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Tag Archives: London

  • West of England Emergency Service Vehicles by Dave Boulter

    I have always had a strong interest in all three emergency services as well as the RNLI. I served for almost 30 years as a police officer, retiring at the end of 1996 as a chief superintendent (divisional commander) with the Ministry of Defence Police (MDP), my early police service being ten years with Somerset & Bath which amalgamated to become Avon & Somerset Constabulary. After eight years serving in uniform and plain clothes in Weston-super-Mare, followed by two years as a detective sergeant on the Regional Crime Squad, I transferred in 1978 to become a detective inspector with the MDP.

    Wiltshire's air ambulance is Helimed 22, registration G-WLTS, a Bell 429 with a top speed of 178 mph. (West of England Emergency Service Vehicles, Amberley Publishing)

    My retirement present at the end of 1996 from MDP colleagues was a decent camera and it was then that I made the decision to record the street view of emergency service vehicles in use in London and Bristol so that a record of the vehicles mainly captured on the move in their working environment could exist for any grandchildren I might eventually have. (They now total seven with very little interest at this stage of their lives in their grandfather’s archive!)

    I do stress it has never been to impose on anyone’s grief, dignity or privacy, my photographic interest being confined to the vehicles themselves. The only licence I did give myself was to broaden the term ‘vehicle’ to include police and ambulance helicopters, marine police vessels, mounted and dog sections. Undercover and plain clothes department vehicles are not subject of my photographic interest, security considerations and the safety of the officers involved being paramount.

     

     

    The other very strict rules I have are:

    1. To ask permission where possible to photograph even in a public street although I accept this is often not practical given my style of photography.
    2. Never to use flash photography, not even at night. It is vital drivers are not distracted.
    3. To be as discreet as possible so as not to become a nuisance to anybody.
    4. To be mindful of my own personal security, especially at my age carrying photographic equipment.
    5. As often as circumstances allow thanking the emergency crews regardless of which service they represent for the work they do. I have always found this simple, heartfelt gesture greatly appreciated by them.
    MAN aerial ladder platform appliances. (West of England Emergency Service Vehicles, Amberley Publishing)

    Looking back, I wish I knew then what I know now as it was never my intention to write a book in those early days, merely to keep a video and 35mm still print record. Successive house moves resulted in loss, damage and destruction to parts of my collection, subsequently not aided in my early computer days by programmes crashing and material disappearing for evermore. Then the digital era arrived and presented all manner of opportunity for the non-professional like me to experiment with basic tasks such as cropping the image. Unfortunately my endeavours ruined many a good shot as I was to later find them unsuitable for a publisher’s technical requirements! However, if you love a subject you persist, undaunted by failures from the past or what could have been if only more care had been taken by me with the original material. But we all learn - and as the years advance the rule holds just as good in my 70s as it did when I was a younger man.

    Thus, with the encouragement and advice from my commissioning editor, Connor Stait - to whom I will always be grateful - I persisted, embarking on a very steep learning curve involving much burning of the midnight oil. As a result, and thanks to my wife Margaret’s help behind the camera, London’s Emergency Service Vehicles and West of England Emergency Service Vehicles, published in 2017 and 2019 respectively, enable a record to be exist thereby allowing future generations to look back on the current scene. With pride in helping others, particularly the younger generation, have a greater appreciation of their emergency services in these modern times, I regard my books as the “The Future History, Today.”

     

    Dave Boulter's new book West of England Emergency Service Vehicles and previous book London's Emergency Service Vehicles are available for purchase now.

  • London - 'The Flower of All Cities' by Robert Wynn Jones

    The History of London from Earliest Times to the Great Fire

    A large part of London, and almost all of the old walled City that lay at its heart, was burned down over the space of a few short days during the Great Fire of 2–6 September 1666. This book attempts as it were to unearth from the ashes something of the history of the already age-old and burnished City that had gone before. It tells tales of settlement, struggle, conquest, oppression, rebellion, war, plague and purifying fire. The City founded by the Romans in the middle of the first century AD, on the damp maritime frontier of their vast continental empire, and named by them Londinium. The City abandoned by the Romans at the beginning of what some still think of as the ‘Dark Ages’ of the seaborne Saxons and Vikings, and known by the former in turn as Lundenwic and Lundenburg. And the City of the – later – Middle Ages or Medieval period, of the Normans and Plantagenets; and the post-Medieval or early Modern, of the Tudors and Stuarts; one of the first true world-cities, called by some Londinopolis.

    Replica of the Elizabethen Globe playhouse, Bankside, Southwark. The original was built nearby in 1599. (The Flower of All Cities, Amberley Publishing)

    This unique history of old London town encompasses the lives of kings and queens, gentlefolk, commoners and knights, monks and merchant-adventurers and strutting players; of the anointed and ill-fated, the remembered and the forgotten. It is a City tale of “great matter” and “great reckoning”; of bustling waterfronts and imposing walls, of praying spires and vying masts, of consuming chimneys and seducing streets, of plunging shadow and abiding light. That which the poet William Dunbar in 1501 described as “sovereign of Cities” and “the flower of Cities all”.

