Aldenham staff buses

Page last updated 30 December 2015

 

Grey-painted Cub C91 was used in the early 50s for the Aldenham to Chiswick staff shuttle.  It is seen parked on the internal road which ran parallel to the Watford by-pass in 1950 or 51, before the rebuilding of Aldenham Works.  At that time, bus work was carried out in the low side building, part of the original underground shed that was never used as such.

Photo © Jim Andress

 

We are indebted to Jim Andress and Brian Watkinson, who worked at Aldenham in the mid-50s and from 1965 respectively, for the following notes.

 

Jim Andress - a passenger's view

During the mid 1950’s, when I was an apprentice with London Transport Road Services, I spent some six months working at Aldenham.  At that time I lived about a mile from Morden Station and when I started travelling to Aldenham Monday to Friday I used the Northern Line Tube to Edgware and the 18 bus from there to Aldenham. We started work at 0730 in the morning so I had to leave home just about 0600, cycle to the station and catch one of the first trains out in the morning.

 

Travelling the full length of the Northern Line every morning and evening soon palled and, realising there were staff buses running from all over the Greater London Area, I made enquiries and found the nearest to home ran from Wandsworth Garage (WD).  I then started cycling daily to Wandsworth and travelling to and from Aldenham by STL. This service was manned by two Aldenham workers, engineering fitters I believe, who took it in turns to drive and conduct. We followed an interesting route from Wandsworth which took us over Wandsworth Bridge, at that time only recently, I believe, re-opened after being struck by a ship. The bridge was also famous in bus circles because at around the same time a swan flew into an upper deck window showering the occupants with glass.

 

From Battersea Bridge the route took us up North End Road, where there was a daily market, across Holland Park Avenue, through Ladbrooke Grove, then round the back of Willesden Garage (AC) and up via Honeypot Lane past Kingsbury and Queensbury to Stanmore then past Stanmore Station to Canons Park roundabout where we turned left up Brockley Hill and over the crest to cross the roundabout at the Watford by-pass and into Aldenham.

 

Aldenham in its heyday.  In 1955 the 'pre-war' RT2s (actually built in wartime) were withdrawn and many were used as staff buses - at least 24 are seen in this view of the staff bus park at Aldenham.  Some newly-overhauled Green Line RFs are in the distance.  The famous 'high bay' in which body overhauls took place is to the right of the picture.

Photo Chris Stanley collection

 

Most days nothing dramatic happened to disrupt the peaceful, if boring, routine which was at least much less boring than looking at the walls of the Tube for about an hour each way. There were days when things did not go quite to plan however: I remember we set off one night only to be stopped almost immediately because a lorry going round the by-pass roundabout had shed virtually its entire load of crates of empty glass milk bottles which meant we had to wait until the glass was all cleared up.  Another night our driver decided he would overtake another STL going down Brockley Hill, which in those days was little more than a lane barely wide enough for two buses. In order to get sufficient speed he had to put the bus into neutral and let gravity take it down well above the maximum governed speed, needless to say there was a great sigh of relief when we got past and the driver managed to reduce speed again so we could turn right at Canons Park. He never did that again while I was on the bus.

 

We often got delayed to a greater or lesser extent getting through the market at North End Road on our way home and this was made more interesting one night when shortly before arriving there the engine suddenly died back to idling and we ground to a halt, with, as you may imagine a chorus of barracking from the passengers. It transpired that the accelerator linkage had become disconnected between the pedal and the fuel injection pump. After some discussion it was decided that the only way we could continue was for the “conductor” to sit on the front wing and operate the fuel pump through one of the openings in the bonnet side. We therefore got going again, through the market towards Wandsworth. An amusing incident during this part of the unusual journey was to see a Policeman standing by a road junction, where we stopped for traffic lights, do a double take when he saw the “conductor” sitting on the wing, smartly turn his back, clearly not wishing to know anything about what these crazy people were doing. Having got onto a clearer bit of road it was interesting to note that despite the twin driver arrangement we did not go any slower than normal with normal gear changing etc. and arrived home safe and sound only a little later than usual.

 

An Aldenham staff bus, RTL353, at Hounslow.  Note the draught-excluders fitted to the upper deck front windows, and the destination slipboard.

Photo © Brian Watkinson via London Bus Scene

 

You may wonder why I was happy to cycle to Wandsworth, not that there was much choice at that time of the morning, but I should explain that my normal working site was Chiswick Works to which I was in the habit of cycling for several years before I bought a motor scooter, then motor bike and finally a car. This was despite the fact that I could travel free on any London Transport services but the routes between home and Chiswick, by either bus or train were so roundabout it took over twice as long as cycling, and I had the pleasure of going through Richmond Park on the way. In those days, of course, there were still very few private cars in the road, and most traffic was buses or light vans.

