London Transport Buses, Trams and Trolleybuses in Preservation by Malcolm Batten
Nowadays there are many thousands of buses, trams and trolleybuses preserved in the United Kingdom. These exist in private hands, as heritage vehicles retained by bus operators and in a large number of museum collections open to the public. There are regular bus rallies, road runs and bus running days where heritage vehicles once again carry passengers over former routes. This was not always the case. Until the 1950s there were only a handful of such vehicles and hardly any of these were on public display. Those vehicles that did exist were due to a few companies having the foresight to put aside one or more of their historic vehicles, even though there were only occasional opportunities to display these. One such enlightened company was the London General Omnibus Company, the major bus operator in London who had retained one of the famous B type buses of the First World War period along with its successors and had celebrated the centenary of omnibuses in 1929 by constructing a replica of Shillibeer’s horse bus. When London Transport was formed in 1933, they continued this tradition by retaining other historic items including trams and Underground locomotives.
The London Transport collection first came on public display when the Museum of British Transport opened in stages in 1961/3 in a former bus (originally tram) garage at Clapham. This also included railway locomotives and artefacts collected or inherited by British Railways and some provincial buses, trams and trolleybuses. The Museum of British Transport only had a short life, closing in 1973 as the rail exhibits were moved to form the new National Railway Museum at York. A replacement museum known as the London Transport Collection opened at Syon Park in 1973 to house the London material and this subsequently was replaced by the current London Transport Museum at Covent Garden, now also supplemented by the Museum Depot at Acton.
Private preservation of buses only began in 1956 when former London General AEC Regal T31 was bought by a group of six people including Ken Blacker, Michael Dryhurst and Prince Marshall for the sum of £45, to become the first privately preserved bus. Many others followed and the London Bus Preservation Group was founded by eleven preservationists in 1966. With London Transport having been the world’s largest municipal transport organisation it is no surprise that there are more former London buses preserved than from anywhere else.
While many of these are owned by private individuals or groups there are also major collections. The London Bus Preservation Group (now Trust) built up a museum collection at Cobham which was eventually replaced in 2011 when the magnificent new London Bus Museum opened at Brooklands, near Weybridge.
Private preservation of trams had preceded that of buses and a National Tramway Museum was opened at Crich, Derbyshire in 1963, now known as the Crich Tramway Village. A museum opened at Carlton Colville, near Lowestoft to house and run a locally preserved tram. They forged links with the London Trolleybus Preservation Society and installed both tram and trolleybus wiring, becoming the first place to run a privately preserved trolleybus under wiring in 1971. This and the National Trolleybus Museum at Sandtoft near Doncaster are among the few places where such vehicles can operate.
I have been a lifelong bus enthusiast and have photographed preserved buses at rallies and museum sites since 1971 when bus rallies were first becoming established. In this book I look at the variety of former London vehicles that have survived, both on static display and operating. 2023 marks ninety years since the creation of London Transport who were so instrumental in securing the survival of some of the oldest vehicles. Although London Transport itself has long been replaced, the work of the London Transport Museum, the London Bus Preservation Trust and the numerous other preservationists ensures that the legacy lives on and that these historic vehicles can still continue to do the work of carrying passengers that they were designed to do.
Malcolm Batten's book London Transport Buses, Trams and Trolleybuses in Preservation is available for purchase now.