Sunday 27th March 2022
I finally got round to paying a long overdue visit to The Bus Archive on Thursday. What a treasure trove it is.
The above atmospheric photograph is taken from The Bus Archive’s Facebook update for March. It’s one of over a million images available in the archive’s records along with a million documents, timetables and other records, 8,000 books and other publications.
The photo shows Aldgate’s Trolleybus and Green Line bus and coach station in London nearing its completion 82 years ago in March 1939 with staff on layover looking on. Green Line route Y1 to Brentwood operated every 3 minutes at peak times as far as Romford. The photo is copyright The Bus Archive.
The Bus Archive is a registered charity dedicated to the collection and preservation of records, photographs, publications and publicity for the road passenger transport industries – bus, coach, trolleybus and tram – and makes these freely available to the public for research and education.
The collection is continually growing and was brought together three years ago with the merger of the Kithead Trust’s archive of company records from the former National Bus Company subsidiaries and the Omnibus Society’s extensive collection of timetables and publicity.
It’s all overseen by director and archivist Philip Kirk once a colleague managing director in Go-Ahead – Phil was at the helm of the Oxford Bus Company for many years before retirement – as well as secretary and treasurer Pat Russell and a willing and dedicated band of volunteers.
The collection is across three sites – in Droitwich, Walsall and Acton. Droitwich is where the large collection of original industry records and manuscripts are held, Walsall holds timetables, publicity, journals and books and Acton has information about road transport operations in London.
There’s a very helpful website which includes a fantastic “Search the Archive” function enabling you to enter your favourite topic or bus company, identify dates if you wish, and bingo, back will come a listing of everything available in the Archive. You can then make arrangements to book yourself in for a visit and see the documents or publications for yourself.
A new building has been acquired in Droitwich to take over from the existing building thus ensuring there’ll be plenty of room to house the collection as it continues to grow thanks to continuing donations of memorabilia and documents by the industry and enthusiasts. While annual running costs of The Bus Archive are met from the sale of surplus and duplicated material and generous donations, an appeal was launched last year to raise £300,000 to equip the new building and ensuring it has bespoke ‘rolling racking’ to provide maximum capacity as well as temperature and humidity controls and other requirements.
Anyone interested in making a donation, no matter how small, are most welcome to do so through the Archive’s website where you can find a range of benefits from donations ranging from £50 to over £10,000. Even a £5 donation is welcome as it buys one of the specially made archive boxes – they need at least a thousand boxes a year.
To say I was gobsmacked at the extent of the archive is an understatement. Just about any record of activity undertaken by almost all the former National Bus Company subsidiaries as well as NBC itself has been safely stored including many other bus companies acquired along the way as well as the PTEs in their formative years in the 1960s and 1970s. Some companies have many sets of records including pre NBC as separate companies, during NBC – eg when Maidstone & District and East Kent were merged into one company – and after NBC as separate companies again.
Records including Board papers, investment decisions and justifications, properties, vehicles, minute books, trade union discussions, applications for fare increases and changes to services are all kept at Droitwich while timetables, maps and publicity at Walsall.
Droitwich also has an amazing collection of original vehicle licence records inherited when the DVLA went digital as well as records and documents from the Department of Transport when John Prescott’s super size Environment ‘Plus’ Department took over. There are also records from CPT (the Confederation of Passenger Transport) and PTEG (PTE Group). It really is quite incredible to see what has been amassed for safe keeping.
The Bus Archive is keen to receive collections even of modern day and recently produced timetables particularly as these have been notoriously difficult to obtain during the pandemic. I took the opportunity to donate the timetable collection I’ve garnered on my travels over the last nine years since retirement which although will no doubt be duplicated by originals already in the Archive, might just contain the odd gem that isn’t. Any surplus stock is resold to raise funds to keep the Archive going so that’s a bonus.
Around 85% of company records have now been logged into the Bus Archive’s searchable online computer system and are all safely stored in labelled boxes so that their precise location by shelf is known in the database. This has needed 13,000 storage boxes and the work continues on the remaining 15% and more documents which are continually being received – for example after East Yorkshire’s sale to Go-Ahead all the historic documents for that company were passed over to The Bus Archive.
Documents awaiting logging are stored in paper containers and are all clearly marked describing their contents.
Another project is to scan the documents so an electronic copy is retained and available for researchers. Volunteers are currently scanning the 20,000 editions of Notices & Proceedings from the first editions produced for each Traffic Area when the Traffic commissioners were set up in 1931. Those already done are searchable by ‘word’ online thanks to the amazing technology being used.
Archive member of staff Jo Jagielski gave me a demonstration of just how slick the scanning process is and the high definition of the electronic image. It’s very impressive.
You can read fascinating background to a subject based on material in The Bus Archive in every edition of Classic Bus magazine thanks to an exclusive tie up between the magazine publisher and the Bus Archive. The best way to obtain a copy of Classic Bus is to take out an annual or two-year subscription here.
The latest issue of the magazine (for April/May) contains interesting background to early automated ticket machines.
If you have a personal collection of bus memorabilia please consider leaving the documents to The Bus Archive in your Will so it will go to safe keeping and be available for future generations – and remember to reassign copyright of any photographs over to The Bus Archive so they can be used.
And please consider making a donation no matter how small. It really is a worthwhile project for those with a passion for the bus industry.
REVISED blogging timetable for the British Summer Time period: 06:00 TThS. (Please note the Su blog is seasonally withdrawn other than for some occasional ‘specials’).
Next blog, Tuesday 29th March 2022: Is there a place for travel shops?