Mobile canteens

Page last updated 27 July 2019


Muswell Hill Broadway, June 1952.  The bus interest is provided by Weymann-bodied TD26 on the 244 - Muswell Hill's single-deck route that didn't convert to RF operation, because it was double-decked with RTs in May 1953, after the 210 and 212 had received their RF allocations.  The canteen trailer was a feature of the site until the canteen building (on the island to the left) was opened in 1961.  It is obviously a hot day, as the trailer has its emergency door open as well as all the windows.

Photo © Alan Cross


One of the lesser known by-ways of London Transport history is the story of its determination to provide refreshments for its crews.  Where possible, fixed canteens were provided, either (logically) within bus garages or in purpose-built units elsewhere (such as the one in Plimsoll Road, Finsbury Park).  Often, bus termini would be close to commercially operated cafés, like the one at the Leyton High Road end of the 236.  The availability of refreshment facilities was a factor considered when introducing or amending bus routes, for example on the 211 and 97.  London Transport sometimes made payments to café proprietors to stay open later than they would have wished in order to cover late meal reliefs.  But where there was no other provision, LT provided a mobile canteen service.  This was by special vehicles, in the first instance converted buses and later by custom-built trailers. 


Records of these units are patchy - they did not feature in the official records in the same detailed fashion as did LT's buses - but the available evidence was assembled by Ian Blee in 1998 for his article in LOTS' London Bus Magazine volume 105 and we gratefully acknowledge this and the sources listed below.  The article contains much more detail on the converted buses than is provided here.


Converted buses

The story starts in 1937, when 12 NSs, which finished service that year, were converted to canteens.   The canteens were initially envisaged to provide crew catering at special events, including the Coronation in 1937, or garage rebuilds.  It is suggested that regular use at terminal locations was only considered once they had become available.  Their use increased substantially during the war, including providing temporary support for facilities that had been bombed.  After the war, the NSs were supplemented by six converted Tilling STs - one of which, ST922, survived to be converted back to a bus in preservation (it is shown in use as a canteen here).


The converted buses were part of the service vehicle fleet. The former NSs were numbered 29H to 40H, whilst the former STs became 688J-693J.


The ex-Tilling ST canteens were always Central bus red all over with black wings and brown roof.  On conversion, the NSs were in Central bus livery - red and white, with black wings and silver roof. During the war the roofs were repainted grey, then early post war brown.  Those known to have kept this livery up to withdrawal are 33H and 40H.  Others including 35H, 38H and 39H received the early postwar Central bus all-over red livery but with brown roof; 39H was painted green in May 1941, then khaki and back to red in February 1946.   The single-deck canteen, 31H, was originally red and white, khaki from 1940 to 1946 and later all over red.   In later years when it was the Hatfield (old HF garage) canteen, 30H was painted green.  34H was grey from 1945 to 1946.


The NSs and STs were all withdrawn by 1953, except for ST922 which was at Belmont until late 1954, so any facilities provided thereafter would have used trailers.


Canteen trailers

In 1947, as part of the post-war improvement programme, LT introduced the first of a fleet of 13 purpose-built articulated canteen trailers, together with ten Bedford O tractor units to take them to and from their operating location.  Note that canteens were usually taken back to their base garage each evening for re-supply (from the Food Production Centre at Croydon); the Bedford units would have been driven by inside staff.  The trailers were 30 feet long and were built by Spurlings on Scammell chassis, and were painted in two-tone green.  The only surviving tractor and trailer are preserved at the London Bus Museum (see photo at foot of page).


The Finsbury Park location for one of the trailers in July 1958.  This is Plimsoll Road, near the junction with Ambler Road, east of the location of the permanent canteen that opened later that year.  By the looks of it, the trailer may not have been returned to its home garage each night.  Again the bus is a TD, this time Leyton Garage's TD110, one of the Mann Egerton-bodied examples.  The 236 was converted to RF operation four months later.

Photo © John Boylett at SCT61


A Pathe Newsreel from 1947 available on YouTube shows the first unit (700B with trailer) in Ealing, emerging from Hollingbourne Gardens to take up position in front of an STL on the 65 in Cleveland Road, the Ealing Argyle Road stand.  The film gives a good idea of the sheer scale of the vehicle, but was taken in a special shoot and does not reflect the actual daily movement.


We have attempted to summarise the known locations of the post-war trailers, based on Ian Blee's article, memories provided by LT staff recorded elsewhere on this site and other contributions.  Additional information and more stories would be most welcome, by e-mail.  Unit numbers refer to the tractor units (700B to 709B) as the trailer details were not recorded (note that trailers originally carried a painted registration number for the tractor to which they were paired, although this was only semi-permanent).


