One hundred and two years ago, the London General Omnibus Company stopped using horses to draw its buses around the city, and a couple of years later, opened a brand new bus garage to cope with demand for its petrol based vehicles.

So, one hundred years after it opened, Merton bus garage held an open day to celebrate its centenary.

Bus garages are either architecturally stunning, or boringly functional — and in the 1960 and 1991, this garage had its roof replaced and generally modernised. Apart from the brick walls, there is little left of the hundred year old original.

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But that isn’t enough to put off a centenary celebration, and the garage staff managed to shift most of the buses out for a day so they could open up the cavernous interior to the general public.

Just outside in what was the old pub car park, a row of heritage buses were on display, along with a modern Boris Bus, and the usual stalls selling transporty collectables.

However, it was the regular guided tours of the garage interior that drew the queues.

One of their new toys was on display — a lift jack that can lift buses up in the air. Much more dramatic than driving them over a slot in the ground, and a lot easier to work under.

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The group I had joined was a bit too large frankly, so I hung around at the back soaking up the atmosphere rather than trying to hear the technical details of the underside of a bus. Still, not the side of a bus most people will ever see.

Around the back can be found the maintenance shed where buses get their monthly overhaul — alternating between a quick look over or a larger overhaul. Buses in a long row each on their own maintenance pit, which is not a comfortable looking place to work.

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One of the interesting revelations was on the bus blinds. As noted by others, they are switching from yellow text to white. The reasoning being either legibility, or political doctrine, depending on who you talked to.

What’s interesting to learn is that buses are based in garages based on the available blinds they are fitted with. That can mean that a spare bus at one garage cannot quickly be sent to another to fill a gap

Switching to some sort of digital display would solve that problem. I suspect that scrapping the heritage bus blind would lead to howls of protests, despite the considerable benefits it would offer.

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The group was largely made up of the sorts who go on transport excursions, but this time rather more children than usual. And for that I suspect we can thank the other highlight of the day — a chance to ride a bus through a giant bus washer.

Yes, it’s just an oversized car wash — using recycled water — but just how often do you get to ride in one doing that? The cleanest bus in London was running repeated trips through the bus wash carting bus loads of excited families all dropping a 50p fee into a Mencap collection bucket.

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I have a bit of a phobia about car washes, for which I blame a film I saw as a child, which I can recall nothing other than a scene where a woman is trapped in a car and drowns in a car wash.

From the few screams of terror mixing with delight I am not the only one to find them a tad scary.

While this building is basically, a shed — architecture fans will be delighted to hear that the bus operator is working on an open day next year, at the iconic Stockwell bus garage.

Some more photos:

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3 comments on “100th anniversary of Merton Bus Garage
  1. Greg Tingey says:

    If they want useful bus blinds, can we PLEASE go back to having intermediate stops/destinations shown? Rather than just final end of route?
    Bacause you are A & want to go to B, & there are two or three, or even four routes, all going to C, may mean that you only want one or two of those routes ….

  2. Kit Green says:

    A friend of mine tells that sometimes she and her friends were taken through the washer on the way home from school (in the 1970s, Wilts & Dorset buses in Salisbury).

  3. Chrissie says:

    Yep, and this momentous event put my great-grandfather out of business… He operated a horse-drawn bus outside Wimbledon Station. Ian, I loved your visit to Merton Bus Garage. Bus garages are amazing. My partner’s father worked at the legendary Aldenham works… Buses… we love them. Love your website.

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