was a conductor at Old Kent Road
(P), followed by Camberwell (Q), between 1956 and
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.