Red RF routes

Route 215

Page last updated 27 July 2019


Utterly fascinating (well, people who like this sort of thing find this is the sort of thing they like).  The RF era is but a short chapter in the story of the Kingston to Guildford bus service over the years, inhabiting the period when the roads were covered partly by red buses and partly by green.
17 October 1976, and the 216 has already converted from RF to BL operation, whilst RFs have at most three weeks more on the 215.  RF489 stands rather awkwardly in front of Kingston Bus Station.
Photo © John Parkin
Dates of RF operation
6 Jan 60 (Sun), Oct 61 (daily, but see notes) to 24 Oct 76 (daily), 6 Nov 76 (Sat)
Converted to OMO 23 Jan 66
(total 16 years 10 months, of which 6 years crew-operated)

KINGSTON Bus Station and RIPLEY (6 Jan 60 to 29 Dec 67)

KINGSTON Bus Station and DOWNSIDE (30 Dec 67 to 18 Sep 69, but see below)

KINGSTON Bus Station and CHURCH COBHAM (19 Sep 69 to 23 Oct 76)


RF Garages
K      Kingston (to 22 Jan 66)
NB    Norbiton (from 23 Jan 66)
Reason for single-deck operation
As with many of Kingston's south-western routes, the 215 passed under the low bridge on the Portsmouth Road at Ditton Marsh.
Q8 was numerically the third of the first production Qs, the 4Q4 class, delivered new to the Country area in 1935. It was one of the batch repainted red in 1948 and sent to West Green that August for the 233; the 4Q4s proving unsuitable for that route (drivers complained of poor nearside vision with the doors roped open under police regulations), they were swapped with 5Q5s from Dalston in November and worked on the 208. They were no more successful here, and returned (still red) to the Country Area in March 1949. Q8 started service at Kingston on 4 Mar 50 - the doors still need to be roped open, but the need was now so acute that there was no choice.
Q8 sits in Kingston ready for a short-working on the 215 to Church Cobham.  The notice fitted untidily under the nearside window bears minimum fare information applying to routes 215, 218 and 219 - between Kingston Bus Station and The Dittons Winters Bridge, and between Surbiton Road and Giggs Hill Claygate Lane, minimum fare 2½d. This was applied to direct short-hop traffic onto the higher-capacity trolleybuses, although these terminated at Winters Bridge.
Photo © Alan Cross
Route history
The origins of the Kingston to Esher routes go back to the very early single-deck operations around London, operated by independents before the first world war.  London Central Omnibus Co started a new (unnumbered) route in November 1911, worked by Leyland single-deckers from their Kingston Ceres Road garage, between Kingston Market Place and Thames Ditton Fountain.  Three weeks later the route was diverted and extended to run to Esher The Bear, along what was then the main London to Portsmouth road.  This passed under the low bridge at Ditton Marsh - just on the Kingston side of the (later) Scilly Isles, where the road goes under the main line to Woking, Southampton and Portsmouth.  This is still the same today and was the main cause of so many Kingston area routes being single-deck. 
RF461 by the river in Kingston
On 1 Jan 13, the New Central (as it had become) buses were leased to the General, who numbered the route as 79.  In August 1920, the route was extended at weekends to Church Cobham, with Wednesday journeys added for a few weeks, then Thursday journeys in late 1920, becoming daily journeys from May 1921.  June 1921 saw a further extension to West Byfleet Station via Byfleet.
RF461 leaves Kingston alongside the Thames on 16 October 1976, a week before the route converted to BL.  Note Hinchley Wood on the blind display - the 215 was rerouted in 1974/75, meaning the blind panel was produced late enough to have the route number on the nearside, a feature introduced in 1973.    Photo © John Parkin

Meanwhile, new route 115 was introduced in July 1921, all the way from Kingston Market Place to Guildford Horse & Groom via Cobham and Ripley.  This was operated by Putney garage and used the 26-seat type-7 Bs that had proved too heavy for the 111.   In January 1922, the 79 was rerouted at Esher (see 219 for more details), leaving Cobham served by the 115, now operated by and from the new Kingston garage.  The route also saw the prototype 32-seat S-class single-decker in 1922 and this class replaced the Bs in 1924.  In that year, the 115 ran hourly.


