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Since the late 1920s, various operators have run luxury coach services from the outer suburbs into central London. These were luxury in the sense that they were usually better fitted with upholstered seats and ran at regular intervals and at a higher average speed than the motor buses. (The latter were often anything but luxurious, with hard wooden seats and had no roofs against the elements on the upper deck.) They also ran to a published timetable, and did not require prebooking of seats.
Gradually these independent coach operators were bought out by the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC), which rebranded all such routes under the name “Green Line” — they also registered the names “Red Line”, “Yellow Line” and “Blue Line”, though they never used them. The LGOC became the main road component of London Transport, which continued to run the services and developed more.
This section gives a brief history of the Green Line operations, the routes and some of the coaches used. I have included lists of detailed changes in the services provided for a small number of them (mostly those that went into Kent); you can see how, over the years, the routes were tinkered with, or massively changed.
Initially the routes terminated in central London, but later, in the early 1930s, pairs were joined so that they crossed from one side of the city to the other. This eased congestion in the centre and allowed Ecclestone Bridge, Victoria to become an important interchange point, as many of them ran through there. Most of the routes from east London terminated at Aldgate, as they were not permitted to ‘clutter up’ the streets of the City. I have provided a number of maps of the early services, which also show all the major towns serviced.
See also my page devoted to London buses; and the pages on Trams and Trolleybuses, Railways in Britain, London Underground, Railways abroad and another on Aircraft and Airports. The main transport page has details.
Green Line is one of the most successful public transport brands in Britain — and has survived the upheaval and legislative change of many successive Transport Acts — despite having abandoned most of the services for which it was famous!
The London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) was a pioneer in the field of excursions to the countryside at weekends before the First World War. It made sense to utilise the vehicles that would be otherwise idle — but soon, daily services were running from central London to destinations such as Westerham, Windsor, St. Albans, Wormley and Epping Forest, which were extremely remote from the bustle of London at the time. War-time shortage and requisition of transport put an end to the services, and they didn’t resume until the turn of the decade. By 1930, over 30 daily services formed a radiating pattern to almost every principal town within a 30-mile radius of the capital.
The General didn’t have it all to themselves, and a large number of competitive services began to clog the streets of central London. It seems incredible that buses alone could cause traffic congestion! The Metropolitan police were strict and insisted on absolute control over service licensing in central London, but the 1924 London Traffic Act did not cover the outer London Traffic Area (up to 25 miles radius from Charing Cross). The way was therefore open for coaches to operate as short-stage carriages into London from this area, and a large number of ‘pirate’ services started up at this time. Examples are:
The next step was the registration of Green Line Coaches Limited on 9th July 1930. Within weeks, new services started running to Guildford, Brentwood, Sunningdale, Maidenhead, Ascot, Tring, Welwyn and Harpenden. Many of these were operated by National and East Surrey on their behalf — but branded Green Line. Many more were proposed but not implemented. On Christmas Day the new coach station at Poland Street was opened to answer criticism from the police that excessive congestion was caused by coaches laying over in central London — also remedied by linking pairs of routes into through services. 25 vehicles per hour were passing through Poland Street at this time. There soon started a desperate race to get services operating before the cut-off date of 9th February 1931 — after which the Traffic Commissioners would grant a license only if a need for a service was demonstrated.
From February, the use of letters to distinguish coach routes started — carried on the route boards and publicity material — often taking the initial letter of the destination, such as:
There now began a process whereby the competitors were systematically absorbed or driven off the road — and thus companies such as Skylark, Bucks Expresses, Regent, Associated Coaches, Blue Belle, Acme Pullman, Red Rover and Queen Line passed into oblivion or concentrated on out-of-town business. In 1933, Green Line was itself absorbed — into the new London Passenger Transport Board. Poland Street coach station was closed, and almost all routes were re-organised into a newly-lettered, cross-London route structure. The new powers granted to the LPTB were put to use in acquiring the businesses of Prices Super Coaches, Batten’s Luxurious, Premier Line, Hillman, Upminster, West London, Sunset Saloon, Strawhatter, Fleet Transport and, finally, Tilbury Coaching. The remaining years to the outbreak of World War 2 in 1939 were taken up with recasting the various competitive services into an efficient and carefully-timed network.
With the impending outbreak of War, all services were summarily withdrawn, and buses were substituted on sections of route which thereby lost all service. The vehicles — all single-deck coaches — were immediately converted to ambulances by removing seats and installing stretcher racks. They were positioned ready to evacuate hospitals in case of air-raids. History shows that the raids did not come for nearly a year, and the folly of having such a huge fleet of vehicles standing idle became apparent. When bombing began to disrupt rail transport more severly, the flexible nature of the Green Line network became apparent. Slowly, services built up again, often run by red buses! By September 1942, fuel and rubber shortages resulted in the suspension of services once again, and many redundant vehicles went into the bus fleet. Others became mobile canteens for the US Army abroad, and a dozen never returned.
