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Sunday, 6 February 2011

A return to February 1956

Today we celebrated 55 years since the first Routemaster RM1 entered service on route 2 from Golders Green to Crystal Palace.

After well over a year of testing it made its first tentative steps in service in the snow of February 1956.

So, over half a century later, there are still some Routemasters in service in London and over 2800 examples have been built. Quite a few are now in one form of preservation or another and today nearly 20 of them made expeditions from the north and elsewhere to recreate that first journey. Herded together by the Routemaster Association the main group rendezvoused at Scratchwood services near the southern end if the M1.

But I had the greatest honour of all as I was able to bring the original RM1 from its home at the Acton depot of the London Transport Museum and close on 0940 this morning re-enter Golders Green bus station.

Aboard were various volunteers and friends of the LT Museum, plus supporters from the wider preservation movement. Graham Smith was turned out in period Conductor uniform complete with Gibson ticket machine of course.

We managed to get RM1 placed in Golders Green bus station in as close a place as we could to where it was on 8th February 1956 and made a 10am departure for Crystal Palace. The journey was photographed and filmed extensively and we made a photo stop in Vauxhall Bridge Road to try and replicate the ones taken at the time. We also stopped on Vauxhall Bridge itself to allow the convoy to catch up. Whilst we were there one of the DUKW vehicles passed us then made its way down the slipway alongside MI6 and into the water. More than one person remarked what an odd scene it was. A collection of historic vehicles lined up on Vauxhall Bridge but everyone stood with their backs to them and filming the river instead.

RM1 sported its brand new destination blind set made by Mike Welch and team. It has panels for routes 2 and 260, plus a period PRIVATE panel of the era and special displays for the Museum. All were displayed during the day.

We made it to Crystal Palace and later retired to the coach park and posed under the transmitter aerial. Eventually the entire group was lined up. Many thanks to Adam Conner who is the Routemaster Association's Event's Officer for organising it, to all those who brought their vehicles to this tremendous occasion, and to L T Museum for making it possible for RM1 to come.

The route 2 of 1956 is rather different from today's so yes I had my iPad propped up in the cab (you might see the black square in the photos!) to use its GPS and mapping capability. Who would have thought 55 years ago anyone would be using satnav in a Routemaster!

John Lidstone and Mark Kehoe captured the day on video and in digital photography. John took the top one of me at Golders Green and Mark the one with Graham Smith before we left Acton.



  1. Is there any truth in the rumour that RM1 is to be restored to original 1954 condition by having it's original bonnet re-fitted Leon?

  2. If I have anything to do with it! Meanwhile there is progress on RM2's which is being constructed now.

  3. And where was your uniform then?

  4. Despite the photographic about-face, surely it's worth mentioning that the DUKW is historic in its own right? Any surviving example (even if butchered for a second life in the tourist trade) has several years head-start on even RM1...

  5. That's good to know Leon, hopefully the restoration of RM1's original front will be completed in time for the bus's 60TH birthday.

  6. Hi Leon,

    Please let me know your email address as I would like to propose a feature for the next issue of the RM magazine -