The route ran through Church Cobham in the one direction only, otherwise keeping to the old A3 (originally serving Church Cobham northbound, this being reversed in 1932).  'Church Cobham' is the main shopping area in the village (where Waitrose is now), leading down to the River Mole, whilst 'Street Cobham' is the separate section to the west on the old A3, en route to where Sainsbury's is now.  So far as we can tell, it was only LT that maintained this historical distinction.


The Kingston Bypass opened in 1927, and in March 1929 the 115 became Mon to Fri only, replaced at weekends by double-deck NSs on route 620.  Because of the low bridge, the 620 travelled via Hook and the Kingston Bypass.  The Saturday and summer Sunday services were twice the frequency of weekdays, obviously to cater for leisure traffic; in 1930, new STs replaced the NSs.  Meanwhile the single-deck Ks, and the Ss that latterly worked alongside them, were replaced by new 1T1-class AEC Regals in 1930.  17 Jul 30 also saw the commencement of the first Green Line service from Guildford to London via Cobham and the Kingston Bypass.


RF423 stands at the stop in Cobham village.  Note the via-point 'Street Cobham' shown on the blind, which applied northbound only.  The non-underlined fleet name transfer was theoretically meant for Routemasters but occasionally applied to RFs and RTs on repaint.

Photo © Paul Redmond


In the 1934 renumbering, the 115 became the 215 and the 620 became the 20.  The 1936 timetable shows a requirement for three buses on the 215, with Guildford Horse & Groom to Burpham shorts fitted in before each bus returned to Kingston. 


Kingston's official allocation replaced the Ts with LTLs in March 1938.  Ts were reintroduced on 6 Dec 1939, under the changes brought about by the outbreak of war, which led to the withdrawal of the 20 and the 215 becoming a daily service, shortened to run from Kingston to Ripley only.  The Guildford to Ripley section had been covered by Country Area route 415 since 1938.  The elegant consistency of numbering was continued in 1946, when the Green Line route from Guildford to London was one of the first reintroduced and was given the number 715.


Wartime brought further changes, including the reintroduction of higher-capacity LTLs in March 1940, assisted at various times by Ts from the 218 or 219.  From May 1943 to July 1945, the Sunday morning service was withdrawn between Ripley and Esher, a move that was to have resonance thirty years later.


After the war, new 14T13s progressively replaced the Scooters from March to October 1946, by which time the frequency had increased to half-hourly to Ripley, plus Church Cobham short workings.  The Ripley to Kingston journeys continued to avoid Church Cobham.  Kingston has operated a number of classes of single-decker over the years, and there were regular nominal reallocations between routes, with Qs replacing the Ts during 1950 and Ts rejoining the Qs from May 1951.  Kingston borrowed Qs from Sidcup on Saturdays to cover a shortfall on that day; its own buses included ex-Country 4Q4s as well as the 5Q5s.  It is reported that TDs were used on the 215 after Kingston received its first in spring 1949, but the official conversion to TD was 6 May 1953.  During the 1940s and 1950s, there was a substantial (but shifting) inter-working of the 215 with the 218, 219 as well as (from its introduction in 1954) the 215A.


RF536 in CobhamKingston's Scooters were gone by 1949.  The pre-war Ts lasted until 1953 due to a weak bridge on the 218, and the Qs also went that year, all swept away by the effect of the deliveries of red RFs.  But Kingston wasn't to see RFs for another six years, its Ts and TDs ruling the roost until RFs arrived for the 216 in July 1959.


RF536 at the same location in Church Cobham a week before the end, on 16 Oct 1976.

