 3rd December 1977

K04: Tiffin School, London Road

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The History of London Road (Part 1) – From Tiffin School to Clarendon House

These photos were taken of the north side of London Road, Kingston on a sunny day in March 2015. Looking at the variety of buildings you can see remnants of Kingston’s past – in the physical structures, but also in the types of businesses (undertaker, garage, restaurant, offices) and even in the names of some of them, which have survived for longer than the 213 bus has been running.

Using the Kelly’s Street Directories for Kingston editions of 1922,  1925, 1930, 1935, 1940, 1951, 1956, 1960, 1966 and 1971, and a variety of resources available in Kingston’s Local History Collection, the following is a collaged together history of London Road, no. 117 to 151 from 1921. It isn’t intended to be comprehensive, nor would such a history be possible to write – there is so much to tell even along this short section of road.

Lovekyn Chapel or the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene

Founded in 1309 by Edward Lovekyn and largely rebuilt in 1213 sweeps past the Lovekyn Chapel352 by his son John (a saltfish merchant, and four times Mayor of Kingston), it is now Grade II* listed and one of few remaining freestanding chantry chapels in England. Edward VI dissolved chantry chapels in 1547, and his sister Elizabeth I decreed the chapel and endowments to a free grammar school (Kingston Grammar) in 1561. Classes were held there until 1878 when the school moved to new purpose built premises. It was used as the gymnasium from 1904 to 1937 (see fabulous photo in Butters (2013, page 338)) and latterly as the  Carpentry workshop. It was restored in 1999 and opened as an arts and music venue

No.115 London Road

Also called Walnut Tree House, Elmfield was previously Chapel Farm, on the estate of the Lovekyn Chapel, but it ceased as a working farm in 1737. The Chapel Farm included the main house of brick, stables, coach houses, barns, other outbuildings, a dove cote and 9 acres of land. Most of the house was rebuilt in 1754, and much of the surviving building is original including a fanlight over a first floor door, staircase and some fireplaces. In 1851 is was a school for girls, in 1861 it was The Elms, a private home.

The site was briefly the home for the School for Physically Defective Children. This first opened in October 1905 at Church Road, then moved to Fairfield South in December 1912 and to the Elmfield site in March 1922 but had to vacate it in 1929 when Tiffin School moved there. Kingston Local History collection hass a souvenir pamphlet about the official opening of purpose built premises on Grange Road in 1931, describing the building which is now Bedelsford School.

Tiffin School

‘Bricks and mortar may not be all that is required to make a school, but a dignified, well-designed structure may go a long way towards scholastic efficiency and the promotion of the right atmosphere’  letters page, Surrey Comet 2nd November 1929.

Tiffin Boys School moved to the Elmfield site in 1929, to a new school building which including land purchase and furnishings cost Surrey County Council approximately £50,000 (land was £5,800 for 5 acres). It was officially opened on October 31st 1929 by Lord Ashcombe, Lord Lieutenant of Surrey, in the attendance of: the Mayor of Kingston, Bishop of Kingston, Chairman of Surrey County Council, Chairman of Maldens and Coombe Urban District and a whole load of other officials and prominent Kingstonians including Mr R H Turk (of Turks Steamers), Mr V Knapp (publisher of Comet) and Mr L H Bentall (of Bentalls).

The Building comprised of 14 ‘light and airy’ classrooms, 5 science laboratories, an art room, a special room for geography, a library and ‘in the house which was being reconditioned’ [presumably Elmfield] a music room, dining rooms and a kitchen. It was designed to accommodate 600 boys. Reported in the Surrey Comet at the time, salaries amounted to £11,000 per year total. 130 boys entered examinations for a scholarship each year, of which 14 were awarded in 1929, and although 98% were ‘fit to enter a secondary school’, only 10% went on to accept a fee-paying place.

In Kingston District in 1929, 1200 children were being education at Kingston Grammar and the Tiffin Schools; 250 were in Junior Technical Schools, 240 in Day Commercial School, and approximately 1750 taking evening classes at the Technical College.

