Sunday 17 July 2011

From the archives: London's first buses, the Lewisham connection

London's first bus route may have been north of the river, but south-east London has been crucial to the story too.

London's early buses have been mentioned here in passing, but did you know that two of the most significant figures in the city's bus history had Lewisham connections? They were George Shillibeer, who introduced the omnibus, and Thomas Tilling, who introduced bus timetables.

Shillibeer was a real innovator, if not a great businessman. He had seen omnibuses on the streets of Paris and felt that there was scope for a similar service in London. Unlike the existing stagecoaches, omnibuses were cheaper and did not have to be booked in advance. Launched on 4 July 1829, they were a success and spread throughout London - but so did competitors' services, followed by the railways. Shillibeer went out of business (and instead built combined hearses and mourning coaches - without much success), but is still remembered for his pivotal role in the city's public transport.

However, the original omnibus route was in central London, running from Paddington along Marylebone Road and down City Road into Bank. What, then, was the Lewisham connection? According to John Coulter's Lewisham & Deptford, it was a crucial one. Shillibeer built his omnibuses in a yard at 4 New Cross Road; the site is now Chesterfield Way.

Thomas Tilling bought his first bus in 1850; it came with the right to run 4 journeys a day from Peckham to Oxford Street. His particular innovation was to introduce a fixed timetable with set stops, making the service more predictable and reliable. Not only was his bus business a success; he also supplied horses to organisations including the Metropolitan Fire Service. By the time of his death, he was the largest supplier of horses and vehicles in London; his company survived into the mid-twentieth century. Tilling lived in Lewisham, at Perry Hill Farm, Sydenham.


Jenny Woolf said...

It must have been so exciting to see the world open up in the early 19th century. We forget that, looking at the quaint old buses and trains. I didn't know there was the SE London connection.

Jenny Woolf said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jenny Woolf said...

By the way I would like to subscribe to your blog ,as I'm intersted in this bit of London. But, I'm not getting feeds if I subscribe via the feed - I don't know why but no doubt one of the glitches that seem to plague Google connect. Any chance you could enable a followers button?

CarolineLD said...

Thank you, Jenny, and sorry you're having problems with the feed - the 'follow' link is in the toolbar at the top of the page.