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Routemaster menu: Home   History Profile   2004/05 rundown   Route 159 finale   RML preservation  

This page is a celebration of the final operation of the Routemaster in regular public service, jointly presented by the Classic Irish Buses Website and the Classic Buses Website.

Classic Irish Buses Website webmaster Shane Conway was unable to make it to the finale of Routemaster service in London, so this is a review of the event by Dick Gilbert.

The final full-operation route for the Routemaster in London was the 159, operated by Arriva South London. Since the war that route has seen many changes, including the types that operated it (STL in 1947, RT from 1951, RTL from 1954, RT again from 1966, RM from 1970, and RML from 1988), and the actual ground it covered. At various times it reached as far south as Thornton Heath and South Croydon, and as far north as St.John's Wood and West End Green - indeed some of the special services on the last full day went on to those destinations.

Prior to the actual final day of crewed buses (or "crude buses", as my daughter thought it said on the radio) in the city on 9 December 2005, an "enthusiasts day" was organised for Thursday 8 December, and my brother and I went along to view the proceedings. Starting at the present southern end of the route, Streatham Hill bus station, we were immediately greeted by a smart RM1124 ready to set off for Marble Arch.

RM1124 at Streatham Hill

Smart indeed, but not typical, as several of the final 40 or so Routemasters still in use at the end were showing their age. That was not the case for our first mount however, as the immaculate and unique RMF1254 drew up to take us on the the first leg of our journey. Owned by Imperial Buses but operated by Ensignbus on the day, this experimental front-entrance bus from 1962 has been beautifully restored.

RMF1254 on Streatham Hill

The RMF was the first example we saw of the many 'guest buses' in use on the 159 that day, transporting delighted enthusiasts and bemused or unaware regular passengers as well. Streatham seems to wind on for ever, and we hopped off the RMF after a couple of stops to see what else was passing. Soon two regular Arriva vehicles came along, with RML2307 coming up the hill.....

RML2307 in Streatham

...... and RML2549 going down. This seemed to surprise the chap on the motorbike, who nearly fell off. Both of these buses are clearly showing the signs of long life and hard work.

RML2549 in Streatham

We changed onto Arriva RML2586 and headed further up the route for a couple of stops, then dismounting again for some more photo opportunities. Shortly Arriva's RM548 came along, dating from 1960 and one of the earliest buses still in the fleet.

Arriva RM548 in Streatham

Meanwhile, on the other side of the road, our first non-Routemaster guest bus hove into view. Blue Triangle's immaculate RTW75 proved of great interest to the roadside photographers, who seemed to be increasing in numbers as we pressed on.

RTW75 at Streatham

Next along was a very late (in age!) Routemaster, RML2730 from 1967, so we boarded this and continued to Brixton bus garage, the depot that was home to the Arriva RMLs on the route. As RML2730 paused briefly for the growing army of photographers..........

RML2730 at Brixton

........we were surprised to see RM1 from the London Transport Museum pull out of the garage and line up at our bus stop.

RM1 at Brixton

This was too good an opportunity to miss, so we clambered aboard and were soon joined by a hoard of keen enthusiasts who were, I think, as surprised as we were to find this bus in service. Not that anyone actually asked for a fare; indeed the smiling conductor rolled out a free commemorative Gibson ticket for us all. Two more surprises then came along, the first being RML2565 in Stratford Blue colours.


This is from Ensign's Stratford Blue fleet, and was restored last year to their classic livery. The next surprise came as we drew into the bus stop at Lambeth North, where we saw RML2760 drawn up on the other side of the road.


The coincidence of having the very first and the very last Routemaster opposite each other caused great excitement among the photographers and, as can be seen in the picture above, many of the passengers (and even the driver!) in one bus were photographing those in the other one. Peering out of the lower deck just behind the small centre window was Chris Stanley, who was taking cine film on the day; seated next to him was his cousin Peter Esposito, and he took a picture of us in RM1. Here it is;

RM1 (Photo by Chris Stanley)

As you can see, many of the passengers on RM1 had spotted RML2760 and realised the significance of what was taking place. Just behind the first lower deck window pillar is a camera - that's me taking the previous photo. Thanks to Chris Stanley for sending me this copy of Peter's picture.