It is apparent from the listing that the requirement for the units reduced significantly by the mid- to late 50s, due mainly to the provision of permanent canteens. The first units were placed into store at that time and the first two were sold (to Liverpool Corporation for further use) in 1959. The last tractor units were sold in 1967, but at least six trailers were retained by London Transport until 1969.  Ian notes that the last few trailers outlived the Bedford tractors and were moved in their final years by Thames Trader 1325F (photo here) (and possibly other contemporary tractor units); the last in regular use appear to be those at Ealing Argyle Road and Chingford Royal Forest Hotel.



Location of canteen trailer units


Long-term locations


Aldgate Minories Bus Station   Trolleybus, coach and bus terminus.  A trailer replaced a temporary wooden structure in early 1951, and was in use until a permanent tea bar was opened in July 1964.  Garage allocation not known, but may have been Dalston, to which the former Arnos Grove unit 705B was transferred in 1951 (there is a photograph from the early 1960s of a Dalston RF with blank blinds parked next to the Aldgate trailer, perhaps being used by the garage engineers?).


An early-60s line-up at Chingford Royal Forest Hotel, with the canteen trailer in its accustomed place at the far end of the line.  Leyton's RTs 3842, 4627 and 1914 are on route 38, Walthamstow's RM170 on the 6B and two more RTs on the 179 (probably) and 102.  Note also the time clock by the canteen.

Photo © Stuart Johnson


Chingford Royal Forest Hotel   The well-known terminus of many routes, including 38 and 121, featured a mobile catering facility on the hotel forecourt from December 1937 to September 1968, when the terminus was moved to the station.  The first was mobile tea bar 225M, a tiny Morris 5-cwt van, and was replaced by an NS in 1940.  A trailer replaced this in 1948 or 1949, one of the early units being 704B.  Garage allocation not known, possibly Loughton?


Clapham Junction St John's Hill   Initially used as a terminus for tram replacement bus routes, and still in use today, this site hosted a canteen relocated from Prested Road (closer to the station) from October 1950.  707B was based at Stockwell Garage until 1956; it is not known whether this represented the end of canteen facilities at the site.


Ealing Argyle Road   Terminus of the 65.  Canteen based at Southall (known as Hanwell until 1950) Garage, and was introduced with the first of the new units in April 1948; after 700B, 701B was allocated from 1953 to 1962. In the 1960s it operated Monday to Friday only, until at least 1966 and probably 1968, after which the 65 used the terminus only at peak hours. See the YouTube link mentioned above and notes on the 211 page; the trailer was parked close to the 65 stand, not as shown on the video.  


Finsbury Park   An NS mobile canteen was provided in Station Place from March 1938. At an unknown date, this was replaced by a trailer unit, possibly as late as December 1951, when 703B was allocated to Holloway Garage. At a later date, probably September 1953 when the scanty records show the Station Place facility closed, the facility moved to a vacant site in Plimsoll Road (terminus of the 19 and 236 since 1930); the picture above shows the trailer firmly in place by July 1958. The facility continued until the opening of the Plimsoll Road canteen on 20 October 1958 (probably LT's smallest, with seating for only 16).


Hayes Blyth Road   Converted ST 691J, based at Uxbridge, was located at this well-used but off-the-beaten-track terminus for Hayes Station on Sundays from 14 Aug 47.  On or about 20 Apr 50, it was replaced by a canteen trailer daily, drawn by 708B based out of Hounslow.  It is not know how long the facility remained, although the terminus continued in use beyond the last of the mobile canteens.  This location is not included in Ian Blee's article; the above details are from the LT publication 'Position of Mobile canteens'  and a trailer is reported by two correspondents as present on several occasions up to at least 1956 - on one occasion, two trailers were reportedly present.


Muswell Hill Broadway  The terminus of the 212, 244 and 43/134 short workings, illustrated at the top of the page.  A mobile facility was provided from July 1948 and was replaced by a canteen in the 'chalet' in the centre of the turning circle in November 1961.  705B was based at Muswell Hill from 1948 to 1951, 708B from 1953 to 1966.  See also Arnos Grove.


West Green Garage   West Green (the former Admiral garage, home to route 233 amongst others) had no canteen, and was provided with a mobile canteen from 1937, presumably (but unconfirmed) until it closed in 1962.


Other locations


Arnos Grove Station   Terminus of the 251.  The earlier facility using an NS was replaced, after October 1948 (when it was photographed by Alan Cross), by a canteen trailer.  This remained until the canteen at the station opened in January 1950.   Units were based at Muswell Hill Garage - see Muswell Hill Broadway.


