Route 210

Stuart Perry's MH memories

Page last updated 2 August 2013
The mid 60s and Muswell Hill's RF500 sits on the wet cobbles at Golders Green along with two RTLs, 1320 from Cricklewood on the 240 and one from Willesden on the 226.  Stuart describes RF500 as one of the star performers in 1964 - 'an absolute dream to drive - lots of pulling power in the low gears,a silky smooth pre-select and a fast top end speed' - but when it 'came back' from Aldenham in 1965, it wasn't the same bus....
Photo © Paul Redmond

Stuart Perry enjoyed driving RFs on the 210 whilst at Muswell Hill (MH) in the 1960s, but also worked on RTs and RMs. He writes:


Route 210

I arrived at MH garage in the autumn of 1963 having passed through the Chiswick training school on the RTW. Until mid 1963 the 210 was the exclusive domain of the senior drivers and there was no chance for any newcomers to work the route. Then suddenly everything changed with the arrival of the RM for the 43 and later the 134. The senior drivers were attracted away from the 210 by the prospect of power-assisted steering and automatic transmission.


Original condition RF

Well-loaded RF430 in original condition takes the tight turn at Jack Straws Castle before dropping down from Hampstead Heath to Golders Green. 

Photo Eamonn Kentell collection


So the 210 was opened up to anyone who asked for a transfer. My application was accepted and I began driving on the 210 early in 1964.


On the 210 page, you mention type training when the RF was first introduced.  I can't comment on that, but I can tell you what happened to new recruits to MH.  You left Chiswick with your PSV Badge and a type training certificate. Mine allowed me to drive the RT (including RTL and RTW) and RM.  For the first couple of weeks at the garage you were on the spare rota. Basically the allocation staff could give you any job they chose on a daily basis. I was then called into the Office and told I would be on 2 hours RF training the next day.  


There were two RF's working the peaks only. A gold badge inspector gave me one of these buses around midday and said we were off to Leyton. The idea was you got the type training and the route learning as one package.  So basically that was it. The controls were similar to the RT and after the trip to Leyton, if you didn't hit anything you were told you had been passed fit to drive the RF.  Presumably when the RF was first introduced, each driver got 2 hours.




This sequence by Mike Beamish shows RF373 laying over at Golders Green before running a short to Hampstead Heath Jack Straws Castle.  Mike explains that the fair on Hampstead Heath at Bank Holidays generated a great deal of extra traffic, for which these 'swingers' were operated.  The second picture shows the queues that could build up, then RF357 loads up.  The notcie reads '? Monday - Route 210.  Please queue other side of stop'.

Photos © Mike Beamish


The 210 was unusual in that it was busier on Saturdays and Sundays than during the week. There was no real peak hour surge. Nine RFs covered the route all day, only increasing to eleven in the peak hours. The Sat and Sun requirement increased from 11 to 12.


Late running was unheard of except on bright summer Sundays and Bank Holidays when traffic could be gridlocked across Hampstead Heath particularly between Jack Straws Castle and the Spaniards Inn. On Sundays the route absorbed the 236 to Leyton. The inspectors at Golders Green would normally let the through services continue as there was ample opportunity to make up lost time at the eastern end of the route especially across Hackney Marshes. Buses scheduled to short work to Finsbury Park were curtailed at Archway to regain time.


The shot of RF486 at the Spaniards reminded me that we had an eccentric old lady who boarded at The Bishops Avenue request stop always in the direction of Golders Green. We always called it Millionaires Row. I have never pretended to be an expert on ladies fashion but even I could tell that her clothes were very expensive designer style and my Conductor told me that when she opened her purse to pay it was jammed full with £5 notes. On reaching Golders Green she would always give the crew a twenty packet of Capstan Full Strength. We also picked her up for the return journey but never any fags!!


