Memories of route 202


This evocative photo shows RF378 running P1 (from Old Kent Road garage), possibly in Rotherhithe New Road - so much of the area has changed beyond recognition since the 1950s.  The bus appears to show marks of having borne a roof advertisement.
Photo © WJ Haynes, Paul Brophy collection.
Alan Neale (1936-2012) was a conductor at Old Kent Road garage (P), followed by Camberwell (Q), between 1956 and 1962.


Alan lived in Clifton Rise, New Cross, and applied to join London Transport on finishing his National Service in 1956.  He was accepted as a conductor and assigned to Old Kent Road garage – despite living close to New Cross garage.  On the closure of Old Kent Road garage, he was given no option, despite the transfer of most of the routes to New Cross, he was transferred to Camberwell.


‘I went for a week’s training to Chiswick, then started at the garage to learn from a senior conductor, then went back to Chiswick and got signed out.  I started on the 53s, then changed from that and went onto the 21s.  Quite soon I got a regular driver and learned the route and the fares.  But if you didn’t do a route regularly, you had to look up the fares, you couldn’t remember them all.  I can still remember the fare stages on the 53, though.


The first thing you’d do in the morning was collect your box, which had the machine in, and your waybill, which had the first numbers filled in.  Then you took your bus out.  The noticeboard in the garage showed what duty you were on, early, middle or late.  You did a week of earlies, a week of middles or spreadovers, a week of lates.  It showed when your break was, you stayed on the same bus until your break, and which bus after.  You kept your machine waybill with you, the time card stayed with the bus, they were both kept in the slot on the platform.  If you were on spread-over, you took your machine home with you.  At the end of the day, you worked out your money on your waybill, showing how many tickets issued.  If you were short, you had to make it up, if you were over you’d put it in your pocket and say nothing.  You weren’t given a float – I always used to take some of my own, I couldn’t understand why you weren’t given a float at all.  But the driver didn’t have to do anything at the end of the day, he didn’t have to go back to the garage, he could just leave his bus and go home.


This picture of Q132 pre-dates Alan's career by at least 4 years, but shows the Achilles Street layover point, just round the corner from Alan's house in Clifton Rise.  Note the pre-fabs that have replaced bombed houses - Alan recalls that many houses were lost and, being so close to the docks, the area suffered greatly from Nazi bombing raids.  Almost all of Clifton Rise, and the houses in the background, were cleared in the 60s and 70s; much of the area is now Fordham Park (including part of the old roadway) plus modern housing.

Photo © Ron Wellings, Paul Brophy collection


I only worked on the 202 on overtime, rest-day working.  Some of the crews were on the 202s all the time, but there wasn’t any sort of hierarchy in the garage, not like Peckham garage, very cliquey that was.  One of the 202 drivers lived over the road from us, I worked with him sometimes when his conductor was off sick.  You got five or six minutes at the stand, but there weren’t usually two buses there at a time.  So we’d go home at meal breaks, but you didn’t get a cup of tea otherwise at the end of the route, there wasn’t anywhere.  Some of the regulars brought a flask. 


The 202 was a friendlier route, all locals, if you were on it all the time you got to know all the people who got on and off.  They all knew each other, a lot of them worked at Molins.  A lot of other people round there worked for the railway, there were railway houses in Folkestone Gardens and Amersham Vale.


The main factories along the 202 were Francis, tin-bashers in Trundleys Road, then Brabeys (later British Ropes), by Deptford Park.  Molins near Surrey Docks made cigarette manufacturing equipment, that was huge.  I worked there later, after LT.  Then there was the Peak Freen biscuit factory, that was enormous, must have been five thousand people and you could smell the biscuits, and Shuttleworths chocolate factory in Galleywall Road, there were lots of people at both, mostly women.  But it wasn’t just at shift-change, the 202 was busy all day, there were no shops down there so people went down to New Cross to go shopping.


The 202 didn’t touch the main road at either end, but that didn’t mean it avoided traffic jams, even in the 50s.  Trundleys Road could be bad, back from Surrey Docks, I’ve known it queued as far as Folkestone Gardens.


But mostly I was on the 21 and 53, heavy routes, but I didn’t mind having a full bus, that’s what you were there for.  If you only had a few spaces, you only let 2 or 3 on, whatever you had space for, you were only allowed five standing then and you couldn’t allow any more, you’d lose your license.  If anything happened and you had over the five, you’d get done straight away.  But people queued in those days, not like now, and they’d do what they were told.  If you were collecting fares upstairs, you didn’t run to the back of the bus to ring the buzzer, which you were supposed to do, you just stamped on the floor.  But at white (compulsory) stops, the conductor was supposed to be on the footplate ringing the bell, because the white stop was a police stop.  But how they can say the conductor was in charge of the bus beats me, the conductor has got to go where the driver goes! 