The Tiffin brothers were wealthy brewers in the 17th century who left a sum of £150 for the education of poor boys and apprentices, which in turn led to the establishment of the Tiffin Schools by Kingston Corporation for lower middle class children. The school opened in January 1880 with 36 boys and 46 girls at what is now St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School on the Fairfield. By the end of the 19th century, the school had 700 pupils and 1899 saw the girls vacate to premise on St James Road. In the 1918 Education Act, all children to be educated to 14; which increased demand for school places. In 1929 there were 486 pupils at Tiffin, and the Fairfield site didn’t have an assembly hall big enough to address the whole school, so it was quite a momentous occasion to move to their new home.

The Queen Elizabeth Road building of 1929 now has lots of additions – South Building (1986), Chester Centre (1991), Sports Centre (1996), Dempsey Centre (2004). School now has over 1000 pupils.

No.119 London Road

G52 - Powell Undertakers

Powell, Albert Percy is listed as undertaker there in 1922 Now Greenwood, an independent, family run funeral directors. (left is a bill for a funeral which is part of our ephemera collection)




No.121/127 London Road

Fulford Garage (K1-2363)

Fulfords of Kingston: Fulford Garage, described as a Coachworks in 1922, was established in 1877. In the Street directory of 1966, they are described as motor body repairers and collision refinishers. They are still in business today.



No.135 London Road

Tram Depot (K1-2155)London Transport Executive (Tramways) Sub-station was built in 1906 by Courtney and Fairbairn at a cost of £1669 to house three 500kW rotary converters and 10 200Ks transformers to power the borough’s tramways.

Electric trams were seen as an alternative to horse-drawn omnibuses (‘holty-jolty things’). The metal lines needed better quality roads and overhead cabling. The 32 miles of tramline were begun on 3rd April 1905 and involved the work of over 100 men. Many buildings were demolished for the necessary road widening but they still managed to official open on 1st March 1906. Kingston Corporation had proposed its own scheme in 1900 but after debate in parliament, it was London United Tramways, chaired by Sir Clifton Robinson a Hampton resident, who provided the network. Trams were replaced by Trolleybuses on 15th June 1931, which in turn were withdrawn in May 1968

 No. 137 London Road

H Taylor and Co. (K1-6724)Originally the site of the (Three) Jolly Sailors a large inn dating back to at least 1768, which closed in 1913. It has been the premises of Taylor, H and Co. Cycling shop and later Motor Car Agents, then Kwik Fit tyre dealers


No.141 London Road

Vine House was built in 1737 by gentleman of means, Richard Garbrand. Between
1921 and 1933 it was the dental surgery of Frank Bevan, but it lost its front garden during street widening and the windows of the basement were bricked up as the road was raised. Converted to shops in late 1930s, the frontage was restored in 1966, and interior restoration by Haslemere Estates completed in 1979.

No.145 London Road

Hepworth Iron Co. (K1-2002)This was a complicated site, including the building, left – which still survives and was used by Hepworth Iron Co. Ltd. There was also a huge factory on the site, which housed at one time Micro Precision Products.


In 1930, no.145 was home to the Surrey Group Anti-aircraft Searchlight Companies, Royal Engineers (TA) and 316th (Surrey) Anti-Aircraft Searchlight Company HQ. By 1938, Perring, John Ltd ‘complete house furnishers’ had a “bright modern store” there.


Perring War Effort - Imperial War Museum collection“You’ll fine style you can be comfortable with at Perring’s”

Set up in 1892 by two brothers, John and William, with premises at Richmond and Paddington, the businesses expanded to Twickenham, Putney and Tooting and Harlesden and Willesden. By 1938, John’s chain had 20 branches and William’s had 13. Shops in Kingston, Sutton and Guildford converted in World War Two to factories led by volunteers producing 8.5million armature coils (electrical equipment for planes radios). Perrings had the most outworkers employed by a single organisation during the war effort. It was an all female staff, highly skilled, manipulating 450 miles of wire per day which was not much thicker than human hair under the directorship of Sir Ralph Perring. In 1992 the company still had premises at Eden Street and Head Quarters at Avenue House, Malden Road, Worcester Park, but they went into receivership in 1994.