The 210 rota was always full for Conductors even when staff shortages were at their worst. The advantages were no stairs to negotiate (not an insignificant consideration), the opportunity to gossip with the driver and considerably less responsibility for the bell.  As a result many of the 210 crews were married couples.  I was one of the exceptions.  It also has to be remembered that crew work on the RF was at the same rate of pay so not really surprising that the Conductors loved to work on them.


It is very nostalgic to see in Mike Beamish's photo the checkers fretting about the queues for the 210. We were very much left alone Mondays to Saturdays to run the service  They were far too busy sorting out late running on the 2 and 13 but on Sundays we got all the attention. I was never asked to do a short to Jack Straws Castle but it was very common to be asked to do a short to Archway losing the section from there to Finsbury Park. The problem then was that there were service gaps at Wells Terrace. I remember once  customers complaining that there had been no 210 for 45 minutes. The checker at Wells Terrace was trying to tell them, rather stupidly I thought, that they should have waited round the corner and picked up one of the buses running through from Leyton - I doubt if they even knew about the through service. There was talk in the garage at one stage that the buses running through from Leyton should do a complete circuit around Finsbury Park to cover the terminus stop in Wells Terrace but nothing came of it.  This was one of those situations where you just couldn't win.


At the other end of the year, in snowy conditions, there was a permanent instruction on the garage notice board that in bad conditions you had to engage 2nd gear at Highgate Village and descend all the way to Archway under compression.  Also, at the driver's discretion, you could ignore the request stops both up and down situated half way up the hill.  There was also a similar instruction to descend Muswell Hill in 2nd gear on the 212.


Reading the article by Pat Spencer on driving the 236, he mentions that we (MH crews) didn't like the route, but it was a bit more complicated than that. For some reason LT refused to sanction PAID route learning for us over the 236 road [presumably unless it happened to be covered in type-training, as it was with Stuart] and you had to route learn in your own time. This didn't go down well as you can imagine and the more militant drivers refused to do the Sunday duties on the rota and the allocation staff had to check that drivers signed in for the Leyton journeys actually knew the road. I was one of those who rode the route in my spare time as I thought the journeys to Leyton would add a bit of variety.  I would love to know what arrangements were put in place for T and AR drivers to route learn the 210.


Garage journeys on the 210 between MH and Archway Station were run in service. If the first destination was Finsbury Park then the route was via Highgate Station. If the first destination was Golders Green then the route was via Crouch End Broadway and Hornsey Rise. In practice very few people used the service mainly I think because the public were bemused by the fact that the buses reached Archway by two completely different routes.


In the autumn of 1964 there was a problem with poor performance by some of the RFs and the garage TGWU rep asked us to keep records of the buses we drove. The garage allocation at the time was 12 and I drove all but one of them during the time of the survey: 337, 354, 383, 434, 441, 453, 454, 462, 475, 480, 500. For the record my list shows 441 and 500 were the star performers at the time. 337 and 454 were the only two I complained about. The records do not show 383 as allocated to MH, but I do remember that at the time there was one regular bus carrying a metal MH plate covering the painted allocation. I don’t know the reason for the long term loan as otherwise the correct number of buses appear to have been in the garage. The increased Sat and Sun requirement from 11 to 12 meaning no spare might have been the reason.


Poor performer RF337, also at Golders Green.

Photo © Paul Redmond


The problem was a local one affecting MH.  The busiest section of route was the ascent of Highgate Hill. For some reason the locals seemed to prefer the RM-operated 271, which was fine by us, but if that route had suffered a service gap you could end up with a standing load leaving Archway. Some of the drivers complained that certain RFs wouldn't deal with the hill without using 1st gear. This only happened to me once with 454 which was a very poor bus anyway. Things did eventually improve when a big cheese from Chiswick arrived without warning, test drove the three worst buses, read the riot act and the maintenance was tightened up.

The other bit of trivia from my notes is about 475. The steering wheel on the RF was slightly larger than the RT and I was a bit surprised that 475 had an RT type steering wheel. I had forgotten about it until I did a piece of overtime on the 212 and was given RT 814 which had the RF steering wheel. Obviously they had at some time been on the pits together and someone hadn't put the bits back together properly. Whoops! A few furrowed brows I expect at Aldenham when 475 went for it's next overhaul.


