Staines West Station, 1979 Red RF routes

Route 218

Page last updated 14 January 2020
 RF512, which five weeks later would be taking part in the famous tour, seen leaving Staines West Station for Kingston on 24 February 1979.  Behind is one of the early LS-class Leyland Nationals working the 117 from Hounslow, the garage which had received the entire first batch two and a half years earlier.  Later deliveries would oust the last RFs.    Photo © John Parkin
The last route to operate RFs in London.  By a nice coincidence, the 218 started life as the 62, the route number* that was to host the last RTs a week after the last RFs.  The 218 was a relative latecomer to the RF class, having to wait until Muswell Hill could double-deck the 212 in 1960.
Dates of RF operation
6 Jan 60 to 30 Mar 79
Converted to OMO 7 Sep 68
(total 19 years 4 months, of which 8 years 8 months crew-operated)
KINGSTON Bus Station and STAINES Moor Lane via Walton-on-Thames


RF Garages
K      Kingston
Reason for single-deck operation
As with many of Kingston's south-western routes, the 218 passed under the low bridge on the Portsmouth Road at Ditton Marsh.  This now has road markings to indicate the safe area for high vehicles.  Ian Hogben recollects that these markings (and those on the bridge) only appeared after the end of RF operation.  In addition, the 218 passed under low bridges at Hersham Road, Walton and at Thames Street, Staines.
The main south-west railway line crosses the Portsmouth Road at Ditton Marsh.  No warning markings on 17 Mar 79; from the south, the narrowing that occurs part-way under the bridge is not so evident, but the arch is visible in the distance.  RF507 (still with its grey relief two weeks before the end) runs a 219 short to Hersham Green.
Photo © Richard Cripps

For most of his time on the 218/219s, he reports that 'it wasn't uncommon for experienced drivers to enter the bridge from opposite directions at the same time. If you had the bottle, there was room for two RFs to pass, though the gap between the bus roof and the underside of the bridge on the Esher/Staines bound service could be measured in thickness of fag papers, rather than inches.'  He also remembers following a car approaching the bridge (travelling towards Esher) and spotting a large Waste Carrier coming the other way in the middle of the road, already halfway through the bridge. 'Mister car driver decided the truck was taking up more than his fair share of road and, standing up for his rights, entered the tunnel, forcing the truck driver to pull to the left (towards the pavement). The road was subsequently closed for many hours and, in the end they had to let the air out of the tyres of the truck to get it out. And that was only one of many, hence the later need for clear markings.'

T at StainesRoute history

On 4 Jan 22, the General started operating route 62 between Kingston and Shepperton Station, using two 26-seat B type single-deckers from Kingston garage (K), which opened that day.  The Bs were replaced by new and larger Ss later in the year.  The following year, on 16 May, the route was extended, over what must have been less promising territory, via Laleham to Staines.  Drivers were warned about the narrow winding roads in Laleham and a hazardous cross-roads.  In May 1923, Weybridge garage (WB) opened and joined Kingston in working the route.  In 1924, the 62 ran hourly.


1T1 T9 is seen at Staines West.  Photographer unknown


In common with other routes at the time, there were plans in 1925 to extend the 62 on Sundays to Burnham Beeches, via Datchet and Slough.  However, Slough Council refused permission and the extension operated only (if at all, there is some doubt) at Easter that year.


In the renumbering of October 1934, the 62 became the 218.  Three months later, route number 62 was reallocation to Barking garage for a new route to Little Heath, and the rest, as they say, is history.*


The 218 was jointly worked, with Ts by K and WB, with route 217 (formerly the 61) which ran from Kingston to Staines along the 218 to Walton, then via Weybridge and Addlestone.  This arrangement continued until October 1937, when the 217 was replaced by an extension to Country Area route 461.  But a pattern of joint operation of Kingston's routes had been established.  A few months later, the first LT Scooters were allocated by Kingston on Saturdays, until about the outbreak of war.  At about the same time, WB closed and K took sole operation with Ts.


4Q4 Q10 is about to turn into Kingston Garage to take up a short working to Walton-on-Thames, not crossing the bridge, so not restricted to 1T1 operation.  Note the 'minimum fares' panel, deterring short riders by setting a minimum fare of 2½d on leaving Kingston.

