P is for Potters Bar

Sunday 21st August 2022

Continuing my AtoZ travels, I thought Potters Bar would make for an interesting mid-size town to look at with it being on the fringes of, but not part of, London. Although with a population of surprisingly only around 22,500 it’s more in the small-town size category, rather like O is for Oswestry.

Historically Potters Bar was in Middlesex, of course, transferring to Hertfordshire in 1965’s big boundary bust up which created an expanded Greater London and eliminated Middlesex as a county other than for postal addresses.

Although never part of the Capital, London’s influence on Potters Bar has a long history, the town being part of the Metropolitan Police area until as recently as 2000 when it transferred more logically to Hertfordshire Constabulary and, of course, when it comes to transport a London Transport central bus garage has been located in the town since 1930 despite in days gone by it being served by only three routes (29, 134 and 242) although no end of country bus and Green Line coach routes headed south to New Barnet as well as one to Enfield, and the town has long enjoyed an intensive commuter rail service to Kings Cross and Moorgate at the southern end of the East Coast Main Line.

Potters Bar falls administratively within Hertsmere Borough Council which also includes Bushey, Elstree, Borehamwood, Aldenham and Radlett.

Nearest largest towns include St Albans and Hatfield/Welwyn Garden City to the north with Cheshunt/Waltham Cross to the east and Enfield, Barnet and Borehamwood to the south.

In recent years bus connections to most of these towns have declined considerably, notably the virtual demise of route 242 to Cuffley, Cheshunt and Waltham Cross (other than at school times and positioning journeys) and earlier this year the complete withdrawal of a link to Barnet with the curtailment of route 84. On the other hand a regular link to Borehamwood via South Mimms has been a regular feature for many years whereas decades ago there was just a morning and afternoon peak hour journey beyond South Mimms serving Borehamwood.

It’s instructive to compare today’s bus network serving the town with that which applied in the 1960s.

As already mentioned the bus scene was dominated by three red bus central area routes (route 29 ran between South Mimms and Victoria albeit mostly localised journeys on a 29B variant only running as far south as Turnpike Lane; route 134 from Potters Bar station ran to Pimlico and the aforementioned route 242 from South Mimms to Chingford) as well as a myriad of country bus routes.

A half hourly frequency on routes 303/303A passed through Potters Bar on the long route linking New Barnet with Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage and Hitchin. Route 313 ran half hourly between Enfield and Potters Bar Cranborne Road with most journeys continuing via South Mimms to St Albans and routes 340/340B running every 90 minutes from New Barnet to Welwyn Garden City while routes 350/350A ran hourly to 90 minutely from New Barnet to Bishops Stortford via Hertford.

In addition to all those green buses there were three buses an hour on Green Line routes 716/716A/717 linking Potters Bar north to Hitchin and south to central London continuing hourly to each of Chertsey and Woking.

Aside from route 313 all the aforementioned country bus and Green Line routes, together with route 134, ran between Potters Bar and New Barnet along the A1000 Barnet Road whereas from April this year there’s been nothing,

Yet moving around geographically eastwards Potters Bar is linked to Cockfosters (and beyond to Southgate and Arnos Grove) with TfL route 298 (three buses an hour) along the A111 Southgate Road and route 313 (three buses an hour) linking the town to Botany Bay, Enfield and Chingford along the A1005 The Ridgeway.

As already mentioned route 242, run commercially by Metroline from its bus garage in the town to Cuffley, Cheshunt and Waltham Cross, is now but a shadow of its past glory with just four journeys a day.

Northwards from Potters Bar towards Brookmans Park and Hatfield where once those country buses and Green Line routes ran a frequent service, UNO now runs hourly route 610 branded as Dragonfly which continues beyond Hatfield to Harpenden and Luton having commenced its journey in Cockfosters. Despite those frequent links to Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage and Hitchin of old, there’s now no direct journeys between Potters Bar and those towns.

Sullivan Buses took over the operation of route 84 in April when Metroline threw in the towel now running half hourly from Potters Bar to South Mimms and on to St Albans. The company also runs hourly route 398 to South Mimms and on to Borehamwood with extra peak hour journeys as well as school day journeys to Radlett and Watford.