    The City of London as presently defined incorporates some areas that lie a little outside the original walls (including Southwark, south of the river). Pre-Great Fire Greater London, that is to say the more-or-less continuously built-up area, extended even farther out, especially along the Thames: on the north side of the river, as far west as the West End and Westminster, as far north as Spitalfields and Shoreditch and as far east as Stepney, Wapping, Shadwell, Ratcliff, Limehouse, Poplar and Blackwall; and on the south side, as far west as Lambeth and Vauxhall, as far south as Borough and Newington, and as far east as Bermondsey and Rotherhithe, but not as far as Deptford, Greenwich, and Woolwich, which remained isolated settlements. The Great Fire was substantially confined to the old walled city.

    Through the story of early London we can trace a busy, beautiful, dangerous city lost forever, but brought back to life here through skilful analysis of the archaeological, pictorial and written records.

     

    Robert Wynn Jones's new book The Flower of All Cities: The History of London from Earliest Times to the Great Fire is available for purchase now.

  • London Rail Freight Since 1985 by Malcolm Batten

    London owes its existence and development to the River Thames. The site was originally chosen as a settlement by the Romans who named it Londinium. The location was chosen as the nearest point to the estuary that the Romans could bridge the river with the technology at their disposal. The building of the first London Bridge then dictated the shape of the emerging settlement. Becoming a barrier to any ships that couldn’t pass under it, which meant that the wharves, warehouses and all other amenities associated with shipping came to be sited along the river to the east of the bridge. For several hundred years after the Romans left, London Bridge remained the only bridge in an expanding London. Other bridges would be added to the west, but it would not be until Tower Bridge opened in 1894 that a bridge was built to the east. This would then remain unique until the Queen Elizabeth II Bridge opened at Dartford in 1991 – still the only bridge across the river east of Tower Bridge, and all because of the need to provide clearance for shipping.

    Coming off the North London line and passing through Stratford, Class 47 No. 47476 Night Mail heads a Ford 'blue train' returning to Dagenham on 25 March 1999. (London Rail Freight Since 1985, Amberley Publishing)

    When railways first came to London, each line was built by a different company seeking to link their area to the capital. There was no through service from one side of London to the other, and indeed the railway companies were prevented from entering the central area of the City and West End. The traffic congestion that developed eventually led to the building of the world’s first underground railway, opened in 1863. The Metropolitan Railway ran from Paddington to Farringdon, linking the Great Western Railway’s Paddington station with the Great Northern Railway’s Kings Cross station and passing close to Euston station, built by the London & Birmingham Railway. When the Midland Railway opened their station at St. Pancras, next to Kings Cross, this was also served by the Metropolitan Line. But also significantly, the Great Western made a connection to the Metropolitan at Paddington and this allowed through freight trains to run to Smithfield Market until 1962. The Metropolitan would eventually be joined to the District Railway, opened in 1868, to form a Circle Line linking many of the main line termini.

    Class 60 No. 60025 Joseph Lister prepares to tackle the bank with the Langley-Lindsey return empty tank wagons, also on 19 July 1994. (London Rail Freight Since 1985, Amberley Publishing)

    While this enabled passengers to connect between the lines of different railway companies, albeit with changing trains, what of freight traffic from one line to another? In order to transfer freight traffic from one company to another, the various London railway companies to the north of the Thames made links to the orbital North London Railway which ran from Broad Street station in the east to Richmond in south-west London. The NLR also had a freight line into the east London docks. But when freight needed to cross from north to south London or vice versa, the railways came up against the same problem as the roads – no bridges to the east of London because of the need to provide clearance for shipping. There was a railway tunnel to the east of London Bridge – Brunel’s original Thames tunnel from Wapping to Rotherhithe opened in 1843 as a foot tunnel. This was converted to a rail tunnel in 1869. This did carry some freight traffic until the early 1960s, but its usefulness was limited by the fact that access on the north bank was from the west. Any freight trains wanting to enter the tunnel would have to reverse in the busy Liverpool Street Station first – not very practical. This tunnel is now used by the very intensive London Overground network and does not carry any freight. Until the 1960s some cross-Thames freights were routed by what is now the Thameslink route from Farringdon to Blackfriars and over the bridge there. But this involved a steep gradient, and the line now carries an intensive passenger service so no freight trains are now routed this way. Most cross-Thames freight (and passenger) traffic was normally routed via Kensington Olympia and the river bridge at Chelsea. This remains the case today, including traffic to and from the Channel Tunnel. When this line is unavailable due to engineering works, trains use the river crossing at Barnes Bridge – even further west.

    Shunting the yard to the west of the station on 25 September 1987 is No. 47376. The towers in the background, the nearer one of which is residential, are a local landmark. (London Rail Freight Since 1985, Amberley Publishing)

    While the one-time mass of transfer freights and trip workings between marshalling yards had long gone, as had the pick-up freights from local goods yards, there was still a reasonable amount of freight to be found in the 1980s and 1990s. This has declined somewhat since. Economic depression, the further losses to road transport and the closure of some sources of traffic have been factors. The regular Ford ‘blue trains’ have ceased with the end of car production at Dagenham, although there is still some rail traffic emanating from there. The Channel Tunnel has not generated the amount of through rail traffic that was at first anticipated. Instead, lorries clog the motorways to Kent to join the tunnel shuttle trains (or ferries) to cross to Europe. However the ever-present building work around London has kept the stone and aggregates traffic busy. The building of Crossrail led to a major rail freight flow, transporting the extracted spoil from the tunnelling site at Westbourne Park to Northfleet, where the spoil was loaded onto ships for land reclamation further downriver. Freightliner traffic from the ports of Felixstowe, Tilbury and the new Thames Gateway port, which opened in November 2013, is another major part of the London freight scene.