Photo © Alan Cross


Perhaps due to its proximity to the Brooklands aircraft factories, Walton Bridge was damaged in an air raid in 1940, and as a result a 7-ton weight limited was imposed.  The only buses that met this limit fully loaded were 1T1s, resulting in their use for journeys west of Walton on this route.  After the war, when the fleet was in a poor state, this requirement led to the rebuilding by Marshalls of Cambridge of 18 1T1s, alongside a larger number of Scooters.  The completed buses were returned in 1949 with the expectation of four years' use until the planned new bridge would be open.  These buses joined the remaining 7 unrefurbished 1T1s at Kingston in summer 1949, where they were joined by one more rebuilt at Chiswick.  The 1T1s had been assisted by many of the ex-Tilling 3T3s, until the last of that class expired in 1949, and some of the ex-Green Line 1/7T7/1s, which finished their lives here in May 1950, petrol-engined to the end. 


The peak allocation Monday to Friday had increased from 5 before the war to 20 in 1950 as the route increased in importance; three of these were for short workings that did not cross the bridge.  As a result of the Marshall rebuild programme, sufficient buses were now available for the introduction of a second route over the bridge, the 264.  However, not all of the 1T1s survived until the opening in 1953 of the new bridge (which we are informed by Pablo Haworth is a Callender-Hamilton bridge, not a Bailey bridge as sometimes reported).  Their replacements were 4Q4s and 14T12s (which arrived new at Kingston in May 1946, the second garage to receive them after Uxbridge for the 223) - as well as use on the Kingston to Walton short workings, these covered for 1T1s before the lifting of the weight restriction, running over the bridge subject to a limit on passenger numbers.  (In LHRG Bulletin 157, John Aldridge reports that when new, 14T12s did use the bridge, recalling seeing them passing through Staines in 1946 in place of the 1T1s and ex-Tilling Ts.  He recalls they suddenly disappeared, with the older buses returning - perhaps it took a little while for Kingston garage to become aware that the new buses were too heavy for Walton Bridge.  He also recalls 1/7T7/1s T244, T273, T369 and T391 on the route, all buses with interesting histories.)  The last 1T1s ran on the 218 on 31 Jan 53, the same day as the last Scooters at Dalston and marked the end of London's oldest single-deckers.


Outside Kingston Bus Station

From April 1942, the route was jointly worked with the 219 for 18 months, with this arrangement reappearing on weekdays from April 1946 until October 1949, when the 219's joint allocation moved to the 215.  The 218 also periodically received buses from the 215, until 27 Jun 51 when the whole Monday to Friday allocation was inter-worked between the 215, 218 and 219 (however, the joint allocation of Qs and Ts was misleading as the through 218 journeys could still only be worked by the lighter Ts).  In addition in this period, the Sunday Kingston to Walton shorts were worked from the 215 allocation.  In practice during the late 40s and early 50s, when Kingston had allocations of LTLs, Qs, pre- and post-war Ts and TDs, there was much interchange in the actual buses used on the routes, but surprises were still possible, such as the time in 1949 when Cub C91 was borrowed from Hornchurch for the 218, so short were Kingston of serviceable buses.  


RF505 arrived at Kingston in 1961 already fitted with doors as one of the first batch converted in 1959.  It was to be another few years before OMO conversion when their use was officially permitted, but the crew here are obviously happy to make unofficial use of them.  The bus is turning in from Clarence Street (on the inbound working used up to mid-1963) towards the back entrance of Kingston Bus Station, the driver already having wound the blind for the next journey.  The destination 'Staines via Laleham' is to draw a distinction from another Kingston route, the 216 'Staines via Sunbury'.

Photo Peter Gomm collection


The removal of the weight limit at Walton provided complete freedom and, in January 1954, the daily official allocation on the 215/218/219 became TD.  From June 1954, on the introduction of weekday route 215A, the weekday allocations for the 218/219 were separated from the 215/215A, but on Sunday, the 215/218/219 were still inter-worked.


Still a year to go

RF495, also now preserved but then bearing a mixed livery of grey relief, gold underlined fleet name and an idiosyncratic front bullseye, departs from Staines along Clarence Street on 7 Mar 78. In the background an RP arrives over the bridge bearing the Green Line livery now carried by RP21, whilst an Alder Valley National clatters off in the other direction.

Photo © John Parkin


It was thus that the conversion from TD to RF took place on the same date on the 218, 219 and Sunday workings on the 215.  On 5 Jan 60, RFs finished operation of the 212 when the route was finally double-decked.  21 RFs were moved overnight from Muswell Hill to Kingston, plus one from Norbiton, and the joint allocation on the 218 and 219 converted the next morning.  Kingston already had RFs for the 216 (and the Sunday 206), but this was the largest phase of Kingston's conversion to RF operation.  Kingston was now the largest operator of RFs.


