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Route 38

Ride free on old buses in service on London bus route 38 between Victoria and Hackney ~ 16th September 2023!

Buses are the lifeblood of London; about half of all bus journeys in the UK are made in London. The affection that Londoners feel for their buses is apparent whenever they have a chance to ride on a Routemaster or something older.

Bus route 38 has been running since 1912 – that’s 111 years – serving Victoria, Hyde Park Corner, the Ritz, Piccadilly Circus, Theatreland, Chinatown, the British Museum, Grays Inn, Sadler’s Wells, Angel Islington, Essex Road, Balls Pond Road, Dalston Junction, Hackney Central and Clapton Pond.

On 16th September between 1000 and 1700 in conjunction with Heritage Open Days the London Bus Museum will be running heritage buses dating from the 1950s to 1970s alongside the normal daily service on route 38, Victoria to Hackney.

Open-platform buses with real conductors will run about every 10 minutes between Victoria and Hackney Station; some buses will continue from Hackney to Clapton Pond. Buses serve all route 38 bus stops - including Victoria Bus Station, Piccadilly, Shaftesbury Avenue, Charing Cross Road, New Oxford Street, Bloomsbury Square, Rosebery Avenue, Islington Green, Balls Pond Road, Dalston Lane, Graham Road, Hackney Central Station, Hackney Baths, Clapton Pond.

Buses being used will mostly be the iconic Routemaster, dating from the late 1950s and 1960s, and their predecessor the RT-type, which in the 1950s formed the largest standardised bus fleet in the world.

No need to book, just turn up at a route 38 bus stop and put out your hand!

Page updated 15th September 2023 ~ bus list : numbers CT 10 and T 24 will not operate due to non-availability

RML2408 Shaftesbury Ave 111005 (2)
Route 38 event flyer
Route 38

A brief history of London bus route 38

Bus route 38 is 111 years old, having started operation on 16 June 1912, running from Victoria Station to Leyton Green via the current route to Clapton Pond and then the Lea Bridge Road to Leyton Green.  On Sundays, the route was extended to Epping Forest via Walthamstow.

The route operated from the London General Omnibus Company’s Leyton Garage (T) at Leyton Green, with other garages helping out on Sundays.  Initial buses were solid-tyred, open top B-types, the sturdy reliable buses that enabled the growth of London’s bus network and proved valuable as troop transports in France in the First World War.

In the early years, operation of the route north from Leyton varied from time to time, but from May 1916, the route was extended during the week to run to Walthamstow Crooked Billet and then to Chingford Royal Forest Hotel, on summer Sundays from 1922, every day in summer from 1924 and daily from April 1925, with some buses in summer continued daily to Epping Forest Wake Arms.  The Epping Forest journeys were restricted to summer weekends after 1931.  The summer Sunday extensions to Epping Forest Wake Arms continued, with a gap during the Second World War, until 1965.

LGOC AEC B-type at The Castle, Woodford [Photomatic ~ LBM Collection]
LT864 [GT 7492] at Chingford Royal Forest Hotel [LBM Collection]
LT496 [GO 7174] with Chiswick - built body; Victoria Station forecourt [Fred Ivey]
LT118 [GH 3860 with Chiswick - built body; Victoria Station forecourt [Fred Ivey]

Bus types developed from the B via the K and S to the NS type in 1924 – at that time still open top and with solid tyres.  The NSs received roofs in 1927, but still ran on solid tyres until 1928/29 when a relaxation of Police rules permitted the fitting of pneumatic tyres.  This allowed the increase in permitted speed from 12 mph to 20 mph and in due course journey times were reduced accordingly.  But this improvement was superseded from October 1930, when the delivery to Leyton Garage of 29 brand new open-staircase three-axle LT-types brought modern buses to the 38.  By the summer of 1931, these had replaced Leyton’s NSs, with many new buses of the enclosed-staircase type; LTs were to operate the 38 for 20 years.  After the war, the 38 was known as the home of the last open-staircase LTs, long after the replacement of other open-backed types, continuing in service right up to the end of 1949.