 

Brian Watkinson - the system in the 1960s

'The Aldenham staff buses formed a network of routes that came from garages all round London making their way towards Aldenham, picking up people on route.  If you had worked at Chiswick, Fulwell or later Charlton and been transferred to Aldenham, you were entitled to transport and the bus was routed as far as was possible to pick you up - many got picked up from outside the front door!  There were also other staff who had moved home to be nearer to Aldenham during the war years when aircraft parts were made (or Ickenham as was originally planned), to places like Harrow, Borehamwood, Watford, Tring, Aylesbury and St Albans and these people were also entitled to a staff bus.

 

Those like myself who elected to work at Aldenham after it opened could get on a staff bus but had no right to one or even a seat on one.  You were issued with a staff bus pass "subject to accommodation"; there were no reserved seats as such, but woe betide you if you sat in the seat of a regular!!  I had to get the 44 bus to Wandsworth Bridge by 0635 to pick up my staff bus, nothing ran through Battersea or Vauxhall, otherwise nearest one was the New Cross through Camberwell Green, but that left at 0615 from there.

 

The majority of buses came from the catchment areas of Chiswick, being the main source of the original staff, with seven Hounslow buses, three Twickenham's, two Chiswick's (based at Turnham Green) and one each from Mortlake, Southall, Shepherds Bush, Putney and Sutton. The nearer to Aldenham you lived the more buses you had passing you, but you were allocated a bus and in theory only that bus would stop for you.

 

Hammersmith staff bus RTL163 leaving Aldenham Works, followed by green RT1045, by then the Southall staff bus.  It is late 1969 or early 1970.  In June 1970, the Aldenham peak hours journeys on route 18 were withdrawn, and the Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith staff buses (which had been two of the last to leave the Works) were promoted to 1st and 2nd and instead of the car park left from outside the High Bay where the 18s used to park. The rest of the staff buses could not move until these buses had passed the Car Park exit. 

Photo © Brian Watkinson, with thanks for the extra detail

 

Their routes were all different.  For example, the three Twickenham staff buses followed completely different routes from Aldenham. One I remember, Twickenham 3 followed the Mortlake down through Stanmore, Kingsbury and Kenton Road to Harrow on the Hill, then the Mortlake went towards Sudbury Town and Hangar Lane, Twickenham 3 carried on through Harrow, up Sudbury Court Drive towards Greenford, thence to Twickenham.  The Sutton bus that ran between Rose Hill and Aldenham was probably the most distant; the Forest Gate bus also served Loughton, Walthamstow and Clapton. 

 

The Borehamwood buses ran from Aldenham out through Hertfordshire almost to St Albans and back to Borehamwood where they were securely parked up overnight.  When this facility was lost, they were returned to Aldenham. The buses were maintained at the allocated garages, although after LCBS was formed some buses were maintained at Aldenham. 
 

Aldenham and Chiswick staff buses were driven by works staff on overtime.  Staff bus drivers had to have PSVs and drove the bus from the garage to the Works, did a full day's work then drove it back again.  Typical day went from 0545 to 1815, although many routes finished much later on Fridays due to the traffic.  The only concession was staff bus drivers were allowed to start work at 0745 instead of 0730 and leave the shop floor at 1600 instead of 1615. This time was officially for putting the bus away in the mornings and checking it before it left in the evening, in practice it was breakfast in the canteen and a cup of tea before driving home.

 

There were two drivers to each bus, one acting as conductor when not driving.  Some pairs drove one day on, one day off, some night/morning then off.  As bus driving was a T&GWU job, staff bus drivers came from the staff in the T&GWU at Aldenham, progress hands and assistant craftsman. If a T&G man could not be found, the jobs were offered to craftsman from other unions and when I started driving there were probably more craftsman than other grades. 

 

The Hammersmith and Shepherds Bush staff buses, RTs 3669 and 4809, in the car park at Aldenham.

Photo © Brian Watkinson

 

In addition to the staff bus network, route 18 from Wembley operated to Aldenham in peak hours, starting in October 1941.  In addition to serving Works staff, Aldenham had a hostel used by female staff from Edgware garage (operating and canteen), as well as Aldenham catering staff.  In June 1970, this extension was withdrawn, and was partly replaced by advancing the departure of the Shepherds Bush and Hammersmith staff buses (which had been two of the last to leave the Works) to 1st and 2nd, and instead of the car park left from outside the High Bay where the 18s used to park.  To use the Shepherds Bush bus, a special pass was required, either as a previous user, having a journey that involved main line trains from London, or a long tube journey.