Actually, it wasn't quite the end of the TDs on the 218, as the schedule required one TD from the 215 allocation to work on the 218 Mondays to Fridays for one more year.  But then, as so often was the case, RF operation brought a period of stability, disturbed only by restricted Sunday morning working from January 1971, to Esher only to 0930 and Shepperton only until 1200.



Walton-on-Thames Motor Co Ltd operated the shuttle service between the town and the station for many years after the war with a small fleet of Bedford OBs - not a type instantly associated with London.  LPH482 stands at the station. 

Photo © Richard Cripps


Walton-on-Thames station is some distance from the town, and had not been served by London Transport.  Rather, in one of the few cases of LT permitting an independent operator in their central area, a service dating from 1923 between the station and Walton was allowed to continue.  Operated by Walton-on-Thames Motor Co Ltd until 1970, it was taken on by Golden Miller as their 604, but discontinued at the end of 1974.  A successor peak hours-only service by Mole Valley Transport Services was discontinued within 6 months, but it was not for another nine months that, on 12 April 1976, LT stepped in by diverting the 218 in both directions to double-run along Station Avenue and U-turn at the junction of Ashley Park Road.  Ian Hogben remembers the location: 'The road layout was different from the present in that there were no bollards in the main road and only a couple of bollards in the 'throat' of Ashley Park Road (instead of the current delta shaped reservation). The 218 had to do a 180 degree turn around these bollards and, with the poor turning circle of the RF you had to start your turn from close to the nearside kerb (in the main road), and many's the ruck we had with other motorists because, even with our right indicator on and arm stuck right out through the window, we were always being overtaken by other vehicles part way through our manœuvre.'


Apart from weekday timetable reductions and the rerouting to serve Walton Station, the 218 continued working whilst RFs were withdrawn around it.  The 201, 215 and 216 at Kingston, the 206 at Esher, the 264 at Walton and the 224 at Laleham and Staines all lost their RFs in 1976.  At Shepperton and Twickenham, Hounslow's RFs on the 237 and 202 lasted until April 1977, whereupon the 218 and 219 were the lone RF routes remaining in London.  Because there were not enough BLs for their replacement, it had been intended that the last RFs would be replaced by a new sub-class of Swift, the SMD, and indeed the blinds were printed accordingly.


The SMD class was a single-door seated version of the SMS without the automatic fare equipment, and a few entered service at Fulwell in 1975.  But the Swifts themselves were failing fast, and the programme did not continue.  In any case, the larger buses (the Swift was 33' long, 3' longer than an RF) would not fit over the pits at Kingston garage.  So 25 buses were spruced up and mostly given new 3-year Certificates of Fitness, and Hounslow's 202 and 237 were not after all the last RF routes.


Official recognition

Eventually even they had to go, although not before the last Ultimate ticket machines in use by LT were replaced by Almexes, about a year before the end, in March 1978.  This allowed greater vehicle flexibility as Almexes were in use on the BLs used on the 216 and Sunday 71, so these two classes occasionally stood in for each other during that last year.  The garage problem was finally solved by reallocating the 218 and 219 to Norbiton, from where the routes could be operated with new Leyland Nationals.  17 RFs ran on the last day of operation, 30 March 1979, including the specially selected last bus RF507 (photo © Paul Morris), already with gold transfers, which had been prepared by painting the window surrounds cream.  Although the last RF departure from Kingston was RF510 on the shorter 219, all attention was on the 218, and the last journey had to be duplicated by several RFs.  When RF507 arrived at Kingston early on Saturday morning of 31 March, the end of London Transport operation of LT-designed single-deckers had arrived.  Enthusiasts enjoyed a special tour the following day on RFs 510-512 over the routes of the 218 and 219 - the RFs' final revenue-earning duty with LT.


Roger Towers, the driver of RF507, receives a handshake before being allowed to pay in from the last RF service journey operated by LT on 30 March 1979 (well, early in the morning of 31 March, actually).  We were pleased to hear from Roger, who retired in 2014 and still has fond memories of the RFs.  He is very proud of having driven the last journey and was overwhelmed by the number of people who turned out that night to see the bus home.

Photo © John Parkin


The progressive dismantling of the Kingston route network during the Thatcher era affected the 218 with adjustments in the route to serve Ham (Monday to Friday peaks in 1981/2) and the area behind Sandown Park at Esher (Saturdays from 1985, by loop working of Esher shorts).  The route was extended to Thorpe Park for the summers of 1985 and 1986.  In October 1986, operation was transferred to LCBS with SNBs operated from Staines Garage, the route number being retained (with the unsocial hours tendered service passing through several changes of operator) until renumbering as 481 in July 1997.  The old number reappeared on the route in 2001, to be lost again in 2010 with another renumbering, to 458 operated by Abellio.  In 2016, it works every 30 minutes (60 minutes Sunday) via the traditional route, except that Walton Station is served from Queens Road Hersham, as the U-turn at the station is no longer possible.