No.145a was Hickman and Bishop estate agents, also Nash and Thompson Ltd aka Archie Frazer Nash, sports car designer and manufacturer, inventors of the FN Gun Turret – an hydraulic powered machine gun turret dated 1929 and later fitted to Hawker airplanes.

No.145b was McMurdo Instrument Co. Ltd electro-mechanical engineers and Mirco-Precision Products Ltd photographic Equipment Manufacturers. Their parent company, Celestion, started in Hampton Wick in 1924 as the Electrical Manufacturing and Plating Company. They built loud speakers – becoming Celestion Radio Co. and Celestion Ltd in 1927 manufacturing radios and gramophones. Production at their factory on the site was badly hit by the recession of the ‘30s, but from 1940 to 1945 the sole factory output was W-type loudspeakers for radios. Production moved to Thames Ditton in 1948.

Micro Precision Products started in 1940/1 by Patrick de Laszlo – owner of Celestion Ltd. and McMurdo was a subsidiary. MPP was the selling agent for their products. Alfred James Dell was an instrumental figure in the company – involved in design, manufacture and financial management for almost the entirety of the company’s existence. McMurdo originally made petrol cigarette lighters from brass, moving on the photographic equipment such as enlarges, tripods and projectors. Eventually MPP duplicated German style camera manufacture of twin lens reflex. 300 employees at the London Road site, but they moved to 22 High Street, Kingston in 1961, and the business failed in 1982. Croner House is now there, the base of Wolters Kluwer UK tax and accountancy Products and Services.

No.147 London Road

Rawlplug House (K1-3374)Sergeants James W, builders merchants, were founded in 1880 and moved in 1920 to London Road where they stayed until 1963, claiming to have invented the humble breeze block there.

Now the site of Clarendon House which was  built as Rawlplug House. Rawlplug were originally plumbers who then became engineers and building contractors, and made their millions when they invented the Rawlplug – a small insert to fill a hole into which you want to screw, now common place in all our walls in the extruded plastic variety (if you’ve ever drilled into a crumbling wall you will have used a Rawlplug). They had their headquarters at Kingston from 1966-70 and then again in 1988 until (possibly) 1999.

Did you know?

London Road was previously called Norbiton Street


  • Bunker, B (1980) Tiffin school Centenary: the first 50 years
  • Butters, S (2013) ‘That Famous Place’: A history of Kingston upon Thames Kingston: Kingston University Press
  • Curtis-Brignell, D (1990) The History of Vine House
  • Greenwood, G B – Kingston upon Thames: A Dictionary of Local History
  • Holmes, R (undated) Pubs, Inns and Taverns of Kingston Fairford, Glos.: Wildhern Press
  • Kelly’s Street Directories 1922-1971
  • Mannings, C (2001) Then and Now: Kingston upon Thames Stroud: Tempus Publishing
  • Perring, M (1992) Perring: 100 years of Style and Comfort
  • Royal Borough of Kingston (1931) Municipal Clinic, School and Offices Souvenir
  • Sampson, J (2004) Paintings of a Changing Kingston
  • Sampson, J (2006) The Kingston Book London: Historical Publications Ltd
  • Skinner, B (2004) Micro Precision Products: The MPP Story and the Products Newquay: MPP Publications
  • Surrey Comet – November 2nd 1929 p.10/p.16 (Tiffin School opening) and April 7th 1995 p.19 (article on Tramways by June Sampson)
  • Wakeford, J – Kingston’s Past Rediscovered
  • Ed. Watson, H A J (1979) Centenary Supplemant in The Tiffinian Vol.61
  • http://www.researchpod.co.uk/pdf/get_a_grip_history_of_rawlplug.pdf


K03: Cromwell Road Bus Station

Cromwell Road Bus Station and the Bentall's Depository (on fire)

Cromwell Road – A new bus station for Kingston

Once upon a time, Kingston had its very own bus garage and station, with a covered area for buses and a waiting room for passengers. This station was on Clarence Street as it curved to approach Kingston Railway Station and Cromwell Road. Built in 1922, the building was unfortunately always a bit small for the number of vehicles needing to use it.