 

Brian Watkinson recalls 'we pulled the buses out of the car park soon after 1600 (see photo), well before the hooter for clocking off sounded at 1610. They were 1 and 2 in the order of leaving and left dead on 1615 when allowed by the Warden.  When they had passed the car park gate and started to climb the hill towards the gate, the Warden would allow the rest of the buses to leave from the car park, all leaving in their strict running order.  One downside of being promoted from one of the last buses to leave to the first, was the Shepherds Bush bus could get to the garage by 1700 instead of 1715, so the drivers lost money - so after Canons Park, we slowed down and/or did a few trips round the Green when empty to get closer to 1715!  This was unusually early for staff buses to finish, others I drove such as the New Cross and Sutton would regularly not finish until 1815.'

 

RT90 is seen circling the brand-new Gunnersbury Roundabout in about mid-1959, under the wires of trolleybus routes 657 and 667 and under the yet-to-be opened Chiswick flyover (opened in September by Jayne Mansfield).  Brian Watkinson identifies this as probably one of the spare staff buses kept at Aldenham, working the lunchtime journey from Chiswick to Aldenham.

Photo Chris Stanley collection

 

In addition to the transport of staff from and to home, there were other runs, using a spare staff bus.  These were kept at Aldenham, in the car park normally, but were attached to and maintained at various garages, J, CF and W were amongst those that had them on their books.  These buses were driven by Aldenham Licensing Shop delivery drivers. One bus left Chiswick between 0700 and 0730 and headed via the North Circular and Sudbury Town to Edgware, arriving there just after 0805, then on to Aldenham; it was in effect the office staff's staff bus on this journey.

 

The bus left Aldenham again at 0915 to take Aldenham staff to Chiswick Works for meetings etc.  It left Chiswick again at lunchtime (I think at 1315) and went back to Aldenham - the picture of RT90 at Gunnersbury Roundabout was probably working this service when nominally attached to J.  It then left Aldenham at 1515, essentially for Edgware to take visiting staff and any Works staff leaving early to the Tube, but it continued on to Canon's Park, Sudbury Town, the North Circular and back to Chiswick.  Special passes had to be obtained for to use this bus at 1515 and these were checked by one of the wardens.  Office staff at Aldenham finished at the same time as the Works and so used the regular staff buses to go home, subject to accommodation.

 

One issue that affected staff bus allocations, as well as training buses, was a system of 'paper allocations' which related to the 1973 inside staff manning levels bonus scheme.  Some trainers and one or two staff buses were only allocated on paper by Chiswick to keep garages in certain manning level bands.  So, for example, Mortlake showed two staff buses but there was only one (the other was at AV); two trainers were transferred to RD when it lost service buses which meant it had dropped down a manning level band and lost staff, the trainers put it back to its original band.  These buses were actually based elsewhere, but on the maintenance rota at the allocated garage.

 

The scale of the operation is shown by the following list of buses that were running about the time when I started in 1965, including the spares.  The RTLs that replaced the RT2s in 1959 were all spare and had been withdrawn in late 1958 along with many others that were sold; most had been overhauled in 1957. 

 

 

1965 Aldenham and Chiswick (where marked) staff buses

 

  Garage Staff buses Notes
 

AB

RTL 330, 333, 338

 

 

AF

RTL 365

 

 

AL

RTL 314 

Sutton staff bus

 

AM

RTL 376, 380

 

 

AV

 

RTL 345, 348, 350, 351, 352, 353, 354

RTL 435 (spare)

 

 

AW

GS 50, RTL 406

Chiswick

 

CF

RTL 367 (spare)

 

 

GR

RT 337

Watford staff bus

 

H

RTL 304

 

 

HD

RTL 440 

 

 

HW

RTL 321

 

 

J

 

RTL 399, 432

RTL 400 (spare)

Borehamwood staff buses

 

LS

RTL 198

 

 

M

RTL 368

 

 

NX

RTL 394

 

 

R

RTL 163

 

 

RG

Two RTLs; by 1967, GS 21 and two others

Chiswick

 

S

RTL 371

 

 

SA

RT 323

 

 

SP

RTL 425

Chiswick

 

TG

RT 329

 

TL

RTL 436

Chiswick

 

V

 

RTL 339, 343

RTL 438  (spare)

 

 

W

RTL 1332 (spare)

 

 

WW

RTL 310, 312

Forest Gate and Leyton staff buses

 

The reason why RTLs were generally not used at country garages (Luton was an exception for a while) was simply there were no Leyland spares in Country bus stores and country bus mechanics were not trained to maintain RTLs and so it was easier to use old headboxed RTs.

 

A problem with the GSs at RG was that they were regularly replaced by others and the staff buses were sent back to be used in service or to be overhauled!  [see the Chiswick page for more on the Reigate to Chiswick buses].