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.

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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.

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!