Photo © John Parkin


Six months later, in January 1960, Muswell Hill converted the 212 to RT, releasing over 20 RFs.  Many were transferred to Kingston overnight and used to convert the 218 and 219 joint allocation to RF.  At this stage, the TD-operated 215A to Downside was not approved for the larger RF; as this weekday route was jointly worked with the 215, the 215 also kept its TDs on weekdays.  However, at that time there was joint Sunday working of 215, 218 and 219, so the 215 gained RFs on that day only.


By October 1961, 215 duties that did not include the 215A were converted to RF, followed by the 215A and the rest of the 215 on 1 Mar 62.  This represented the end of TD operation south of the river - they continued for another eight months at Edgware on the 240A


Just over 4 years later, OMO-conversion and transfer to Norbiton of the 215 and 215A occurred on 23 Jan 66, before conversion of Kingston's 218/219 (bringing to an end the joint Sunday working), but after the 216.


The first major change to the route for many years came on 30 Dec 67, following the withdrawal of the 215A the previous day.  The route was cut back from Ripley to Church Cobham daily, and journeys extended to Downside Mon-Sat, to cover the 215A.  This left the Cobham to Ripley section unserved except by Green Line 715. 


In the major floods of September 1968, which inter alia flooded Leatherhead garage, the bridge between Cobham to Downside was partly swept away on 17 September.  From that date, journeys were suspended, with buses waiting time in Cobham.  The bridge received a temporary repair, prior to the building of the present bridge in 1971, but this proved not strong enough to support RFs and the route was formally withdrawn beyond Cobham (and rescheduled) on 18 Jul 69.  The Downside service was replaced by a shuttle minibus provided by Esher UDC on Mon-Fri and MC Ash (later to become Mole Valley Transport) on Saturdays from 19 Oct 68.


RF489 on stand

The driver of Norbiton's RF489 seems to be filling in his duty card, apparently before reaching the garage as the bus sits in Wood Street in front of Fulwell's RM1152 on the 281, some time between 1973 and 1976. Both buses are now preserved.

Photo Peter Gomm collection


On 8 Feb 75, the 215 was diverted to run via Hinchley Wood.  Originally this was because of road works, but the section proved a success, so was retained.  In this period, when Surrey County Council were changing their support arrangements, there were many schedule revisions.  Fares were different outside the GLC area, so ticket machines were specially adapted for routes 215, 218 and 219.


BLs replaced RFs from Saturday 24 Oct 76, except for Saturdays when 2 RFs were still required for that day and a further fortnight, leading to a last day of RF operation of 6 Nov 76. 


From 2 Apr 77, Surrey's financial support was withdrawn and switched to London Country, leading to the withdrawal of the 215 between Esher and Cobham and an increased frequency on Green Line 715 between Guildford and Kingston.  Then-local resident Steve Allnutt tells us that this was highly unpopular - a public meeting was held at Cobham Village Hall when plans were announced to withdraw the 215 service. The angry audience were told that the Green Line 715 route would now serve the village and be re-routed in to Kingston (having previously used Kingston Bypass; the low bridge at Ditton Marsh meaning the RMCs would not return).  A march from Cobham was organised about 20 people, along the route for the 7 miles to County offices!  Following the establishment of the new service, temporary bus stops were added along the route, but it was soon recognised that residents of the council estate Northfield Road/Wyndham Avenue could not alight before a 'round robin' tour of the village and were eventually let off at the Street Cobham White Lion bus stop toward Guildford.  Steve tells us he 'hijacked' a bus stop from Fairmile Corner on the A3 and placed it opposite Old Common Road on several nights - the new stop was eventually established!


BL51 displays the black on yellow blind that was intended to alert passengers that the bus was taking a roundabout route to Kingston.

Photo Ian Armstrong collection


Having seen reasonable stability as a route under RF operation, change now came thick and fast.  The following year, on 28 Oct 78, the route was completely revised to operate from Kingston via Surbiton and Claygate to Esher and Hampton Court, replacing the 206 and part of the 201, and the allocation moved back to Kingston.


