Red RF routes

Route 251

Page last updated 1 January 2017
 
A remarkable route across north London that has covered the same roads for over 75 years.  RF operation moved in 1963 from Muswell Hill garage, also home to the 210 and 212, to Edgware, which had just replaced the last TDs in service with RFs on the 240A.
 
RF512, later to become famous at Kingston, pulls up the hill to Totteridge & Whetstone Station.
Photo © Paul Redmond
 
Dates of RF operation

6 May 53 (weekends, but see below), 1 May 57 (daily, but see below) to 29 Jan 77.

Converted to OMO 27 Jan 65

(total 23 years 9 months, of which 11 years 9 months crew operation).

 
Destinations

ARNOS GROVE and BURNT OAK Edgware Road (6 May 53 to 6 Sep 68)

ARNOS GROVE and STANMORE STATION (7 Sep 68 to 29 Jan 77)

 

RF Garages

MH    Muswell Hill to 26 Feb 63 

EW    Edgware from 27 Feb 63

 

Reason for single-deck operation
In its initial form, from Edmonton to Whetstone, there was a low bridge at Silver Street, Edmonton.  The extension to Burnt Oak in 1933 took the route under the low rail bridge at Mill Hill Broadway that also affected the 240, so single-decking remained after the Edmonton section was withdrawn.  By 1966 when the road under the bridge was lowered, the route had been converted to OMO, then only available on single-deckers, so single-decking continued, as it does to this day.  The route is second only to the 227 in longevity of single-deck operation in the Central Area.
 
Muswell Hill's RF322, one of the second batch delivered new for the 210, commences the U-turn off the Arnos Grove stand across Bowes Road.
Photo © Geoff Morant, Mike Morant collection
 
Route history
Route 551 was introduced on (or about) 4 Jul 25 between Whetstone Griffin Inn and Edmonton Aerator's Works, via Arnos Grove (which was then largely undeveloped and rural) and the newly-opened North Circular Road.  The Griffin at Whetstone had long been a staging post on the Great North Road and the 551 provided a connection with General route 84 and Overground route 284 as well as the trams.
 
The route was introduced by Redburn's Motor Services, joined a month later by Biss Brothers and at the start of 1926 by Uneedus and HM Merry.  All used single-deck Dennises, except Uneedus who ran Guys.  Single-deckers were required because of a low rail bridge at Silver Street, Edmonton.

 

TD14 at the Barnfield Road terminus at Burnt Oak in November 1951, its Weymann body less than 6 years old but already looking antiquated.  No doubt the crew are having tea in a cafe on the Edgware Road; their passengers look as if they're getting anxious.
Photo © Alan Cross
 
On 27 Jan 26, the General joined in, with three K-class single-deckers worked from Tottenham garage (AR).  Later in 1926, more Dennises joined in, from Sear Brothers, Silver Star and Prince, whilst original operator Redburn's was absorbed by the General.  The other independents were in turn absorbed by the General, either directly or through amalgamation into Public (see 236), which was itself taken over by General in 1929.  The last was Prince, whose single chocolate and cream Lion probably carried on working short workings until takeover on on 5 Dec 34.
 
In 1928, the entire operation moved into Public's new Enfield (E) garage at Ponders End, and a year later the route was extended a small distance westwards to Totteridge Barnet Lane.  December 1930 saw a small extension in Edmonton along Angel Road, from Sparklet's Works (as the Aerator's Works had become in 1926) to Cook's Ferry. 
 
In 1931, the Dennises were replaced at E by 16 new single-deck LTL Scooters.  With most routes now operated by pneumatics tyred buses, for which the speed limit was 20mph rather than 12mph, a programme of speeding up routes using the same frequencies resulted in more efficient use of buses.  This was applied to the 551 in November 1932, when E's allocation reduced by one LTL.
 
RF478 at Arnos Grove
Doorless RF478 at Arnos Grove on 28 August 1961, when the route ran only to Burnt Oak and was operated by Muswell Hill.  
Photo © Gerald Mead

 

August 1933, just after the creation of London Transport, saw the extension of the route much further west via Mill Hill to Burnt Oak, and E was joined by Palmers Green garage (AD), working the Whetstone to Edmonton section numbered 551A.  As well as buses from E, several LTLs were transferred to AD from Hounslow (AV), where they were replaced on the 105 (later 201) by Ts.

 

On 16 May 34 the Arnos Grove to Edmonton section was replaced by an extension of the double-deck 604 (later 34) to Whetstone, leaving the Burnt Oak to Arnos Grove route in a form that was to remain unchanged for 30 years.  The whole operation moved from E to AD on the same day (with AD also gaining the substantial extra allocation on the 604).  The Scooters released from the route went to Hornchurch and Kingston, and to Elmers End and Nunhead where they replaced single-deck Ss.  But although time-expired, these lasted another two years on the 230 at Harrow Weald, 235 at Croydon and 242 at Enfield.

