Red RF routes

Route 227

Page last updated 1 January 2017

 

Originating as a first world war munitions route, the 109 between Penge and Chislehurst was transferred to Tilling and was renumbered in 1934 into the single-deck series as 227.  It still operates over the Crystal Palace to Bromley section today and is the longest running single-deck service in London.  The centenary of the route was celebrated with a heritage operation in connection with Bromley Garage open day on 13 August 2016.
 
Brand new RF338 in Penge.  The bus has run down from Crystal Palace past the church of St John the Evangelist and now passes the Crooked Billet short working terminus.  The pub sign illustrates the now-lost meaning of 'billet' as a stick or vine.
Photo © Geoff Morant, Mike Morant collection
 
Dates of RF operation
5 Nov 52 to 1 Jan 71
(total 18 years, 2 months, all crew operation).
 
Destinations
CRYSTAL PALACE and CHISLEHURST
 
RF Garages
TB   Bromley
 
Reason for single-deck operation
Single-deckers were required both due to the low bridges at Clock House and Shortlands and the famous Chislehurst Water Tower at the top of Summer Hill, through which all traffic from Bromley to Chislehurst had to pass until it was demolished in 1963.  Although Clock House no longer provides a barrier, the bridge at Shortlands still only has a 12' headroom, leading to the route being the longest running single-deck operation in London.

 

RF344 in May 1968, newly repainted and still bearing side adverts, having left the stand at Crystal Palace Parade and about to run round the roundabout.  Snappy Snacks no doubt provided tea to crews on the 154 and 157, which terminated at the top of Anerley Hill.

Photo © John King

 

Route history
Thomas Tilling introduced a horse bus service from Forest Hill via Penge and Beckenham to Shortlands in April 1913, the first public service along this route (Beckenham had been in negotiation for a tram service to Bromley in 1901-3, but this foundered partly due to the low bridge at Shortlands).  The Tillings horse bus did not run the last half-mile into Bromley due to the steepness of the hill up Beckenham Lane.  It was shortened at the western end after six months, to run only from Penge.
 
The first motor bus route between Penge and Bromley was the 112, which ran using single-deck 'rear-verandah' B-types from June to August 1914 and from December 1914 to January 1915.  The road was covered again by new route 109 in August 1916, which was introduced as a 'munitions service' from Penge Crystal Palace Entrance, via Beckenham, Bromley, Chislehurst and Eltham to Woolwich Eton Road.  Operation was by the General from Streatham garage (AK).  The route ceased operation when funding stopped after the first war ended, in February 1919, but was reintroduced in September that year to work between Penge and Bromley North, extended further to Chislehurst six months later on the familiar radial route round London's outskirts linking Penge, Beckenham, Bromley and Chislehurst Queens Head.
 
An indication of the conditions faced by drivers is given by the official 'traffic circular' dated 13 March 1920, which includes the following: 'Drivers are instructed to vary the part of the roadway used in each journey, particularly between the Queens Head and Chislehurst Station, and not to keep in the same rut each time'.
 
The first B-type buses used on the route also could not manage the steep hill on Beckenham Road up into Bromley, so worked eastbound via Blyth Road until replaced by new buses in 1925.  The service was briefly extended westwards in 1921, to Sydenham and then to Forest Hill, and transferred from Streatham garage to be operated by Nunhead (AH), using some of the type-7 Bs that had proved too heavy for the 111
 
The 109 ran through the heart of Thomas Tilling territory.  In May 1924, the operation was transferred to Tilling's Bromley garage (TB), although formal agreement didn't follow until October 1925.  The General loaned 12 Bs until a dozen O-class 30-seat TS7 petrol-electrics arrived [see foot of page].  These were owned by General, and until 1930 were operated in General colours (at which time they were licensed in Tilling's name and repainted accordingly). 
 
See the photo archive page for more early history.
 
