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Tag Archives: London

  • Diesels and Electrics in London and the South East by Malcolm Batten

    London is self-explanatory, but where exactly is the South-East? It all depends on the context. In 1986-8 British Rail decided to regroup the railways from a regional basis to a business-based system. The regional basis had dated from the formation of British Railways in 1948 from the former Great Western Railway, LMS, LNER and Southern Railways. The Eastern, North Eastern, Midland, Southern, Western and Scottish regions had largely reflected the boundaries and working practices of the former companies and had had a degree of autonomy in terms of locomotive design, liveries etc. Now with the withdrawal of the differing pre-nationalisation locos and stock and many of the early non-standard diesel designs new approach was called for based on the core business patterns of the railways. Thus came Inter-City for, as the name implies, inter-city traffic, Regional Railways for local services, RailFreight etc.  But one of the new business units was called Network South East. This took in Greater London and the outer commuting area to London up to about sixty miles each way. Fair enough, but this inevitably included most of what remained of the former Southern Region, much of which was electrified on the third rail system. So for operating convenience as much as anything, Network South East took in the whole of the former Southern Region main line area, as far as Weymouth and Exeter – hardly the geographical south-east! At one time the Southern Railway had continued on to Plymouth and into north Cornwall but this had all been axed under the Beeching cuts in the 1960s.

    Network South East was launched at Liverpool Street station on 9 June 1986 when Class 47 No. 47573 was named The London Standard. (Diesels and Electrics in London and the South East, Amberley Publishing)

    Network South East was launched on 9 June 1986 with a number of events – one was the unveiling of a new livery for locomotives and rolling stock at Liverpool Street Station in London. Stations had their seats and lampposts painted red as part of an NSE ‘house style’. A Network Card was introduced giving one third of travel within the area. This however came with restrictions. Thus although NSE stopping trains reached Peterborough you could only get the discount to Huntingdon, the station before Peterborough. This was because Peterborough was also served by Inter-City trains from London. If you wanted to benefit from the discount you would need to alight at Huntingdon and re-book onwards at full fare to Peterborough. Similarly NSE trains reached Exeter, but you could not get NSE discounted fares to there as there were also Inter-City trains from London, albeit by a different route. You could however get NSE discounted fares to Weymouth and Yeovil, for, although these stations were also served by Regional Railways, this was not on a direct competing route from London. Confused?

    While some of the Class 68s carry Chiltern Railways livery, others are in Direct Rail Services colours such as No. 68009 Titan at Marylebone on 23 June 2018. (Diesels and Electrics in London and the South East, Amberley Publishing)

    Shortly after the launch a ‘Network Day’ was held later with a Rover ticket giving unlimited travel in the NSE area for a flat fare. This was very well patronised and inevitably many people decided to travel as far as possible which was just short of Exeter. Rail enthusiasts also tried to maximise loco haulage on this route. I recall standing in the carriage end gangway of a very crowded train all the way to Yeovil!

    My book takes a period from 1969 to 2018 so covers the old BR regional era, the sectorisation era including Network South East, and the post privatisation era. However it only covers loco haulage so the majority of NSE operations with diesel and electric multiple units are not included – other authors have produced albums on this subject for Amberley. I have also decided to take a more restricted geographical boundary of some sixty miles each way from London. During the timescale of the book the specific motive power types of the old regions like the Western Region diesel hydraulics and the Southern Region class 33s were replaced by standard class 60s, 66s, 67s and 70s etc on freight traffic. Few diesel or electric locomotives are now used on passenger services, but where they are, privatisation and the changing of franchises has seen a variety of local liveries come and go.

    Malcolm Batten's book Diesels and Electrics in London and the South East is available for purchase now.

  • Greenwich History Tour by David C. Ramzan

    A changing landscape through the passage of time

    Anyone standing on the south bank of the River Thames at Greenwich Reach will look out upon an area of regeneration and change. The Thames meanders its way eastwards from the Pool of London through Greenwich and beyond towards the English Channel. Looking in either direction you will gaze upon a once active river now devoid of ships, wharves and warehousing which once occupied this vast expanse of waterway and the embankments north and south.