 
In common with other routes numbered under the Bassom system, short workings were given letter suffixes, which in the case of the 551 reached 551E.  This was a weekday working between Whetstone and Arnos Grove, introduced in February 1934 and double-decked (with LTs) in May of that year.  October 1934 saw the new route numbering system introduced and the 551 series became the 251, with an allocation of 6 LTLs from AD.  The double-deck workings were replaced by increased running on the 34 in April 1935. 

 

Crew-operated RF325 working MH1 also stands abandoned at the Barnfield Road stand at Burnt Oak.
Photo © JH Aston, Peter Gomm collection

 

The 1930s saw the development of much of the rural area that the route traversed.  Arnos Grove Station on the Piccadilly Line opened in 1932.  Mill Hill Broadway had developed around the 1867 Mill Hill Station, but was surrounded by open country until the 1930s.  The route shared the low bridge at Mill Hill with the 240 (later split, with the 240A becoming an RF route), requiring the continued use of single-deck buses until the road was lowered in 1966.
 
AD continued to operate the Scooters, aided by one T operated by Edgware (EW) garage on shorts between Burnt Oak and Mill Hill for one year from 1936.  In the summer of 1939, the whole route move from AD to EW, then in 1941, to increase the allocation, to Muswell Hill (MH), with EW retaining some Sundays workings until the following year.  From 1936 to 1941, then again from 1946, Sundays saw an increased allocation reflecting the rural nature of the route.  This peaked in 1947 and 1948 at 15 buses (against a weekday requirement of 9), with the balance changing by the mid-50s when Sunday allocation fell behind that on weekdays.
 
Muswell Hill had received its first TDs - all 31 of the Weymann-bodied batch of these Leyland single-deckers - between December 1946 and June 1947, primarily for the 212.  A further nine, from the Mann Egerton batch, were received in spring 1949 to replace the LTLs on the 251.  The Sunday service still required 11 buses, so two LTLs remained allocated on that day for the summer season (the 244 and part of the 210 were still LTL-operated).  Contributor John Hillman recalls the single-deck LTs on the 251 that boiled up going up Highwood Hill and had to fill with water using a watering can left at the top.
 
RF445 at Arnos Grove in 1972
Edgware-based OMO RF445 stands at the same terminus in 1972.  Compare the scene eleven years earlier, above. 
Photo Ian Armstrong collection
 
Having received the first TDs in 1946, MH also received the first red RFs in 1952.  After introduction on the 210 (October 1952) and 212 (February 1953), RFs were also used on the 251 on Saturdays and winter Sundays from 1953 to May 1955.  Whilst the official weekend allocation only included RFs from 6 May 53, photographic evidence confirms that they worked before that date (the photo in question being one of RF486 at Arnos Grove bearing TD-style blinds and used as a postcard postmarked 4 May 53).  Weekend use reflects the reduced requirement on the 212 at weekends and the 210 on winter Sundays; full details of the official allocations are at the foot of the page, it is not clear why these excluded RFs from May 1955 to October 1956, as RFs continued to be available at MH at weekends. 
 
Six red RFs had been converted to Green Lines at the start of 1956, accompanied by renumbering of several batches of buses.  Through the insistence of the unions that the central fleet be maintained at 225, six green RFs eventually went to Sidcup on 1 Dec 56.  In addition, a dozen green buses were loaned to Sidcup to cover the first RF overhaul programme, started in September 1956.

 

In December 1956, Muswell Hill received an influx of red RFs, taking its allocation from 36 to 43.  These buses were available, directly by transfer or indirectly by the allocation of newly overhauled buses, due to the green RFs at Sidcup; six TDs went to Kingston where they replaced the green 15T13s.  There were now enough RFs to enable the conversion of the 251 daily (although the formal allocation didn't catch up until the summer schedules in May 1957, it is likely that  conversion from TD operation was largely complete on 1 Dec 56).  In May 1957, including the 251, 209 RFs were scheduled for service (Monday to Friday) in the Central Area, close to the 213 at the end of 1953 when Loughton's 254 received the 'extras' released through schedule changes.
 
The RF allocation seems to have been a little ambitious, as the winter 1957 allocation schedule admits the requirement for a single TD on Monday to Friday.  This was TD127, the last TD at Muswell Hill.
 