RM1 attracts interest

By the time we were approaching Westminster Bridge, the enthusiasts lining the road had hugely increased, and RM1 was certainly attracting their interest. Here they jostle for quick pictures before the traffic lights turn green. I saw one chap by the road holding up a cine camera in one hand and a still camera in the other. Quite an art. I'll be very surprised if he got a decent result from either. Anyway, we got off at Trafalgar Square, which was absolutely full of enthusiasts.

RML2572 at Trafalgar Square

Above is RML2572 getting everyone's attention. Most of the people in the picture are there for the buses. Only the few Japanese tourists taking pictures of Nelson's Column were pointing their cameras the 'wrong' way. Below is RML2375 getting the same treatment.

RML2375 at Trafalgar Square

The oldest Routemaster expected to operate in the Arriva fleet on the day was RM54, dating from September 1959, and below we see it pulling into Trafalgar Square. Sadly it lost its original registration number some years ago and has now become LDS 279A.

RM54 in Trafalgar Square

Of course our previous guardian RM1 predates this, as does RM5 which was also around on the day, but Arriva also operates RM29 (another RM now wearing a spurious plate, OYM 453A) which beats its stablemate RM54 in age by about a month.

RM29 in Trafalgar Square

Above we see RM29 waiting at the Trafalgar Square traffic lights to head off south. Trafalgar Square is also a centre for the two new Heritage Routes (9 and 15) so, although it is technically outside the remit of this page, here are a couple of pictures of Route 9, if you will forgive me;

RM1562 on heritage Route 9

Above is RM1562 heading off past a Trafalgar lion towards Aldwych, and below is silver-liveried RM1650 (alias SRM3) coming the other way. There - that's the end of the Heritage Routes for now, but nice to know they're running OK.

RM1650 on Heritage Route 9

So, to return to the subject, here are a couple more RMLs working away on the 159. Below is RML2577;

RML2577 at Trafalgar Square

and then we have RML2636, again attracting the attention of photographers lining the streets.

RML2636 at Trafalgar Square

Before leaving Trafalgar Square, here are a few photos of guest buses. First is Blue Triangle's RTW75 again, heading back for another round-trip, and looking like a million dollars;

RTW75 at Trafalgar Square

Next is Blue Triangle's RT3062, which seems to have misjudged the gap between the pavement and a rather larger bus.

RT3062 at Trafalgar Square

I'm not sure whether the driver knew he had hit the bus in front with his mudguard, but he didn't seem concerned, and no serious damage appeared to have been done. Finally, here comes our steed for the return trip, London Bus Preservation Trust's ST922, with Cobham supremo Graham Smith hanging happily onto the platform rail as it swings round into Northumberland Avenue.

ST922 at Trafalgar Square

Cobham had very kindly offered my brother and I a ride on the fine old machine, the only petrol-engined bus on the day (and how quiet and smooth it was, apart from occasional reverberating gearchanges !), and by far the oldest, dating from 1930.

ST922 in Northumberland Avenue

Here it is again, parked up at the west stand in Northumberland Avenue, away from the crowds and taking a pause before starting its last of two journeys on the day. Again we were given commemorative tickets, but this time from an ancient Bell Punch machine. Two shillings and sixpence return, it said.

Graham Smith issues tickets on ST922.

This photo of Graham issuing tickets to us all shows just how well the bus has been restored. A masterpiece, and a real pleasure to travel in. By the look of the enthusiastic photographers as we returned to Trafalgar Square in it, it was pretty good to look at as well. The general public may have been mystified or bemused by all the attention being given to the buses, and probably most of them couldn't tell one from another, but they sure knew that ST922 was something different, and ordinary folk would turn and stare as we went by, often raising a smile at the unusual machine passing them by.....

Photographers take ST922

Is that Martin Layton down there behind the taxi? (Martin says it isn't) And I think silver RM1650 is visible top left, heading back east on Heritage Route 9. Anyway, as we proceeded south over the river, a different view was available out of the back of the upper deck - there being no rear window, just an archway where the stairs go out.