    This book takes the freight routes around London geographically, in an anti-clockwise direction, starting in East London north of the Thames and ending in South East London. The varying types of traffic, and the various locomotives and liveries used on these trains are depicted over a period of forty-plus years.

    Malcolm Batten's new book London Rail Freight Since 1985 is available for purchase now.

  • East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century by Malcolm Batten

    FORTY YEARS LATER

    RTs at Barking garage in 1976. (Author's collection, East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1969, when I started photographing London buses, the AEC RT type double-decker was a major part of the fleet. First introduced in 1939, only 151 were built before manufacturing ceased in favour of military vehicles. Production restarted after the war and eventually 4,825 would be built, along with 1,631 of the similar looking Leyland RTL type and 500 RTWs – Leylands with 8ft wide bodies rather than 7ft 6in. Between them, these replaced the trams and all the pre-war and wartime buses. Withdrawals started with service cuts in 1958, and the Leylands had all gone by 1970, but there were still some 2,500 red RTs with London Transport in 1971. Nearly 500 green examples had passed to London Country Bus Services when that company was formed in 1970.  However, the last examples were withdrawn on 7 April 1979. Their final route was the 62, worked by Barking garage in east London.

     

     

    RTs lined up again at Barking garage 30.3.19. The nearest RT is one that has been repatriated from Canada. (Author's collection, East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

    It seems fitting that having just completed the final part of my East London Buses trilogy East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century, we have just celebrated forty years since the end of these iconic buses – the predecessors of the equally famous Routemasters. On Saturday 30 March an Open Day was held at Barking garage, now owned by Stagecoach East London. Preserved RT types ran over the former 62 route and the erstwhile 23C to the (now demolished) Creekmouth Power Station. There were others on display at the garage and at the Go-Ahead London garage in River Road. Nearly fifty RT types were on display. Some of these had been exported to Canada for sightseeing work after withdrawal and have now been repatriated. At 4.00pm a parade, led by the prototype RT1 ran from Barking garage to the town centre and back. Some buses displayed the same last day blinds that were carried back in 1979.

    It was a fitting tribute to a class that served London so well and the Open Day was well patronised by enthusiasts and the general public. It was particularly poignant for me as I missed the last day forty years ago as I had to work on Saturdays in those days – retirement brings some benefits!

    Malcolm Batten's new book East London Buses: The Twenty-First Century is available for purchase now.

  • Secret Southwark and Blackfriars by Kristina Bedford

    It was a great pleasure to spend the summer heatwave of 2018 photographing the ‘highways and by-ways’ of Southwark and Blackfriars for Amberley’s Secret local history Series, and discovering gems which lie behind façades I had casually passed by in the past, such as the massive Universal Testing Machine constructed by David Kirkcaldy in The Grove, Southwark.

    Kirkcaldy’s Testing Works. (Secret Southwark and Blackfriars, Amberley Publishing)

    Kirkcaldy’s Testing Works relocated to 99 Southwark Street in 1874, southeast of Blackfriars Bridge, where the machine may be viewed today in what is now Kirkcaldy’s Testing Museum.

    This pioneering firm assessed component parts to be used in the construction of London Bridges such Battersea and Hammersmith, the old Wembley Stadium in 1923, and Skylon, a steel “Vertical Feature” built on the South Bank for the Festival of Britain in 1951, which appeared to float above the ground with no perceptible means of support – like the post-war economy, according to a popular joke – dismantled in 1952 on the orders of Winston Churchill, who deemed it too expensive to re-erect elsewhere. The company’s protocols combined microscopic analysis with robust physical stress-testing, stretching and twisting materials to breaking-point to measure the forces entailed.

    It also contributed to inquisitions into accidents, such as the Tay Bridge disaster of 28 December 1879, when the first rail bridge across the Firth of Tay between Wormit in Fife and the city of Dundee collapsed while a train was crossing from the South during a fierce windstorm, leaving no survivors. David Kirkaldy was himself born in Dundee in 1820, and prior to his migration to Southwark worked for Robert Napier and Sons shipbuilding works between 1843 and 1861.

    A short distance eastward along Southwark Street stand two further examples of mid-Victorian buildings of industry, the Menier Chocolate Factory (now a vibrant arts complex) and the elegantly neo-classical Hop Exchange, both featured in Secret Southwark and Blackfriars.

    Kristina Bedford's new book Secret Southwark and Blackfriars is available for purchase now.