Kingston's BLs were replaced by Norbiton LSs in 1982, by which time the route had been cut back from Hampton Court to Lower Green, with a school journey to Giggs Hill and back to  Kingston.  These confusing workings used black on yellow blinds to warn the travelling public.  The route was finally withdrawn on 26 Jun 87, replaced by midibus route K3. 


Just to complete the picture of the other related routes, the 715 was replaced by the 415 in the 1990s, working for a period through to Victoria, which was in turn replaced by the 515 operating between Kingston and Guildford.  This disappeared in 2016 when Abellio abandoned most of their Surrey operation and was replaced by new Stagecoach route 715.  How tidy.

RF route in detail, with timing points

KINGSTON Bus Station (inbound terminus KINGSTON STATION from 1966), Clarence Street, Eden Street, High Street Kingston, Portsmouth Road, Brighton Road Portsmouth Road, Portsmouth Road, Esher Marquis of Granby, Portsmouth Road, High Street Esher, Esher High St, Portsmouth Road, Fairmile Lane Portsmouth Road, Portsmouth Road Cobham, Anyards Road, Church Cobham Post Office, Between Streets (return direct by Portsmouth Road), Street Cobham White Lion, Portsmouth Road Wisley, Wisley Hut Hotel, Portsmouth Road Wisley, Ripley High Street, RIPLEY Post Office (6 Jan 60 to 29 Dec 67).



The 1964 bus map (©  London Transport) shows the route running off the edge at

Wisley, plus the section to Downside taken over from the 215A in 1967.


KINGSTON Bus Station (inbound terminus KINGSTON STATION), Clarence Street (return via Wood Street), Eden Street, High Street Kingston, Portsmouth Road, Dittons Winters Bridge, Portsmouth Road, Esher Marquis of Granby, Portsmouth Road, High Street Esher, Esher High Street, Portsmouth Road, Fairmile Lane Portsmouth Road, Portsmouth Road Cobham, Anyards Road, Church Cobham Post Office (return by Between Streets, Street Cobham), High Street Cobham, Church Street, Bridge Road, Downside Road, Downside Common Road, DOWNSIDE COMMON (30 Dec 67 to 17 Jul 69, but see notes).


KINGSTON Bus Station (inbound terminus KINGSTON STATION), Clarence Street, (return via Wood Street), Eden Street, High Street Kingston, Portsmouth Road, Dittons Winters Bridge, Portsmouth Road, Esher Marquis of Granby, Portsmouth Road, High Street Esher, Esher High Street, Portsmouth Road, Fairmile Lane Portsmouth Road, Portsmouth Road Cobham, Anyards Road, CHURCH COBHAM Post Office (return by Between Streets, Street Cobham) (17 Jul 69 to 7 Feb 75).


KINGSTON Bus Station (inbound terminus KINGSTON STATION), Clarence Street, (return via Wood Street), Eden Street, High Street Kingston, Portsmouth Road, Dittons Winters Bridge, Thorkhill Road, Ewell Road, Sugden Road, Manor Road North, Hinchley Wood Station, Kingston By-pass, Esher Marquis of Granby, Portsmouth Road, High Street Esher, Esher High Street, Portsmouth Road, Fairmile Lane Portsmouth Road, Portsmouth Road Cobham, Anyards Road, CHURCH COBHAM Post Office, (return by Between Streets, Street Cobham) (8 Feb 75 to 6 Nov 76).


Terminal workings

Ripley: at Post Office, left into Rose Lane (south part, now closed), layover on stand behind Post Office, return via Rose Lane (north part) to Ripley High Street. 

Downside: as for 215A

Church Cobham: in Between Streets, approximately at the current layby.  At that time, Downside Bridge Road had not been built north of Church Street.


