Have you ever wondered what all the numbers and letters on buses and their stops mean? Here is a limited guide to what I’ve learnt…


Letters and numbers on the front of the bus:

The letters refer to the bus type/ design, since 1990s privatisation, the number of types has really expanded. Letters for classic bus types include ‘RM’ for Routemasters, ‘RT’ for Regent Three, and ‘RF’ for Regal Four. The 213 uses DOEs  (Alexander Dennis Trident II Optare Enviro 400) and PVLs (London Plaxton President bodied Volvos). The number afterwards is individual to the bus, like the numbers assigned to limited edition artist’s prints.

DOE28 at Sutton Garage. 'DOE' refers to bus type (both chassis and body design), '28' is the individual number assigned to that specific bus.

DOE28 at Sutton Garage. ‘DOE’ refers to bus type (both chassis and body design), ’28’ is the individual number assigned to that specific bus.

Combination of letters and numbers on the side of the bus:

The letter refers to the garage where the bus comes from. So, all 213s will have ‘A###’, where ‘A’ means Sutton. Previously, they could have had ‘K’ for Kingston or ‘NB’ for Norbiton Garages but they are both long gone now, Kingston where Oceana now is, Norbiton where the Wickes store is. The number following, the running number, indicates where the bus is in the fleet, so if you wait to see a few buses pass they should be in chronological sequence. This number corresponds to a duty number on the driver’s duty card, this tells the driver where on the route they are supposed to be at a certain time.

The letter number combination on the yellow panel tells you that the 213 is from Sutton (A) and its running number is '250' - so the next bus should be '251'

The letter number combination on the yellow panel tells you that the 213 is from Sutton (A) and its running number is ‘250’ – so the next bus should be ‘251’


Stop sign for Malden Green Avenue

Stop sign for Malden Green Avenue – Towards Sutton

Yellow/Orange numbers and letters on stop signs/ Numbers on bus shelters:

These numbers are assigned by London Buses/ Transport for London presumable for maintenance and inventory purposes. The yellow number is called an ‘Origination and Destination plate’. All the stops in Kingston Borough start with K and all the stops in Sutton with J but I don’t know anything else about them

Live departure numbers:

These numbers appear on a red and grey panel fixed on the sign post. You can also get a full list of these on TfL’s website which allows people with fancy phones (what I call smart phones) to find out when the next bus will arrive at any given stop.

Letters above stop signs:

This is called a ‘Point Letter’ and refers to a position on a map which is used when there are a number of different bus stops to choose from, i.e. at interchanges and town centres. It is specific to a physical location so that for example, on the 213 route there are three stops with point letter E.

Number on stop sign (underside)

This is called the stop number and is unique to the sign, it is on a little greyish disk on the bottom of the route display, for London Bus’s inventory records.

Individual shelter number and map for identifying your stop.

Individual shelter number and location map for identifying your stop.


Waiting for a bus….

Avid Readers (hehem….),

May I again apologise for the long delay since my last post. It has been totally hectic as I have put the final touches to two modules’ assessments: one about the future of Local History Museums in London, the other about Torture at the Tower of London. Exciting stuff, but not what this blog is all about.

So, I promise I have been procrastinating, I mean, working when I could on this project and have been going through all the photos I have taken on the route, editing and renaming them. I have designated all the stops a special code which may or may not prove helpful in the long run. It is useful because now all the files are in route order e.g. from Kingston, Fairfield Bus Station is ‘K1’, Eden Street is ‘K2’, Cromwell Road is ‘K3’ etc. It is not useful because duplicate stop names now have two codes e.g. Fairfield Bus Station is also ‘S46’ being the last stop from Sutton on the 213. I’m not sure I’d make a very good archivist, managing information is tricksy!

Waiting for a 213?

Waiting for a 213?