Becontree Heath   It is believed that a mobile canteen was provided from 1952 to 1954, at which point the canteen was provided at the new bus stand.  702B was based at Barking during that time.


Chelsham Garage   A trailer replaced NS2295 at CM in 1950.  The permanent canteen opened in December 1952.


East Grinstead Garage   A trailer unit was in use here from May 1952 to March 1953, when the garage canteen opened. 


Eltham Well Hall Station   Terminus of route 228, amongst others.  A trailer unit was based here from July to September 1952 until the permanent canteen opened in that autumn.  Garage allocation not known.


Hampton Court   An NS mobile canteen was provided here from about 1937 until after the war.  It is not known whether the site ever hosted a trailer.


Harrow Road   A canteen trailer was located in Harrow Road from June 1948.  Ian Blee says 'presumably near the Prince of Wales' junction, but this is unclear.  703B was based at Middle Row Garage from September 1948 to September 1951.  It is not known when the facility was withdrawn, but Westbourne Park Station had a permanent canteen from June 1951.


Harlow   A mobile canteen was located in Harlow from July to (at least) December 1956, during which time 704B was allocated to Epping Garage.  It is not know how long the mobile facility was provided, but it had gone before the new Harlow Garage replaced Epping in May 1963.


Hatfield Garage   The last surviving NS canteen was located at Hatfield and was 'plumbed in'.  It lasted until 1953; it is not known whether it was replaced by a mobile or fixed canteen, but in 1958 a 'new or refurbished' canteen opened there.


High Barnet Station   Not a bus terminus; the canteen was presumably for use by Underground staff.  In use from April 1949 to March 1954, when a canteen was opened in the station.  Garage allocation not known, but see Potters Bar.


Highbury Barn  Terminus of the 19 (Battersea Garage workings, see notes under Finsbury Park).  The NS located at Highbury Barn was replaced by a canteen trailer some time between 1948 and 1951.  705B was allocated to Dalston from February 1951 to June 1953 (but see Aldgate).  It is not known when the facility was withdrawn or what replaced it.


Hitchin Garage   A mobile canteen was provided from 1953 (variously reported as October or December) until the permanent canteen opened in August 1954.  706B and 705B were each briefly allocated during this period.  It is reported that crews also patronised Bottoms' Cafe on the opposite side of the road by the old Maltings.


Plumstead Common   From March 1937, an NS and later an ST were based here, replaced (possibly in January 1949, when ST867's allocation to Plumstead ended) by a trailer unit.  The canteen was provided (but not continuously, as there were insufficient units) until January 1956; a café was available from then (see Alan Neale’s notes).  See also Woolwich.


Potters Bar  Not a canteen location,  but 709B was allocated to PB from 1949 to 1955.  It is not known where this was used - possibly High Barnet? (see above)


Stoke Newington Common   A mobile canteen was provided from April 1950 until a new canteen opened in May 1953.  706B was allocated to Tottenham Garage from 1948 to 1953.


Uxbridge Station  Former ST 691J was located at Uxbridge Station until 1950, in the location of the current bus garage, but is not recorded as being replaced by a trailer.  It may be that bus crews henceforth used the Underground station canteen.


The London Bus Museum has preserved tractor and trailer 702B, seen here in Redhill Road with the Museum's RTL.

Photo © Peter Zabek

Vauxhall Cross   An NS mobile canteen was provided here from about 1937 until after the war, although the exact location is not known; nor is whether the site ever hosted a trailer.


Victoria Buckingham Palace Road   NS and, later, ST units were replaced in October 1948 by 701B, based at Gillingham Street Garage.  This allocation continued to June 1951, after which there are no further records.


Woolwich Beresford Square   Details uncertain.  A canteen moved to a new site after the last trams ran at Woolwich in June 1952, but this may have been an ST, not a trailer.  See also Plumstead Common.


In addition to the permanent locations listed above, canteen trailers were used at special events such as Ascot, the Derby and Wimbledon. 


Greenford Red Lion has been removed from the above list.  Keith Williams, who remembers the ST (689J, which was allocated to Alperton Garage), does not think this was replaced by a trailer but that crews thenceforth used a café in the market.   For more, see route 211.




London Transport Mobile Canteens, Ian Blee, LBM 105, LOTS

SUP15, Service Vehicles, LOTS

Meals on wheels - The London Transport Mobile Canteen, Alan Barnes, Old Glory, January 2012

London Transport Service Vehicles, Kim Rennie & Bill Aldridge, Capital Transport 2003, Jonathan Wilkins, Tom Young

Personal recollections by a number of contributors, with thanks for taking the trouble to get in touch.