Traffic congestion in Kingston was unbearable mid-20th century and it was recognised that the reconfiguration of the road system would also lead to changes in the way buses operated. A garage at Norbiton was proposed in 1973 by London Transport (see future blog post K06: Gordon Road), but it only opened in 1984 and was already out of use in 1992 when a new replacement for Kingston Garage was proposed on Cromwell Road.

Development of Cromwell Road Bus Station

Cromwell Road, formerly Tills Road was taken over by Kingston Corporation in 1884. In the 1920s, one of it’s most prominent features was Austin’s jam and fruit pressing factory which employed 100 in 1929 and processed 10-12 tons of fruit daily. The site of the future bus station was a coal wharf, but buses would use this stretch of road to wait on if Kingston Garage was overfull before entering it by a side road behind the Bentall’s Depository.

Kingston Bus Station was actually the first Cromwell Road Bus Station, in that it was built on Cromwell Road, on land which had formed part of Canbury Lodge gardens. Built by the London General Omnibus Company in 1922, the frontage onto Clarence Street was only added during expansion in December 1928. At that time it served 18 routes and a total fleet of 40.

A new bus station for Cromwell Road was proposed by Kingston Council to replace Kingston and Norbiton Garages and to alleviate problems at Fairfield Bus Station which was attracting a large number of complaints due to its small size and poor facilities (basically, it was serving too many routes, but had only been built in 1990). The new station was to include such luxuries as covered seating for 175 passengers and information offices at either end of the station, as reported to the Development Committee June 24th 1992. It was designed by London Buses to include access ways, a bus garage, workshop, vehicle wash and underground fuels tanks –  but a basic visual assessment would suggest that the actual development has none of these! However, they did build a small bus stand at the Queen Elizabeth Road end of the station. Due originally to open in October 1994, the Station was delayed to April 1995 and again to September (SWLB&TM, M43). However, temporary bus stops were in operation on Cromwell Road during 1995 before the Station itself was complete.

The station has had its own operational problems. The design of the chevron bays  and the tendency for vehicles to pull up against the rear wall meant that often passengers were set down in the middle of the road, and therefore susceptible to being squished by reversing vehicles (!), and/or slips on oil spills. This was actually against protocol, but a survey conducted by Katalogue found only 1 in 10 London United Buses dropping passengers at the kerbside as they ought to!

The South West London Bus and Tram Magazine reports in 1994 that: ‘Clarence Street bus station will close for good: it is probably the most old fashioned bus station in London, in some ways little changed since the 1930s’ (M41). The lease ended in January 1996, but the site was still used to stand buses at night and only vacated on May 17, 2000 after a sudden sale of the land by TfL and the removal of operations to the newly completed Tolworth Garage. It was demolished the same year to make way for the Rotunda complex

A Cinema on the corner of Clarence Street, a story spanning 90 years

The Rotunda leisure complex was built upon the site of Kingston Garage and what had been Kingston Kinema, then Studio 7 cinema and eventually Pine World furniture store. The Kinema opened as the Kingston Picture Theatre in 1910. With 350 seats, and tea and biscuits served during matinees, the cinema was modernised in 1930. In 1970 it closed for two weeks to reopen as Studio 7, before closing again in 1983 to become  a furniture shop. It was demolished in 2000.

The Rotunda is a £30 million leisure complex developed by Clearwater. It includes a 13 screen Odeon cinema (the largest cinema in the UK when completed), a health club, bowling alley, restaurants and themed bars. Original plans for the 3rd floor included a ‘virtual reality centre’ but I don’t think that came to fruition, and the 4th floor was to have a members only restaurant. The cinema incorporates the listed Bentall’s Depository, which dates from 1936. It had been ravaged by fire in the 1980s with flames engulfing the 4th and 5th floors for 30 hours, destroying thousands of pounds worth of stock losses to over 600 Bentall’s customers – indeed the fire took 100 firemen and women using 25 engines to extinguish. Refurbishment of the Depository was completed in October 2002, and I personally think this has been a really successful reuse of a listed building for modern purposes.