As well as messing about on Photoshop, I have been practising the art of  ‘participant observation’. If you ever use the 213, I’m the one with the little green notebook writing down everything you say! Mostly I have been observing myself as the little gems of insight below will attest:

8/5/13 towards Kingston, 1pm: Ate my lunch on the bus, it was tricksy because of the balsamic dressing – not too stinky though

8/5/13 towards Sutton, 6pm: Bus on diversion due to closure of Eden Street. Smells of lime jelly; traffic is bad

9/5/13, towards Sutton, 7.50pm: Cold, drizzly rain makes waiting for the bus not very nice! Bus on diversion from Kingston Hospital to Langley Grove, down Coombe Lane West and Traps Lane

10/5/13, towards Kingston, 9am: Ran for the bus – always a difficult call because you never know if the driver will wait; still no announcement for Brabham Court; Gary the Transport Surveyor for RBK was on the bus, ‘Good Morning, Good Morning’

24/5/13, towards Sutton, 5pm: Two guys and a lass talking about clubbing, the lass had spent so much at Ann Summers she ‘got free lube’ and was happy to share that insight with the whole bus.

25/5/13, towards Kingston, 9am: Just missed my usual bus and since they aren’t so regular on Saturdays it means I will be later for work than I want to be; X26 goes past at 9.03am, could’ve probably made that had I walked directly to Worcester Park

More to follow – I promise to start some serious eavesdropping. The problem is, most of it isn’t particularly wholesome listening. In the past I have heard about: a man going to the magistrates’ for a hearing telling his mate he hopes to get off a custodial sentence; a woman arguing with her partner over the phone about custody of their child; a man questioning the paternity of an unknown woman’s baby, and how the likely father was a nutcase; who fancies who, who is sleeping with who. Maybe it’s just that these are the conversations which stick in the mind… I should probably frequent the lower deck more often to hear about babies and shopping….

Cheam – A reminiscence and an interesting comparison

I’ve been trying to gather more information over recent weeks so haven’t had too much time to actually write a blog! I have finally walked the entire route! Not in one go, I hasten to add – although the parts were tiring enough. Today I walked from Langley Grove, New Malden to Kingston, I’ve also done The Triangle, Coombe to Kingston Bypass, Blakes Lane, Old Malden to Lindsay Road, Worcester and on the occasion of going to Cheam – from Lindsay Road, Worcester Park to Sutton! You can see a lot by walking and obviously I’ve photographed everything so hope to upload some interesting snaps later.

comparison cheam broadwayRichard Holmes, local pub historian gave me a postcard he bought of the 113 bus (precursor to 213) passing along Cheam Broadway in the 1920s. Turns out it is an S439 type bus. I decided it’d be fun to recreate the photo in modern times and the below image is my attempt. I got some strange looks standing in the middle of a road crossing waiting for the 213 to pass but it was a fun exercise I will probably try to do more once I’ve made my selections from Kingston and Sutton Archives’ photo collection (there are some cracking images of the old A3 among others…hope to post in the future with some examples).

I also advertised in my work’s newsletter and that has prompted some wonderful memories. This is one of my absolute favourites:

I felt I must respond to your request for experiences on the 213 bus as it
was my mode of transport in 1956 to Cheam Village to see my fiancée
having had to sell my 1938 Austin 12 to buy the engagement ring!   At that
time I would have travelled on the new underfloor engined RF buses.

On one occasion I didn’t use the 213 because I missed the last bus home around midnight and had to walk!

The gentleman above lived in Arundel Road, Kingston at the time which is about 5 miles from Cheam. A long walk, but worth it I’m sure, as he and his wife are still together – 57 years later!

Roger’s 213

from 28th August 1993

Your timetables for Routes 151 and 213, August 1993

A few weeks ago now, I met a nice gentleman called Roger who had heard me speak at the Maldens and Coombe Heritage Society. He is a pensioner who spends some of his time as a paid Transport Surveyor on London Transport so he knows a lot! He also happens to have a wonderful collection of bus ephemera: tickets, timetables, other leaflets which he kindly leant to me. I’ve now scanned it all in and will be uploading bits as time goes on.