  • London's Sightseeing Buses by Malcolm Batten

    In 1972 London Transport 'tested the waters' for an open-top tourist service by hiring five 1951 Park Royal-bodied Guy Arab IIIs from East Kent from 17 June. (London's Sightseeing Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    As the capital of the United Kingdom, and with a history going back to the Roman times, London has obvious potential for tourism. As long ago as 1851, long before London Transport had come into existence, London hosted the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. In 1951 a new exhibition entitled the Festival of Britain was held on the South Bank of the Thames, between Waterloo Bridge and County Hall to mark one hundred years since the original. Described as ‘A Tonic to the Nation’ and running for six months, the Festival of Britain was a great success, a time for rejoicing after the rigours of war (although rationing was still in force). Over 8 million visitors attended this and also the Festival Pleasure Gardens at Battersea, and almost all used public transport. From 11 May four London Transport RT buses, which had toured Europe the previous year to publicise the event, inaugurated the Circular Tour of London. The fare was 2s6d (12.5p) and the conductor used a public address system.

     

    In 1990 ten of the RCLs were converted to have removeable centre sections on their roofs. RCL2243 passes the Law Courts in Aldwych on 7 July 1991. (London's Sightseeing Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    Tourism again blossomed with the Coronation in 1953. But after this the tourist market was not a priority, although the sightseeing tour continued each year. In 1967 a ‘London Sightseeing Round Tour’ 20 mile, 2 hour tour was being offered with six journeys a day starting from Victoria. It ran from Good Friday until October at a fare of five shillings (25p) for adults, half price for children. In 1968 this became the more logically sounding ‘Round London Sightseeing Tour’ and the fare had increased to six shillings (30p).

    In 1970 the Round London Sightseeing Tour carried 325,000 passengers. In 1971 the tour operated on a daily basis (except Christmas Day). From 3 April tours ran every hour from 10.00am to 9.00pm, for the first time from two departure points – Piccadilly Circus and Victoria. It was not pre-booked but on a turn up and go basis and the fare was now 50p for adults, 30p for children. Services were operated by Samuelson New Transport Co. Ltd. on behalf of LT.

    Advertising the Round London Sightseeing Tour. (London's Sightseeing Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1972 Britain joined the European Communities (European Union from 1993), eventually enabling visa less travel from other member countries. It was also in 1972 that London Transport ‘tested the water’ for an open-top tourist service by hiring five 1951 Guy Arab IIIs from East Kent. East Kent provided the drivers and LT the conductors. Also in 1972 London Transport hired Obsolete Fleet’s preserved former Tilling 1930 AEC Regent ST922 on a daily 45 minute circular route 100 from Horse Guards Parade. This was crewed by LT and sponsored by Johnnie Walker whisky, whose adverts it carried. Both operations were obviously deemed a success, for in 1975 Obsolete Fleet supplied seven open-top former Midland Red D9s to London Transport, painted LT red. These vehicles supplemented LT’s own Daimler Fleetlines, used on the Round London Sightseeing Tour since 1973. In 1974 more than 600,000 passengers were carried.

    In 1978 the D9s were replaced by a batch of seven convertible Daimler Fleetlines bought by London Transport from Bournemouth Corporation, the DMO class. The 1970s and early 1980s were a difficult time for bus operators with supply problems and poor industrial relations within the manufacturing industry. The Sightseeing Tour was not top priority so vehicles were hired from a number of sources to run this, supplementing their own vehicles. The hired vehicles were painted in LT red, but some had no indication of the ownership or function other than a paper ‘on hire to London Transport’ notice.

    Deregulation of coach and express services in 1980 allowed other operators to openly compete with London Transport on sightseeing services, unlike bus routes where LT had a monopoly. These competitors not only directly copied the pattern of tour that LT operated, they also introduced a number of new innovations, including ‘Hop-on, Hop-off’ tours and multilingual taped commentaries. Even so, by 1982, the RLST was generating some £60m to LT’s income.

    Advertising for resturant Planet Hollywood has been applied to RCL2250, seen rounding Marble Arch on 29 March 1996. (London's Sightseeing Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    From June 1984 London Regional Transport took over London Transport from the GLC. Then from 1 April 1985 a new wholly owned subsidiary, London Buses Ltd took on the operation of buses.

    In 1986 there was a rethink on sightseeing operations. As tourists regarded the Routemaster as the iconic London bus it was decided that these should be used on the sightseeing tour rather than the latest vehicles or hired buses. Fifty Routemasters were overhauled at Aldenham Works to replace the Metrobuses and hired vehicles on the RLST. They were given original style livery with cream band and gold underlined fleetname. Twenty RMs were converted to open-top, while nineteen retained their roofs for use in winter or inclement weather. The other eleven were RCLs which retained their roofs and regained doors. The route was rebranded as ‘The Original London Transport Sightseeing Tour’ (TOLST), and adult tickets now cost £5.  It was still a non-stop tour, but starting points were now at Victoria, Haymarket, Baker Street and Marble Arch.

    Brigit's Afternoon Tea Bus Tours. (London's Sightseeing Buses, Amberley Publishing)

    Also in 1986 London Buses made their first attempt at a Hop-on, Hop-off service with Touristlink route T2. Starting on 7 June this was a circular route taking in most of the tourist sites including the Tower of London, British Museum, Madame Tussauds, Kensington and Hyde Park, with an all-day flat fare of £2 (children £1) and a short hop fare of 50p (children 25p).

    In April 1989 London Buses was split into regional operating units, plus London Coaches who ran the sightseeing operation. This was in preparation for eventual privatisation in the 1990s.

