Kenworthy RoadRed RF routes

Route 208

Page last updated 1 December 2014
Originally numbered 108D, part of the 108 Blackwall Tunnel route, the 208 was established in 1927 and has run over roughly the same route ever since, although renumbered as the flat-fare S2 in 1970 and 488 in 2008.  Another of the early RF conversions in 1952/3, the 208 was the last route to run LTL Scooters.

RF308 - as it then was - in original condition, busy as usual, running south to Bromley by Bow in 1954.  Note the full blind, rather than the lazy blind later used.  This was one of Dalston's first batch of RFs, delivered new for the 208A, and one of those renumbered in March 1956 in order to keep the fleet numbers of Green Lines, Country buses and red buses in tidy batches.  Whilst still at Dalston, it became RF527.  The replacement RF308 is now preserved.

Photo © Alan Cross


Dates of RF operation

12 Oct 52 (weekends, see notes) and 31 Jan 53 (Mon-Fri) to 17 Apr 70
(total 17 years 6 months, all crew operation)

RF Garages

D     Dalston

Q139 in Kenninghall RoadReasons for single-deck operation

Low bridges in Kenworthy Road and Fairfield Road.

Dalston's 5Q5 Q139 is seen southbound in Urswick Road, loading more into what looks already a pretty full bus (note the five ladies on the 5-seater long seat over the engine).  Not bad for a route that ran every three or four minutes.  Note the entrance ahead of the front wheels, a feature not shared by the Country or Green Line Qs.
Photo © PJ Marshall, Peter Gomm collection
Route history
The Blackwall Tunnel opened in 1897, featuring the sharp corners still evident in the northbound tunnel today.  The first motor bus route through the tunnel operated by LGOC, replacing a Tilling horse bus service, commenced on 21 Nov 1912.  Metropolitan Police concerns about clearances resulted in this being single-deck operated, the first LGOC single-deck route.  This was numbered 69, running from Poplar to Plumstead (altered the following June to run to Greenwich Woolwich Road) and was worked by Athol Street garage, Poplar, (C) using B types.  On 29 Mar 14, the 69 was renumbered 108 and extended to run from Bow, the southern section being extended to Blackheath for a few months only.
Associated route 108A, a much extended version of the 108, commenced operation on 29 Nov 22, running from Clapton Pond via Bow and Blackheath to Lee Green and operated by Dalston (D) and Hackney (H) garages.  Three months later, the route was diverted at Blackheath to run to Lewisham and H was replaced by C.  October 1923 saw the route extended via Catford to Forest Hill, and another route, 108B, introduced from Poplar to Southborough via Lee Green and Bromley.  During 1922-23, the Bs were replaced by new single-deck Ss.
LT1132 sits in Bromley High Street before returning to Clapton Pond - note the detailed blind display.
Photo Peter Osborn collection
The 1924 Bassom numbering scheme grouped short workings under the same main number, but bifurcations into related numbers, so the Clapton Pond to Forest Hill route became 108, with various short workings numbered 108A to 108E; 108B became 158.  The route was heavily used and discussions commenced with the Metropolitan Police regarding double-deck operation, leading in 1927 to the prototype 'tunnel' NS, lower and with a specially curved roof and curved enclosed rear end.  NS2050, which ran alongside the Ss over that summer, was a success and led to the construction of 24 similar buses. 
The northern section of the route was however not suitable for double-deckers due to low bridges in Kenworthy Road and Fairfield Road, so on 19 Oct 27, the 108 was split at Bromley by Bow into the NS-operated 108B to Forest Hill (with other-suffixed short-workings) and the S-operated 108D to Clapton Pond; the full registered route 108 ceasing to operate although through fares were offered (until at least 1936).  The 108B was worked by Athol Street (who needed to retain a few single-deck Ss until sufficient NSs were available a couple of months later), the 108D by Dalston.
In 1929, D was joined on the 108D by Tottenham (AR) on Sundays, initially using Dennises and a K, later just Ks; Ks also replaced some of the Ss at D.  Twelve new LTL Scooters were delivered to Dalston in May 1931 to replace the Ss and Ks, shortly afterwards AR's contribution (spare on Sundays from the 263) was also converted to LTL.
Standard STL719 in Crystal Palace Parade, awaiting departure through the Blackwall Tunnel to Bromley-by-Bow, where is will connect with the 208.  This must be in 1953, the year that the tunnel was re-profiled, as the bus was withdrawn at the end of that year.
Photo Ian Armstrong collection

With most routes now operated by pneumatics tyred buses, for which the speed limit was 20mph rather than 12mph, a programme of speeding up routes using the same frequencies resulted in more efficient use of buses.  This was applied to the 108D, where D's allocation reduced by one from November 1932.