An obstacle to progressUnder the Bassom scheme introduced on 1 Dec 24, the Penge terminus was registered as Crystal Palace Entrance, but the route ran (as the 109A) only from Penge Crooked Billet.  On 16 Jun 26, the route was extended north from Chislehurst via Mottingham to Eltham High Street with a bus every 10 minutes and renumbered 109 (because the Crystal Palace Entrance terminus was withdrawn).  To cover the additional requirement, Tilling's TS7s were assisted by three General Bs from Sidcup (SP), these being replaced by K-types during 1927, until 1930 when the TS7s had been converted to pneumatic tyres and Sidcup's involvement ceased.  At the end of that year, a further frequency improvement required the addition of two buses from Elmers End (ED) plus extras from AH and ED at weekends.
 
The Chislehurst Water Tower, dating from 1860
 
Single-deckers were required both due to the low bridges at Clock House and Shortlands and the famous Chislehurst Water Tower at the top of Summer Hill, through which all traffic from Bromley to Chislehurst had to pass until it was demolished in 1963.  While TB was still operating petrol-electrics, ED received six LT Scooters for the route at the end of 1931 (including three secondhand from double-decking at Hounslow), removing AH's involvement, although the Scooters were gradually needed elsewhere and Ss reappeared on the route at weekends until 1934, alongside Ts; 1933 saw AH helping again at weekends, also mostly with Ss.
 
Meanwhile, a batch of AEC Regals (3T3s, numbered T307-318, with bodies built by Tilling at their Obelisk Works in Lewisham) was bought by General in 1932 for Tilling to operate and replaced the TS7s at TB between August and October.  The buses were notable for their exceptionally wide destination screens, and two were unusual in being built with pre-select gearboxes, Tilling's first.  Tilling's operations were taken over by General in October 1933.  In May 1933, the route was extended from Eltham to Welling Guy Earl of Warwick.
 
Early shot of RF415

RF415 was delivered new to Sutton in January 1953, but the following month sees it loaned to Bromley and using the blind from a Scooter (this loan is noteworthy as Sutton and Norbiton did not themselves have enough RFs to work the 213, which had its peak allocation on Saturdays, like the 227).  The effect of the cream band is more striking without the indicator ears.

Photo © AB Cross

 

A sister route to the 109, the 609 worked by Elmers End, had been added on 1 Apr 31, running between Penge and Bromley North Station but routed to the south of Shortlands (thus avoiding both the railway bridge and the water tower).  Again, the ED allocation varied between Ts and LTLs, with Ss working a joint allocation with the 109A (Penge to Bromley shorts) on Saturdays in 1934 - the Ss were time expired by then, but Saturdays as the busiest day mean they needed to be brought out from storage.  They were eventually withdrawn when the 551 (later 251) was shortened, releasing more Scooters, although surviving a little longer elsewhere.
 
From November 1932 to January 1934, the 609 was extended to Chislehurst and onwards, replacing the 195 (later 228), to Eltham.  ED was joined by Sidcup (SP), both operating Scooters.  The simple meeting of the 227 and 228 at Chislehurst of the RF years had a long and complex history.
 
The 609 became the 229 in October 1934, then (to avoid confusion of numbering with the 227) the 254 until, in 1940 and by then cut back to Beckenham, it was double-decked as the 126.
 
The 109 was renumbered 227 in the new sequence on 3 Oct 34.  By now running every 7½ minutes over most of the route, larger buses were required and LT Scooters replaced the 3T3s in March/April 1936.  The ex-Tilling Ts were moved to Kingston and replaced at TB by LTs.  At the same time, SP added three more Scooters on Saturdays, from 1929 the busiest day of the week.   
 
On 4 May 38, the route was cut back to Chislehurst Gordon Arms, running from the Common along Green Lane in both directions.  The sections to Welling was covered by new routes 160 and 161.  On the same day, the TB and SP allocations were withdrawn, leaving the route to ED's Scooters, in sole charge until 1951.  During this period, the vehicle requirement grew from 11 to 21 during the week, 17 to 24 on Saturdays; for much of the war, the Scooters were joined by a sole Q, Q217.  This was destroyed on 18 July 1944 when ED received a direct hit from a V1 flying bomb, killing 16 staff and destroying more than 40 buses.  Despite the devastation, services continued the following day with borrowed buses, including eight stored green 1/7T7/1s relicensed for the period 20-31 July on the 227 (there were also 27 ex-Tilling STs relicensed and 7 green STs loaned from the Country Area).  In part, these were replaced from 1 August by Scooters that had gone to Chiswick for overhaul but were relicensed, alongside damaged buses that had been repaired.
 