[Stuart has commented on the variation in performance of the RFs he drove, as compared with relatively uniform RTs and RMs, and added notes on the individual buses - see here.]


I enjoyed the opportunity to work as a team with the conductor which the front step access allowed and when working any overtime on the garage's other routes I actually found the bell irritating.  I have many fond memories of the 210 but have to confess that eventually I too caved in for the comfort of the RM and transferred onto the 43 rota.


In 2009, I met Phil Wilsher, an old 210 stalwart, who was proud to tell me he had just enjoyed his ninetieth birthday but still very sprightly.  Phil loved the 210 and although because of his years of service was entitled to work on the quieter 251 or 244 he always stuck to the 210 right to the end. He told me he remembers driving the TD and Q types alongside the RF in the transitional period when it was pot luck whether your duty would be on the then brand new RF or perhaps half and half.  He also told me that after 1963 he tried to get duty exchanges on Sundays as he couldn't get used to the 236 road to Leyton.


Staff buses

The other use for the RF was on the night staff bus.  At the peak, the requirement increased from 9 to 11. The two buses working the peak hours only were MH5 and MH9. The first bus back in the garage in the evening was MH5 and this was automatically parked on the forecourt and became the night staff bus. After that duty the driver would leave it in the rear yard ready to be out again at 0400 for the early morning staff bus.  On return it was driven onto the pumps, refuelled, and then became MH11, i.e. the last bus out from the garage on the 210. 


As the staff bus driver, you left the garage at 0045 or when the last conductor had paid in. The route was Muswell Hill Broadway, Highgate Station, Archway Station, Holloway Road (pick up J crews), Nags Head, Hornsey Rise, Crouch End Broadway, Turnpike Lane Station, Great Cambridge Road, Ponders End (pick up E crews). Then depending who was left on the bus and where they wanted to be dropped off, return to MH garage. The route was worked in the opposite direction in the morning, departing MH garage at 0400.


At night, timing was not important as your job was simply to get everyone home as quickly as possible, but it was a different matter in the early mornings.  There could be up to twenty or thirty crew members dotted along the line of route and they were totally relying on you to get to work on time.  If you messed up then the early morning run out was wrecked.  My strategy was to run about 2-3 minutes late to give everybody the best chance, as far as Muswell Hill Broadway and then speed down the hill to the garage arriving just about on time. 


We were supposed to display the "Private" blind when operating the Staff Bus, but I usually showed Totteridge Common 251 just for fun.  All the 251 stuff was still on the MH RF blinds, even though the route transferred to Edgware in February 1963, but not the 212, which went to RTs in January 1960.


Route 43

Each service had it own rota, and each driver and conductor had a staff number.  The 43 began at 1, the 134 at 101, the 210 at 201, the 212 at 301, and the 244 at 401. If you were on the 210 or 212 rotas, you did nothing else except if you chose to do overtime.  The 43 rota had 134 duties on Saturdays and 102 duties on Sundays.  The 134 rota had 134A duties on Sundays and the 244 rota had some spreadover 43 duties.  By agreement with the TGWU each rota had to have a fair mix of late, early and spreads.


In later days, RM1722 waits on the stand before heading for the City.

Photo © Paul Redmond


Over the years, trunk route 43 between Friern Barnet and London Bridge had become the 'blue riband' route for MH.  However, as the staff shortages in the 1960s began to bite, quite rightly in my opinion the duty allocation staff put whatever resources were available by way of overtime and rest day working onto the local routes 210 and 244 but especially the 212. The result was that service gaps were common on the 43, but like the 134 other services covered the whole route - in particular the 104, ex trolleybus route 609, which it duplicated from Highgate Station to Moorgate. The golden rule was you never passed a 104 and the Finchley (FY) drivers played the same game.


