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By Bus To School In The 1950's - A Story From Chris Jenner
My family's only means of travel in the 1950’s was by bus - and that bus was a London Transport RT. I suppose that was what made me interested in buses, and resulted, amongst other things, in my compiling scrapbooks containing anything I found about them. This was of course, after I learnt to read!
I started school in September 1952 - one month short of my 5th birthday. We lived in Plumstead at the time and I was sent to a small private school in Belvedere, 4 miles distant. Initially, my Mum took me on the bus - the 99 - but as the school did not provide dinners she not only had to take me, but meet me at lunchtime and feed me sandwiches in the nearby park!
Understandably, Mum soon tired of this performance, particularly as winter was approaching, and it was agreed that she would take me to the bus stop and put me on the bus.
Armed with my fare (3d, if I remember right) and a note to the conductor which read 'Please put Christopher off at the Eardley Arms’, I began my regular commute on the 99. My return fare was wrapped in my handkerchief, which made nose blowing difficult!
Bearing in mind the necessity of returning home for lunch, this procedure would be repeated in the afternoon, but as it was necessary for me to fend for myself at the ‘distant’ end of this journey, the taking to the bus stop, and collecting from same, was soon after dispensed with.
I was quite happy to travel alone - I was not the only 5-year-old to do so, though I think mine was the longest journey. In those days, it was expected that a child would give up their seat to an adult, and though RT’s thankfully had plenty of places to hold on to, I could only reach the tops of the seats. Many times (or so it seemed!) I and my traveling companions would end up on the floor when the driver braked sharply. Another problem was that I couldn’t reach the bell cord, but I soon learned of the ‘secret’ conductor’s bell push beneath the stairs!
My reading was not particularly advanced when I started school, but I soon learned to read the digits ’99’ on the front of the bus, and ‘Frith’ (because the blind always seemed to be slightly mis-set, so that the ‘E’ of Erith always appeared as an ’F’) on my way to school and ‘Woolwich’ on my way home. Avoid at all costs ‘Plumstead Garage’, which was not actually on the route, and would have left me in uncharted territory!
I remember nothing but kindness from the drivers and conductors on the 99. Once, I lost my return fare. The conductor still issued me with a ticket and told me to pay him the next time I saw him. I carried this additional 3d around with me for weeks before, with great relief, I saw him again. I suffered from Asthma, as did many children (or so it seemed) in those smoggy days, and I once had such a bad attack that I collapsed as I got on the bus and was quite unable to get up. The conductor lifted me up, put me on the rear bench seat, and made sure I got off at my stop in Plumstead. Fortunately, that was in the early days when Mum still met me at the bus stop.
School was situated between stops, and I and my companions always got off before the school, at The Eardley Arms. Just occasionally the conductor would tell us not to alight, ring the bus away, whilst nodding to the driver who was looking over his shoulder, and the bus would stop outside the school. Being seen by our school friends getting off the 99 outside the school was a matter of great esteem, and never seemed to be matched by those traveling in the opposite direction.
And so, for five years, I travelled on an RT on the 99 - two return journeys a day, totaling 16 miles - 80 miles a week! Because of this, I soon became known to the regular crews on the 99 and was often greeted with a cheery ‘hello Christopher’ as I boarded the bus.
Our thanks to Chris Jenner for his story of travelling to school in his early years. If you have a story to share with fellow members just click the button below to email us.