When services resumed in February 1946, it was obvious that the pre-war system was not going to be restored. Hitchin and Chertsey were linked for the first time, and services were numbered in a new series from 700 upwards. By mid-summer, the new services were almost all running, and carrying the new, yellow blind with black lettering. The network was carefully planned to make the best use of the staff shift patterns, with one round, cross-London trip occupying a full shift and including a meal break at the distant end. Loadings were quickly built up, and soon pre-war ridership was restored, but on a vehicle mileage reduced by 20 percent — showing the efficiency gains at work. Virtually all services were worked by single-deck vehicles of Q, TF and 10T10 classes, with utility Daimler double-deckers quickly coming to the high-frequency, short routes from the East end into Essex. Services operated for many years with almost no modification apart from attention to the fares tables in 1950 to harmonise the cost of transport modes within Greater London. Passenger journeys rose from 25 million in 1947 to 30 million in 1952 — and later to a peak levels of 36 million in 1957, 1959 and 1960. This was in contrast to the central area where journeys peaked in 1951. New RT type vehicles displaced the utility buses running from Romford garage on routes 721, 722 and 726.
Destination Blind for Route 723
Route 722A E-Plate – route 722 ran from Aldgate via Mile End, Bow, Stratford, Forest Gate, Manor Park, Ilford, Becontree Heath, Romford, Hornchurch and Upminster to Corbets Tey. Route 722A was planned to run from Aldgate to North Romford (Chase Cross), but it was cancelled before service started owing to objections from Central Buses.
In 1951 (Festival of Britain year) the first RF type coaches appeared, and 263 spread throughout the network within 10 months (apart from the East end) where they rapidly set new standards of comfort and reliability. 1953 saw the introduction of the first ‘orbital’ route to the south of London, where loadings quickly built up, as other transport modes did not provide this function. The reshaping of services to serve the New Towns began in 1954. With the ending of fuel rationing as a result of the Suez crisis, private motoring began to increase substantially. From 1960, the story is a sad one of decline.
The first Routemaster coaches appeared in 1962, allocated to the New Town services 715, 716, 718, 719 and 720. Since the new coaches offered greater capacity, there were some reductions in frequency to match. More Routemasters, of the stretched RCL class appeared in 1965. Sadly, neither did anything to revive the network’s flagging fortunes. The new, electric railway services to the East end and Euston marked a major change in the competitive environment. The elderly RF fleet was updated by re-styling and refurbishing from 1965, and the first One-Man-Operated orbital service 724 was introduced in 1966. The orbital routes were the most successful of the many experiments of these years — 724 High Wycombe-Watford-Harlow-Romford; 725 Windsor-Kingston-Croydon-Gravesend; and 727 Crawley-Gatwick Airport-Heathrow-Watford-Luton. Double-manning with conductors was unsustainably expensive, and all the single-deck routes were converted by 1969, often with reduced frequency as well, not a move that attracted passengers — particularly as timekeeping became worse with traffic congestion.
On 1st January 1970, Green Line passed with the country area buses to the National Bus Company. There continued a spiral of decline in which conductors, vehicles and routes were pruned back to the point where the remaining services were unattractive and unviable. New one-man Reliance coaches replaced all the double-deckers from 1972, and RF coaches were swept away by a tide of off-the-peg Leyland Nationals. These were replaced, in turn by ‘proper’ Reliance coaches from 1977 on routes that returned to a radial pattern, which reduced the effect of congestion on timekeeping. Harking back to the ‘orbital’ routes was the introduction of a number of fast JETLINK services which provided useful transfer journeys. Emerging traffic centres such as Thorpe Park and Brent Cross Shopping Centre were served by diversion from established routes. In addition, many services were worked on a seasonal basis, for example to the south coast resorts. In 1979 the last cross-London route finished.
In 1980, the market for coach services of over 30 miles was de-regulated, and Green Line was able to extend its routes to logical termini in good traffic centres such as Cambridge, Oxford, Northampton and Brighton. In addition, commuter journeys were encouraged by starting early-morning services from edge-of-town locations and running via the motorway network to central locations, avoiding tube transfer where possible. Airport links were developed into an important network, with new routes established from Luton to London via Brent Cross (757), Gatwick to Heathrow (747), Gatwick to Victoria (777) and Heathrow to Victoria (767). Also, by association with other National Express operators, Green Line coaches could be found in far-away places like Cardiff, Wolverhampton Manchester, and Southend. In 1989 a new company, Speedlink Airport Services was established (now renamed AirLink), which took over the Flightline and Jetlink brands from the successors of London Country — although still within the same holding group. Now the Speedlink services are owned by National Express.