In the 1930s, buses ran about every 3 minutes to Walthamstow, taking an hour and 5 minutes, with at least one bus in three continuing to Chingford.  At weekends, buses ran to Epping Forest every 10-15 minutes.  This service required up to 58 LTs from Leyton, and extra help was required from up to 21 STLs based at Dalston; at this time, a bus left Victoria every 2 minutes in the peaks.  After the war, the frequency was reduced slightly to run every 4-6 minutes between Victoria and Chingford.

Additional to the 38 route as described was the 38A, running from Victoria via Clapton Pond and Leyton to Loughton, jointly operated by LTs from Leyton and Loughton garages and running every 10 minutes.  The 38A continued in operation until it was withdrawn in September 1968.

The first of London’s huge fleet of post-war RTs were delivered to Leyton in 1947 to replace open-staircase LTs, but from the 10 and 38A, not the 38.  The 38 had to wait until late 1949 before more new RTs were available and the LTs could finally be retired.  49 RTs were required in 1949 and throught he 1950s, increasing to 54 at the end of the decade.  The RTs served slightly longer than the LTs, at 21 years, before replacement by Routemasters in January 1971.  Prior to that, operation was shares with Clapton garage (CT), a former trolleybus depot, from October 1969; by this time, Clapton’s well know fleet of Leyland RTLs had been replaced  by RTs.  Clapton’s RTs were replaced by RMs at the same time as Leyton’s.

Meanwhile in September 1968, at the same time as withdrawal of the 38A, the 38 was shortened to run to Walthamstow rather than Chingford.  With the improved frequency to cover the 38A as far as Leyton, the RT requirement grew to 69 buses with buses leaving Victoria every 1-4 minutes.  A year later, in October 1969, it was shortened again to run only as far as Leyton Green – the original 1912 route – a similar frequency being provided between Bloomsbury and Clapton, but with fewer buses starting at Victoria.  The requirement fell to 52 buses.

In January 1981, Clapton garage’s contribution ended (for the time being) and Leyton upgraded to larger RML Routemasters.  In common with many crew-operated services at the time, June 1986 saw Sundays converted to one-person operation with T-class Leyland Titans; 15 years later, in June 2001, crew operation returned on Sundays.  But in February 1990, a final shortening of the route created the current Victoria Station to Clapton Pond service.  Routemaster operation on Monday to Saturday was transferred to Clapton garage, from where the route has operated ever since, with the exception (for physical reasons) of the period of operation by articulated buses.

RMLs 2571, 2528 at Islington ~ 27 October 2005 [Peter Osborn]
Classic ! Roofbox RT4813 on Victoria Station forecourt ~ August 1964 [Chris Stanley]
In the 1970s, RTs helped out at several garages when there was a shortage of RM spares, and used Routemaster blinds: RT1161 in Grosvenor Gardens; c1976 [David Flett]
RML882 at Marble Arch [David Bowker]
First day of the new order - Citaro MA97 (BX55 FUU) ~ Clapton Pond ~ 29 October 2005 [Peter Osborn]

The 38 returned to the headlines in 2012 as the first route to operate the ‘new bus for London’, the (new) LT-class New Routemaster, with design ideas clearly derived from the old open-staircase LTs. The first went into service on 27 February 2012, just four months before the route’s centenary, although it was to take until June 2014 before the route was fully converted. These buses initially ran with ‘passenger assistants’ (formerly known as conductors, although not taking fares), unusually on the 38 for part of the route only (Victoria to Mildmay Park) and on weekday daytimes only. The cost could not be justified and doors were fitted to the rear platform and the passenger assistants withdrawn from September 2016.

An unusual feature of the 38, introduced in November 2009, is the use on Monday to Friday of alternating destinations, with every other bus terminating short at Hackney Central Station; whilst such an operating pattern was common in London Transport days, it is an exception to TfL’s normal rule of operating all buses on a route from end to end.

The high frequency of the 38 (every 3-4 minutes) continued right up to October 2021, needing 59 New Routemasters. However, as part of the reduction of central London services, the frequency was then reduced to every 5 minutes and the number of buses to 37.

NBfL interior with Customer Service Assistant [Peter Osborn]
Wrightbus NBfL LT2 [LT12 BHT], Shaftesbury Avenue, 29th February 2012 [Peter Osborn]
Arriva London NBfL LT2 at Hyde Park Corner [David Bowker]
Route 38

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