Route 227



Karl Gurney, Terry Cooper, Roger Newport and Ian Smith all remember RFs on the 227.
RF371 stands at Crystal Palace in the winter of 1969/70, about a year before the end of RFs on the 227.
Photo © Paul Redmond
Karl Gurney commented after the return of RFs to the 227 in December 2009:
Personally it was delightful to see RF 486 over her old haunt - I worked on this vehicle as conductor 1967/8 when we were both allocated to TB. The location at Chislehurst Station is where I twice came "unstuck" using the roadside time punch clocks in both "A" and "B" directions. When en route to Penge one day, my driver did not see me alight to punch our passing time on my log card, and shot off without me.  I cadged a lift on the next 227 (just 4 minutes behind) and caught up my bus at Bickley Point, where it dawned on my driver that someone was missing! 
In the other direction, about 6 p.m. one dark night I jumped off to do my duty, only to find half-a-trainload of homegoing commuters off a train from London pounding towards my bus. We were only allowed five standing passengers, but when about twenty standees managed to surge on, my driver "politely" called out to the rest that he couldn't take any more "cos I can't see my mirrors".  I crammed on, and having just reached walking pace in first gear up Summer Hill, there was a dreadful pounding on the side of the bus.  Fearful we might be dragging someone, the driver stopped immediately, whereupon a face appeared at the doorway and yelled "let me on - you've got a spare seat at the back!"  Despite our protestations, he climbed aboard and pushed his way through the standees to the one seat he'd spotted that nobody had taken!  Not only that but he only had a ten bob note when I came round to issue his "fourpenny one"...

RF486 and RF429 packed with Christmas shoppers on the December 2009 operation of RFs on the 227, the event which triggered Karl's memories of conducting on the 227.
Photo © Nigel Henty

Terry Cooper is one of our readers who contributes as follows:


'I remember the red RFs coming onto the 227 - once I went from the Palace to Chislehurst in an LT and went past the stop, thus sadly missing part of a relation's wedding - and used them to travel to school and later ensured that various girlfriends lived on it (the last bus back from Chislehurst to Bromley was well after midnight, a hangover from when ED ran it).  And there was a morning journey that turned (with the correct blind display) at Chislehurst Station. 


When the RFs first came in they must have been heavy on water, for you would often see one or two on hot days filling up at the horse trough at Widmore Green before the junction was altered.


Later I worked at 55 Broadway and had the job of arranging Railway Emergency Services (which they rarely actually were) in the early 60's and Bromley's RFs were very useful, as they had around 10 spare on Sunday. One special repetitive run was when Penge Tunnel was shut for several Sundays and Dulwich College wouldn't allow double deckers through their private roads. We ran RTs fast from Herne Hill to whichever Penge is on the SECR line, and RFs calling at all stations, but they had to have mud smeared on the legal weight, for the RFs (heavier than they should have been) were above the limit set by Alleyn's. No-one ever knew apart from a conniving engineer at TB.


We even used an RF from TB at Worcester Park, which was quite a big job, but on which occasion I don't remember, except that it took me there from Bromley for the day and brought me back afterwards.


I left Bromley in around 1964 and moved to Sheffield. '


RF350 lays over at Crystal Palace

RF350 is seen on the famous Crystal Palace Parade stand.
Photo © Adrian Clarke, Ian Armstrong collection


Terry adds further memories, this time 'of Friday or Saturday early summer evenings in the 1960s, whilst (occasionally) walking on Keston Common.  Bromley (TB) was allocated 22 RFs for a maximum 21-bus run out, giving a four-minute service between Chislehurst and Penge in rush hours. RFs were very reliable, and ran to time, and I could actually go out onto Widmore Road for a specific morning bus and generally caught it.