K+20: A new vision for Kingston’s Buses

The K+20 plan was a strategic development proposal for Kingston, drafted in 2004. Part of this plan was for a new Station as Wheatfield Way (the rear of the Old Post Office site). This was to replace Fairfield Bus Station and serve 13 routes and would have been delivered by 2012. It was also set to  enable pedestrianisation of Eden Street and Brook Streeet, and the whole development was dubbed the Eden Quarter. However, the proposal was never truly serious as the site is considered too small by London Buses to allow for the large number of bus movements required of it, including an estimated 30% increase in bus travel from 2008  to 2020 and the need for 270 bus movements per hour through the site at its peak. Katalogue suggested possible names for the new station: Wheatfield Bus Station (obvious); Olympics Bus Station (due to date of opening); KATA Bus Station or my favourite the Livingston Bus Station (after the bendy-bus Mayor of London). The station, and the whole plan never came to anything.

Final thought…

The following warning was written by Adams (author of Katalogue) in 2007, and I think it holds true today.

If proper provision of bus movements is not made at this stage then people will not switch from cars to buses. Pollution will rise and bus travel will become 2nd class travel. The opportunity is now to do things properly

(Katalogue No.63, p7 )

The development of provision for bus users within the town of Kingston has been piecemeal at best. I tend to blame the ringroad as is was clearly designed only for car users in mind and makes navigating Kingston’s centre almost impossible for everyone! Situating the bus stations outside of the ring road leads to longer journeys for passenger, who must navigate a whole network of crossings and is hard for vehicle movements too – leading to the use of piddly little contraflow lanes, dangerous lane crossings and pulling out into fast moving traffic. But I wonder what (if anything) can be done to improve matters whilst the world, and Kingston in particular, remain so car dependent.


Kingston gained its first bus lane in 1994, when a lane was installed on London Road, running from Park Road to Queen Elizabeth Road.


The Contraflow on Cromwell Road running beside the Rotunda was opened on 23rd January 2003. As Adams points out in Katalogue No.45, p.3 this meant ‘saving over two minutes on the following routes 111, 216, 285, 411, 416, 451, 461, 513 & N285’ (!)


KATAlogue (The Kingston Area Travellers’ Association journal): No. 43, 45, 53, 59, 63, 64

Sampson, J (2006) The Kingston Book London: Historical Publications Ltd

South West London Bus and Tram Magazine: (No. M35, p.13;  M41 p.9-10; M43 p.7)

Surrey Comet: 22/10/1990 p.1; 5/6/1992 p.5; 7/4/1995 p.18-19; 6/12/1996 p.1; 12/5/2000 p.7

Drivers: part-human, part-machine

A while back now I contacted Go-Ahead London’s marketing department to see if they were interested in my project. They weren’t – which I thought was a shame, if understandable, they are a private company after all. The reason I was slightly put out about the rejection was that I contacted them because I wanted to learn: firstly about the operator’s experience, i.e. how they deliver bus services and remain profitable; secondly, about bus drivers, their work routines and the experiences they have – to be honest, I thought GoAhead might take the opportunity to show themselves in a good light and also express their appreciation for their drivers.

So, I’ve had to go about things slightly differently: by going to Sutton Garage and hanging about until someone talked to me, Google-ing until I found a 213 bus driver online and relying on chance to give me information about driving the 213 bus.

Who would be a bus driver?

When people complain about bus travel it’s more often that not something to do with bus drivers. They aren’t friendly, don’t say hello, are lazy, bad drivers. It is true that according to the literature, the key factor in positive bus service delivery is the drivers, and a role profile for bus drivers might be something like:

  • Empathetic, approachable
  • Knowledgeable about the local area and transport connections
  • Good communicators, Cooperative
  • Good drivers, holder of PCV license and meets DVLA medical requirements
  • Working towards or hold BTEC qualification; sign up to follow highway code and company code of conduct
  • Patient with good levels of concentration no matter the road traffic conditions, weather, or situation on the bus

but who could realistically meet those criteria, all day, day in day out, which is basically what is required if drivers are to avoid criticism? With a starting salary of £26K, 30 applicants are tested weekly to become drivers, so obviously quite a lot of people want to do it.