In October 1934, the 108B was renumbered 108 and the 108D as 208 in the single-deck sequence.  The 208 continued to be LTL-operated from D, with the weekday allocation of 10 increased to 12 at weekends and augmented by 3 from AR on Saturdays, now the busiest day.  From 1936 to 1938, the D allocation switched from LTL to Q, then back to LTL until 1943, with Qs again for the ten years until replaced by RFs at the beginning of 1953.  Meanwhile the AR allocation fluctuated between LTL, Q and T types until ceasing in 1943.  The route was the last to operate Scooters, with Dalston's last three buses appearing occasionally, although no longer scheduled, until withdrawal on 31 Jan 53. 
Meanwhile in the tunnel, the NSs (the last solid-tyred buses running in London) were replaced in 1937 by the tunnel STLs, again specially shaped (see photo here).  These lasted until the tunnel was re-profiled (by raising the roadway) in 1953, when they were replaced by normal STLs (temporarily) and RTLs.  These retained the strengthened tyres of the tunnel STLs to address the scuffing of the kerb.
RFs replaced Scooters on sister route 208A, which operated Monday to Saturday only, between 9 and 17 Oct 52, for which Dalston received 14 RFs.  They were doubtless immediately put to work on the 208 at weekends as well - with 3 buses licensed by the first weekend, they probably worked the 208A on Saturday and appeared first on the 208 on Sunday 12 Oct 52.  By 22 Oct 52, the official allocation on the 208 included 8 RFs on Saturday and 14 RFs on Sunday, meaning that the whole allocation worked at weekends, an indication of the pressure on the new buses.
RF462 sets off from Clapton PondAlready fitted with doors, RF462 turns into Clapton Pond from Lower Clapton Road, some time between 1966 and 1968; the original blinds have given way to lazy blinds.  The RT in the distance is on the 106 - the background also features in the Hackney photo gallery.
Photo © M Rooum, Peter Gomm collection
The 208 had to wait until January 1953 for its own buses, the first two RFs (413 and 414) were licensed on 16 January to enable the Scooters to retire, with the remaining batch licensed between 4 and 9 Feb 53.   LTs 1157, 1172 and 1195 were finally withdrawn from Dalston on 31 January, the last LTs available for service in London and the end of a 22-year reign and the last 'big six-wheelers' until modern times. 
in June-July 1953, and again in April 1957, there were historical echoes when Dalston RFs worked a short section of the 108 during road works on St Leonard's Street, Bromley by Bow, as the diversion route ran under a low bridge in Devons Road. 
Between November/December 1953 and April 1954, the RFs were joined on the 208 by three experimental buses on trial, still in their green livery.  These trials were primarily for Country Area purposes, as it was expected at the time that service expansion would require additional buses following the completion of RF deliveries.  By then, newer lightweight buses were available, and in addition to trials at Reigate on the 447 and 711, they were tested on the 208 as being a tortuous, heavily-used route.  The three were Bristol LS5G PHW918 (which at 6¼ tons and manual gearbox seems hardly to qualify), AEC Monocoach NLP635 and Leyland Tiger Cub PTE592, the latter two at about 5½ tons and with semi-automatic transmission.  Before a choice was made, however, requirements were revised downwards and in the end no more single-deckers were acquired by LT until the Merlins in 1966.
A very high frequency route, the 208 was still operating every 3 minutes at certain times on Saturdays through to the end of the 1960s.  Because of its high loadings, it was initially uncertain that it could be converted to one-man operation, but this came with conversion to flat-fare MBS buses in 1970 and a renumbering to S2.  The last RF to run on the 208 on 17 Apr 70 was RF400 running as D9; LOTS reported that it was decorated with commemorative hand-written leaflets.
MBSs were in turn replaced in 1973, when the S2 became the proving ground for two new vehicle types, the LS Leyland National and the MS Metro-Scania, with six of each.  The MS type was forever associated with Clapton Pond after, on the first day of operation, one ended up driving into the pond, but they did not stay long and were replaces by LSs in 1979.
The S2 followed much the same route as the 208, except that it avoided the narrow Cadogan Terrace, and was extended to serve Stratford.  In 2008 it was in turn replaced by the 488, which now overlaps the 108 for a short distance.
RF route in detail, with timing points
CLAPTON POND, Lower Clapton Road, Clapton Urswick Road, Urswick Road, High Street Homerton, Kenworthy Road, Wick Road, Hackney Wick Cadogan Terrace, Cadogan Terrace, Jodrell Road, Old Ford Lady Franklin, Parnell Road, Tredegar Road, Fairfield Road, Bow Road, High Street Bromley, BROMLEY BY BOW Seven Stars
Garage journeys from D: to/from Lower Clapton Road Urswick Road via Hackney Central Station, Mare Street, Westgate Street
1955 bus map © London Transport
Year Mon-Fri Sat Sun
1936 5 mins 3-4 mins 3½-4 mins
1941 5 mins 3-5 mins 4 mins
1946 4-5 mins 3-5 mins 3-6 mins
1951 4-5 mins 2½-6 mins 3-5 mins
1959 4-7 mins 3-4 mins 3-8 mins
1964 4-8 mins 3-4 mins 5 mins
The route took about 20 minutes from Clapton Pond to Bromley by Bow.  The November 1959 timetable is here, the July 1967 timetable here.
To view the faretable for May 1965, including garage journeys, click here.
RF allocation
New RFs delivered Jan 53 (advance for LTL replacement): 413-414, Feb 53: 437, 440-442, 444-448, 465, 468, 474, total 14.