Roger shared a few of his experiences on the 213 which were particularly evocative to me. In 1969, Roger was commuting on the 213 to North Cheam and there was a regular fellow passenger on the upper deck who used to chain smoke for the whole journey. As a none smoker, I can’t really imagine anything worse than being stuck in a moving metal box, smoke billowing, but I guess it was fairly common in the late 1960s. It makes quite a contrast to the annoying habits of the average fellow passenger nowadays – listening to music too loud, gossiping about their sex lives….but my absolute worst complaint is when people eat really smelly food on the bus home, when I’m starving for my dinner! A few years ago, Roger’s stop ‘Oak Road’ got bus shelters and apparently one of the neighbours complained. This made me think about how (potentially) disruptive it would be to have a bus stop located right outside your door, and buses zooming along your road every 3-5minutes (one going each way at 6-10 minute intervals), it must actually be quite intrusive to your daily life. Finally, another insight into the lives of bus drivers: apparently the 213 route is favoured by older and female drivers because of the ‘facilities’ at both ends of the route. The average shift might be 4 round trips, i.e. Sutton-Kingston, Kingston-Sutton x 4 which is actually quite a lot of driving, particularly when road works seem to make parts of the route into a crawl (A3 to Worcester Park, North Cheam). It’s bad enough being on the bus in such conditions, but to be driving must be really frustrating! I suppose automatic transmission makes it a bit easier than manual, but still!

A Walk from Lindsay Road to Blake’s Lane

First off, I have an email address now, feel free to message me with any thoughts about the project or contributions which you’d prefer not to share publicly. It’s 213bus@gmail.com!

Now to the blog….

This blog is a bit more about my project rather than specifically about buses or local history.

I’m completing this project as part of a Masters degree called ‘Heritage (Contemporary Practice)’ at Kingston University. Instead of doing a traditional dissertation I have chosen to do this, a creative project. There are three elements which I will be assessed on: a 5000 word essay, a journal (this blog) and a creative outcome. Initially, I thought that my creative outcome or proposal should be a local history exhibition. I’m still exploring if this will be possible but in the meantime I want to keep my options open and have come up with a few other ideas: a 213 festival (events programme, heritage bus, gingerbread buses!), a historic bus tour (seems appropriate, travelling on an old 213), or a group of walking tours (with guide to the local history). Which is your favourite? Any other suggestions?

I spent a bit of today doing some good old fieldwork. By that, I mean I walked from Lindsay Road – my stop, to Blake’s Lane next to the A3 roundabout taking photos of stuff. At each bus stop I took a photo of the stop itself and the view from the stop (if you looked directly ahead of you). I’m hoping to come across some old photos of the stops so this should make a good contrast. Plus, I want to deposit my research in an archive (possibly, Kingston, Sutton and the London Transport Museum if they want it) so it will be nice to have a record of the 213 as it is in 2013 for unknown people in the future to look at….see the example below of Lindsay Road, where I wait for my bus most mornings…

left: view of the stopright: view from the stop

left: view of the stop
right: view from the stop

As well as photographing the stops, I was also on the look out for interesting things to research. I could look into the design of stops themselves, Lindsay Road has a new shelter because an old tree feel on top of the last one, and I must say it is absolutely rubbish! Way too tall that is doesn’t actually function as a shelter either from wind, rain or sunshine! Or maybe look into the history of pubs on the route: today I passed the North End Tavern and the Worcester Park (boarded up). Other interesting things: churches, F W Paine funeral directors, Police station, interconnection between railway and bus route, interconnection of different bus routes, Manor Park Recreation Ground, ‘Roadstar’ art piece….. Lots of possibilities!

I then came back and designed a business card. Have you guys got any good suggestions of where I can print it without excessive postal charges? I also made up a postcard/flyer thing which I’m thinking of getting printed as a way to start collecting other people’s thoughts, memories and experiences….A lot to think about, a lot to do!

Business Card       Postcard