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15 July 2023 marks the 110th anniversary of the first ever London night bus: "'The last bus home'", enthused the Daily Mirror, seems likely to become a phrase unknown in London in the near future. There will not in fact, be any last omnibus!"
So what was London's first night bus? At 12.40am on Tuesday 15 July 1913, a London General Omnibus Company double-decker — festooned with an advert for Oakey's Wellington Knife Polish — departed from outside The Crown pub in Cricklewood, bound for for Liverpool Street Station. And with that, the route no. 94 became the first all-night bus service in the city.
Calling at? Maida Vale, Oxford Street, Haymarket, Trafalgar Square, Strand, Fleet Street, Moorgate, London Wall and Bank. All the biggies.
And why Cricklewood? 110 years ago, northwest was particularly cut off from central London at during the wee small hours, so the demand was already there. Simple as that.
Who were the passengers? 24 people were on the bus that set off from Cricklewood (you can see some of them in the picture above). Sadly, it doesn't seem that anyone from the press spoke to them, although the Daily Mirror suggests there were journalists, printers and theatre staff among them. (Come to think of it, why didn't one of the journalists do a gonzo-style write-up? Lazy.) An advert in the 'Train. Omnibus. Tram,' (T.O.T) staff magazine suggests the service was also targeted at postmen, musicians, waiters, servants, those who needed to get to the markets early, and "casual people of all kinds and on sundry errands wanting to travel".
So no one was chowing down on a cheeky shish kebab on the back seat? Doubt it, although a few cigs were probably smoked onboard, especially as the benefits of tobacco were widely proclaimed on the sides of buses back then. Also, the bus didn't have a roof, so it hardly mattered.
How did it go down at the time? This was very much an experiment, and it went well by all accounts. Well, certainly by the account of a London General Omnibus Company official, who said: "The idea seems to have been highly appreciated... Late clubmen in evening dress and opera hats did not disdain the bus for once. Rather, they welcomed the chance of reaching home without the expense of taxi-cabs."
Hang on, if the first night bus ran on 15 July why are you only running this now? Er, TfL sent us the press release on 17 July... possibly in keeping with the occasionally unreliable nature of night buses.
Did the first ever night bus get to Liverpool Street on time? That sadly, isn't recorded. To stay in TfL's good books, though, let's say yes.
What's the legacy of this night bus? London's night buses have become an invaluable service to everyone from cleaners to hospital staff, not to mention being a rite of passage for younger Londoners navigating their way home from a large one, who inevitably catch the one going in the wrong direction and wind up somewhere random like, well, Cricklewood. There are now over 100 night bus routes running in London; unlike the first ever night bus, they all have roofs, although in eternal homage to that pioneering service, there is always someone who insists on keeping the window open, no matter how freezing it is.