    When Privatisation took place, the London Coaches unit was sold in May 1992 to a management buy-out. However the company has changed owner twice since then.

    Of the many companies that joined in the competition from the 1980s, some were to be short-lived, being absorbed by other competitors, while others stayed the course to become major players. In more recent times, new companies have entered the market with varying success. Some of these have created new niche markets such as tours of haunted London or tours with afternoon tea served en-route. A mix of new and second-hand vehicles continue to provide the tours – even some Routemasters can still be found on tour work.

    Malcolm Batten's new book London's Sightseeing Buses is available for purchase now.

  • Paranormal London by Gilly Pickup

    Are you interested in supernatural happenings? If you’re like me and enjoy delving into a good ghost story, then read on…

    The Viaduct Tavern, Newgate Street, ECI. Ghostly orbs in the lounger bar or simply a trick of the light? (Paranormal London, Amberley Publishing)

    My new book, Paranormal London, brims over with true tales of eerie encounters, some of which are terrifying enough to the capture the imagination of even the most hardened sceptic. After all there are more uncanny happenings in this city than you can shake a spook at, most of which are guaranteed to make you look at the London you are familiar with, either personally or through written accounts, in a totally different way.

    Let’s face it. Chances of bumping into an apparition in London are high. In fact, this, the world’s greatest city, (well, I think so), simply swirls with spirits. It has to be said that even though these phantoms lack a physical body they certainly don’t lack imagination. So while it’s to be expected that they strut their stuff in houses old and new, they also haunt hospitals, pubs, alleyways, Underground stations and even a bed. Spooky theatres? Yes, of course!  Ghostly hotels? Absolutely. A haunted bank? That too.

     

    Read my book – if you dare - to find out:

    Who was the headless phantom exorcised from the bank vaults?

    Why did a theatre prop cause bone chilling fear?

    Where have two people have been frightened to death – literally?

    Which Royal Park has a tree which harbours a fearsome spirit?

    Which museum’s poltergeist activity includes lots of floating orbs and disembodied voices which have been captured on tape?

    The Heath, where you may meet a phantom woman or a ghostly horseman. (Paranormal London, Amberley Publishing)

    Stories in Paranormal London take the reader on a spooktacular journey that covers Hampstead Heath, an ancient London park first documented in 986 when Ethelred the Unready granted one of his servants ‘five hides of land at Hemstede.’ When it comes to paranormal activity, this is a busy place. Compact, frenetic, once-sleazy Soho, oozing trendy bars, smart restaurants and encompassing dynamic, bustling, colourful Chinatown also has its otherworldly side – no wonder when you consider part of the area stands over a plague pit. Aristocratic, elegant Mayfair, named after the annual spring festival held until the 1730s, provides us with tales from one of London’s spectacularly eerie haunted pubs as well as the ongoing mystery of what is surely the capital’s most haunted house. St James, which starts at Piccadilly and includes Green Park, has a couple of seriously scary phantoms that you wouldn’t want to meet, while intellectual Bloomsbury, home of the British Library and Senate House offers a rather more unusual type of paranormal activity….

    The many theatres in Covent Garden, Piccadilly, Leicester Square, Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross are simply awash with mysterious beings and strange goings-on. Marylebone, owned in the 12th century by a brotherhood of warrior monks called the Knights Templar, has its phantoms too including that of a famous actress, while once-bohemian Fitzrovia which lies to the north east of Oxford Circus is where to find a plethora of hospital ghosts. Familiar names all, that trip off the tongue whether you are a local, a visitor, or someone who knows London only from films and books.

    Now all you have to do is get a copy of Paranormal London, sit down, make yourself comfortable and savour these nerve-jangling tales. Make sure you have locked your windows and doors first though. It is as well to remember the London dead far outnumber the living.....

    P.S. Have you ever had an experience that wasn't - shall we say - quite of this world?  Do let me know, if so. www.gillypickup.co.uk

    Gilly Pickup's new book Paranormal London is available for purchase now.

  • Black Death: A New History of the Bubonic Plagues of London by Stephen Porter

    Plague has been the greatest scourge of mankind in recorded history. The plague bacillus has been identified in skeletons in Eastern Europe and the Balkans dating from the late Neolithic period and the Bronze Age, perhaps carried by migrations from the Russian and Ukrainian steppes around 4,800 years ago. Since then there have been three pandemics, which have killed millions of people, and the disease still claims roughly a thousand victims a year. The first outbreak began in the mid-sixth century in Ethiopia and reached Constantinople in 541, during the reign of the emperor Justinian. It had subsided by the mid-eighth century and Europe did not suffer from further eruptions of plague until the onset of the Black Death in the 1340s. Its arrival in the Mediterranean world was attributed to a siege by the troops of Janibeg, the Khan of the Golden Horde, of the port town of Kaffa (now Foedosiya) on the Black Sea in 1345-6. From there it spread to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, reaching Iceland and Greenland. In response to a request from the Pope an estimate of the number of victims was made which put the death-toll at 23,840,000, or roughly one-third of Europe’s population. That cannot be taken as at all accurate, but gives some indication of the scale of the catastrophe and the fear which it produced, for who could hope to survive when a virulent disease was striking down so many?