It is sad to relate that the initiatives such as motorway routing have turned into a disadvantage, now that the London motorway network has turned into a virtual car park at peak hours. Surely, the answer lies in reducing the number of cars using what would otherwise be an excellent network? London Transport has tried to axe the popular Expresslink 726, remnant of the first orbital route, which is popular simply because it cuts across other transport links and enables journeys that would otherwise involve several changes. Fortunately, it survives, operated by Capital Logistics, but now only runs as far as Bromley.
To finish on a political note, Green Line is a brand owned and operated by a group of constituents of the internationally prominent ARRIVA company (previously Cowie). The only local identity to avoid the otherwise all-encompassing turquoise livery, or London variant, is... GREEN LINE. Go to the Green Line web pages and look at the routes, timetables and tours. Let’s look forward to a Centenary celebration, rather than backwards to a less than happy Golden Jubilee.
The following represent the main routes used between the late 1920s and 1980; “see here” means that there is a fairly complete account of the service on this page; “see part here” means that the information only covers a small part of the story of that route.
GRAVESEND – DARTFORD – LONDON (see here)
WROTHAM – Farningham – Swanley – LONDON (see here)
TUNBRIDGE WELLS – Sevenoaks – Green Street Green – Bromley – LONDON (see here)
SEVENOAKS – Westerham – Westerham Hill – Bromley – LONDON (see here)
WESTERHAM – Warlingham – Croydon – Brixton – LONDON (see here)
OXTED – Warlingham – Croydon – Brixton – LONDON (see here)
EAST GRINSTEAD – Godstone – Caterham – Croydon – Brixton – LONDON (see here)
GODSTONE – Caterham-on-the-Hill – Croydon – Brixton – LONDON (see here)
CRAWLEY – Gatwick Airport – Redhill – Croydon – Brixton – LONDON
REIGATE – Sutton – Tooting – LONDON
DORKING – Leatherhead – Epsom – Tooting – LONDON
DORKING – Leatherhead – Chessington – Kingston – Richmond – Hammersmith – LONDON
GUILDFORD – Esher – Roehampton – Hammersmith – Shepherd’s Bush – LONDON
WOKING – Weybridge – Kingston – Richmond – Hammersmith – LONDON
CHERTSEY – Weybridge – Kingston – Richmond – Hammersmith – LONDON
SUNNINGDALE – Virginia Water – Staines – Hounslow – Hammersmith – LONDON (see here)
ASCOT – Virginia Water – Staines – Hounslow – Hammersmith – LONDON (see here)
WINDSOR – Staines – Kingston – Chelsea – LONDON
WINDSOR – Slough – Heathrow Airport – Hammersmith – LONDON (see here)
HIGH WYCOMBE – Beaconsfield – Gerrards X – Uxbridge – Ealing – Shepherd’s B – LONDON
AMERSHAM – Gerrards Cross – Uxbridge – Ealing – Shepherd’s Bush – LONDON
AMERSHAM – Rickmansworth – Northwood – Sudbury – Wembley – LONDON (see here)
CHESHAM – Amersham – Gerrards Cross – Uxbridge – Ealing – Shepherd’s Bush – LONDON
AYLESBURY – Tring – Berkhamsted – Watford – Edgware – Cricklewood – LONDON (see here)
HEMEL HEMPSTEAD – Watford – Stanmore – Willesden – LONDON
HEMEL HEMPSTEAD – Kings Langley – Watford – Edgware – Cricklewood – LONDON (see
WHIPSNADE ZOO – St Albans – Barnet – Golders Gn – LONDON
DUNSTABLE – St. Albans – Borehamwood – Golders Green – LONDON
LUTON – Harpenden – St. Albans – Borehamwood – Golders Green – LONDON
LUTON – Harpenden – St. Albans – Barnet – LONDON
HITCHIN – Stevenage – Welwyn – Hatfield – Barnet – Golders Green – LONDON
WELWYN GARDEN CITY – Hatfield – Barnet – Golders Green – LONDON (see part here)
STEVENAGE – Welwyn – Hatfield – Barnet – Golders Green – LONDON
HERTFORD – Hoddesdon – Cheshunt – Edmonton – Finsbury Park – LONDON
HERTFORD – Ware – Hoddesdon – Enfield – Finsbury Park – LONDON
BISHOPS STORTFORD – Old Harlow – Epping – Loughton – Stratford – LONDON
HARLOW New Tn – Epping – Loughton – Chingford – Walthamstow – Finsbury Pk – LONDON
HARLOW NEW TOWN – Epping – Loughton – Wanstead – Stratford – LONDON
BRENTWOOD – Romford – Ilford – Stratford – LONDON
HAROLD HILL – Romford – Stratford – LONDON
CORBET’S TEY – Upminster – Hornchurch – Romford – Ilford – Stratford – LONDON (see
GRAYS – Aveley LCC Estate – Dagenham – Barking – East Ham – LONDON
TILBURY – Grays – Aveley LCC Estate – Dagenham – Barking – East Ham – LONDON