When you picked up the bus in the morning, the blinds were all set, all you needed to do was set the destination during the day.  You were supposed to put the right destination!  On the 1s, they ran Lewisham to Waterloo and the Surrey Docks buses ran to Marylebone.  So the Lewisham buses put up Waterloo - and on the Surrey Docks ones, the driver also put Waterloo up, then just as you get to Waterloo put Marylebone up.  You wondered why people weren’t getting on – well I didn’t know, my blind was right, it was the front that wasn’t right!


We put up Old Kent Road Lord Wellington for the garage runs, they were even on the blinds for the 202, but we never put them up for that.


We’d always have a cup of tea at the end of each run on the regular routes.  Most services had a decent little café where you changed or where you turned round, all the crews went to the same place.  There was one on Plumstead Common, nice little café that was.  There weren’t any mobile canteens [on our routes].  You were only there five or ten minutes, just time for a cuppa.


Usually you’d get in 4 minutes early – you couldn’t get booked for less than 4 minutes early.  Once at Lambeth North, we were booked for being four minutes early and the inspector made us wait until time, he was one of the nit-picking ones.  By the time we got to Camden Town, we were 35 minutes late.  When we got back to New Cross, we were well late, but the inspector asked us to take the bus down to Woolwich and back, then wait in the canteen until he came to see us.  Eventually when he did, he told us to go home, two hours early – one good turn deserves another.  But if you were late taking your break, you’d still take your full break.  And the crew that had the bus you were going to take over used to bring it into the garage, you took it from the garage, but you still had your break.  So there may have been gaps in the service - the only buses that had to run without fail were the first and last.


There weren’t any time-clocks on any of our routes, except for one at Farningham, where the 21 went on Sundays, that’s the only place I can remember seeing them.  Oh, and there was one at Surrey Docks, but we didn’t use it.


They told us that the Gibson ticket machine was fiddle-proof.  But there was one conductor, they called him in and said they knew he was fiddling.  He said he couldn’t be, since it wasn’t possible to fiddle the Gibson.  But they knew he was doing it, his takings were down, so they offered him a job for life if he’d tell them how he did it.  But it never came out, so I never knew, but he did have a job for life. 


In fact you were told at Chiswick that your driver should never pay for a cup of tea, you take it out of the bag. Well if you took it out of the bag, you’d have to make it up.  And the only way you could make it up was passengers getting on, not taking their fares and wait until they come down the stairs to get off, they’d put the money in your hand.  Instead of ringing up a dozen 3d tickets, you’d ring up two.  But you had to be careful who was sitting on the seat inside watching you, because you never knew…


The last day of operation of the 202, 25 October 1968, and RF397 in Rotherhithe Old Road approaches Surrey Docks Station before heading down towards Canal Bridge and the St James's Road loop.  As always with the circular service, the blind shows a destination of New Cross Clifton Rise even when the bus is heading in the opposite direction.

Photo © Chris Stanley


The best lot of all were the early morning cleaners, the ladies who went up to clean in the City, they were great.  We used to fill up at Old Kent Road garage.  But if you were late, gawd help you, you never heard the last of it.  But they were all really good-natured.  We had all sorts on the buses, and we had some famous people.  Michael Foot used to travel on the 59, he lived at Hampstead; we used to get quite a few MPs on.


Generally people were well behaved then.  You remembered who had paid – part of the skill of the job - and who hadn’t.  There was always the odd one who didn’t, but mainly people were all right then.  I used to look at it this way, if a person didn’t want to pay, I wasn’t going to get a punch on the nose for the sake of 3d.  So if he didn’t want to pay, I used to shut my eyes.  But you didn’t get that many anyway.  It was the same as the drunks.  If you had a drunk at the stop, you just gave three bells and you didn’t pick him up, you let him wait for the next bus.  There was more drunkenness then; they used to stand at the stop swaying, you’d think ‘hello, he’s had a few’.  Ding ding ding.


It was a good job, actually; if it wasn’t for the wife, I wouldn’t have come off.  We worked an eleven day fortnight.  Old Kent Road turns weren’t so bad, but Camberwell late turns were a lot later in the evening.  But I didn’t get the chance to go to New Cross, you went where you were sent.  And it took me an hour to walk home, Peckham were supposed to run a staff bus but they didn’t.  So I finished in 1962.’



In 2010, RF486 ran over the old 202 route with some former Old Kent Road staff, including Alan Neale.  A photo-report is here.