Brief History of Route 47, its buses and bus workers

London Transport Bus Route 47

The Route

Thomas Tilling Ltd’s motor buses started operation as route 47 between Shoreditch and Bromley on 20 July 1912, replacing a horse bus route from ‘The City’ to Lewisham.

LCC Tram and horse bus (possibly predecessor to route 47) in Jamaica Road. ‘c. 1900’ is questionable – electric trams did not run on this road until 1911.
From ‘Pictures of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe’ Website

Thomas Tilling Ltd

Thomas Tilling was a pioneering bus operator, becoming a ‘job master’ in 1847 with a horse and carriage for hire, and acquiring his first bus in 1849. By 1900, the business owned 7,000 horses and 250 buses. The Company also hired horses to haulage business, taxis and even the competitor South London Tramways Company.

Joint working with the London General Omnibus Company, London’s principal bus operator began in 1908, and came to route 47, by then extended south to Farnborough (Kent), in 1914.  Until 1953, an extension to Knockholt Pound on summer Sundays offered day trips to London’s countryside.

The route was gradually cut back from Farnborough to Bellingham in the 1980s.  Apart from changes for road re-alignments and pedestrianisation, and the 1999 diversion via Canada Water Station, the route is unchanged.

Video taken in 1999 of journey from Shoreditch to Bellingham by user ‘LondonBuses47’  (not me)

In 1950, buses ran as frequently as every 2 minutes on Saturdays, requiring 71 buses. Today 17 buses are required, with at best a bus every 10 minutes.

The Buses

Tillings standardised on petrol-electric buses, similar in principle to today’s ‘hybrid’ diesel-electric buses.  These provided a smoother journey than the alternative ‘crash’ gearboxes, and were easier for former horse-bus drivers to master.  General provided its famous ‘B Type’ buses – one of many generations of AEC built London buses culminating in the Routemaster.

1930 AEC Regent (‘Tilling ST’ type) at Bromley Common, Crown Lane, 1935 from London Transport Museum collection

Tillings also became an AEC customer in the 1930s.  London Transport was formed in 1933, taking over both General and Tillings’ London operations (and London’s underground railways and tramways.)  Tillings’ became a major bus operating group outside London, selling to the newly formed, state owned, British Transport Commission in 1948.

RT type buses at Farnborough terminus, c. 1948-52 from London Transport Museum collection

The Routemaster’s predecessor, the ‘RT’ type operated on route 47 from 1948 to 1975, and Routemasters from 1966 to 1984. Conductor operation continued until 1986 with front entrance Leyland ‘Titan’ buses.

Routemaster crossing London Bridge, 1975 from London Transport Museum collection

The Bus Crews

In the 1850s, omnibus drivers and ‘cads’ (conductors) told social researcher Henry Mayhew they “never had time to look out for a wife”, or had often “fallen asleep on my step.”

The move from small scale ‘masters’ to large corporations in the Edwardian era brought about a semi military style of management, improvements to conditions and facilities, reduced working hours, and a more fertile ground for trade union organisation.

Cricklewood (London General Omnibus Co) bus garage canteen, 1911 from London Transport Museum collection

Cutting (from New York Times, 18 September 1913) about threatened strike involving Tillings’ bus-men in dispute over wearing of trade union badges.

In 1922, LGOC drivers were paid up to £ 5 per week, conductors £ 4 – 7 s (£ 4.35), and before 1939, bus work was among the best paid ‘working class’ jobs.

As wages were held down to keep fares low, the 1952 wage rates of £ 7 – 4s (£ 7.20) for drivers and £ 7 – 2s 6d (£ 7.12 1/2) for conductors were nearly £ 2 a week behind 1922 rates if compared to increases in retail prices over the same period, and only slightly more than half the 1922 rate when compared to average earnings.

Post war industrial relations were not good, with an 8 week strike in 1958 contributing to the spiral of staff shortage, fewer passengers and reduced services.

As men joined the armed services after 1914, women took over many ‘mens jobs’, bus conducting being a high profile example.

London’s first woman conductor, 1915, with Thomas Tilling Ltd but not on route 47 – the destination board on the bus suggests route 37. (from London Transport Museum collection)

The World War 2 generation of women conductors were, despite objections from some of their male colleagues, allowed to stay, and new women recruits were sought.  However, womens’ opportunities to become drivers or inspectors only came with 1970s legislation.

Woman conductor, 1941 loading a sand-bag for use in case of an incendiary bomb attack. (from London Transport Museum collection)

Article (Observer, 1 June 2008) about equal pay for women – includes photograph (Getty Images) of London women bus conductors protesting for equal conditions and promotion opportunities.

While London’s first black bus driver took to the wheel in 1910, bus work became a highly visible role undertaken by commonwealth immigrants from the mid 1950s, with London Transport running recruitment exercises in the Carribean from 1956.

London Transport recruitment office in Barbados, 1956 (from London Transport Museum collection)

Route 47’s bus crews have been based at Bromley (1924 to 1985), Dalston (1914 to 1981),  (briefly) Ash Grove and Clapton garages, and earlier Tilling premises in Lewisham and Walworth.  Catford Garage, sole operator of the route since 1985, had an allocation between 1920 – 1924 and continuously since 1950.

Sources / References / Further Reading


T Cooper (ed) The Wheels Used to Talk to Us, (Sheaf Publishing, Sheffield, 1977)

Ken Glazier, Routes to Recovery – London Buses 1945 – 1952, (Capital Transport, Harrow Weald, 2000)

Henry Mayhew, Mayhew’s London (edited by Peter Quennell – being selections from ‘London Labour and the London Poor, 1851), (Spring Books, London, 1969)

George Robbins, Tilling in London, (Capital Transport, Harrow Weald, 1986)

E R Oakley, London County Council Tramways (London Tramways History Group, London, Vol 1 1989, Vol. 2 1991)

J S Wagstaff, Bus Crew, London 1924-70, (Sheaf Publishing, Sheffield, 1979) 

Other Publications

London Transport, Allocation of Scheduled Buses, 3 April 1950 edition


Black History Month, Features. Article re Joe Clough, London’s first black bus driver. URL

‘Guardian’ newspaper, article re womens’ rights at work – URL Article in ‘Guardian’ 1 June 2008.

London Bus Routes websites – URL and

London Transport Museums, photograph collection  – URL

Measuring Worth – URL 

New York Times archive, article re 1913 strike –URL res=F40D14F6395B13738DDDA10994D1405B838DF1D3

Pictures of Bermondsey & Rotherhithe, URL

Trade Union Badge Collectors Society website URL