Great British icons – London’s Big Red Bus: the Routemaster

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1968
london's bus

What is the first thing you think of when London comes to mind? Be as stereotypical as you want to be! Perhaps it’s telephone booths, or the guards outside Buckingham Palace? For many, black Hackney cabs are synonymous with the Big Smoke.

For us, thinking of the capital of England has always conjured up the image of the Routemaster: London’s Big Red Bus. This iconic mode of transport ran all throughout the city’s streets for the second half of the 20th century and it was instantly recognisable all over the world.

Eventually of course, the bus was exported around different cities throughout the globe and its design saw the inception of new features that would be incorporated on all buses. Some of these included lightweight aluminium bodies, power-steering and an automatic gearbox.

These buses were also among the first to have a ‘hop on, hop off’ feature, which meant that the passengers could board and disembark much more quickly at stops and saw buses less prone to delays on their route. Although they were something of a health and safety risk, this feature proved to be popular with those who used these buses.

It was in 2005 when the Routemaster was finally taken out of service, having survived the privatisation of London Transport, it was refurbished in order to see it leading a longer life on the bus circuit.

Routemaster Bus London

For those of you who have a burning nostalgia for this piece of London’s travel history, you’ll still be able to hop aboard thanks to a heritage route made specifically for this classic red bus.

Initial Inspiration of The Routemaster

London buses were first brought to the city after George Shillibeer went to Paris in 1829 and set about creating a horse-drawn omnibus that he had seen whilst on his trip.

The first route of this went from Paddington Station to the Bank of England and the name was quickly shortened to bus. Similar services followed and then in 1855 an Anglo-French company, Compagnie Generale des Omnibus de Londres, bought out all the original horse-drawn ‘bus’ companies and formed a monopoly.

When the early 20th century rolled around, the company was operating a fleet of horse-drawn and motorised buses until 1912, after which it was bought out by none other than the operators of the London Underground.

Early Buses

The earliest motorised buses were all painted red – although there was a time when they had been decorated with the Union Jack.

It was the B-type bus, also known as Ole Bill, that was the most famous of these early versions and was used during WWI to carry troops.

From here, the London bus system was bought out by the Associated Equipment Company (AEC) that built a huge range of buses, including the first double-decker with a roof, which hit the streets of London in the 1920s.

After WWII, it was clear that a more fuel-efficient bus was needed that could carry more passengers, and between 1947 and 1956 the Routemaster was designed by the AEC to huge praise – particularly for its open rear deck that allowed people to hop on and hop off with ease.

If you don’t manage to get the time to go on the heritage tour of the Routemaster, you’ll find a couple of examples of it in the London Bus Museum in Weybridge.

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