Soon not 2B
On 2 May 51, the route moved wholesale back to TB, its home from then until today, except for a five year contract 1992-97 with Kentish Bus out of Dunton Green.  The Scooters moved with it, Bromley's first single-deckers since the double-decking of the 254 (to 126) and 232 (to 138) in 1940, the duties replacing part of the 47 that moved to Catford, in turn replacing the 36 which moved to the brand new Peckham garage.
 
Still doorless, RF324 stands at Crystal Palace in front of Stockwell's RM930 on the long 2 to North Finchley.  The RF is one of those converted to OMO configuration in 1970 and returned for a brief period at TB with the doors fixed open.  Crews were happy to have the benefit of the doors, however, and reportedly often carried a screwdriver to remove the wooden batons stopping the doors from closing.
Photo © Chris Stanley
 
On 27 Jun 51, the 227 was extended from Penge to Crystal Palace, although this was a minority of buses, two or three turning in Penge for every through bus.  The LTL Scooters were replaced by new RFs in November 1952, with the last four (including ex-London General Country Services LT1427) being withdrawn after service on 3 December.  The first 3 RFs were licensed on 5 November, twenty more were delivered during the month and the last six by 12 December.  It is interesting to note that the nickname 'Scooters' lasted to be applied to RFs at Bromley, and a few other garages, but not universally.
 
Saturday was still the busiest day on the route, and Bromley garage continued to put out more buses on Saturdays through until 1963.  However, until then and from well before the introduction of RFs, the Saturday allocation was higher than the number of single-deckers based at the garage, so every Saturday a bus would be borrowed from another garage.  [See more information on borrowings here.]   For example, from 1958 to 1963, Bromley had 22 RFs allocated but 23 were required for the service on Saturday afternoon.  Each Saturday morning, one RF was driven from Croydon to Bromley, ran in service during the afternoon and (we believe) went back that evening, with the ferry driver from Croydon staying at Bromley Garage for the 4-5 hours that the bus was out.  TC had one spare bus (six RFs for a Monday to Saturday PVR of five), so between Croydon and Bromley, all 28 RFs were in use.  It is testament to the reliability of the RF that this system worked.
 
During 1954, there were detail changes to the route at Chislehurst.  The terminal working was unchanged (the stand was in Alexander Road, beside the Gordon Arms, with the buses leaving via Edward Road), but from May the route arrived and left via Albany Road and the High Street, changing again in October to arrive via Albany Road and depart down Green Lane to the Common.  Other than this, and a gradual reduction in weekend frequencies, the route remained unchanged for approaching 20 years.  For much of the period, Crystal Palace buses alternated with Penge Crooked Billet short workings.
 
Just before the end of the RFs, LOTS reported that 'RF348 was taken from outside Bromley garage at 3am one morning and the joy-rider ended up crashing into the front of a shop. When the RF was seen being towed through Bromley it looked a complete write-off. The joy-rider was not found.'  RF348 was indeed a write-off, it was one of two scrapped at Aldenham the following year.
 
The route was the second last crew-operated RF route (the last was the 236) when converted to OMO Swifts on 2 Jan 71, having been the only RF route operated out of Bromley for all that time.  The last bus in service was driven by the late Fred Chapman, a proud RF owner for years afterwards.  In common with experience elsewhere, the conversion to Swift operation was a disaster - see former conductor Terence Uden's comments below.
 
SMS321 seen in Bromley Market Square.
Photo Jeff Lloyd collection via London Bus Scene
 
The Swifts were replaced by Nationals after only 6½ years, these lasting until the route was won by Kentish Bus, operating from Dunton Green, in 1992.  At that time, the route was cut back from Chislehurst to Bromley North, leaving the route as operated today.  However, operation returned to TB, now as Stagecoach, in 1997, where it remains running between Crystal Palace and Bromley North to this day.
 
