LT staff buses

Page last updated 30 December 2015


Stuart Perry's recollections of driving RFs on the Muswell Hill staff bus workings (see 210) have prompted us to ask for other contributions on the subject, from which we summarise a short account here.  This is followed by some detailed recollections.  More contributions very welcome.


The AW-based Plumstead to Aldenham works bus RT1140 in late 1970, just before it was withdrawn and scrapped.  Note the windows taped up against the draughts, and of course the lack of a conductor.

Photo © Paul Redmond




Summary and short contributions

Upton Park and Loughton by Rob Sheen

Dalston 1979 - 1981, Tim Drayton

Staff buses in north London, Doug Ely (see also notes on the Underground staff buses)

Aldenham,Chiswick and Charlton (see also Aldenham, Chiswick and Charlton articles on separate pages)

Reigate to Chiswick staff buses





From the second world war until about the 1980s, when the previously sparse night services were expanded, London Transport ran a network of night staff services, which have not been well recorded in the literature.  Thanks to contributions from a number of correspondents, we have pieced together a few notes on the subject.  These are far from complete - we welcome any extra details, stories and titbits - please e-mail us.


Abbey Wood also housed London's last RTL, RTL1232, used as the Catford to Chiswick works bus up until September 1970.  It is seen here shortly before final disposal.

Photo © John King


Separate night workings were used for platform staff (drivers and conductors) and inside staff (garage staff), both using service buses, and Underground staff (which used service buses until the 1960s, then hired coaches - see separate article).  Unlike the trolleybuses (which needed conductors to pull frogs, so ran in service - see Charlie Wyatt's 'Beneath the Wires of London', p.173), staff buses did not run in service and did not carry conductors.


In addition, there were special buses taking staff to the works at Aldenham and Chiswick, which lasted pretty much as long as those facilities were operational.  These services used dedicated buses, usually time-expired, and were therefore easily photographed - we haven't seen many pictures of night staff buses.


Buses for platform staff ran to take staff home after the last bus at night and collect them before the first bus in the morning.  They operated to a specific timetable (the morning timetable for the Norwood 'early staff bus' is here - but examples are hard to come by), although evening services would often be flexible depending who was travelling, subject to timetabled connections.  In some cases, a bus from one garage would serve staff from several garages, and some would make timetabled connections with other staff buses (for example, the MH and AR staff buses connected at E).  Some garages, such as SW, ran more than one bus.  Both Stuart Perry and Tim Drayton (below) comment that the staff buses were not advertised as such - staff weren't told about it when they first arrived at the garage and discovered they existed by word of mouth.


Stuart Perry comments further: 'I was involved for about five years beginning in 1963.  Throughout that time the route never changed.  It was bad luck if you lived off route, you had to walk to the line of route in the mornings and wait.  The duty was in fact not scheduled into the rotas and was worked entirely on overtime.  There was never a problem getting volunteers as many drivers lived quite close to the garage and it was also well paid.  In practise one driver would normally do the late night turn and another the early morning although it was the same bus, parked in between in the rear yard.  This system worked well because a driver on a very early duty would do the morning run and then go out in service and a driver coming off a late duty would do the late night bus.  In the early 1960s trolleybuses had not long been phased out, and although we passed close to HT and WN there was no requirement to pick up any of their staff.  A throwback to the time when the two services were quite separate. I had a good friend who was a driver at WG and was transferred to WN on closure. He told me that there was no love lost between the ex WG crews and the ex trolleybus crews'.


Two of the later three RFs used on the Reigate to Chiswick run - the new batch were not fitted with extra fog-lamps.  RFs 488 and 538 sit on the forecourt of Reigate garage.

Photo © Mike Nash


A former driver recalls the mid-1970s: 'When I was at PR, I did two weeks on the staff bus covering for the regular driver's holidays.  It was all scheduled; the first run was out to Becontree and back and then to Rainham Clock Tower and to Barking for a break.  Two other staff drivers also had breaks there (I think one was WH).  Then off to Rainham Clock Tower again and back to Barking, then Dagenham Dock and to PR to finish.  Sign on was about 2330 and finish was around 0630, leaving the bus on the fuel island.  The first job was to make the GI a cuppa and then out with the bus, an RT (only me, no conductor, and yes we were supposed to have a platform strap but I never bothered with one for my 2 weeks).  The job was to pick up staff and drop off - so long as they were in uniform and waved they were on.  The Underground had a coach for their staff bus, silver and a dark stripe around it, Mellows Hire or Meadows some name like that [it was Mellows]. 


'Later the regular driver told me that he never did the Rainham bit but went back to PR for the middle bit and the break.  I hardly picked anybody up, two or three at most and never anyone for PR (they were for WH or U and got off in the main road - I didn’t go into the garages as other than PR there was nowhere to turn round when all the buses were in), and some nights I picked nobody up.  I would imagine that there was a bus that would have done more or less what I did between WH and Dagenham and then gone on to NS and likewise one over to Forest Gate, Wanstead, AP.  When it became London Buses they decided to turn all the garage staff buses into night buses and that was the start of today’s night bus network. 


