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The Routemaster Bus


By the end of 1947, London Transport employed nearly 100,000 people – including 11,220 bus conductors, 8,283 drivers and 803 inspectors. The company even had its own butchery at Griffin House in Marylebone until 1955 so that its canteens could feed the hundreds of staff on their breaks.

drivers sitting on wall Abbey Wood Garage 1970
Drivers sitting on a wall outside the Abbey Wood Garage, 1970
© photo John King
There was also a staff hospital, two convalescent homes, social clubs, sports fields, and a library – so a bus driver or conductor could gear his or her whole life around London Transport!

At this time, the company’s workers were well respected and they wore their uniforms with pride. But from 1948 onwards, London Transport found it a struggle to attract staff, mainly because of the long hours and poor pay, and it became especially difficult to fill the lower grade jobs.

In the British West Indies, populations were growing fast and jobs were scarce. After the second world war, thousands of Caribbean people made the long journey from the West Indies to the “mother country” to find work.

The SS Empire Windrush arrived at Tilbury Docks in Essex in 1948, bringing West Indian immigrants to London. Some of those Windrush passengers were temporarily housed in Clapham Common air-raid shelter, making Coldharbour Lane in Brixton the nearest labour exchange (job centre).

This made Brixton the first stop for the next waves of Caribbean arrivals. London Transport also opened a recruiting office in nearby Camberwell, providing jobs for some of the West Indian immigrants.

 West Indian ticket collector on a London Transport Bus, 10th September 1958
A West Indian ticket collector on a London Transport bus, September 1958
© TopFoto.co.uk

In 1956, London Transport began to recruit directly from Barbados, inviting men and women to become bus conductors, underground staff and canteen assistants. The Barbados government lent recruits the fare to Britain, which they then paid back over two years. London Transport recruited in Barbados until 1970 and extended the scheme to Jamaica and Trinidad for a year in 1966.

New recruits were quickly placed in jobs as transport, building and maintenance staff. Bus crews were trained at Chiswick and underground staff at Acton. There were new skills to learn, a new currency to deal with and a strange city to become accustomed to. Many recruits were already skilled and well educated, but accepted lower status jobs in the hope of gaining promotion or moving to other employment.

Despite the many vacancies, some white staff felt threatened by the newcomers and trade unions tried to place a quota on the number of immigrants recruited and the type of work available to them. Gradually the new workforce became an established part of London Transport and many of those who remained slowly gained promotion within the company.

Over the years, technological advances have meant that work has become less labour intensive and fewer staff are needed to run the capital’s transport system. The restructuring of London Transport in the 1980s and 1990s brought redundancies and new working practices. Many services, including buses and catering, are now operated by private companies.