213 drivers

I personally really like the 213 drivers. They are always smartly dressed, and most of them seem quite quiet and unassuming. I always say ‘hello’ when I get on, and ‘thanks’ as I get off which might help relations a bit. I have a lot of respect for them because I think that there job is difficult, aside from anything else, they are taking responsibility for a lot of people’s lives.

Here’s a little description of a few of them as I don’t know their names: the quiet, ginger one – think he does the split peak hours shift and gives me a wry smile when he picks me up at Lindsay Road (I think he knows who I am re: this project); then there’s the tattoo-ed,earring-ed bloke with the Elvis haircut and cool attitude; the older gentlemen who I can’t decide if he’s nice or secretly planning to kill us all; the five lady drivers including the Lara Croft lookalike with the Aviators and the petroleum blond one who looks like she should be in Euro-pop group; the silver fox – gentlemen with black hair going grey who is always friendly; the one who picked me up at Fairfield on DOE33 (23/7/13. 5.25pm), called me ‘Princess’ (the first time ever I’ve been called that) which made me grin from ear to ear; the smiley round faced one; the one who stopped a bust up on the bus just last week without even leaving his cab (they aren’t actually allowed to)… There’s loads more but I only see them for like 5 seconds so can’t distinguish them all.


But I’m not the only one looking at the drivers. Within their cab they have various machines which judge their performance and tell them what to do, either by a system of beeping or through intercom to colleagues at the bus company and a London Buses control centre. The first machine monitors the driving: so if they brake too sharply or accelerate to hard, or travel at too high a speed they will get beeped at. They are only allowed a certain number of beeps before they face disciplinary. This is to ensure a comfortable and safe journey for passengers – no seat belts after all.

The second machine monitors things like the headway, i.e. the gap between buses, to ensure a regular, to-time service. The bus company has to meet ‘quality of service indicators’ which include waiting times (for 213, a passenger shouldn’t wait more than 6.5 minutes).  If the company meets these targets they can earn up to 15% contract value as extra payment, or be fined up to 10% contract value if they don’t. The machine is used to calculate these timings based on scheduled points (as shown on a driver’s duty card) between 5am and 11.59pm daily, monitored with satellite navigation technology.

Some tales from behind the steering wheel…

One of the things you learn by driving all day, five days a week, is just how narrow a gap you can get your vehicle through. It’s usually wider than it looks.
There’s a certain place on the 213 bus route where the road is dead straight, and there’s a long enough interval between stops for you to work your bus up to the 30 limit. About halfway along there’s a pub, and there are always some cars parked just past it. The space between these cars and the opposite kerb is just wide enough for a bus and a car to pass each other: not a lot of spare room, but enough.
Many drivers didn’t realise this, and I used to take advantage. If I was approaching those parked cars and there was a car coming the other way I’d carry on at full speed, knowing from experience it was OK to do so, and nine times out of ten the car would stop to let me through, its driver apparently convinced that a collision was impending.
It wasn’t only car drivers who got it wrong. One day a new driver, out for the first time on the 213, was coming up to this bottleneck with a car approaching from the opposite direction. Our lad seems to have suffered a fatal bout of indecision, never a good idea when you’re driving. First he thought (correctly) he could make it, but at the last moment he got cold feet. Worse, instead of just screeching to a halt, he tried to swerve out of the way.
The first in the line of parked cars that day was a Mercedes S class, the expensive, top-of-the-range model. It’s a big car, with a long boot. When I came past not long after the incident it looked like a hatchback…

I was a 213 driver for about ten years. I liked it partly for the reason someone else told you, that there’s a toilet (and a coffee machine) at each end, and also because at both ends the bus stands away from any bus stops, so you can relax between journeys (if you have the time!) away from passengers pestering you to get on. That complete break, however short, can be quite important if you’ve been having a stressful time. Also, because the whole route is in semi-detached suburbia, you don’t normally get too much aggro, except occasionally on a Friday or Saturday night (see below).

