Quintessentially London

One of the most enduring images of London embodied on postcards and exported around the world by tourists writing home is the London Bus.   It’s a big red double-decker and the postcard often shows it with Big Ben or a Policeman directing traffic.   The vehicle shown in these photos is almost always the traditional AEC Regent ‘RT’ type or the AEC Routemaster, rather than the current rear engined types that populate our city’s streets.   So I thought a quick tour around some of the London buses that were in service in my younger years might be of interest starting with that most Quintessential of London Buses: –

The RT

Designed by AEC (Associated Equipment Company) prior to the second world war – the bulk of the fleet of over 5000 vehicles was delivered from 1946 onwards.   4825 were of AEC manufacture with most being bodied by Park Royal or Weymann.  The rest were variants of the Leyland Titan.   It is the AEC version that most remember with its distinctive radiator – very much a symbol of London.

RT's at Goodmayes in 1976

RT's at Goodmayes in 1976 - the last ones were withdrawn in 1979

The Routemaster

I have a special affinity with the AEC Routemaster, the first prototype (built in 1954) entered revenue service in February 1956 – at the same time as me 😉   The Routemaster was a bit of an anachronism.  A rear-loading, front engined, crew operated vehicle conceived at a time when everywhere else operators were looking to the rear engined front entrance buses that would allow one-person-operation.   2760 Routemasters in differing guises were built for normal London operations.   The production vehicles entered service from 1959.   Routemasters are still in daily service on the central sections of the 9 and 15 bus routes but these vehicles have been extensively modified – whilst they are still Routemasters, the engine and transmission have been replaced by modern units and don’t sound anything like the original 😦   Some privately operated vehicles with original engines can be seen though on charter work.


RM543 in Richmond in readiness for the return run to Archway

The RF

Not usually found on the tourist postcard – the RF’s were the main single deck bus in the 1950’s / 60’s.     700 were built for London Transport’s Central and Country areas as well as Greenline coach services.   The first ones entered service in 1952 and the last vehicles were withdrawn in the late 1979.   Ironically one of the first routes to receive them was the 210 and I have vivid memories of them roaring up the hill from Golders Green station to Whitestone Pond in Hampstead – one of the joys of a favourite family trip to Hampstead Heath when I was a child!   The Darts and DAF’s that climb that same hill now seem to struggle by comparison.   The RF’s were a real pleasure to ride on and, when running on the express Greenline services, could really fly!

RF221 in Staines

RF221 passing through Staines on the South London Orbital 725 Route in 1976

Detailed histories of all the above vehicle types and other London Transport types can be found at Ian’s Bus Stop.

This post was prompted by a kind comment from Judith on my previous post – you can read her blog at Touch2Touch

Finally – Many examples of the vehicles described have made it into preservation and some are licensed to carry passengers too. Below, two RF’s and an RCL bask in the sun at Cobham during a special running day to celebrate 80 years of Greenline Services – Alasdair and I enjoyed a run back into central London on the RCL and very comfortable it was too. Reputedly the RCL’s, when introduced in 1965, could out-accelerate the average family saloon car 🙂




  1. I see what you mean about the Quintessential London bus!
    My first trip to London was in 1956, so I actually rode on your first model. (I was, of course, fascinated by the buses!)
    From trips over subsequent years, I recognize several of the others, although not all. Sitting on the top of a double decker was a special thrill — struggling to remain upright going up and down!!!
    Your posts are always delightful, Martin. Thanks also for the link! 🙂

    • Well you’d certainly have ridden on the RT’s in 1956 🙂 I used to ride on them on the 102 route and the 143. in the 1960’s. They continued on the 102 until 1975. Finchley Garage – now closed – was a trolleybus garage until 1961 when the Routemasters arrived. All my journeys to work in the 1970’s were on Routemasters.

      More than happy to include the link – after all, you gave me the idea! Thanks for the kind comment 🙂

  2. I love the look of (and from) double-decker buses. Thanks, Martin! 😀

    • Hi Nancy, London remains a city of double-deckers. The reason why they run Routemasters on the 9 and 15 routes is because between them they go past most of central London’s tourist attractions – Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square, St. Pauls and The Tower of London. Thanks for popping by 🙂

  3. Northern Narratives says:

    Very interesting post!

    • Thank you – please follow the link to Ian’s Bus Stop if you want much more in-depth information – or suffer from insomnia – (joke), Ian’s story of the entry into service of all these types is very well told 🙂

  4. Great photos. I really enjoyed reading about them. I would so love to ride on an old double decker but. The RT is my favourite out of them all. From memory they look like the ones that were used in “On the buses” that I loved so much as a kid.

  5. Wonderful!!!

  6. Sadly, I’ve never been to London… but these wonderful buses are one of the first things that come to mind when I imagine what it might be like (right along with Westminster, London Bridge, Red Phone Boxes, Palace Guards, and all that other good stuff)!

    • Hey Bob – Great to have you back with us 🙂 I’m just as bad, I’ve never been to the States – maybe one day. I really like American Railroad photos. Of course you have your own iconic buses too, the Greyhounds 🙂

  7. Androgoth says:

    I always like to see these great modes of transport from the earlier years, and somehow they were a lot more comfortable too in a strange kind of way 🙂 Perhaps it is because there were less passengers back then, who knows? 🙂

    Thank you for adding these my friend I have really
    enjoyed the read and the viewing of your photographs also…

    Have a great week my friend…


    • Thank you for the kind comment – I’m glad you enjoyed looking at the old buses and reading a little of what they mean to me 🙂 You have a great week too!

  8. Aw, classic post, Martin! I love London buses; in fact, all the iconic imagery that goes with London Transport. I never knew about the single decker RFs…..brilliant. Thanks.

  9. thirdhandart says:

    The AEC version of the RT with its ‘distinctive’ radiator is beautiful! But then I like vintage vehicles. Very interesting post.

    • Thanks Theresa – I think it was the classic London bus but its star has been obscured a bit by the Routemaster. The occasional RT does show up in central London on private charters. It’s very difficult to catch them though – I got a rear view of one on Tower Bridge back in January but I haven’t seen one since 😦 Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂

  10. I Think very exciting to ride in a double deck bus, glad that you still have a copy .

    • Hi Jake – In London most rides are on a Double-Decker, so there is no excitement for us locals. Of course the buses have changed a lot over the years and these are the old guard. I’m glad you enjoyed the view of them 🙂

  11. Double decker buses have a charm all their own. Home for me as a kid was St. Louis, Missouri and I can remember riding the double deckers with my Grandma and the traditional kind of bus too. I always looked forward to the bus ride in the BIG CITY. Also brings back memories of the electric cable car! I have never been to England and I have a married neice living there. I enjoyed this post Martin and the pictures of the buses. The red double deckers are a class act!

    • Hi UTO – Thanks! Nice to hear that I’ve stirred a few pleasant memories. You’ll have to invite yourself to visit your niece 😉 Sadly I haven’t been to the US at all and I don’t have any relatives living there to use as an excuse!

  12. Vehicles with class and style. A standout on their own. Amazing photos.

    • Thanks – The photos can’t really do the vehicles justice. The sounds and smells were all part of the experience. I had the pleasure of riding on a slightly newer vehicle – a preserved Greenline RP – on the day of the 80th anniversary celebration and it was just as I remembered them from their service days. A smell of warm oil and Formica combined with a wonderful underfloor sound system in the shape of the AEC 690 engine – loud and proud! I think I must perhaps do a follow up to cover the next generation in the not too distant future.

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