 
Map ©  London Transport 1955
 
RF route in detail, with timing points
CRYSTAL PALACE Parade, Westwood Hill, Crystal Palace Park Road, Penge High Street, Penge Pawleyne Arms, Penge High Street, Beckenham Road, Beckenham War Memorial, Beckenham High Street, Bromley Road, Shortlands Station, Beckenham Lane, Bromley High Street, Bromley Market Place, Widmore Road, Bickley Road, Bickley Park Road, Chislehurst Station, Summer Hill, Bromley Road, Chislehurst War Memorial, Centre Common Road, High Street, Albany Road, Green Lane, CHISLEHURST Gordon Arms.  (Return via Green Lane, Heathfield Lane, Loop Road, Centre Common Road).
 
Garage journeys: to/from Bromley Market Place via High Street, Masons Hill, Bromley Common (some drivers on empty late journeys from Chislehurst are said to have used a short-cut from Bickley).
Crew change at Bromley Widmore Road.
 
Terminal working at Chislehurst: turn into Alexander Road to stand, leave via Edward Road to Green Lane
Terminal working at Crystal Palace: from Parade south side via roundabout at the top of Anerley Hill; original working believed to be by U-turn across Parade, date of change not known.
Terminal working at Penge: turning circle at Crooked Billet.
 
Frequency
Year Mon-Fri Sat Sun
1936§ 7½ mins 7½ mins 7½ mins
1941 6-7½ mins 5-7½ mins 8-10 mins
1946 5-6 mins

4½-6 mins

6-7½ mins
1951 4-6 mins 4-6 mins 6-7½ mins
1959 4-7 mins* 4-7 mins* 6-8 mins*
1964 4-7 mins* 4-5 mins* 9 mins*
1969 3-7 mins* 4-7 mins* 9 mins*
* Chislehurst to Penge.  Every second or third bus ran to Crystal Palace.

§ Frequencies for Penge to Eltham (route continued to Welling).  Additional buses ran on Saturdays Penge to Bromley (overall up to every 5 minutes).

 

Chislehurst to Penge took about 38 minutes, to Crystal Palace about 45.  The November 1959 timetable is here, the July 1967 timetable here and the July 1969 timetable here.

 

Faretable

To view the post-RF faretable for 1979, click here.

 
RF allocation
New RFs delivered Nov-Dec 52: 331, 333-353, 358-360, 369, 377 (26 + 1 spare), Feb 53: 463.
 
PVR 1952 (Nov): Mon-Fri 24, Sat 26, Sun 15
PVR 1958 (Apr): Mon-Fri 24, Sat 23, Sun 15
PVR 1958 (Nov): Mon-Fri 20, Sat 23, Sun 12
PVR 1959 (May): Mon-Fri 20, Sat 23, Sun 15
PVR 1959 (Oct): Mon-Fri 21, Sat 23, Sun 12
PVR 1960 (May): Mon-Fri 21, Sat 23, Sun 15
PVR 1960 (Oct): Mon-Fri 21, Sat 23, Sun 12
PVR 1962 (Oct): Mon-Fri 21, Sat 23, Sun 10
PVR 1963 (May): Mon-Fri 21, Sat 23, Sun 12
PVR 1963 (Oct): Mon-Fri 22, Sat 22, Sun 10
PVR 1964 (Nov): Mon-Fri 22, Sat 20, Sun 10
PVR 1969 (Aug): Mon-Fri 23, Sat 20, Sun 7
 
RF385 in earlier years about to take the Chislehurst Arch.  The bus spent much of its life at Bromley.  Another photo of the arch, taken from the other side, appears in John Hambley's 1961 book (p.21).
Photographer unknown
 
Memories

Terence Uden conducted on the 227 and recorded his memories in LHRG Bulletin 199.  They are copied here with his permission:

 

‘I was very happy to have worked on RFs for nine years as a Conductor at TB, although, unlike most LT garages, we did not (thankfully) stay on one route all the time.  In fact, on the terrible day of conversion, 2 January 1971 I recall, TB went over to a fully common rota for crews as the OMO rota had been from inception, and the 47 duties joined the 61, 94, 119 an 146 rota.  Prior to the introduction of OMO in 1968 [this was the 126], there had been three rotas, but all of them contained varying elements of RF work on both Saturdays and Sundays, so all crews worked them at some point, and as they by far exceeded the number of duties (up to 48 Mon-Sat) on any other route, it was rare not to be working an RF at some time each month, even if only on overtime or a rest day.