Norbiton garage journeys: As shown in the above picture, garage journeys to Norbiton were supposed to show 'Norbiton Church'.  Norbiton driver Stan Attewell (see 'Memories' below) tells us that at the commencement of service, bus ran out of service to start work at Kingston Bus Station.  Inbound to Norbiton on meal relief journeys and at the end of the day, there were a few regular passengers that used the Norbiton Church service, but in practice many drivers displayed 'Kingston' and then took a short cut down Gordon Road.



Year Mon-Fri Sat Sun
1936 60 mins § - -
1941 30 mins 30 mins * 30 mins
1946 30 mins * 30 mins * 30 mins *
1951 30 mins * 30 mins * 30 mins *
1953 30 mins * 30 mins * 15-30 mins *
1959 60 mins * 60 mins * 30 mins *
1964 60 mins * 60 mins * 60 mins
1969 30 mins *† 20 mins † 60-120 mins
1971 16-20 mins 20 mins † ~90 mins
1976 21-30 mins 21-30 mins † ~90 mins

§ Guildford-Burpham 30 mins

* more frequent Kingston-Cobham

† more frequent Kingston-Esher


From Kingston, the route took about 35 minutes to Church Cobham and about 50 minutes to Ripley.  The July 1967 timetable is here.


RF allocation

Allocation joint with 215A Mon-Sat to 1967

PVR 1960: Mon-Fri 9 TD, Sat 9 TD, Sun 15 RF jointly with 218 and 219 (18 in summer)
PVR 1961: Mon-Fri 6 TD, Sat 7 TD, Sun 8 RF jointly with 218 and 219
PVR 1962: Mon-Fri 6, Sat 7, Sun 8 jointly with 218 and 219 (10 in summer)
PVR 1966 (OMO, NB): Mon-Fri 7, Sat 8, Sun 2
PVR 1967 (Dec): Mon-Fri 6, Sat 7, Sun 2
PVR 1969: Mon-Fri 5, Sat 6, Sun 2
PVR 1971: Mon-Fri 5, Sat 6, Sun 1
PVR 1972: Mon-Fri 4, Sat 6, Sun 1
PVR 24-31 Oct 76: Mon-Fri 4 BL, Sat 2 RF + 4 BL, Sun 1 BL


Now here's a treat - a picture of RF472 on the stand behind Ripley Post Office, alongside RLH45 on the 436A, which has arrived from the other direction.  Occasionally, RLHs arrived as a 415 and departed as 436A and vice versa (these were positioning journeys for the 436A from Guildford).  There are now more cars (but not A40s) and no buses in Rose Lane.

Photo © Mike Beamish



Hell's Grannies - Ian Hogben tells the story of one of his passengers here.

Stan Attewell was employed at Norbiton from June 1964 to 1990 and started driving crewed RFs on 201 & 264.  He shares a few of his memories:


'I started work at NB in June 1964 and trained at Chiswick on the RTW, then type-trained on a Private Hire RF and the RM.  I initially worked with a conductor on the 201 and 264 (without doors of course).  In November 1964, the 201 went OMO and I transferred to that for another £5 a week.  In 1966, we got the 215/A and then in 1969 RFs started working the 285 on Sundays.  I stayed on RFs until the BLs arrived.


One evening on late duty I pulled into Kingston after completing a journey from Downside, when a police officer and bus inspector came over to me to ask a favour. A Southdown coach was parked there whose driver had been injured when someone had thrown something at the screen.  They asked if I would take the passengers to Victoria, where all-night coaches had been told to wait for my arrival.  We loaded 45 people onto the RF plus loads of suitcases down the gangway and off I went.  When I got there, the poor RF was steaming but the passengers all got their connections.


Another time, I was the last bus to Downside.  It snowed in the early hours of the morning and had settled when I got to Downside.  To turn at the common, you had to reverse into a side road.  As I did so, the bus lost all its air pressure - it transpired it was because snow had got under the bus and the belts were slipping.  The engineers came out to remove the snow from the underneath with hessian flares, but in doing so they set the floor alight.  I was in someone's house having a cup of tea at the time.'



RFs again operated the 215 to Ripley at our Kingston 2009 RF event.