Although Potters Bar enjoyed all those inter-urban country bus and Green Line routes in the 1960s it wasn’t until 1968 it had a town bus route when the one bus operation route 284 began, famously at one time using FRM1. In 1977 the route was revised and renumbered to PB1 which continues in current times, being operated by Metroline to a frying pan shape of route providing a link from the Dugdale Hill area to the station and the busy shopping area of Darkes Lane continuing on to High Street and the bus garage before doing a one way circuit around Oakmere Lane, Chase Avenue, Oakmere Avenue and back via Southgate Road to High Street.

Sullivan Buses also introduced an anti-clockwise circuit of the town on its revamped route 84 from April with journeys from St Albans double running to serve the station then continuing via Mutton Lane, High Street, Hatfield Road and Church Road to Darkes Lane and back to the the station.

Unfortunately the update to Hertfordshire County Council’s excellent map of both the Potters Bar area as well as it’s countywide map incorrectly shows the route missing out Mutton Lane and terminating at the bus garage…..

…… which it doesn’t, as shown on Sullivan Buses’ map.

I visited Potters Bar during last week’s heatwave and had an enjoyable ride around the town including sampling route PB1 and parts of routes 84, 298, 313 and 611.

Once the sole preserve of London Transport Potters Bar now sees UNO, Metroline and Sullivan Buses on commercially operated routes.

Passenger numbers on all journeys were in the low single figures. The early afternoon journey I took on route PB1 took one passenger out to Dugdale Hill and brought three back in, two of whom got off at the station and one went through to Potters Bar bus garage. Three boarded at the station with two alighting at the bus garage and one on the loop in Chase Avenue. One boarded at the bus garage getting off on the loop with one boarding there and one more at the crossroads by the former infamous The Lion timing point with one more in the High Street and all three on board alighting at the station. Similar numbers travelled on route 84 as it did its circuit of the town.

Who’d have thought in the 1960s that 60 years later route 84 would have green buses and route 313 red?

Potters Bar owes its early development to the arrival of the railway in 1850 and ever since commuting to London has been an important part of the town’s economy. Trains are provided by both Great Northern (half hourly Welwyn Garden City to Moorgate) and Thameslink (half hourly Cambridge to Kings Cross) although you’d be hard pressed to explain why journeys are branded the latter rather than the former as they don’t touch the ‘Thameslink core’. Both come under the GTR franchise.

Great Northern journeys stop at all stations while Thameslink run non stop between Potters Bar and Finsbury Park southbound and straight to Hatfield then all stations to Cambridge northbound.

Train spotters are kept busy by frequent sitings every few minutes of LNER trains zooming through the station ….

…. as well as the three open access operators, Grand Central, Hull Trains ….

…. and recent newcomer Lumo.

Great Northern fast trains to Cambridge, Ely and Kings Lynn as well as Thameslink fast trains to Peterborough and Cambridge can also be seen passing through.

It all makes for a very busy train town, but sadly not for passengers.

As already mentioned Hertfordshire produce a decent bus map (aside from its already noted inaccuracy) as well as online timetables using the Intalink branding.

Bus stops are well signed with large flags….

…. and timetable cases showing departures.

At Potters Bar station, there are four bus stops three of which have shelters one of which has a real time sign showing departures from all four stops….

…. another has a blank real time sign ….

…. and the other two stops don’t have either. 

The Intalink website is certainly very clear and easy to use and an exemplar for others to follow. UNO, Sullivan Buses and Metroline also have decent information including timetables and maps on their websites. Suffice to say TfL are the exception in that they have nothing other than a list of bus stops.

Back in history London Transport served the small industrial estate at the dead end of Cranborne Road by the railway line with journeys on route 29B, renumbered 298 in 1968, and these continued right through until November 2017 when the route was cut back to turn at the station. Initially a limited facility was provided by certain journeys on route 242 being extended there as still shown on the countywide bus map (above); but these were short lived and were soon withdrawn.

It’s been five years since a bus on route 298 turned round at Cranborne Road Industrial Estate

It’s ironic Metroline’s large bus garage in the town survived the post London Bus privatisation cull which saw garages in Finchley and Muswell Hill close their doors both of which are much closer to routes now being operated from Potters Bar. The upshot is 124 buses on routes 134, 231, 234, 263, 307, 317, 382, 384, 491, 634 and W8 run up and down Barnet Road, Southgate Road and The Ridgeway out of service at the start and end of the day as well as for meal breaks for drivers throughout the day – all making for a very busy bus town, but sadly not for passengers.