TILBURY – Grays – Aveley – Dagenham – Barking – East Ham – LONDON
GRAVESEND – Dartford – Bromley – West Croydon – Kingston – Staines – WINDSOR (see here)
LUTON – St Albans – Watford Junction – Uxbridge – Heathrow – Reigate – Gatwick – CRAWLEY
Service letters or numbers: C, AC, D; C1, C2; 704, 705
This route ran from Romford to Staines via Abridge, Epping, Harlow, Hertford, Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, St. Albans, Watford, Rickmansworth, Uxbridge and Heathrow Airport. It had previously run to High Wycombe instead of Staines, but was rerouted in the early 1970s with the growth of travel to Heathrow Airport. The 724 survives as the last remnant of the “’round-London” routes introduced in the 1950s (725, later 725/726: Gravesend – Windsor; now X26 Croydon – Heathrow) and 1960 (724 and 727: Luton – Heathrow – Crawley).It was operated by RF coaches, subsequently RPs and later Leyland Nationals. It was once a major link and remains alive and well, operating daily with coaches hourly (2-hourly on Sundays) between Harlow and Heathrow.
This route ran between Gravesend (Clock Tower) and Windsor Bus Station, but, unlike most Green Line coach routes which ran though central London, this took a circular route via Northfleet, Dartford, Bexley, Sidcup, Chislehurst, Bromley, Beckenham, Croydon, Wallington, Sutton, Cheam, Worcester Park, Kingston, Hampton Court, Sunbury, Ashford, Staines, Egham and Englefield Green. The route was worked from Northfleet [NF] and Windsor [WR] garages.
This route was originally a summer-only route which ran between Romford and Whipsnade Zoo via Chadwell Heath, Ilford, Stratford, Aldgate, Baker Street, Finchley, Golders Green, Barnet and St, Albans. In the early 1960s it was extended in the east to Harold Hill Estate for a few summers. By 1964 it had become a limited stop service runing via the M1 and Edgware instead of St. Albans and Barnet, but nonetheless could not compete with the private motorcar and disappeared before the end of the decade.
The 726 was re-introduced in the late 1970s as part of the 725 rerouted via Heathrow Airport. It ran from Gravesend to Windsor with route 725 via Northfleet, Dartford, Bexley, Sidcup, Chislehurst, Bromley, Beckenham, Croydon, Wallington, Sutton, Cheam, Worcester Park, Kingston and Hampton Court, then diverted via Feltham, Heathrow Airport and Slough.
During the revamp of the network in the 1970s and 1980s route 726 was proposed for withdrawal. However, most of the route, now withdrawn between Dartford and Gravesend and between Heathrow Airport and Windsor, ran within Greater London, and London Transport decided to put the route out to tender and retain its operation within the London area, still retaining the established “Green Line” marketing name. It became operated by Luton & District and ran daily between Dartford and Heathrow Airport via Bexley, Sidcup, Chislehurst, Bromley, Croydon, Sutton, Kingston, Hampton Court, Feltham and Hatton Cross. The route has since been progressively cut back to Bromley and more recently was curtailed at Croydon, and now remains as route X26 between Croydon and Heathrow Airport, rerouted away from Hampton Court. The 726 was the only Green Line route put out to tender by London Transport.
Green Line 1930 – 1980 by D W K Jones and B J Davis (London Country Bus Services Ltd.)
Glory Days – Green Line 1930 by Kevin McCormack (Ian Allan Publishing)
Green Line Coach Guide, 1938 (London Transport) [I found this on a book-seller’s web; full timetables, fares, lists of boarding points, town plans and a complete fold-out route map, 314 pages; original price ‘twopence’!]
RF by Ken Glazier (Capital Transport Publishing), and other books in the same series, like RT, Routemaster; see here
Service letters or numbers: A, AA; A1, A2; 2; 701, 702, 725, 722, 726
Service letters or numbers: I; B; 478, 3; 703, 717, 719
Service letters or numbers: H, AH, BH, J, K, T, U, AU; E, F, G, H1, H2, H3; 706, 707, 708, 709, 719
The first two maps (for 1928–1929 and for 1930) show the actual routes in operation at that time, and the potential radial routes that eventually emerged. The third map shows the companies and roads used in central London.