The Monday to Friday run-out was 30 RMs, reduced to 16 on Saturday and of course no service on Sundays. The evening service Monday to Friday reduced dramatically to 4, running to Moorgate only. The rota was popular after introduction of the RM and of course there were very few late turns. After midday on Saturdays, the service only ran to City Road Windsor Terrace in the afternoons and was withdrawn completely in the evening.


I was too late to drive an RT on the 43, apart from one memorable afternoon. I was working a spreadover duty and returned to the garage mid afternoon for the second part which was two trips to London Bridge. On arrival I was told there was no RM available.  Now the rule was that the allocation staff could ask you to take out an RT on the 43, but couldn't insist.  Walking through the garage I had noticed RT4278 idle.  I have mentioned (below) that this was the best RT in the garage, so I said I would take an RT provided I could have RT4278. The clerk was more than happy to agree to get the duty covered so off we went.


I picked up an RML on the 104 at Highgate Tube Station and RT4278 had no problem punching up the RML all the way to Moorgate. Better still on the return journey she was so good she caught up the preceding RM on the 43 and we had an easy ride home. I was looking forward to the second journey to London Bridge but on reaching the crew change stop at Colney Hatch Lane the RM I should have had was waiting, having been repaired. Sad, but that was that and I never drove an RT on the 43 again.


Stuart only drove one RT on the 43 - RMs were introduced in June 1963.  This nice shot is of RT2401 on the cobbles at Railway Approach, London Bridge in early 1963 (thanks to Mark Carter in Australia for recognising the location).

Photo © Paul Redmond


As noted, the Saturday rota included the 134 but Sundays was solely on the 102, Golders Green to Chingford (primarily worked by Palmers Green, AD).  I enjoyed the 102 particularly in the summer when about one in three buses were extended beyond Chingford to High Beach Kings Oak in Epping Forest. There are many photographs of the famous terminus at Chingford Royal Forest Hotel where the rule was that you reversed onto the pub forecourt with guidance from the conductor. In practice they had jumped off to get to the mobile canteen to get the teas in. My memory tells me that the canteen was a Bedford articulated unit but photos taken at the time will confirm that [it was].


Like the 134 (see below), the 43 was all about punching up other buses which I am sure was common practice on many duplicated sections across the whole of LT. 


If I was off duty and riding through central London I ignored the scenery and stayed riveted to the antics of the driver. There were of course several famous long duplications where punching up was common.  Examples were the 6 and 15 between Edgware Road and the Bank and the 12 and 88 between Shepherds Bush Green and Parliament Square.


All the services except the 43 had the run out numbers you would expect, i.e. starting with MH1 as the first bus out and then in sequence.  To begin with, I couldn't work out the 43 sequence as the first bus out was MH8 followed by MH9 and MH10.  The fourth out was MH1.  It suddenly dawned on me one day that MH1 turned north to Friern Barnet.  The first three went straight to London Bridge. The running order was based on buses leaving Friern Barnet not the garage. So in fact MH1-MH7 went first to Friern Barnet, the other 23 went straight to London Bridge. So after MH7 had left Friern Barnet, the next departure was MH8 which by that time had got back from it's first journey to London Bridge. I was told later that this oddity went back many years at least to the 1940's - the general rule seemed to be the running order was based on the sequence of buses leaving the garage on each route.  [See the page on Running Numbers - more examples welcome].  


Route 134

My experiences of the 134 and 212 are all from overtime working which was very common at the time, as the garage like many others was suffering from staff shortages; I only ever worked permanently on the 210 and 43 rotas.


When I arrived in 1963 the 134 was still RT operated Monday to Friday, part RT/RM Saturdays and all RM Sundays. The RMs came from the 43 allocation which was sparse on Saturdays and did not run at all on Sundays.


An early shot of RT1973 working from Potters Bar on a through working to Victoria (likely to be on a Saturday afternoon, when PB had a few through workings), passing through Camden Town.

