Lost In The Thames: A Forgotten Piece Of Transport History

By M@ Last edited 21 months ago
Lost In The Thames: A Forgotten Piece Of Transport History
Image Chris Sampson, creative commons licence.

A peculiar ceremony took place on the Thames in the opening days of 1929. A solitary policeman stood in salute as 60,000 pieces of metal were poured into the river.

That lone sergeant was paying respect to a vanished age. His jettisoned cargo was a huge stockpile of badges, once belonging to London's horse-drawn bus and cab drivers.

Fifteen years earlier, the last horse bus had rattled across Waterloo Bridge. They'd been a familiar part of the capital for almost a century. The internal combustion engine finally and quickly put them out of service.

As part of their duties, drivers and conductors were required to wear a numbered badge, much as police officers still do. That system was shaken up when the horses were retired. More than 60,000 metal badges were collected and put into storage.

A black and white badge, damaged around the edges, bears the inscription 17228 DRIVER
One of the surviving bus badges, at London Transport Museum. Image by the author

The hoard was rediscovered in the late 1920s in the safekeeping of Scotland Yard. The constabulary had no use for the relics. The sacks were taken to scrap merchants but nobody was interested. A few badges were sent to museums, but what to do with the rest? After 'grave deliberation', it was decided to bury the badges at sea.

Or, rather, in the Thames Estuary. And so it was that an unnamed police sergeant accompanied the expired insignia to the Black Deep channel at the mouth of the Thames. As the man saluted, 'unconsciously deputising for millions of horse lovers', the badges sank to the sea bed. Presumably, they lie there still.

Based on an account in the Nottingham Evening Post, 18 January 1929. Another account is here.

Last Updated 14 January 2022