Although Routemaster buses running a conventional passenger service were last seen in London in 2005, they still keep popping up in the oddest of places, and not always as heritage buses.
In total, while 2,876 Routemaster buses were built between 1954 and 1968, a fairly remarkable 1,280 still exist, in varying states of repair, and while many are kept as heritage buses owned by enthusiasts, a surprising number have been repurposed for very unusual purposes.
Anything from a private home, to a theatre, to a cricket pitch scoreboard, to a German McDonalds, to a Russian circus.
A new book by Harry Rosehill, Routemasters of the Universe, looks at some of the odder uses that the Routemaster bus has been put to. It’s a pocket-sized book, with bite-sized descriptions of the 50 selected oddities, interspersed with information about how the Routemaster was to come to be, their service life, and very long afterlife.
The Routemaster bus is a curious thing, a simple post-war bus with very poor reliability when it first plyed the streets but went on to become an icon on London, as famous as Big Ben*, the Tower of London or the traditional policeman. Although not really a thing anymore, any film of London in the 1970s-90s that didn’t include a location setting shot of London featuring a Routemaster going past Trafalgar Square looked oddly incomplete.
Today the simple solidity of the Routemaster is what makes it so beloved of collectors, and such a versatile frame to repurpose into something new.
Mary Quant had a beauty school in a Routemaster. Ladies could get fitted for bras in a Routemaster. The Sea Cadets recruited in a Routemaster. Politicians drove around begging for votes in a Routemaster. You could buy a bathroom in a Routemaster. You could go to your grave in a Routemaster.
Each of the 50 stories is set out in a double-page spread and apart from a few that are making up the numbers, probably three-quarters of the stories are ones that you wouldn’t expect, and quite a few will have you sitting up in surprise.
In that, it’s an informative and at times, an uplifting tale of how people will find the most unexpected ways of using what they have available to them.
*yeah, yeah, whatever.