    A sick patient with his attendants, 1460; a devil which has knocked over the table in the foreground indicates that all is not going well. (Author's Collection, Black Death, Amberley Publishing)

    The nature and symptoms of the plague generated horror and dismay. Victims complained of headaches, quickly followed by a fever and vomiting, with painful blotches developing that were caused by haemorrhaging beneath the skin and buboes forming on the lymph nodes in the groin and armpits, and on the neck. As the buboes grew, so did the pain, which was so excruciating that some victims became uncontrollable and delirious, screaming and running wildly around the streets, and their speech became impaired. Foul smells emanated from the sick, repelling those caring for them, and the affliction produced such fear and revulsion that the sufferers were left unattended. The social structure threatened to disintegrate as the rich fled and many who remained gave themselves up to riotously wild living. Those who were prepared to stay and nurse the sick or bury the bodies were accused of doing so to rob the victims and loot their houses. One complaint that was made was that the clothing ‘of those who were once noble are now divided as spoil . . . among grooms, and maid-servants and prostitutes’. Social norms had been discarded during the epidemic and it took time for them to be re-established.

    Death rates among those infected are hard to determine but estimates of between 75 and 80 per cent are probably not far wide of the mark. Few of those who survived left any record of their sufferings, and from the few accounts that we have what comes across is the pain, fear and sense of desolation that the victims experienced, and the panic and aversion which it caused in others, even family and friends, so that the victims were left to suffer alone.

     

     

    London in the late fifteenth century, an impression by the painter John Fulleylove, based upon a contemporary illustration. (Author's Collection, Black Death, Amberley Publishing)

    The Black Death had subsided by 1352 but the plague returned intermittently over the following centuries. It was never again to spread so universally across the continent as it had done in the fourteenth century, but in the regions and cities afflicted during an outbreak the suffering was no less, the social disruption caused was as damaging and the proportion of the population that died was as high as during that first epidemic. Plague outbreaks contributed to the slow recovery of population numbers in the late Middle Ages; London did not attain its pre-Black Death size until the mid-sixteenth century.

    Not until the late nineteenth century was the plague bacillus Yersinia pestis identified and the means of transmission recognised to be rats’ fleas moving from host to host to feed, carrying the infection and spreading it through their bites as they drew blood. More recent work has acknowledged that human fleas and lice carry the disease, as well as rats’ fleas.

     

     

    Plague was a disease of the trade routes and was brought to England in vessels such as this one. (Author's Collection, Black Death, Amberley Publishing)

    Taken by surprise and with no notion of what caused the disease or how it spread, contemporaries were at first unable to take steps to protect their communities. But from that first bewildering outbreak in the 1340s steps were devised to try to halt the progress of the disease, with the Italian cities leading the way. Isolation of the sick, either in their houses or in especially-built pesthouses, and control of movement, with the exclusion of people from areas known to be infected, were gradually introduced. Some cities forbade access to those coming from an infected area or anyone carrying or transporting linen or woollen cloth, reflecting the suspicion that the disease emanated from textiles. To identify the presence and progress of plague, records began to be kept of the number of victims who had died and the figures for all deaths. That gave the authorities information which they required to decide what steps to take, and to gain acceptance of their policies, for they did not have the means to enforce either quarantine or restrictions on travel if the population did not agree with such measures. Merchants were bound to resent restrictions on trade and so too were those who supplied food and fuel to their local city or town.

    Foul air was also thought to harbour the disease in the miasma which arose from stagnant water or piles of garbage, and so the cleanliness of public places by the frequent removal of dirt and waste and the washing down of streets became integral elements of the measures against plague. The well-to-do citizens who occupied parts of houses which were away from the rubbish of everyday existence seemed not to be afflicted to the same extent. That was because those spaces did not attract rodents and their parasites, although of course the connection was not recognised at the time. Many such householders absented themselves until the epidemic had subsided, while the poorer people could not leave. The plague came to be regarded as a disease of the poor, whose lifestyles, even the size of their families, made them vulnerable. The disease was socially divisive, to say the least.

    The Charterhouse and Charterhouse Square in the mid-eighteenth century; the site of the Black Death burial ground. (c. The Charterhouse, Black Death, Amberley Publishing)

    From those procedures and an awareness of steps taken elsewhere, similar policies on public health matters developed across Christian Europe and were continued and extended after the gradual ending of the plague threat, from the mid-seventeenth century onwards. London’s last and most deadly outbreak, the Great Plague, came in 1665. Quarantining of shipping and naval controls applied at ports around the coasts of north-west Europe had become a major element in plague prevention, while overland cordons in continental Europe also proved to be effective. Such measures pushed the source of the disease further away and cities such as London, Dublin, Bristol, Southampton and Amsterdam could be kept free of the disease, for the infected fleas could not survive the long voyages from beyond the cordon. But in the Ottoman Empire plague prevention was not implemented because Islam was deemed to require a fatalistic response to epidemics.