Photo © Paul Redmond


At the time the route still covered the original service Pimlico Dolphin Square to Potters Bar Station. In practice except for some early morning and late night journeys the route was run in two sections Pimlico or Victoria to Friern Barnet Town Hall and Archway Station to Potters Bar Station; MH and J (Holloway) operated the West End section and PB operated the outer section.  The route was tailor made for the sly and artful driver as all of it between Pimlico and Friern Barnet was covered by other services.  The 24 between Pimlico and Camden Town supplemented by the 29 from Victoria, the 27 and 137 between Camden Town and Archway and our own 43 between there and Friern Barnet.  If you positioned yourself well you could punch up other buses all the way and believe me some drivers did and carried light loadings all day.


There was no time clock at Pimlico Dolphin Square so you could leave a few minutes either side of the correct running card time.  We worked it so your conductor walked the 25 yards or so down to the next crossroads from the terminal point from where he or she could see the 24 coming up from Grosvenor Road. You would have the engine running and the conductor would give you the thumbs up when a 24 went through and you then picked him or her up on the corner and knew you had a free ride as far as Camden Town. The other scam was to wait on the terminal loop at Friern Barnet and wait for a PB to come through from Potters Bar, again you got a free ride as far as Archway where most of the PB buses terminated.


There was always grumbling from the garages allocated the RTW and RTL that they were sluggish compared to the RT.  For example, on the 19 the B crews always complained they were no match for the J crews with the faster RT.  If you were in the West End you could see it was always the J buses punching up the B buses.  Worse still there was a rumour going round that the engineers at J "tweaked" their RTs for even better performance.  I can confirm that on the 134 it was always hard to hang onto a J bus unless you had one of the best MH RT's, so I suspect there was some truth in the rumour.


On Sundays all journeys ran from Pimlico to Potters Bar Garage. Only the short section to Potters Bar Station was not covered. The route was supplemented by the 134A which ran Victoria to Barnet Chesterfield Road deviating to cover New Barnet Station.  Interestingly that route terminated at GM garage not the Station Forecourt.


Muswell Hill's RT4141 passes the Treasury building in Parliament Square as it nears the end of long route 134.  Stuart notes that RT4141 was 'a bit of a dog - prone to stalling and poor pulling power'.  It was one of the buses 'banned' from the 212.

Photo © Paul Redmond


The first allocation of RM for the 43 was in the RM16xx series. When the second batch in the RM19xx series arrived for the 134 you would imagine that they would be interchangeable but not so. The two batches were always used on the routes they were intended for, because the RM19xx batch had offside illuminated adverts so no point in using them on the 43 which had a sparse evening service and nobody to see them in the City at night.


I didn't particularly enjoy the route as there was a lot of jockeying for road position and a lot of idle clippies who measured the duty by how few passengers we picked up.


Route 212

In complete contrast to the 134, the 212 was a "stand alone" route with no help from any other service. It was a busy route all day but especially in the peaks when it was very unusual not to have three bell loads particularly between Crouch End Broadway and Finsbury Park.


RT2765 working MH12 on the 212 Express turns onto the stand at Muswell Hill Broadway, having set down at the final stop where another 212 has already arrived.  A third departs back down the hill, whilst RM1975 from J is on a 134 short.  This shot was probably taken in 1967 after the schedules changed on the last day of 1966.

Photo Jeff Lloyd collection


When I arrived the route was RT operated Mon-Sat and RM from the 43 allocation on Sundays. On weekdays the run out was easy to remember MH1-MH9 ran the all day service, MH10-MH14 were the peak hour extras, often turning short at Crouch End Broadway from Finsbury Park to give the passengers there an empty bus to clear the queues. MH15-MH18 were the 212 expresses with blue blinds stopping only at Crouch End Broadway and Alexandra Park Victoria.