Roger French

Previous AtoZ blogs: Andover; Bracknell; Carlisle; Durham, Evesham, Folkestone, Grantham, Harrogate, Inverness, Jarrow, King’s Lynn, Leamington Spa, Maidenhead, Neath, Oswestry.

Blogging timetable: 06:00 TThSSu

33 thoughts on “P is for Potters Bar

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  1. On the face of it herts are a really switched on council and intalink appears an excellent proposition, but there are a number of inaccuracies/contradicting details/out of date info and you will struggle to get a meaningful response on the phone or via E-mail from them or most of the operators concerned, so most prospective users would probably fall back to what they know and take the car instead..

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    1. Also which it does not make very clear is they charge you £0.12 a minute to call them

      There are a whole raft of HCC Contracts been handed back with HCC trying to retender them

      The 318 which is a commercial route which Harlequin stepped into operate have now deregistered it after only a few weeks

      On a Brighter note the Government have now extended the Covid funding for another 6 months but at a reduced amount

      So far the BSIP improvements have not materialized lots of talk but very little action

      Most councils seem as well to be looking at road improvements rather than improvements & Park & Ride improvements rather than improving the core bus services. One problem is the council that got funding are not allowed to spend it on existing services

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  2. Potters Bar was covered by the Met Police until 2000 as did many areas around London. It came about from the London Coal & Wine Duties Act 1861 which set boundaries around London between 18 & 20mile from Charing Cross. It marked the extent of the act where taxes would be collected on Coal & Wine going into London. Marker post were erected at various points many of them still exist

    The PB1 is normally operated by an electric bus

    The 242 is facing another change with the Sunday service up for retender as UNO are giving it up

    The 242 is now a very odd timetable basically running in 3 sections

    a) Waltham Cross Potters Bar
    b) Waltham Cross to Cuffley
    c) Waltham Cross to Brookfield Centre

    The first two sections are so infrequent and irregular they are of little use to anyone

    Half of Potters Bar Garage was leased to a Coach company for quite a long time and when TfL route were put out for tender the Garage was under threat of closure

    With TfL routes ng axed there being already excess garage capacity in North London Potter Bar could come under threat again as most of its route have a lot of dead running

    Potters Bar has lot the contract for the 307 to Arriva presumably it will got to Enfield Garage

    The Real Time Indicator at Potters Bar station is not in most cases showing real time but just the Timetable time so is very misleading. This though is common

    If the time is shown in Hours & Minutes it is just showing the timetable time
    If it is shown in Minutes & Seconds it is real time

    Only the 313 & 610 are showing Real Time

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  3. It is still unbelievable that the main route south to Barnet is a “blank” on the map! Just for good measure, I believe the Uno 611, which follows the old 716 Green Line route directly to Hatfield, also disappears at the end of next week. Whilst a very limited operation, it leaves yet another road out of Potters Bar uncovered.

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    1. Potters Bar used to be well connected to several Hertfordshire towns but no longer so the car is the only real option

      Surprised that Waltham Cross/Cheshunt has never had a Bus link to St Albans

      There is no UNO 611 that I can find. There is a 610 where the timetable is changing but it is still serving Potters Bar

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  4. An interesting blog post, highlighting some of the difficulties serving a small town just outside London; passengers expect London-style frequencies on bus routes, and can’t grasp why they can’t have them.

    Route 242 was adjusted just pre-Covid to try to capitalise on where passengers actually travel . . . regrettably the Potters Bar end simply doesn’t carry (and hasn’t carried) anything more than tiny numbers for several years; even when running every hour . . . it’s almost entirely green fields. Even Cuffley and Goffs Oak only produces a handful of passengers (apart from school times). These sections of route get the service they deserve, I’m afraid. If it wasn’t for a small amount of HCC financial support, the route would disappear entirely.

    It looks to me like there is an “84” missing from the bus map along Mutton Lane, as there are “84” numbers along High Street . . . showing the route as terminating at the Bus Garage is correct, although some arrows denoting a one-way loop would be helpful.

