Avondale Bus Garage

Bus Garage

A Sunday treat from the 1920s was to catch a number 9 bus at Mortlake's Avondale Road terminus at 7.45am. The bus would arrive at Romford market two hours later, having passed by many of the historic sites of London – Kensington, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus, and then through the Blackwall tunnel towards the East End. During the week, these buses ran from Mortlake to Liverpool Street with a journey time of 50 minutes.

The London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) acquired land on the south-western end of Avondale Road in 1900. This was to be used as garage with stabling for the horses which drew the early buses. In July 1901 the first six horse buses were used on the Hammersmith to Richmond route. The garage had a cobbled floor with arched doorways leading to the stables whose wall fronted Tinderbox Alley. But the horses were soon made redundant as in July 1906 six De Dion motor buses began working from Avondale Road and by 1909 this had risen to 78 motorised vehicles.

One of these buses was involved in a dramatic accident in January 1907 when it skidded off the road on Barnes Terrace and ended up crashing through the then wooden barrier headfirst into the river. Women bystanders were said to have shrieked and fainted at the sight. No one was seriously hurt; the conductor's money pouch was later found in the Thames mud and the bus was pulled out of the river the following day with a steam roller.

Introduced in 1910, the B-type bus was designed and built in London, and was the first successful mass-produced motor bus. It had a top speed of 16 mph and seated 34 passengers but the open top meant that neither passengers nor drivers had any protection against the weather.

Bus Garage

In the spring of 1914 a total of 30 B-type buses were added to the fleet at Mortlake. Many drivers and conductors lived locally and when war was declared in August 1914 several drivers volunteered and were sent to the Western Front with their requisitioned vehicles. The buses were mainly used as troop carriers, ambulances, or even mobile pigeon lofts while others were converted into lorries. It was dangerous work for the drivers who often took their buses close to the front line and many came under fire. One number 9 bus, B2737, started work in Mortlake before serving in France and Belgium. It returned safely to London after the war and was withdrawn from service in 1922. However, the bus was later restored and in 2014 was painted khaki and toured the battle fields of France and Belgium. It has since been repainted in its civilian LGOC red livery and is now in the London Transport Museum. Over a thousand type-B open-topped buses served in the war.

There were about 85 double decker buses at Avondale Road between the wars and just one single decker, which was used on route 207. This was the golfers' bus, taking players to the golf course in Richmond Park. It is intriguing to note that until 1939 the destination boards on number 9 buses showed "Barnes" even though the route was to and from Mortlake; and even later, some bell-punch tickets showed "Barnes Avondale Road". In 1939 a number 9 bus was scheduled to depart from Mortlake every two minutes for Liverpool Street on weekdays. Even during the London blitz, the frequency was only reduced to every four minutes, although the evening blackouts and bomb damage resulted in many delays and shortages of both buses and staff.

On 25 June 1983 Mortlake garage closed and was demolished later that year. In March 1987 the site nearest to the railway became a small bus station and in July 1992 the last of the double decker Routemasters left Mortlake. Dovecote Gardens was built on the garage site. The 209 bus was introduced in March 1997 and ran from Mortlake to Hammersmith; the number 9 bus now runs from Hammersmith to Aldwych.