'The inside staff at PR always ran their own blokes home when they were ready.  Once when I was at CT, we broke down at Surrey Docks on the 47’s and had to get the inside staff to come out and get us going - after we got back to CT we were taken home on a bus by the CT inside staff because it was about 2 in the morning when we finally finished and neither of us had a car.'


Allocated to Loughton as a trainer (a type-trainer, as the bus carries no L plates) in its final years with LT, RF486 was actually used to take staff to North Weald airfield for driver training on RTs there.  Does anyone else remember this?

Photo © Metropolitan Photographic, Peter Osborn collection


Arrangements for inside staff differed, as these generally only applied to homeward journeys.  Some garages (SW was an example) had an early-turn run-in that started at around 1800 or 1830 and finished 8 hours later after the service buses and tube had finished; these needed staff buses.  Norbiton ran a staff bus at 0230 to take the cleaning staff home, driven by one of the all-night mechanics.  Garages with only a late shift starting at around 2200 had no need of a staff bus, these staff after doing screen and inside cleans would go home by service bus.  As far as is known, these buses only took home inside staff and had no set routes as the mix of staff varied from night to night with different staff on, due to the shift patterns.


There were a significant number of low bridge accidents involving staff buses, with the very low bridge at Loughborough Park off Coldharbour Lane in Brixton claiming quite a few from a number of surrounding garages.  It is perhaps because of this risk that single-deckers seem to have been used when available.


On a separate page is some information on the staff buses (and later coaches) provided by London Transport for its Underground staff in the early morning.  



Recollections of staff buses at Upton Park and Loughton by Rob Sheen


I worked at Loughton garage 1969-70 and 1979-86, and at Upton Park 1970-79.  At Loughton, I didn't drive the RF in service, because I was on the crew rota, I only had the 4 hours type training on RFs at Chiswick in case I did a bit of overtime working on the Loughton staff bus, which was always an RF in the early days. 


At Upton Park, driving the staff bus was an overtime job, you had to go out twice at set times on two different routes (I cant remember where, but fairly local).  If you were the driver, you just went into the paying-in area (the "output" as it was known) and shouted out 'anyone want the staff bus?'.  They usually gave you an RM/RML for the job (no conductor) but whenever I rode on it there were never more than half a dozen blokes on it.  I remember that overtime was called "boots".


At Loughton it was also an overtime job, but if you wanted to travel on it you had to put your name in the staff bus book for the date. The driver would then check the book and decide if one trip or two would do it. If no one put their name in the book to travel on it, it didn't run.  It seemed there was no set route, it was just agreed that it would take you home locally on, only on roads where buses ran.  In 1969/70 it was an RF, but later (1979-86) the staff bus was rarely used and the booked driver would drop you off in his car on his way home, I never saw a bus used on it then.


Re RF486 being used as a transport to North Weald,  I don't remember seeing or hearing of it, but it could have happened of course.  Part of the driver training took place there because of the huge amount of tarmac available to layout cones for driving practice, reversing, parking etc.



Recollections of staff buses at Dalston by Tim Drayton


I worked as a conductor at Dalston from 1979-1981. I lived in Stamford Hill at that time. To begin with, I had a lot of difficulty returning home after very late finishes. One or two times I walked through the very unsalubrious territory to get to Kingsland Road which was served by an infrequent night bus (N83 I think). I remember even walking the four or five miles home a few times and once I was nearly mugged at Dalston Junction, having to run for all I was worth along Kingsland High Street chased by a group of knife-wielding young men!


Refuelling RMs in Dalston

The Dalston Garage run-in in 1981 - RMs 1138 from the 47 and 1831 from the 9 stand at the fuelling bays.

Photo © Keith Foster


Staff buses were obviously not advertised to the public, but the odd thing was that they were not even advertised to staff. After a few months of working at Dalston I learned by hearsay that there was a Hackney garage staff bus to Stamford Hill and that Dalston staff were entitled to request it to come over to pick us up. Henceforth I always informed the inspector on signing on for a late turn that I wanted the Hackney staff bus, and it always came over to pick me up. It didn't seem to have a regular time - it presumably waited at Hackney until everybody who needed it there had signed off, then came over to Dalston (which was not far way) and waited there until everybody who had booked it had finished. Generally the driver - who was a different person each time - came into the paying in area and called out "Hackney staff bus" at which those waiting for this bus would rush out to board it. Sometimes I would be the only 'customer', on other nights there would be a group of three or four staff members waiting for it.


I do not ever remember there being more than about five or six people being on board, almost all of them staff returning from work - although the occasional staff member would use it to get home from a late do. I was once at a booze-up in Bromley, and came back on the last 47, which was operated by Dalston and obviously ran into the 'shed'. I asked one of the garage inspectors if the Hackney staff bus was booked to come over, and the reply was in the positive, so I used it to get home without even being in uniform!


Routemasters through the Dalston washer

Night shift at Dalston Garage, 1981 - RMs 421 from the 9 and 2001 from the 253 go through the wash.

