21/3 on the 213

I meant to write this last Thursday, sorry for the delay!

I caught the bus from Kingston (Fairfield Bus Station) at about 9.10pm as I’d been working late. The bus was really busy – presumably with other late workers – who mostly got off at The Plough, Old Malden.

At around Cambridge Road, New Malden, I overheard a conversation between a young woman and her friend (well… I didn’t hear the friend as it was a phone call!) and the basic message was that the woman on the bus was advising her friend not to get sacked, and rather, to hand in her notice. It seemed like pretty sensible advice to me. I guess that the reason I remember the conversation is I was thinking about my own career at the time.

As well as studying for my MA, I work for Kingston Museum and Heritage Service 4 days a week. I really enjoy my job as I am learning a lot – not just about the heritage sector, but also about working for a local authority and also how to behave professionally. It’s a tough world out there, and you have to make the most of every opportunity – above this, I think it’s really important to get along with people.

Heritage might appear to be about material things : objects, castles, 1950’s buses, but fundamentally it is actually about people: who they were, what they valued and what they have chosen to give to us (their future). What the woman on the bus was telling her friend, was ‘don’t jeopardise your future’  and this too is the basic message of heritage. Learn from people who came before, let’s share their stories together, and tomorrow will be better.


The London Bus Museum

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

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

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

London Bus Museum Leaflet

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

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

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

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

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