diamond geezer

 Friday, September 16, 2022

Have you ever wondered what London's Night Bus network looked like exactly 50 years ago?

Well I'm delighted to say that I foresaw this question at the time, when I was just seven years old, by obtaining an official Night Buses timetable dated September 16, 1972.

What's more I stashed it away, kept hold of it through several changes of address, retrieved it many decades later, made a note of the date on the cover and remembered to get it out for the 50th anniversary. So here it is.

Timetables and a diagram of routes? London Transport, you were truly spoiling us.

Night buses weren't cheap. Conductors charged double fares between 12.30am and 4.30am, i.e. a maximum of 24p rather than the usual 12p during the day. The caveat that "the maximum fare applies to journeys within the GLC boundary only" applied only to a single N90 journey to/from Waltham Cross, because no other night bus route extended beyond the boundary of Greater London.

The Night Buses timetable kicked off with four normal bus routes which ran beyond the normal daytime hours. These were the 11, 109, 168 and 185, as follows.

11 Liverpool Street - Hammersmith (no service between 1am and 3.30am)
109 Streatham - Purley (hourly-ish)
168 Farringdon Street - Wandsworth (hourly-ish)
185 Victoria - Lewisham (no service between 1am and 4am) (three early journeys extended to Blackwall Tunnel, Delta Works)

n.b. in all these summaries I've considered buses departing central London. Timetables for buses travelling towards central London were sometimes very different.

These four routes weren't going to be of much use overall, so London Transport also ran 19 proper Night Bus routes. These were numbered consecutively from N81 to N99 and generally bore no relation to similarly-numbered daytime routes. [click to embiggen]

Seven Night Bus routes started in or around Charing Cross and another seven passed through, making this the Night Bus hub it still is today. Other fortunate locations were Ludgate Circus with seven routes and Bank and Tottenham Court Road with six apiece, but you didn't need to go far before the network became very sparse indeed. Paddington, Euston and King's Cross saw only one route each, and Baker Street, Park Lane and Bermondsey none at all.

Beyond Central London the threads diverged. Suburban residents were generally reliant on a single radial route, with only the occasional outlying attempt to link these together. Residents of the boroughs of Bexley, Bromley, Merton, Sutton, Richmond, Kingston, Hillingdon and Harrow received no Night Bus offering at all. And even for those lucky enough to have one nearby it probably didn't run very often. Just look at how rubbish the N81 was.

N81 Kennington - Streatham (one journey, Sunday morning only)
N82 New Cross - Woolwich (4 journeys, only one of which was between 1am and 4am)
N83 Charing Cross - Tottenham (5 journeys, i.e. one vehicle shuttling back and forth)
N84 Charing Cross - Becontree (2 journeys, Sunday morning excepted)
N85 Charing Cross - Grove Park (12 journeys using Pay As You Enter buses)
N86 Charing Cross - Brockley Rise (16 journeys, but most only to New Cross)
N87 Charing Cross - Tooting - Charing Cross (circular) (every 25 minutes)
N88 Farringdon - Wandsworth (5 journeys, Sunday morning excepted)

Night Buses running south of the river were all eighty-somethings. Those north of the river included eighties and nineties.

N89 London Bridge - Southall (6 journeys, Sunday morning excepted)
N90 Pimlico - Edmonton (8 journeys, Sunday morning excepted)
N91 Liverpool Street - Willesden (3 journeys, Sunday morning excepted)
N92 Charing Cross - Highgate (half-hourly, Sunday morning excepted)
N93 Charing Cross - Hampstead Heath (hourly, Sunday morning excepted)
N94 Liverpool Street - Cricklewood (6 journeys, Sunday morning excepted)
N95 Victoria - Barking (6 journeys, Sunday morning excepted)
N96 Waterloo - Leyton (hourly, Sunday morning excepted)
N97 Liverpool Street - Turnham Green (10 journeys, Sunday morning excepted)
N98 Holborn - Romford (12 journeys, but only 4 all the way to Romford)
N99 Chingford - Victoria & Albert Docks (2 journeys, three hours apart)

One other Night Bus pootled around the mainline rail termini in Central London on a Monday morning following a circuitously irregular route. LT staff passes were not valid.
[23:35] Waterloo → Victoria → Paddington → Euston → King's Cross → W → V → P → KX → V [01:48]
[02:53] Victoria → Paddington → Euston → King's Cross → Waterloo → KX → W → E → KX → P → V → W [05:17]

The sweet spot for suburban Night Buses in 1972 was New Cross Gate, perhaps because it had a bus garage. I'd have done OK here in Bow with route N98, apart from a 90 minute gap between half past one and three. But Willesden, Woolwich and Walthamstow were a much tougher prospect, the latter requiring a change of (infrequent) buses to get into town, while Wimbledon, Wembley and Wood Green were essentially marooned.

1972 was plainly a very different time, with none of the small hours nightlife we associate with central London today and only a few shiftworkers needing to get around at night. Also most of these timetables were seriously irregular so having a printed copy would have been a necessity, which is why I've still got one to peruse half a century later.

Only the N97 runs under the same number today, the rest of the 1970s night bus service has been totally rejigged with numbers now generally reflecting the daytime route each bus shadows. It took until 1984 before London had as many as 30 night bus routes, and even then the entire nightbus service could be run with just 80 vehicles. We have it so much better today.

I hope that's helped answer any questions you may have had about London's night bus network exactly 50 years ago.

I also have full 1972 timetables for London Country North West, Green Line Express, Midland Red Leamington & District, Southern Vectis, Hants & Dorset Motor Services, Alder Valley, Red & White Western Welsh, Crosville Motor Services, Bristol Omnibus Co, Ribble Express and Eastern Counties South Cambridgeshire, although I will not subject you to full analysis of these at this time, save to say that night bus services were not generally featured.

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