    Converting Route PB1 to an electric bus was my last throw of the dice prior to retirement . . . it seemed logical, as the charging kit was already in place, and at around 110 miles/day suits an electric bus perfectly . . . HCC agreed and awarded the tender on that basis. As far as loadings are concerned . . . PB1 does better in the mornings; after 1500 on weekdays and after lunchtime on Saturdays, the route carries penny numbers; on Saturdays often consecutive rounders with no passengers at all! Roger’s journey carried 11 passengers on a rounder, which is actually quite good!!

    Potters Bar Garage was retained in the early privatisation era because driver pay rates were lower (now they’re the same), and Muswell Hill Garage had resale value for housing. North Finchley Garage (previously a trolleybus depot) was closed around the same time (with the building seemingly still there (it was a Homebase store), although possibly now sold for housing?). All bus work was concentrated at the hugely expanded Holloway Garage at Archway, which at one time (and maybe still is) was the largest Bus Garage in London, with around 300 buses allocated.

    And finally . . . Route 318 in Abbots Langley was commercially operated by Harlequin, but to the previously poor timetable operated by Mullany’s post Covid . . . a good example of how a route with a bus every 120 minutes in an urban area can’t attract enough passengers to survive; especially with a competing service every 30 minutes. I was surprised that they tried to make a go of it . . . not surprised that it will close soon.

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    1. Probably with the 84 now doing more of a circuit of Potters Bar it is getting a bit crowded with both the 84 & PB1 serving Potters Bar

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    2. Regarding the 318 being withdrawn, I’m really not surprised either. As far as I’m aware, there didn’t seem to be any effort to promote the 318, no timetable leaflets, no branding on the bus and not even a company website or social media which in this day and age is a surprise. It’s a shame to see this route be withdrawn as it used to be very popular, but I guess these are the times that we’re in.

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  5. Very interesting as ever Roger. Given all the out of service Metroline 134, 234 and 263 buses that run along Barnet Road between Barnet and Potters Bar it is at first a surprise that HertsCC, TfL and Metroline could not come up with an innovative means of supporting say an hourly service. Yet the bus would traverse a lot of green fields and a parallel half hourly rail service as well as free to many TfL bus options involving travelling via Cockfosters. Sullivans weren’t being sentimental in taking over the 84 and there must have been good reason why they didn’t go into London – lack of custom? ULEZ Euro 6 requirements?

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  6. For Bob’s information, the 611 officially ends at the end of next week, but I believe only works in University term time, thus possibly ended some weeks ago. It is shown clearly on the HCC map.

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  7. Why have the “grey omelettes” used to anonymise people in the post’s photos been replaced by (even larger) “black blogs”?
    There is no legal reason to “blot” people out where they are in the “public domain”, and it is intensely irritating!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. GJS . . . in re Route 84 and Barnet . . . all of the above!! ULEZ (Euro6); low (London) fares; green fields; the need to extend to New Barnet to terminate (there’s really nowhere suitable in Barnet apart from the General Hospital stand, which is in TfL’s gift).
    And finally . . . seemingly, nobody could be bothered to try . . .

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    1. The number of pasengers beyond Potters Bar was quite low. If they charge commercial fare not many would use it and Tfl will not subsidise that section so no real chance of that section being restored

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    2. Well, Hertfordshire bothered to try. We went out to local operators to determine whether any commercial opportunities were forthcoming. The Sullivan Buses’ proposal (with HCC support) was by far the closest to the outgoing Metroline service that was proposed. I was personally surprised at the level of interest in the service on the part of operators given the route was very poorly run in its final days – daily journey cancellations in double figures were the norm – and I think many of us wondered how many passengers there were left to save…

      HCC also engaged with TfL who were concerned that school movements into Barnet were in danger of not being satisfied so TfL briefly looked at providing a school bus facility. Unfortunately, TfL’s financial position meant they were unable to commit to this which was a great shame as HCC gave consideration to financially contributing to this route so the bus could run all day.

      So, the loss of the Barnet section is regrettable, but it wasn’t for lack of trying….