The layover at Finsbury Park was only 1 or 2 minutes. The layover at Muswell Hill Broadway was always longer to allow for tea and a quick roll up fag.  I like the picture at the heading to your 212 page. As you can see there were two lanes in the turning circle, which extended both east and west with the canteen in the centre. The west side was for the 212 and the east side for the 244 and short workings on the 43/134. There were strict rules. In the peaks, the outer lane on the east side was for the 212 express only. Your picture must have been taken off peak as RF 352 doesn't seem to be on an express working. On the other side the inner lane was for the 244 and the outer lane for the short working 43 and 134.


Some drivers loved the route as it was local with no trips into the City (43) or the West End (134) but the conductors hated it as all the passengers were rabbits, the garage word for short-hop riders and they were kept busy all through the duty. There were the odd exceptions. I remember a conductor called George who was a complete masochist who loved to get slaughtered with constant three-bell loads and he was happy when the bus in front was missing and we were working a double headway.


RM1621 in original condition at Muswell Hill garage having run in off the 212.  Note the RFs in the background.

Photo Ian Armstrong collection


By mutual consent with the drivers and the engineering staff, there was a banned list for the 212 because the service had to have the best RTs.  The banned list at the time was 477, 882, 2905, 4141 and 4804 - they were only allowed on the 134 or 244.  It's only fair to balance the books and give credit to the really good ones - taking 1964 as the base, then the best RTs to drive were 378, 712, 949, 2235, 2621, 3308, 3780, 4278 and 4560, with 4278 best of all.


The problem with the 212 rota was there was no variety. On the 43 you got out to Chingford Royal Forest Hotel on Sundays on the 102 and better still occasionally to High Beach. I think on summer Sundays about 1 bus in 3 went to High Beach so there was no guarantee your duty would include one of those trips. The High Beach extension was withdrawn for good at the end of 1964 so I was lucky I just got there in time. On the 210 rota you got the longer trips over the 236 on Sundays and on the 134 you got the Sunday only 134A. By the way, GM garage canteen was  generally thought to be the best in the Central Area so the layover there was always enjoyable. On the 244 most Sunday duties were on the 210 to allow for the more frequent service.


The last bus from Finsbury Park in the early hours was MH9 and the checker at Wells Terrace had to keep in touch with the Station Foreman; the all clear to leave was given only when the last Piccadilly line train from the West End had passed through. At this time of course the Victoria Line had not opened.


The route was never the same when the Merlins arrived and OPO began with the W7. We actually looked back happily to the days when passengers were hanging off the rear platform of the RT as it was almost impossible for the conductors to control the number of standing passengers.


Route 244

And finally a few memories of the 244.  My experience of the 244 was limited to overtime and rest day working and unlike other routes you had to be careful not to run early as the service was timetabled.  Early running on the 134 and 43 was something the checkers turned a blind eye to as it was highly likely you would get delayed somewhere along the route so you could bank some time in advance. Timings on the 210 and 212 were tight so it wasn't really an issue.


Perhaps RT4006 is waiting time...  Running south as MH5 to Muswell Hill Broadway, this shot reminds us of more peaceful days, red telephone boxes and United Dairies shops.

Photo © Paul Redmond


Before I arrived the garage had just lost the 251 to EW. All the senior drivers approaching retirement had worked on the 251 rota. To allow them to stay on a quiet route they were transferred to the 244 and there was a general reorganisation. Newcomers to the garage always began on the 134 rota.


You would imagine the first bus out in the morning might have been a 43. In fact it was MH1 on the 244. This early journey was for the benefit of the night staff at the Highlands Hospital coming off duty and in fact this first journey terminated there and returned to Muswell Hill Broadway.  This left before the staff bus arrived (see above), so that was the only duty where you had to walk like it or not.  Very often the crew scheduled for that duty would swap it with a crew who lived very close to the garage


The busy time was in the peaks when the service was extended to Archway to provide much needed help on that busy corridor.



Saunders-bodied RT1236 has turned round the island at Muswell Hill and heads for Highgate Archway Station on the rush hour extension of the 244.

Photo Ian Armstrong collection