On Saturdays, however, a 23-bus schedule was operated, probably with more Palace journeys. So Bromley borrowed a bus every week from Croydon (off the 234A) and on Friday you could see it crossing Keston Common running light, and on Saturday it ran back, following the route that Metrobus eventually put on to Farnborough Hospital.  You could always tell the Croydon bus by the exterior adverts, and sometimes the plate above the entrance door was left on.  The period I refer to is roughly 1959 to 1962, and I'm reminded that occasionally a NX bus spare off the 202 would appear.  Presumably the TC/TB link went back (only 30 years at that time) to their common ownership by Tillings, even though Elmers End had previously run the 227.  But  I think you had to be an approved driver to be allowed through the Water Tower at Chislehurst, for it was at an awkward angle for a 30-footer. 


Walking back to Widmore Road later in the evening, traffic was light and the RF has a quite distinctive sound as it approaches, but the keen ear could distinguish between red ones and the higher-geared buses on the 725 (for which, of course, there was no need to rush even though you couldn't see it!).  Always guaranteed to impress the ladies!


I always felt the RF was a very under-valued bus compared to the RT and later RM.  It's the details one remembers, like noticing around that time that the route numbers on the blinds reduced in size, and spotting that after going to Aldenham in around 1961 (second overhaul?) they were coming back with the chrome around the back-door handle painted over.  But they were very cold in winter!'


Terry's comment about borrowing at the weekend raises an interesting topic, which we explore further here.  Any more information welcome.


RF404 runs TB5November 1968, two years to go, and RF404 crosses Chislehurst Common.
Photo © Colin Stannard
Roger Newport spent a short period at Bromley as a relief Garage Inspector.  He tells the following story of Boxing Day 1969:
'I had drawn the short straw of early turn (TB was closed on Christmas Day). Having no transport of my own, it was agreed that the night shift fitter would come out to pick me up. We were living at the time in Copers Cope Road, Beckenham, which is a street of grand, not to say grandiose, Victorian villas, some of which, like the one we lived in, were broken into flats, but some of which were not. I seem to remember also that there was a blanket of snow, so you can imagine the silence at 0600 on 26 December. That quiet was broken round about then by the distinctive putter putter of an RF approaching from the Junction, and getting louder and louder. You can imagine my consternation, since it was, as I worried, waking all the neighbours. And I had assumed that picking me up would involve a car, not what - music as it might be to you and me - was to others an earth shattering noise at that hour. In fact no one said anything but I am sure I subsequently detected some strange looks!'

Ian Smith remembers going to school on the 227 in the sixties:


'Two minutes past eight. I had walked through College Slip in Bromley from the junction of North Street, West Street and College Road.  There, unless I had walked into Bromley or the conductor had prevented, I had dropped off the platform of an RT on the 94 or 126. College Slip took me to the north end of Bromley High Street, opposite the Swan & Mitre, at the top of Swan Hill.


I still have a memory from 1952 (when I was four) of a Scooter LTL passing the end of College Slip.


Well, now it was 8.02, some-year between 1959 and 1966.


As I crossed Bromley High Street I looked south towards the stop at Bromley Market. If there was a Crystal Palace 227 loading there I would take up my stand on the corner by the pub (Crystal Palaces were always full - not worth even trying to get on).  If it was a Penge, I would leg it round the corner and fifty yards to the bus-stop at the top of winding Swan Hill.  Sometimes there would not be a 227 in sight at all - not a good sign, as they were supposed to have a "better than four minutes" headway.


I waited at the corner. At the stop opposite stood a girl about my age waiting for a 227 in the other direction, towards the Girls Technical High School at Bickley. She arrived by 47.  Later I found out who she was, but too late - she was already going out with my best friend!



RF409 in BeckenhamA Penge bus.

Penge-bound outside Beckenham Town Hall.

Photo © MG Webber, Peter Gomm collection


If a Penge bus didn't arrive within five minutes it was bad news.  That would herald a stream of buses that wouldn't stop at my request stop, and after four or five I would be in danger of being late for school.  Bunching due to fog was the worst culprit in most autumn months.  By quarter past eight I would have to run down Swan Hill to Shortlands station to catch the (more expensive) train to Kent House.


