Above: Three buses all facing towards London Bridge Station.
Trawling through some pictures on Flickr the other day, looking for something totally unrelated to the subject of this article, I came across the picture shown above. According to the bus enthusiast who posted it on his Flickr page, the picture can be dated from the bus and its route number. The estimate is about the year 1947. The bus route does not serve London Bridge Station today.
My interest in the picture is not as a bus anorak but for its content. To deal with the bus first, I seem to remember that nearly all buses in the 1940s (and maybe the 1950s) had ‘eyes’ at the front. The ‘eyes’ were on the small adverts that many buses carried either side of their destination board. The adverts were for the very popular weekly magazine called ‘Picture Post’ that prided itself on the large number of excellent pictures of events taking place during the past week. Sadly, that publication went out of circulation – mainly due to the advent of more and more visual content on television. It should be stated that many of the old photographs, often used on television for programmes looking back on life in Britain, regularly use pictures from this publication.
As well as the memories of the ‘eyes’ on buses, my next interest was in the location. The picture shows the tower of Southwark Cathedral in the background (on the left) which means that it shows a bus coming along London Bridge Street, towards the camera. You may not recognise the name of the street but it is certain that you have walked along it many times. If you can remember the old covered forecourt of London Bridge Station, where the buses used to stand, until the Shard of Glass was erected, then this street leads down to Borough High Street at the point where the old railway bridge crosses over the road. You could say it leads to Borough High Street from the Guy’s Hospital side of the covered forecourt.
The point of confusion is that the bus is coming towards the camera, which is the direction that all traffic took until the building of the covered forecourt in 1978. Traffic was then routed in the opposite direction, which it still is (when the new layout is open to traffic).
Looking at the picture, there are three points of interest.
(1) Just to the right of the top of the church tower is the roof-line of a terrace of houses. At least some of these are still in existence beside London Bridge Street today. Look carefully at the picture and you will see that there are three buses in the picture. The driver of the middle bus is either getting into or out of his cab. Behind the buses you can just see a small part of the old railway bridge (crossing Borough High Street).
(2) On the far left is a barrow, with a man selling fruit from it. You probably remember him. I certainly do. He did brisk business, especially from about 4.00 o’clock onwards as commuters walked past his stall in their thousands after a day’s work. He was at a point where many people walked up London Bridge Street, on their way back to the station. Just behind him was a set of stairs that acted as a sort of shortcut for people wanting to walk to Guy’s Hospital and St Thomas Street. They also walked past his stall, so it was a good ‘pitch’ to have a barrow.
(3) So far, I have clear memories of all that I have described. The item I do not remember is the corner shop (on the right) at the top of London Bridge Street. It carries the number ’77’ over the doorway and looks as if it might be a cafe of some sort. All of the land, including that corner shop, was completely obliterated in the 1960s when a large white concrete office block was erected. It faced you as you exited from the station. That office block was only removed in the 1990s – in preparation for the new buildings and new bus stands outside the station which have been erected as part of the ‘Shard’ development.
The picture is certainly a blast from the past. It is surprising how much information about London we all carry about in our heads. It sometimes just needs one picture to help unlock those memories.