      Liked by 1 person

  9. After “P” comes “Q” and that will be a challenge in fact It may prove impossible. There are towns that start with Q but non of any size unless someone knows otherwise

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    1. Yeah, “train station” has been a thing for a while here, with some companies using it apparently because they think it (and themselves) to be cool and trendy. Yes, TrentBarton, that means you. There’s some kickback against it with “railway station” becoming more frequent again on signs.

      Asking people why they call it a train station always gets an answer along the lines of “It’s where d’ train stops, innit?”; asking what they expect to get at a fire station leaves them flummoxed.

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    2. I’ve yet to find any example of the rail industry using “train station”, and I’ve certainly never seen it used in rail publications such as Modern Railways etc.

      When I hear it or read it it triggers me into anger. Where and when did it come from? I googled it once and a BBC article tried to claim it existed since way back in time. Funny how I never heard it until they started using it from maybe the early 2000s?

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  10. Small nit-pick: Cranborne Road (no “u”), as shown on the maps you reproduced. So sad to see the state of the 242 – as a Cuffley lad of the 60s and 70s, it pretty much ruled my social life – I even remember it with conductored red deckers!

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  11. I’ve never quite understood the argument that the Great North Road between Potters Bar and Barnet is paralleled by the railway. I worked in High Barnet, opposite the church, for many years in the 90s. The train goes to New Barnet, which is at least a mile away. High Barnet, as it’s name suggests, is at the top of the long and steep Barnet Hill. It’s either a long walk or a bus ride from New Barnet station.

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  12. Really enjoying these blog posts Roger! I’ve been a regular reader for a while now but never really commented. Would be interested in your views on Scarborough for S! And to tempt you even more there’s two very different open top bus operators in the town!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. In terms of rail services, it is interesting to note that when the GN “inner suburban” services were electrified in 1976 (i.e. Welwyn GC / Hertford North to Moorgate via the former Northern City line) using class 313s, both branches ran at 20 minute intervals, giving a ten minute even headway frequency between Wood Green (as it then was – Alexandra Palace since 1982) and Moorgate. The “outer suburban” service, when electrified, that called at Potters Bar, used the very comfortable class 312 units half hourly between Kings Cross and Royston.

    Hence, while destinations served by direct train may have improved since then, Potters Bar would appear to have had an overall downgrade in frequency of its rail service levels since the GN route was electrified. Perhaps the sparks effect fizzled out here. Checking ONS population figures it seems that the size of Potters Bar has changed little over the last 60 years, if anything shrinking (23,376 in 1961 / 23,089 in 2011 / RF current figure of c.22,500) although this may relate to exactly what is being measured. However this is not in line with the population changes seen elsewhere in the overheated south east of England.

    On a small point, Roger’s comment that “Despite those frequent” [bus] “links to Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage and Hitchin of old, there’s now no direct journeys between Potters Bar and those towns”, while true of buses, ignores the fact that the railway still provides those links.

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  14. Thanks for another very interesting post, Roger. I was rather hoping for P for Penzance from where I have just returned and enjoyed the 3 hour 40 minutes on the Lands End Coaster even though my ex-London open topper overheated and expired at Lands End. Obvoiusly not used to the hills! However, I digress. Looking forward to what you make of Q..

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    1. For Q, small town of Queensferry, Flintshire, as i said, a few routes go through Queensferry too, Queensferry although a town in it’s own right, it’s part of the larger conurbation of Connah’s Quay, so could do a cheat & use Connah’s Quay too, most of the bus services are operated by either Arriva or P&O Lloyd.

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      1. Just to add their’s one interesting service that goes through Queensferry, the Merseytravel tendered 811 Moreton to Broughton, mostly a works route but open to everyone, theirs only a couple 3 morning peak & 2 afternoon peak journey’s Monday to Friday, & the 811 is changing tender to Selwyns Travel from the 4th September

        You can get the timetable from the Merseytravel site

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  15. In Devil’s advocate (and logical) mode…..buses leave from a Bus Station, and lifeboats sail from a Lifeboat Station, so why can’t trains depart from a Train Station? Only because us British have called them “railway stations” for most of the rail industry’s history and most people don’t like change. A “fire station ” is just a shorter term than “fire engine station”.

    It just depends on what you’re used to.

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