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Saturday, 28 September 2013

What goes around....

We were very pleased with our new buses when
they came in 1989:

Metrobuses for 165 and 365 and Olympians for the 252

Friday 27th September was the end of an interesting chapter of London’s bus history, and for me personally. 

In 1988, when working at Ensign Bus Services Ltd, I won four bus routes in Romford – 165, 365, 246 and 446. Two other routes, 248 and 252 were won by East Midlands.
What we started with - all secondhand and all beautifully turned out
At the time, it was the biggest private sector win over London Transport ever. Indeed, it caused Hornchurch Garage to close. The realities of competitive tendering were beginning to dawn on the incumbent operator. 

I remember like it was yesterday, working all night to be ready, with our fleet of buses springing into service in September 1988. East Midlands did not fair so well and we took over their routes too, but not before another long night at start up.
Our second long night involved
absorbing these old Manchester
Atlanteans from East Midland

Our cornerstone of Romford routes were repeatedly tendered and retained although operations physically transferred to a new site at Dagenham Dock. Others tried to unseat us from these routes but we endured.

Over time, Ensign Bus Services' ownership changed – an abortive sale to a US company came and went – and we ended up being owned by CNT Holdings in Hong Kong. In the meantime, London Transport’s buses were also privatized and our nearest neighbour became an operating unit called East London which eventually was sold to Stagecoach.

In due course, in 1995, my management team, led by my great friend Brendan Glyde and I, bought the company. Soon after, these routes were again tendered and retained – much to our relief and despite a massive effort by others to beat us. But by 1998, we had much expanded the business and having exhausted the borrowing capacity and patience of our financial backers, we sold it on to FirstGroup plc.

The business was joined with CentreWest London Buses Ltd – Peter Hendy’s former company now also in FirstGroup ownership. Despite contract churn across East and West London these core routes remained steadfastly in Dagenham Dock with us, although a new depot on a nearby site replaced the old one.

As a director of First, I ceased to have direct management responsibility for London operations in 2005 but continued to keep a fatherly eye on those Romford routes.

So here we are, 25 years later, by a quirk of fate it was me, now in my capacity as MD Surface Transport at TfL, who took them away and gave them (back) to East London – now a subsidiary (for the second time) of Stagecoach.

After a quarter of a century they are returning from whence they came to the “London Transport” operator in the area although Hornchurch Garage itself is no more – indeed is a housing estate.

On Friday, I went to Romford for a nostalgic ride around my old network, reminiscing about how I used to drive on these routes especially late at night and at weekends. Much, of course, has changed in Romford since then. When the routes finished on Friday night, it completed First's exit from London and the last real traces of my old company.

To all who made that chapter so enjoyable – employees of Ensignbus, Capital Citybus, and First – thank you and enjoy the memory! 

Top - the old Hornchurch Garage which closed
Bottom - Dagenham Dock - an open space with a maintenance
shed and fuel tank in the most exposed and uninhabited
place in England - or so it seemed!


  1. I recall 1988 well - East Midland's short-lived presence resulted in a strange working from their home territory down to the capital, usually with a Bristol RE, in service and with a stop in central Cambridge but avoiding the bus station. Presumably the main intention being to rotate crew and vehicles about, it remained an odd sight and for that period was the only bus service of any sort on the road where I lived...

  2. thanks for the memories Leon,Those late nights blind changing,fish and chips,legal lettering,fleet name sticking ...have I missed anything?

  3. These were great memories with a first class team at all levals.

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  5. what about the cornucopia of all-over advert buses that Ensign put around Romford at the time

    and the best one of all - PRITT STICK