Monday 26 March 2012

What to Do? Walk Through? H2? [part 1]

Paul's Personal Problem (?)

Paul Bunting, blog reader and London resident, had a personal problem. He and the choir were singing at a special service in a Church at Hampstead Garden Suburb.
Hampstead Garden Suburb was founded by Henrietta Barnett ...
... who, with her husband, Samuel, had started the Whitechapel Art Gallery and Toynbee Hall. In 1906, Barnett set up the Hampstead Garden Suburb Trust Ltd, which purchased 243 acres of land from Eton College for the scheme, and appointed Raymond Unwin as its architect.

Among the scheme’s aims were:

it should cater for all classes of people, and all income groups
there should be a low housing density
roads should be wide, and tree-lined
houses should be separated by hedges, not walls
woods and public gardens should be free to all
it should be quiet (no church bells!)

As a bus enthusiast, Paul was able to research and plan his journey on-line and in advance. His fellow choristers were less well motivated to spend long hours hunched over a gently smouldering confuser and it is their combined story that provokes this short blog series.
The Garden Suburb lies in the very large bus-less area between Finchley Road, Lyttleton Road and the Hampstead Heath Extension north of Spaniards Road. At least, busless it was until the early 70s.
Then came dial-a-bus referred to in fbb's earlier blog "Ruth Murphy and the Minibus Revolution" (read again). Dial-a-bus soon begat the H2, no dial, fixed route but mostly hail and ride.
Note the short-lived "London Buses" logo ...
... which soon reverted to plain white.

Then along came "tendering" whereby any bus company could offer to run a London bus route in return for the most "cost effective" price. R&I buses won the H2 ...
... bringing non-red livery to London for a time. R&I was taken over by MTL London, the Liverpool-based company that, like many others, saw the bus stops of London as framed with gold.
MTL became ...
... Metroline. Then along came "low floor" and the H2 contract was won by Arriva ...
... the current operator. The service runs every 12 minutes Monday to Saturday daytime and every 15 minutes evenings and all-day Sunday. Quite a spectacular service for an area traditionally unserved in the "good old days".

There are six H2s (and predecessors) above; and one more below ...
... which doesn't go to Hampstead Garden Suburb. It's London's "Hydrogen" bus on a promotional tour.

The hydrogen bus apart, the H2 is a microcosm of London Bus politics; it shows the progress of the tendering process combined with the steady loss of small companies in favour of the big groups. Whether this is better for London than the monolithic and hide-bound London Transport of old is a subject of much debate. fbb proffers no opinion other than to say that over that last umpteen years neither structure has been able to provide the customer with a central area timetable book!
So, tomorrow, we share in Paul's anguish as he and his chorister chums try to find their ecclesiastical venue.

 Next Blog : due Tuesday March 27th  


  1. To be strictly accurate, Metroline took over MTL, adding it to its existing operations. And it was Metroline that put the first Solos on to these routes. When they lost the tender to Arriva, they used the buses to start competing routes in Watford. Subsequently, these were sold to Mullany's of Watford, who continue to run the buses in Metroline-style livery (see

    For a boring/enlightening* (*delete as applicable) conversation about the gearboxes in the Ford Transits shown in the picture, speak with friend Alan!

  2. During the 1960's LT did sell Central Area bus timetables to the public, at the princely sum of 5/- (25p)when the standard provincial charge was 1/- (5p). I have two different editions. The contents were the same as the staff books (pictured by fbb) minus the fascinating details of depot and inspector's hut phone numbers and the essential 'where to find emergency lifting equipment. The other omission was of Green Line Coaches which had their own very detailed book, including complete fare tables and maps of boarding points for a further 1/-.

    I suspect that they ceased to be available to the public because of the high price, limited availability (you had to know where to find one), and the fact that most passengers didn't need it for their journeys.

  3. I do actually remember them but never, ever, found anywhere that admitted 6to selling them; so I have never handled the best. I understand that most "tables" were simply of first and last journeys as with one-time tube "timetables".

    But, as far "passengers didn't need it" I repeat No 1 son's experience. "because no-one will provide me with a timetable I have no real idea how long journeys will take so I have to add 1 hour on to any estimate."

  4. My comment about passengers not needing the Central Area timetable was very much because it was, for most services, of little real benefit because it only showed first and last times with a frequency guide. For Central services in the suburbs there were detailed timetables available in a series of books published monthly. These were really part of the Country operation, and publication of them passed to LCBS in 1969, before disappearing not too long after.

    The Central Bus map used to show an * beside those routes which operated at a frequency of every 15 minutes or more and thus qualifying for a complete roadside timetable. Anything else was considered 'turn up and go'. This situation changed increasingly from the late 1970s and it was possible to request free copies of such timetables, although they did charge if you wanted too many at once.

    For all other information there was ABBey 1234, with no premium rate.

  5. fbb - I did qualify 'most' as longer journeys within London tended to make use of rail as well as bus. You have to remember that there was 'ABBey 1234' available for 24 hours per day, staffed by experienced Londoners who were capable of working out complex itineraries without the use of a computer database, including asking the enquirer intelligent questions to make sure the most appropriate information was given.