    Yet plague recurred in east and south Asia and Africa in the late nineteenth century and continued to claim victims through much of the twentieth century. Despite such failures, the measures taken to limit plague were not only retained but became the core of public health policy. When an epidemic of another disease, designated as SARS, struck in 2003, control of travel, confinement of victims and their contacts, and the use of isolation hospitals were implemented, and were effective in halting its progress. Plague’s depredations have created a fear which is still with us and the word has been given a wider meaning, as a curse or a menace, but the responses to plague have developed into a range of practices that are of enormous benefit for public health. Perhaps we should be more aware that plague’s legacy has not been entirely detrimental.

    Stephen Porter's new book Black Death: A New History of the Bubonic Plagues of London is available for purchase now.

  • Eastern National: The Final Years by David Moth

    Looking very smart in Eastern National's 'spinach and custard' deregulation livery is Bristol VR 3094 (STW 38W), which stands in Chelmsford bus station on 11 August 1992. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    Eastern National was probably one of the more fondly remembered Tilling subsidiaries and although it had a very highly standardised fleet towards the end of the 70s and most of the 80s, it still had something of interest. It is well known that as a National Bus Company subsidiary, EN was involved in the great FLF/VRT swap of 1973, when the National Bus Company swapped a large number of Bristol FLFs for an equivalent number of Bristol VRTs that The Scottish Bus Group was dissatisfied with. What is not so well remembered is that two years earlier in 1971 Eastern National and Alexander Midland did a swap of their own where Eastern National gave fifteen Bristol FLFs in exchange for the same number of Bristol VRTs.

    Although a few operators converted half cab double deckers to One Man Operation in the 70s, with varying degrees of success, Eastern National was the only operator that converted Bristol FLFs to OMO. Six were rebuilt in this way in 1973, but it was not considered a success and no other operator did this.

    Bristol VRT 3095 (UAR 585W) is seen on 10 February 1992. This bus was sadly lost in the arson attack at Colchester depot on Christmas Eve 1994. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    Eastern National were the only NBC company to stipulate 70 seats on their Bristol VRTs delivered in the 70s while every other subsidiary was receiving 74 seaters from the advent of the Bristol VRT/ series 3 in 1975. Although the last two batches in 1981, which were diverted from Alder Valley and Southdown, were 74 seaters.

    Eastern National built up one of the country's biggest fleets of Leyland Nationals in the 70s. The last one being delivered in 1980, which had the effect of gradually eroding the Tilling inheritance in the fleets appearance. Which up until then had been dominated by Bristol/ECW types which of course was standard in the Tilling Group.

    Eastern National's last front engined double deckers were Bristol FLFs. EN bought 247 FLFs and even by 1980 there were still over 100 in the fleet. But they were withdrawn rapidly after that, the last one being withdrawn in September 1981, although crew operation lingered on for a short while after. By 1982 Eastern Nationals' fleet became very standardised, with the double deck fleet being almost entirely made up of Bristol VRTs plus three examples of the new Leyland Olympian. While the single deck bus fleet being mainly Leyland Nationals with a few remaining Bristol REs.

    Seen when about four months old, Dennis Lance 1503 (P503 MNO) is at Colchester bus station on 9 June 1997. The batch of thirteen buses to which 1503 belonged would be the last buses delivered in Eastern National livery. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    Eastern National was successfully purchased from NBC in December 1986, and during its brief period of independence, saw off competition from Coastal Red as well as taking on several LRT routes in East London. A number of midlife Bristol VRTs were purchased from Milton Keynes Citybus at this time, mainly for use on LRT routes.

    In 1988 Eastern National purchased 30 Leyland Lynxes which went on to have long lives in Essex, although none were ever allocated to the northern Essex depots such as Colchester, Harwich, Braintree or Clacton.

    Eastern National was taken over by Badgerline Holdings in April 1990, which seemed surprising at the time, as it was the first bus company that Badgerline took over that wasn't in the south west or Wales. At first little seemed to change, but in the summer of 1990, Ford Transit Minibuses were transferred from Cityline for town services in Chelmsford.

    In July 1990, EN's new owners partitioned EN, creating the new subsidiary Thamesway for the south of Essex and LRT routes, while the Eastern National name was retained for services around Chelmsford, Braintree, Maldon, Colchester, Harwich and Clacton. Thamesway very quickly transformed their area of operation, introducing minibuses on town services in and around Basildon and Southend areas, as well as directly competing with Southend Transport in the south east corner of Essex.

    In 1993 a new livery and identity was introduced using the colours of parent company Badgerline. This was also the time when Badgerline introduced their subtle corporate identity by applying cute cartoon badgers to the wheel arches of the subsidiary's buses.

    Leyland Lynx 1427 (F427 MJN) is seen at Basildon Hospital on Friday 28 August 1992 on an early afternoon journey to its home depoty of Chelmsford from West Thurrock Lakeside. (Eastern National: The Final Years, Amberley Publishing)

    In 1995 Badgerline Holdings and GRT Holdings merged and the resulting new company was called FirstBus. This also brought Eastern National and neighbouring company Eastern Counties back into common ownership.

    While Badgerline and GRT both had a policy of their subsidiaries having their own identities, First Bus decided to gradually create a group identity. This meant the Eastern National and Thamesway fleetnames gradually being relegated to lesser prominence before finally disappearing altogether.  This was a process that was happening to various fleets throughout Britain. Eastern National and Thamesway were eventually reunited as First Essex.