RF route in detail, with timing points

KINGSTON Bus Station, Clarence Street, Eden Street, High Street Kingston, Portsmouth Road, Dittons Winters Bridge, Portsmouth Road, Esher Marquis of Granby, Portsmouth Road, High Street Esher, Esher High Street, Church Street (return via Esher Green), Lammas Lane, Esher Road, Hersham Barley Mow, Molesey Road, Hersham Road, High Street Walton, Walton Bridge Street, Bear, Bridge Street, Walton Bridge, Walton Bridge Road, Gaston Bridge Road, Green Lane Gaston Bridge Road, Green Lane, Shepperton Station Approach, Laleham Road, Shepperton Road, Laleham Church, Staines Road, Laleham Road, Thames Street, Clarence Street, Bridge Street, STAINES Moor Lane


During the period of RF operation, new or revised one-way systems were introduced in Staines, Walton, Esher and Kingston.  

From 12 Apr 76, the route double-ran along Station Avenue to serve Walton Station.


The 1964 bus map (© London Transport) shows the route as it ran from 1923 to 1997.


Buses stood at Staines West GWR station (closed). 



Year Mon-Fri Sat Sun
1936 60 mins 30 mins 30 mins
1938 30 mins 30 mins 30 mins
1941 30 mins 15 mins 15-30 mins
1946 12-20 mins 15 mins 20-30 mins
1951 10 mins * 10 mins * 15 mins *
1953 10 mins * 10 mins * 15 mins *
1959 10-15 mins * 7-12 mins 30 mins *
1964 10-15 mins 10-15 mins † 60 mins *
1969 10-15 mins 7-10 mins 60 mins *
1971 10-15 mins 7-10 mins 60 mins ∆
1976 10-15 mins 15 mins * 60 mins ∆

* more frequent Kingston - Walton

† more frequent Kingston - Shepperton

∆ more frequent Kingston - Esher


The route took about 35 minutes from Kingston to Walton, 64 minutes for the full route.  The July 1967 timetable is here.



The 1965 faretable is here.


RF allocation

Allocation joint with 219:

PVR 1960: Mon-Fri 22 +1 TD ex 215, Sat 21, Sun from 215 allocation

PVR 1961 (Aug): Mon-Fri 22, Sat 21, Sun from 215 allocation

PVR 1963 (Oct): Mon-Fri 22, Sat 22, Sun from 215 allocation

PVR 1966 (Jan): Mon-Fri 22, Sat 22, Sun 8

PVR 1968 (OMO): Mon-Fri 24, Sat 26, Sun 8

PVR 1971 (Jan): Mon-Fri 24, Sat 26, Sun 6
PVR 1972 (Aug): Mon-Fri 25, Sat 25, Sun 7
PVR 1973 (Mar): Mon-Fri 26, Sat 26, Sun 6

PVR 1975 (Feb): Mon-Fri 25, Sat 25, Sun 7

PVR 1976 (Apr): Mon-Fri 19, Sat 19, Sun 7


Buses operational on 30 March 1979: RFs 314, 369, 381, 428, 437, 441, 471, 481, 492, 495, 502, 504, 505, 507, 516, 520, 522 (as listed by Ken Glazier, although this totals 17 against a PVR of 19).

Buses operating the commemorative tour on 31 Mar 79: RFs 510, 511, 512.

Of the 25 recertified buses, RFs 346 and 518 were withdrawn in 1978 and RFs 452 and 536 on 15 Mar 79.  RF486 never returned to passenger service after recertification.



Ian Hogben explains why Kingston RFs had what looked like bullet holes on the rear panel here.  More of his memories of driving RFs at Kingston are on the 216 page, his recollections of high jinks on early 218 journeys are on the Operations in Practice page, more rivalry here and one of his passengers here.



RFs again operated the 218 at our Kingston 2009 RF event.



* Footnote on route number 62.  Not only was this applied to the routes that became the last RT and RF routes, but it was also one of the first in the country area, effectively a precursor of the Country Buses and the Green Line.  When General starting operations outside the London urban area with three Sunday routes in July 1912, one was the 62, from Hounslow to Windsor.  A month later it became daily and was renumbered 81.  Which still operates today as far as Slough.