BL9 in its final livery in the late 1980s.  It waits at Arnos Grove to depart for Stanmore Station.
Photo © Paul Davis, Ian Armstrong collection
 
On 27 February 1963, the route moved unchanged (back) to Edgware garage as part of a reorganisation involving Enfield and Potters Bar garages; Muswell Hill gained the balance of the 134.  Edgware had only four months earlier replaced the last TDs by RFs on its long-standing route 240A.  October of that year saw the extension of some Sunday journeys (only) to Edgware, replacing garage workings from Burnt Oak.
 
In his memories of working at Edgware, Alan Bond mentions an unadvertised short working from Arnos Grove Station to the Standard Telephone works up at Brunswick Park and back again.  The works were off Oakleigh Road South, just before the bridge over the railway.  Was this the only RF-operated unadvertised works journey?  Please let us know.
 
OMO conversion of the 251, still with RFs, came in January 1965, in the second phase along with the 237.  The 240A remained crew-operated and lost its RFs in favour of RTs (as a Sunday-only route) in 1966.  In September 1968, the 251 was extended on weekdays to Stanmore via Edgware, to cover part of trolleybus replacement route 245.  On Sundays the route operated only as far as Edgware Station. 
 
Another period of stability followed until the RFs were finally replaced by BLs on 30 Jan 77, the same day as another very long running RF route, the 234A, and leaving RFs running only at Hounslow and Kingston.
 
BLs lasted until 1990, the last route to operate the class and replaced by a variety of midi-buses starting with Starriders.  From 1990, the route was amended to double-run via Edgware Station, before being cut back to Edgware in 1993.  The route still runs, now operated by London Sovereign from Edgware and still covering the final version of the General's route 551.
 

Based on 1955 map © London Transport

 

RF route in detail, with timing points

ARNOS GROVE STATION, Bowes Road, Oakleigh Road South, Oakleigh Road Woodman, Oakleigh Road North, Whetstone Griffin, Totteridge Lane, Totteridge War Memorial, Totteridge Lane,  Totteridge Common, Highwood Hill, Highwood Hill Marsh Lane, Highwood Hill, Lawrence Street, Mill Hill Broadway, Mill Hill Station, LMR (later Mill Hill Broadway Station), Bunns Lane, Lyndhurst Avenue, Eversfield Gardens, Woodcroft Avenue (return direct from Woodcroft Avenue to Bunns Lane), Watling Avenue, Barnfield Road (return via Edgware Road), BURNT OAK Edgware Road (to 6 Sep 68).

 

ARNOS GROVE STATION, Bowes Road, Oakleigh Road South, Oakleigh Road Woodman, Oakleigh Road North, Whetstone Griffin, Totteridge Lane, Totteridge War Memorial, Totteridge Lane,  Totteridge Common, Highwood Hill, Highwood Hill Rising Sun, Highwood Hill, Lawrence Street, Mill Hill Broadway, Mill Hill Broadway Station, Bunns Lane, Lyndhurst Avenue, Eversfield Gardens, Woodcroft Avenue (return direct from Woodcroft Avenue to Bunns Lane), Watling Avenue, Burnt Oak Bald Faced Stag (Sunday journeys terminate Burnt Oak Barnfield Road), Edgware Road, High Street Edgware, EDGWARE STATION (Sun) or Edgware High Street, Edgware Road, London Road, STANMORE STATION (Mon-Sat) (from 7 Sep 68).

 

Burnt Oak terminal working: from Watling Avenue into Barnfield Road, layover on left, forward to Edgware Road, Watling Avenue.

 

When operating from Muswell Hill garage, buses entered and left service at Whetstone, suggesting that garage journeys ran via Friern Barnet Lane and Colney Hatch Lane.  From 9 Oct 63 (8 months after operation moved to Edgware), some Sunday garage journeys were extended from BURNT OAK Edgware Road to operate from EDGWARE ABC Cinema via Station Road, Edgware High Street, Edgware Road.  Otherwise until 1968, buses entered and left service at Burnt Oak or Highwood Hill.  

 

Frequency

Year Mon-Fri Sat Sun
1936 15 mins 15 mins 10-15 mins
1938 15 mins 15 mins 15 mins
1941 10-15 mins 10-15 mins 10-15 mins
1946 10 mins 10 mins 7½-10 mins
1951 10-12 mins 10 mins 10-12 mins
1953 10-12 mins 10-13 mins 8-10 mins
1959 10-15 mins 12-15 mins 20 mins
1964 10-15 mins 18-20 mins 30 mins
1969 8-13 mins 17-20 mins 60 mins *
1971 8-13 mins 20 mins 60 mins *
1976 20 mins 22-23 mins 40 mins

* more frequent Burnt Oak - Arnos Grove

 

The journey time from Arnos Grove to Burnt Oak was about 40 minutes, to Stanmore 48-54 minutes.  The July 1967 timetable is here.