 

With regard to the comment about “the disaster” of the conversion of the 202 at NX, this was certainly reflected in greater magnitude at TB after conversion of the 227.  The revenue literally halved, and lost mileage, hitherto almost unknown apart from conductor shortages towards the end, spiralled to create an almost complete breakdown of the service.  LT must have been fully aware of the consequences of conversion, as from day one, they had already instituted a formal turning arrangement at Widmore Green (blinds, stands, etc), and I can recall actually seeing three consecutive buses being turned at that point.  How the residents of Bickley and Chislehurst, after enjoying a four-minute peak service, not to mention am peak ‘shorts’ worked just from the Gordon Arms to Chislehurst Station, coped with routine gaps of up to an hour, of course was reflected in the appalling loss of revenue.  I recall some Chislehurst passengers actually taking the 45 minute journey on a 61 via Orpington as the only sure means of getting to Bromley!  With the later mechanical difficulties of the SMS class, it took years for the service to really recover, and the numbers carried by the wonderful and hard-working RFs, which negotiated three steep hills on each journey, never returned.

 

Although we had one OMO-fitted vehicle for some time, much sought-after on cold winter nights with the added luxury of a door which could be controlled Country Area fashion by both conductor and driver, during the last six months, many vehicles fitted for OMO and the future ‘Uxbridge’ scheme came our way, where only the driver controlled the doors.  This reduced capacity by two, but did stop people flinging themselves onto the steps at the pedestrian crossing encountered immediately after leaving the eastbound stop in Bromley Market Square.  This happened on almost every journey during the busy daytime, and the astonished looks of those now unable to do this was a sight to behold.  On the very last day, Friday 1st January [1971], then a perfectly normal working day, we were actually scheduled to do the very last handover in the Market Square at 2139 that night, the crew of the final bus into TB taking over.  But we also had a spell of overtime that morning, also on the 227, and I was astonished to be given a £5 note by an elderly male passenger in Bickley, who I vaguely recognised but never thought of as particularly friendly, with the comment “thank you for all the service you have given us on this route”.

 

As a post script, I recall that when we regained the 47 route on a Saturday, sometime around 1982, a youngish woman boarded in the Market Square as were heading back to TB, looking at me as if she’d seen a ghost.  “How are you?” she gushed, “I can’t believe you are still here, and thought you had left when the 227 lost its conductors”.  Happy days!’

 

Terry Cooper, Roger Newport and Ian Smith all remember RFs on the 227, read their accounts on the next page.

 

In Bus Crew: London 1924-1970 by Jim & Mary Cooke, Jim has the following about the 227.  ‘Eventually we lost a number of 47 duties to Catford garage.  These were replaced by 227 duties that had previously been worked out of Elmers End.  The buses were old LT-type single-deckers, bad to work on and to drive.  Later on they were replaced by RFs, which were much better to drive and even had a heater in the cab.

One night we were proceeding up Summer Hill at twelve o’clock, being the last 227 to Chislehurst.  On going through the water-tower, I misjudged the entrance – this was quite narrow, with only a three-inch clearance on either side – with the result that I hit the nearside pillar of the tower and knocked off the mirror, which fell on Mary’s foot as she was standing beside me.  The impact also broke the handrail on the right hand side of the entrance.  Luckily I had a piece of string in my pocket, so Mary and I tied the handrail up as best we could and carried on to Chislehurst.  When the people wanted to get off, Mary descended first and held the handrail to make sure they did not slip or fall into the road.  Of course, I had to sign up for this [a ‘caution’ in the disciplinary book]’.

 

 

Re-creation

RF486 operated route 227 at the Sidcup Running Day in 2007 and (with other RFs) at the Bromley Running Days in 2009, 2010 and 2011.

 

Early fleet details

Thanks to GJ Robbins in LHRG Bulletin 81, we know that the twelve single-deck Tillings TS7s were placed in service on the 109A on 7 Oct 25, with O168-179 working the following duties (in order): TB1, TB2, X, TB3 - TB11, X being the spare bus.  This allocation remained unchanged throughout.