PVR 1952 (Oct): Mon-Fri 13Q, Sat 10Q/8RF, Sun 4Q/14RF
PVR 1953 (Feb): Mon-Fri 13, Sat 18, Sun 18
Nov 53 to Apr 54: Experimental Bristol PHW918 and Leyland Tiger PTE592 allocated to D for 208
PVR 1955 (Mar): Mon-Fri 13, Sat 15, Sun 16
PVR 1955 (Aug): Mon-Fri 13, Sat 18, Sun 16
PVR 1958 (Nov): Mon-Fri 12, Sat 16, Sun 16
PVR 1963 (Oct): Mon-Fri 12, Sat 16, Sun 13
PVR 1966 (Jul): Mon-Fri 11, Sat 14, Sun 13
PVR 1966 (Dec): Mon-Fri 12, Sat 14, Sun 12 (note that D was only allocated 12 RFs. An additional 3 Saturday vehicles were usually borrowed from T, AR and TB although in latter years E also supplied some)



Brian Elliott worked at Dalston garage in the early sixties and remembers driving RFs:


‘We would to call them the Scooters, the 208 from Clapton Pond to Bow Station was really only a short run in a circle. I think it was three runs before we got a break - there was a coffee stall at Clapton Pond where we had our snack - and if it was a spread-over you come back later in the day for another few runs. The route was more or less straightforward and the only time you could miss a run was perhaps on a Saturday when Roman Road market was in full swing. Because the RFs had no doors, the conductor was always at the back if possible, and the trick was to catch the bus in front of you so your clippie did not have too much work to do.


I remember there used to be a cafe next to Dalston garage back in the sixties and the food was great, but alas long gone.  I have been living in Ireland for the last 40 years, but I used to go home when my parents were alive and visit Shrubland Road and reminisce.


Apart from the 208, I drove the RTLs until they replaced them with the RMs. Although the RM had powered steering, I preferred the RTL with its pre-select gearbox. I was on the 11, on that route you might go as slow as possible to get a turn so you got some overtime - you might get turned at the roundabout by the Houses of Parliament on your way to Wells Road, Shepherds Bush.


I sometimes did the 9 and the 47 – I remember starting at Shoreditch Church and going to Catford in the week; I’m not to sure if we went to Farnborough on the Sunday but I know we went past Catford. I used to dislike the route as I always had the fear of getting lost; when you live on the north side of London crossing the river was going into another land.


I did my PSV driving test at Enfield garage - as you know the instructor sat behind you in the front seat with the glass removed so he could talk to you. I thought he was old because when you are young everybody is old, but he used to take snuff and his handkerchief was dark brown from sneezing in to it – I wonder if anybody remembers his name. He was a good old stick - he was always on to me for driving too close to other traffic when overtaking, but he really was good and put me at my ease on the skid test.'




Route 208 was recreated at our Hackney Marshes running day in 2006, and again for the centenary of the first London single-deck route.
RF486 nears Bow Garage under one of several low rail bridges on the 208 route.  The occasion was the marking of 100 years since the first single-deck route in London.  See also David Christie's picture of RF467 here in 1970.
Photo © Steve Whitelegg