 

Faretable

To view the faretable for May 1965, including garage journeys, click here.

 

RF allocation (but see notes)
MH had no additional allocation of new RFs for the 251; as noted above, the route used RFs spare from the 210 and 212 at weekends until 1957.
 
PVR 1952 (Oct): Mon-Fri 9 TD, Sat 9 TD, Sun 9 TD
PVR 1953 (May): Mon-Fri 9 TD, Sat 6 RF + 3 TD, Sun 11 TD
PVR 1953 (Oct): Mon-Fri 9 TD, Sat 8 RF + 1 TD, Sun 5 RF + 4 TD
PVR 1954 (May): Mon-Fri 9 TD, Sat 5 RF + 4 TD, Sun 11 TD
PVR 1954 (Oct): Mon-Fri 9 TD, Sat 5 RF + 4 TD, Sun 9 TD
PVR 1955 (May): Mon-Fri 9 TD, Sat 9 TD, Sun 9 TD
PVR 1955 (Oct): Mon-Fri 9 TD, Sat 9 TD, Sun 7 TD
PVR 1956 (May): Mon-Fri 9 TD, Sat 9 TD, Sun 9 TD
PVR 1956 (Oct): Mon-Fri 9 TD, Sat 6 RF + 3 TD, Sun 5 RF + 1 TD
PVR 1957 (May): Mon-Fri 9 RF, Sat 9 RF, Sun 8 RF
PVR 1957 (Oct): Mon-Fri 8 RF + 1 TD, Sat 9 RF, Sun 6 RF
PVR 1958 (Apr): Mon-Fri 9, Sat 7, Sun 7, now all RF
PVR 1958 (Oct): Mon-Fri 9, Sat 7, Sun 5
PVR 1963 (May): Mon-Fri 9, Sat 6, Sun 5
PVR 1963 (Oct): Mon-Fri 9, Sat 5, Sun 4
PVR 1963 (Nov): Mon-Fri 9, Sat 7, Sun 4
PVR 1965 (Jan, OMO): Mon-Fri 11, Sat 9, Sun 5
PVR 1965 (Sep): Mon-Fri 9, Sat 7, Sun 5
PVR 1965 (Oct): Mon-Fri 11, Sat 9, Sun 5
PVR 1966 (Dec): Mon-Fri 11, Sat 7, Sun 4
PVR 1968 (Sep, extended): Mon-Fri 14, Sat 7, Sun 4
PVR 1969 (Jul): Mon-Fri 14, Sat 6, Sun 4
PVR 1971 (Apr): Mon-Fri 14, Sat 5, Sun 4
PVR 1972 (Dec): Mon-Fri 12, Sat 5, Sun 4
 

Memories

Alan Bond writes of his time at Edgware - see the 240A page - which included work on the 251.

 

David Mitchell lived in Oakleigh Road North, Whetstone, until his family emigrated to Australia in September 1956.  He recalls:

'I regularly used the 251 route to school at Mill Hill and latterly to Stanmore.  I can certainly recall RFs running on the 251 before we left.  Although they certainly had not completely replaced the TDs by September 1956, as suggested they probably did so on Saturdays and Sundays. My memory indicates they began running some 18-24 months before the above date and I can remember being a most excited 12/13 year-old when they did!'

 

Ian Rivett, on his website, recalls the early days of RFs on the 251 from MH, running to the now defunct Barnfield Road terminus in Burnt Oak. 'MH 5, I think was the first to arrive in the morning followed by MH 6-9, then MH 1-4. The first four used to go towards Arnos Grove and the rest towards Burnt Oak. This was just on conversion after the TDs were withdrawn. MH 1, 4 & 7 used to depart to the garage after the morning peak only to return out of sequence in the afternoon. MH 1 followed MH 2, 4 after 5 and 7 after 8.

Although some sources list the Saturday 251 allocation as being mixed TD/RF from May 53 to May 57, I don't recall seeing a mixed allocation on Saturdays, only TDs.'

 

David Streatfield's blog 40 years on the buses includes the following note:

'I had to learn [all of the Edgware routes] with the exception of the 251 which was a ‘one man’ operated route, (political correctness had not crept into the English language in 1967). As the 251 was driven only by the elite of the garage, the most senior drivers, there was very little chance of junior drivers ever working that route so route learning was considered a waste of time. All the routes at Edgware were operated by RT and RTL double deck buses except the 251 which was operated by the RF type single deck vehicle.'

 
Re-creation
The 251 was operated by RFs at our Colindale Running Day in 2010. 
 
 
RF486 returns to Arnos Grove after 57 years.
Photo © Martyn Littell