    Lovells Wharf, where coal colliers once distributed their loads, demolished to make way for luxury apartments. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Having been born and raised in Greenwich during the time when the town was still a thriving mercantile and industrial community, as a youngster I lived and grew up close to the Thames when vessels from all around the globe would tie up at the wharves and warehouses situated along our stretch of the river. Merchant seamen from far off countries speaking many different languages, something of a rarity in those days, would frequent the many inns and public houses found nestling between riverside buildings or standing on the corners of streets consisting of row upon row of two up, two down, terraced houses, with no high-rise properties in sight. Within easy access to the river, the wharfs and barges were our adventure playgrounds of the time, where, on many occasions, my friends and I would be chased off by the London River Police patrolling our stretch of the river.

    Since those earlier times my home town has seen continual change and re-development throughout the past fifty years, the once busy riverside industries have now almost all gone, and much of the areas rich local mercantile and industrial history and heritage is gradually fading away.

    The Dome (O2 Arena), situated on Greenwich Marsh, once a centre of boat building, engineering and commercial manufacturing. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the Thames continues to be an important thoroughfare for river traffic, where occasionally tugs can be seen towing barges up and down stream, some of the few remaining working vessels still in operation. It is more likely the craft you will see today are the pleasure boats taking tourists on sightseeing trips with a guide pointing out places of interest along the way or perhaps the new fast, sleek, passenger ferries transporting commuters to their places of work in central London and back again at the working day’s end. Most of the wharfs and warehouses that once stood on the river’s edge are now long gone. A few which survived demolition by developers converted into apartments and offices, the rest flattened to make way for modern new-builds, hotels, restaurants and luxury dwellings.

    The Greenwich Hospital School, now the National Maritime Museum, and the Old Royal Naval College, the landscape now dominated by London’s new financial centre at Canary wharf. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    Although the most famous of landmarks remain, such as the old Royal Naval College, now the University of Greenwich; the National Maritime Museum, once a school for boy sailors and the Royal Observatory built on the site of a 15th century castle are just some of the main places of interest visited by thousands of tourists annually. Many of the historical landmarks and commercial and industrial buildings, which made the area famous throughout the world, can now only been viewed by way of old photographs printed in local history publications.

    In this modern era, the Royal Borough of Greenwich is also known for its marvels of modern technology and engineering. Such as the Millennium Dome located on the Greenwich Peninsular, the Thames Barrier stretching out across the Thames from New Charlton to Silvertown, and the London Docklands Light Railway running from the south under the river northwards emerging out to the Isle of Dogs and the busy financial centre Canary Wharf. At one time however, it was through astronomical and navigational discoveries, shipbuilding and industrial innovation which made Greenwich, situated directly on the Prime Meridian, predominant in the advancement of scientific technology and pioneering engineering.

    Deptford Creek, the tidal watercourse flowing between Greenwich and Deptford became an important source of power for a succession of mills previously located along the waterway. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    For over a thousand years, the area was the site of a thriving boat and ship building industry, from the construction of small river fishing boats up to the huge oak-built Men-of-War, trading vessels and ships of discovery and exploration, which sailed out across all the seas and oceans around the globe. However, there are few reminders, apart from some information boards positioned along the riverside walkway, of the areas industrious boat and shipbuilding industry which once stretched out from the Royal Dockyard at Deptford, through and around Greenwich and onwards to the Royal Dockyard of Woolwich.

    Greenwich Market entrance on Greenwich Church Street, the formal medieval quarter of Greenwich. (Author's design, Greenwich History Tour, Amberley Publishing)

    In my two latest publications, A to Z of Greenwich and Greenwich History Tour, I have endeavoured to guide the reader around my hometown of Greenwich, not only to discover its most well known and most famous landmarks and buildings, but also the less well-known sites and hidden places of historical interest, and importance.

    Through an ever growing interest in local and family history during the past decade, thanks not only to popular historical television productions such as Time Team, Who Do You Think You Are, The Secret History of My Family and A House Through Time, but also through the many excellent local history publications readily available today. There has never been a better time than the present to discover and uncover the fascinating history of the places where you were born, lived or simply just visited, especially in changes which have taken place in the local landscape through the passage of time.

    David C. Ramzan's book Greenwich History Tour along with his previous book A-Z of Greenwich are available for purchase now.

  • 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.

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