Hants & Dorset Bristol K6A

This provided an unusual angle as we were passed by Ensignbus's splendid ex Hants & Dorset Bristol K6A HLJ 44, which was perfectly entitled to appear with its LT badge on the radiator, as it had served in London in the immediate post-war years.

RM1312 at Brixton

The same vantage point provided a frame for RM1312, which drew up behind us at Brixton. Finally, having bade farewell at Streatham Hill to ST922 and the boys from Cobham, we spotted one more interesting vehicle as the afternoon light started to fade.

RM2217 at Streatham Hill

RM2217 has two claims to fame; not only is it numerically the last true, basic, short RM, all subsequent Routemasters being RMLs or variants, but it was also destined to be the very last Routemaster to run on normal service, as it operated the final service on 9th December, returning to Brixton depot in the afternooon and closing RM operations for good.....

So that was the end of an interesting day, and the end of an era. For the record, below is a list of the vehicles around on the day. Thanks for visiting this page, and I invite you to drink a toast sometime to the magnificent Routemaster!.


RM2217 arrives at Brixton after the last run

I had to add this picture, not taken by me, but kindly sent by John Perthen. It shows RM2217 on the following day, at the very end, finally trying to turn into Brixton depot through the assembled throng. For the record, the crew was driver Winston Briscoe, and conductor Lloyd Licorish, who between them had clocked up over 70 years as bus workers. And that really is the end.

The following Arriva Routemasters from the 'expected list' were seen by me in service on the 8th (Total 27);

RM54, 85, 346, 548, 713

RML892, 895

RM1124, 1145, 1312

RML2307, 2324, 2375, 2387, 2491, 2521, 2545, 2549, 2572, 2573, 2574, 2577, 2586, 2619, 2636, 2730, 2752.

The following Arriva vehicles not on the 'expected list', or non-Arriva Routemasters were seen by me on the day (Total 22);

RM1 (LT Museum)

RM5 (Leaside Travel), RM29 (Arriva), RM324 (Heritage Route 15), RM349 (private)

RMF1254 (Imperial Buses, but operated by Ensignbus on the day)

RMC1453 (Leaside Travel)

RM1562 (Heritage Route 9), RM1627 (Heritage Route 9), RM1650 / SRM3 (Heritage Route 9, silver), RM1859 (Reading Mainline livery), RM1878 (blue playbus, owner?), RM2217 (last RM, Arriva livery)

RCL2220 (Ensignbus)

RML2278 (privately-owned from Teesside area), RML2317 (Metrobus, wearing blinds for Route 6?), RML2366 (Arriva), RML2565 (Ensignbus / Stratford Blue), RML2620 (Metroline), RML2665 (Stagecoach), RML2727, RML2760 (very last Routemaster, Stagecoach East London).

Plus I THOUGHT I saw RML2509 (could have been 2549), and RML2720 (could have been an error for 2727 or 2730), but I expect those were my mistakes.

The following non-Routemaster 'Guest buses' were seen by me on the day (Total 11);

RT624 (the last RT in service {1979}, recently sold by BaMMoT to Ensignbus), RT1431 (Ensignbus, Cravens body), RT1702 (1702 Preservation Society), RT2177 (John Herting), RT3062 (Blue Triangle), RT3871 (Blue Triangle)

RTW75 (Blue Triangle), RTW467 (RTW467 Group, operated by First in London)

RF48 (The Country Bus Coach Group, Green Line, showing Route 706)

ST922 (London Bus Preservation Trust, Photographers Special)

TD895 (Hants & Dorset HLJ 44, Bristol K6A, Ensignbus)

Finally, the following buses were apparently seen by other folk (but not me) on the day;

RM6 (Arriva London South, gold), RMA58 (Ensignbus), RM613 (First), RM838 (Arriva), RM875 (Arriva), RML898 (private, E.Price), RM1292 (Arriva), RM2097 (RM2097 Group), RM2107 (International Coaches, gold?), RCL2260 (Blue Triangle), RML2364 (private, T.Prescott), RML2405 (Ensignbus), RML2753 (Arriva)

RLH61 (Ensignbus)

RT3232 (Ensignbus), RT4421 (Ensignbus)

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