But assuming that a bus arrived, there was the question of which would it be. It was always a Bromley RF, although there were occasional strangers. Could these have been the Saturday borrowings from New Cross held over for some reason?  The Bromley RFs had no doors, but very occasionally a stranger with doors chained open would be seen while the ban on OPO working remained in force.


Personal favourite was MXX 2 (RF360), which seemed to be my regular bus for the first couple of years.  RF367 and RF368 had similar memorable registration plates in those early days, while RF361 took over in late 1961.


Once on the bus I tried to find a seat for the wind down Swan Hill into the Ravensbourne Valley.  We crossed the river immediately before the 12 ft 0 in clearance railway bridge at Shortlands station, where 4-EPBs, a handful of peak-hour 4-SUBs and the occasional steam express rumbled overhead on the lines to Victoria and Blackfriars (at least in the early days.  Later it was EPBs, HAPs and CEP/BEP combinations).  Very occasionally the Night Ferry was to be seen, with a West Country spam-can toiling London-wards with a train of exotic blue Wagon-Lits sleepers, a full train of green Bulleid coaches, plus a tail of Ferry luggage-brakes and fourgons, sixteen or so vehicles.


There was a better view of the railway junction as the bus toiled up the long hill out of the valley on the west side.  Now we were moving away from the artisan houses of Shortlands to the more affluent suburbia of Beckenham.  Up on the hill we would meet a Green Line RF heading for Dartford on the 725.


The bus relaxed slightly for the roll down into Beckenham.  Often we would have to stop at the traffic lights (still a relative rarity in those days), before forking right for Beckenham Church.  Here we met the 126 route briefly, although I can never remember seeing one there.  We turned left, away from Beckenham Junction, rolled down the hill and turned right into Beckenham's sinuous High Street.  At the end was another rarity - a roundabout. Not a mini-roundabout but a proper big drive-round one. We headed for Penge.


The tree-lined road headed for Clock House Station past Beckenham Baths. Here I would alight if it was swimming first period.  Clock House was where we caught the train to Eden Park on games afternoons.  But that's another story.


Crystal Palace agan

Past the hump of the station bridge we continued along to pass under the Beckenham Junction to Crystal Palace branch.  No trams in those days, but another possible sighting of a 4-SUB.  Nearly there now, we gathered or belongings and alighted opposite the school, allowing the RF to purr away much emptier into Penge High Street, probably to turn at the Crooked Billet.


I don't think that I ever caught the bus on up the hill to Crystal Palace - except possibly on a Saturday trip with Dad, when we went up to the Palace from some direction then caught the 654 trolleybus down towards Croydon.  Early memories of Crystal Palace parade included some awe at seeing buses doing U-turns in the road, with trolleys turning completely round the roundabout at the top of Anerley Hill!


Another Crystal Palace shot, this is RF410.   Photo Peter Gomm collection

Going home was just the reverse.  There was a considerable scrum at the request stop outside the school.  Buses from Crystal Palace, loaded with schoolgirls from up the hill, tended to run straight past.  The headteacher remonstrated with us at Assembly about unruly behaviour at the stop.  But after about three or four buses I could usually get home for the switchback return to Bromley, where I would alight at College Slip or Bromley Market Place. The final climb from Shortlands to Bromley was often a struggle, but I cannot remember an RF ever breaking down anywhere on the route.


I don't remember catching the 227 eastwards from Bromley during my schooldays, although I often traversed it on my bike.  But I made sure to do the run during the Sidcup Running Day!   From Bromley the bus would have filled up with girls for Bromley Girls Tech, and headed out eastwards along Tweedy Road, past the Council offices and Police Station, out to Bickley, where it would discharge its schoolgirls before the twisting dive down into the valley. 


The route passed under the Charing Cross line, then climbed very steeply up the long hill to Chislehurst Common.  There, until it was demolished, all traffic, including buses, had to squeeze alternately through the tiny arch in the bottom of the water tower.  At Chislehurst War Memorial the 227 turned left into Chislehurst Village, and ran round the block to terminate at the Gordon Arms.'