Photo © Keith Foster


The bus took the 253 route to Stamford Hill. I always got off at Stamford Hill Broadway and have no idea where it went thereafter. The vehicle was always a Routemaster although clearly there was no conductor. The travelling time to Stamford Hill was, as you can imagine, much shorter than on the regular service buses, with the driver going at breakneck speed so that he could finish as quickly as possible. As there was no conductor, the people on board gave the bell signal to the driver to stop when they wanted to alight - it had to be a bus stop - and those on board gave the two bell signal to proceed as soon as this person had alighted - if this person had not already given the two bell signal as they jumped off Geronimo style without waiting for the bus to come to a complete halt, the latter being more common. Ocassionally intending passengers would still be at stops (they would have been waiting in vain!) and those on board would have to stop them from boarding.


As for a morning staff bus to take us to work, this remains a mystery to me. There were no very early starts at Dalston, and there were a small number of very early runs on the 149 and 243 that were scheduled to complement runs on the N83 and this made it easier to get down to Kingsland Road early in the morning. I was not particularly daunted by the 15-20 minute walk from Kingsland Road to Dalston garage in the early hours of the morning. The kind of dangers that were present late at night were no longer there early in the morning!


Eventually, I got fed up with so much travelling and put in for a transfer to Stamford Hill garage, which was granted.



Recollections of bus & rail staff transport by Doug Ely


It is over 40 years since I first became aware that London Transport provided dedicated staff transport for most of its workers “out of hours” in the days when night bus routes and the buses themselves were few and far between.


My first experiences were with those facilities provided for Underground staff in the mid 1960’s, the subject of a separate article.


On the bus side of LT, staff bus provision mostly operated on an overtime basis either before an early shift or after a late shift.  Despite having open platforms on the RT/RM buses only a driver was used and there were often two or more buses on separate routes.  Each journey had a timetable, just as any other route would have but obviously time allowances were drastically reduced.  Most garages allocated staff bus overtime in the same way as normal overtime, either on a lowest points or longest since worked basis, a few and I think TH was one, had the staff buses attached to specific duties as (in)voluntary overtime which, if you did not want you had to opt out by telling the staff allocation a couple of weeks before.


Staff buses often strayed well away from the operating garages normal routes, simply because in those days LT had a policy of placing new recruits where they had vacancies, not necessarily where the recruit wanted to work.  Some routes were timetabled to connect, with “M” connections [a marking on the time card to indicated a required 'maintained' connection], others not.


At least one of the really large garages, HT, had a permanent night driver who did only staff buses due to the small gap between last bus running in and first duty signing on; when I first encountered this, the evening journeys were on an “as required to wherever” basis and the morning ones to a specific route/timetable which tended to interwork with the Chalk Farm staff bus.


The advent of vastly increased Night Bus operation saw the need for staff buses reduce; some simply disappeared, others carried on (usually where TGWU was strong).


My time at HT as an AOM (shift manager) in the mid 1980s was when that garage became part of the operating unit called London Northern, and saw me allocated responsibility for overseeing our night routes, during that time it became obvious that within the unit (HT, FY, and CF) many staff buses were duplicating N public routes and costing a lot in overtime as well.  The upshot of this was that I devised one all night staff bus for London Northern as a whole, serving all the bits of the existing garage staff buses and running to a proper timetable and route which was complemented by the public N services.  This was based at HT using a BL and the existing HT driver allocated to this duty with one day a week being covered by a spare shift on the main N driver rota.  The TGWU agreed to the proposal largely thanks to the “mafia” at HT and protecting one of their own!  Incidentally, in case you’re wondering why I did not include PB, it was simply because PB operated as a separate unit within London Northern with different pay/conditions etc. and in any case was too far removed to include in our network.


All the above was for the benefit of “operating” staff; “engineering” staff also had staff bus provision only not on a regular route/timetable basis, as it was normally only the cleaning staff who required this due to them finishing much later than the normal 3 shift bus mechanics who tended to be 6-2, 2-10, 10-6 and thus did not need special transport. Worked by a suitably qualified driver on overtime as required, and not integrated garage to garage as essentially only a local requirement.



Norbiton and Fulwell staff bus


Ian Hogben describes changes to the Norbiton staff bus in his notes on route 216.



Aldenham, Chiswick and Charlton


Staff buses operated to Chiswick and Aldenham works from those areas of London from which staff had been transferred in the past.  They worked fixed routes and schedules from many garages, with each being served by a wide area of London, although not the same areas.  The Aldenham staff buses are looked at in detail on the next page, the background to Aldenham and the overhaul process is here.


Few who didn't originally work at either Charlton (trams and trolleybuses) or Reigate were allowed to use the Chiswick staff buses and there were fewer of them.  See the Aldenham list for more detail.  More detail is given on the Chiswick page about the special arrangements between Reigate and Chiswick.  See here for more about Charlton.


Before Aldenham opened, a series of staff bus routes were operated from Chiswick, which appear to have been the direct precursors of the Aldenham buses.  Alan Cross has kindly provided some notes from the late John Gillham, and would like to know more.