    As time went on  the Eastern National heritage gradually disappeared as the VRTs, with their classic ECW lines, (a reminder of the NBC and indeed Tilling eras) were gradually withdrawn, with the last ones (apart from one which was retained for a while as a heritage vehicle) being withdrawn in 2004. And the Lynxes went about the same time.

    Recently First have revived the Badgerline name and livery for services around Weston super Mare, and do seem to be in a gradually process of introducing local identities to selected areas, so maybe one day the Eastern National name may be revived.

    David Moth's new book Eastern National: The Final Years is available for purchase now.

  • East London Buses: 1990s by Malcolm Batten

    The western terminus of East London's route 15 at Ladbroke Grove was changed to serve a new Sainsbury's store, opposite which East London's RML2709 stands on 25 March 1991. Note the route branding posters either side of the blind box. (East London Buses: 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    The 1980s had seen profound changes in the way bus services were provided in Greater London. At the start of the decade nationalised London Transport had held a virtual monopoly on bus services wholly within the Greater London Area, as well as running the London Underground. They had been even larger before 1970, when the country area and Green Line express services were hived off to the new National Bus Company. But in 1984 London Transport was taken from under the control of the Greater London Council (which was to be abolished) and replaced by a new body London Regional Transport. Then from 1 April 1985 a new wholly owned subsidiary, London Buses Ltd, took on the operation of buses. The monopoly was to disappear, as under the 1985 Transport Act, the old system of route licensing was replaced by allowing open competition on commercially registered routes and competitive tendering elsewhere. London was spared competition but LRT was required to put routes out to competitive tender. In April 1989 London Buses was split into eleven regional operating units, plus London Coaches who ran the sightseeing operation.

    The 1990s were not going to be quieter! Route tendering would continue and be extended to all routes. The London Buses operating units could compete for these (including cross-border routes tendered by the counties adjoining London) but more profound change was coming for in 1994 as a process of privatisation of the operating companies took place. First to be privatised was London Coaches but all had been sold within a year. It was the intention that no one purchaser should be able to buy adjacent operating districts. East London was acquired by the Stagecoach Group. Their origin began ten years earlier in Scotland, but since then they had expanded rapidly, buying up former National Bus Company fleets and municipal operators, mainly in northern England. Stagecoach also took Selkent, which was adjacent but on the south side of the Thames. With only one route through Blackwall Tunnel and one through Rotherhithe Tunnel to connect them, this was not seen as posing a problem. The new owner of Leaside District, to the north and west of East London was an already familiar name – that of Cowie, the parent company of Grey-Green. They also took South London.

    Captial Citybus gained a major increase in their operations when they were awarded the contracts for several routes in the Walthamstow area in 1991 at the expense of London Forest, following their strike. (East London Buses: 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    It should be noted that Forest District had been wound up before privatisation started. Following a two week strike over proposed pay cuts of c18% in order to win tenders in 1991, it ceased operating in November that year. Leyton garage and its vehicles were transferred to East London. Hackney passed to Leaside, while Walthamstow and Ash Grove garages were closed – Walthamstow lost its routes as the tenders it would have won were relocated to other companies.

    Major national bus-owning groups were emerging by the end of the decade, as a result of takeovers and selling-on of the former National Bus Company fleets, some of which had initially gone to management buy-outs. Stagecoach was one, Arriva was another, taking over the Cowie group of companies, and First Group were a third, acquiring the Badgerline owned companies such as Eastern National and Thamesway. All of these groups would eventually acquire one or more of the former London Buses districts.

    RMC1461 was restored to original appearance and Green Line livery in 1994. Although painted primarily for display purposes, it still saw use on the 15, as here at Paddington on 23 August 1995. When the route eventually lost its Routemasters in 2003, RMC1461 was donated to Cobham Bus Musem. (East London Buses: 1990s, Amberley Publishing)

    London Regional Transport was replaced by a new body London Transport Buses who would now administer route tendering amongst other things. One stipulation by them in 1994 was that buses on routes entering Central London must maintain an 80 per cent red livery. This was the beginning of the end for the variety of liveries that had sprung up since the start of route tendering. The variety would continue however in outer London. Several of the existing small fleets running tendered services were swallowed up by their bigger neighbours but LRT and LTB in turn encouraged new small firms to apply for contracts, sometimes with disastrous results when they got into financial difficulties.

    Vehicle-wise, the 1990s were especially noted for the rise and rise of the Dennis Dart single–deck model which soon became the mainstay of many fleets, and replacing many of minibus types which had typified 1980s thinking. The traditional London Routemaster seemed safe, as it had been decided to retain these on twenty-five trunk routes into central London. A refurbishment programme had begun from 1992 to extend their lives by up to ten years.

    In the latter half of the decade, accessibility became the watchword following the passing of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. Low floor single deck buses with wheelchair and buggy access began to enter service. Upton Park’s route 101 was one of those selected for the first conversions. Soon such vehicles entered service in bulk, replacing earlier Darts amongst the other types to go. In late 1998, the first wheelchair accessible double-deckers entered service on Arriva’s East London route 242. By the end of 1999 there were over 500 running in Greater London, and the 1000 mark had been reached before the end of year 2000.

    Malcolm Batten's new book East London Buses: 1990s is avialable for purchase now.

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