There are some things about it that are not so good, from a bus driver’s point of view. One is the vast number of schoolchildren you pick up. I used to say to colleagues who moaned about this: ‘If you can’t stand the kids, you shouldn’t be a 213 driver.’

Another is the fact that both Sutton and Kingston have a lively night-life, so things can get a bit fraught with hordes of drunken passengers on Friday and Saturday nights. At one time we used to call the 2320 departure from Kingston ‘the scum run’ because it used to pick up so many drunks in Eden Street and Cromwell Road, after the pubs had turned out. It’s not so bad now there are so many late opening bars and clubs in Kingston to stagger the going-home times.

And of course there is the dreadful traffic in the rush hours. My personal record for the morning crawl between North Cheam crossroads and Worcester Park Station stands at about one-and-a-half hours (!). The highway planners really shot themselves in the foot when they decided a few years ago, for reasons best known to themselves, to alter the road layout so that the traffic queuing for the Worcester Park Station traffic lights in the Kingston direction is all funnelled into one lane, where there used to be two. I used to be one of the ‘nice drivers’ who’d let people off between stops in jams like this, so they could walk it. But you have to be careful. I once did it when I had a senior inspector riding as a passenger, and he gave me a right rollocking for it. The issue is that the bus company is not insured for any accidents that may happen when passengers are boarding or alighting other than at bus stops.

There were times, like driving along peacefully early on a sunny summer morning when most people were still in bed, when I’d say to myself ‘Hey, you’re being paid for this!’ And even when things were tough, the answer to the question ‘Would you rather be doing this, or would you rather go back to your last job?’ was always ‘Yes.’

I came a sort of full circle by becoming a 213 driver, because it was my local bus when I was a child. That was when it used to go past Carshalton Beeches Station and along Banstead Road South to terminate at Belmont, and was run by RF type single-deckers.

Both stories from Richard
I was a driver at Kingston and Norbiton garages from 1975 until 1990 and worked on the 213 from 1986 when crew operation finished on route 65. Unfortunately in June 1987 Norbiton became the first London bus garage to become a low cost unit where all routes were put out to tender and were won by reducing the drivers’ pensionable pay to £3.20 per hour whilst the London fleet rate was £4.17 per hour. We were also given decrepit vehicles to drive and the 39 hours week became 45 hours. Instead of the economical operation of a garage each end of the route i.e. Sutton and Norbiton, the tender trap meant all buses must come from one operator and consequently Norbiton ran empty buses to and from Sutton and West Croydon as positioning journeys whereas previously all buses ran in service. Our pay cut helped pay for this uneconomic operation.
The 213 was a pleasant route with more than adequate running time and the four different eastern terminii added to the variety. I believe it is known as the ‘Old mans road’ which usually means the senior drivers prefer it rather than some of the more hectic routes. When I worked it the duties were on a ’round robin’ rota which meant working all the routes on one rota rather than the idea of drivers being routebound.
The only quibble I had was the Belmont Station stand where having come down past the Royal Marsden Hospital the 213 had to reverse onto the stand in pitch darkness and so if the stand was busy I would go up the A217 towards Banstead and turn at the roundabout and then wait at the first bus stop on return. One night I had a Leyland National single decker and nearly slid into the bushes at the junction of Banstead Road South and Downs Road due to black ice at this high spot.
From Graham
Thank you for your great memories!
So I hope you begin to see how drivers are expected to behave as part-human, part-machine. Without them, the bus simply wouldn’t exist, but at the end of the day, they are only human. We all have bad days at work, and personally, I’d prefer a human driving my bus, with all their errors of judgement, rather than a machine driving based on statistics and probability – for one thing, who would break up the arguments (!) and who would wait for the little old lady to board?
One last thing:

In the driver’s manual for the 213 route, under ‘hazards’ it says: ‘Central Road, Worcester Park – be patient, especially during morning peaks when this stretch of road blocks up with traffic’ – that is the bloomin’ biggest understatement of the century!

For the traffic in Worcester Park alone, I commend 213 bus driver, you’ve got more patience than me!