Appearing in public for the first time and featuring advertisements from the pre-war era - including Camp coffee, Veno’s cough medicine and Wright’s coal tar soap, you can check this bus out in Covent Garden looking resplendent in its red and cream livery in the early summer sunshine.
Throughout the day yesterday the public were welcomed on board the bus to admire the decoration on the lower deck saloon with its wooden fretwork panels and the original cushioned moquette fabric seat covering design, recreated thanks to a fragment of material that was discovered during the restoration process. After navigating the narrow staircase, it was hard not to imagine the challenges of travelling on board the upper deck with its exposure to the elements and signs warning passengers ‘keep your arm inside and do not lean over the side of the omnibus otherwise you may receive some hurt’.
There will be only a limited number of opportunities to admire the restored bus before its transformation into a war time ‘Battle Bus’ in September, after which it will embark on a tour to the battlefields of France and Belgium to commemorate the sacrifices made by so many, including bus drivers, mechanics and transport workers during the First World War.
One of only four surviving B-type London buses, bus No. B2737 was built at the AEC Works in Walthamstow in 1914 and served on route 9 out of Mortlake garage in south west London operating between Barnes and Liverpool Street. Single ordinary tickets cost 3½d.
The bus has cost around £250,000 to restore and was made possible with a grant of just over £750,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), and further funding from the London Transport Museum Friends and public donations. Features include original and reproduced enamel advertisements and passenger information from the period including signs featuring instructions and warnings such as ‘No spitting’ and ‘Beware of pickpockets, male and female’. The remainder of the HLF grant covers a range of activities including an apprenticeship programme and collections support. It is also funding a programme of learning and participation which will ensure that communities across London will have the chance to see and learn about B2737, B-type buses and their role in the First World War through community exhibitions and a touring programme.
The lower deck saloon is decorated with wooden fretwork panels displaying a motif and is equipped with electric lighting which was first introduced on buses in 1912. The original cushioned moquette fabric seat covering design has been recreated thanks to a fragment of material that was discovered during the restoration process. It was woven by Holdsworth & Co, the same Yorkshire company that produced the original B-type moquette. The open top deck seats are fitted with wet-weather canvas lap covers and a sign warning passengers ‘… not to stand up while the omnibus is passing under railway bridges’.
The restoration project was led by London Transport Museum curator, Tim Shields working with independent restorer Richard Peskett. The team sourced and utilised a variety of original but decayed parts, including B-type bodies, chassis, gearboxes and an engine, in order to produce a moving memorial to the London bus drivers of 100 years ago. The restoration is part of a wider five year programme of activities with volunteers and apprentices across the entire centenaries of the war until 2018 and made possible thanks to support of the HLF and London Transport Museum Friends.
Visitors to London Transport Museum are able to find out more about the role of B-type buses at home and abroad at a special exhibition to commemorate the First World War. Goodbye Piccadilly – from Home Front to Western Front commemorates the contribution of London’s motor buses and their drivers and mechanics to the First World War and the upheaval for Londoners on what became for the first time the ‘Home Front’.