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Bristol LHs

Sporting the tasteful Leaside livery applied to vehicles in that London Buses district from Spring 1987 for around a year and a bit, Edgware's BL 69 is seen in Oakleigh Road North on the 251 on 17th November 1987.

Just think - if London Transport bosses had had the idea a few years earlier, Bristol LHs could have taken over from Routemasters on the 28 and 31! (But then again, if they'd had the idea in the '50s, they could have put red GSs on the routes. . .)

Such ideas never entered the imagination of other people, or London Transport bosses, when the 95 BLs were delivered in 1976/77, as those were still the days when smaller buses were employed on routes that best suited them. In the case of the BLs, those routes were in the main those formerly operated by RFs.

During the late '70s and early '80s, BLs were the major presence in Kingston and also held sway on many other less-busy routes - also, in the fullness of time, taking over from smaller buses (Bristol LHSs, the BS class) on what were the original London Transport minibus routes. One of those routes, the C11 from Brent Cross to Kings Cross, kept the type until the route was tendered and split into two in July 1990.

However, it was replacement by bigger buses which was to see the withdrawal of the BLs in the end. Routes were cleared for operation by Leyland Nationals and the vast majority of the class was withdrawn by 1988, the year in which the most well-known BLs of all - the vehicles on the Hillingdon Local Service 128 (and the Sunday 128A) from Uxbridge garage - were withdrawn and replaced by LSs.

Only the 251 (Edgware to Arnos Grove) and the C11, plus Westlink's then new-ish route 592, were left with BLs after that and the 251's conversion to Dennis Darts in November 1990 meant the end of the Bristol LH with London Buses, at least until one made a comeback with Roundabout in Orpington in 1993.

Unfortunately, having taken up bus photography in 1986, I missed most BL operations. But I'm pleased that I was around for their latter years: as you'll see, they didn't always stick to the handful of routes they were scheduled for.


One of the last major centres of BL operation, if you can call an allocation of around ten buses 'major', was Holloway garage. The North London depot presided over the operation of the C11 between Brent Cross Shopping Centre and Kings Cross, which was a considerably longer route than the original Ford Transit-operated version introduced in the early 70's. Just weeks before the route was split into two and taken over by R & I Tours using Dennis Darts (like, as if you needed to ask), a dishevelled-looking BL 35 takes passengers at Archway on 14th July 1990.

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If the Holloway BLs were to be found in passenger service away from the C11, it was always on the 210 between Brent Cross and Finsbury Park, substituting for a Leyland National. Here doing just that at Golders Green is BL 35, this time looking in good condition (and before the repaint!) in September 1986.



That was until late-1989, when a new Holloway-operated BL route was created. OK, the H1 only ran on Saturdays in the run-up to Christmas then was withdrawn, but it created interest among bus enthusiasts. It ran from the Broadwater Farm Estate to Wood Green and, as the blind in BL 36's windscreen states, was named 'Shopper Hopper'. This bus had been fitted with coach seating a few years back and allocated to the then Selkent District for private hire use, based at Camberwell garage, and it kept this, plus the red and white 'Selkent Travel' livery that it also received, whilst at Holloway.

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A similarly-sized allocation of BLs was to be found at Edgware garage, where they operated the 251 between Stanmore Station (more recently Stanmore Church) and Arnos Grove Station. This was the last main outpost for BLs, which in the event shared their last day on the 251 in November 1990 with their Dennis Dart (DT) replacements. Here are two of them, with on the left the first of the class, BL 1, snapped at Stanmore on 24th July 1987, still sporting gold fleet-numbers and 'London Transport' fleetnames which were applied during this bus's stay at Croydon garage - they adopted it as a 'showbus'. It is now in the hands of the London Transport Museum.* On the right, illustrating the extension to Stanmore Church, BL 79 was caught at Burnt Oak on 7th June 1990: it also has a black-on-yellow blind, introduced when the 251 served the same stop at Edgware Station in both directions for a while in 1990.


Edgware BLs frequently strayed onto route 288 between Edgware Station and the Broadfields Estate, which until November 1990 was normally operated by double-deck Metrobuses. BLs had been known to turn out on routes 186 and 286 as well. The 288 was converted to Dennis Dart operation at the same time as the 251. Here is BL 65 in Glengall Road on 17th March 1987.


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It was at the eleventh hour - gone 11.30, infact - of BL operation when Westlink received one to operate a new route, 592, in the Stanwell and Ashford areas. Before the start of that operation, the bus involved - BL 81, kitted out like BL 36 seen earlier and also previously allocated to Camberwell - worked on peak-hour operation 602, a former Golden Miller route if memory serves. Here it is arriving at Feltham on 8th June 1990.



After finishing passenger service, a few BLs were allocated to driver-training duties within LBL's CentreWest subsidiary. Dead-handy the buses being approximately 30 feet long, with the then new driver-training regulations regarding vehicle-length in mind. Irony of ironies, some of these were even allocated to Uxbridge. I rather doubt that this driver was route-learning the 65, as BL 2 is seen on the Kew Road on 9th December 1991.

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We end our page of BLs with some shots of the most well-known examples of the class, the four Bristols that worked from Uxbridge garage on the 'Hillingdon Local Service', the 128 which served Ruislip, Mount Vernon Hospital, Harefield, Denham and Maple Cross between 1977 and 1988, when they were replaced by repainted and refurbished Leyland Nationals. BL 95 is at work on the first day of the Sunday variant of the route, the 128A between Uxbridge and Harefield Hospital, at Ruislip on a damp 19th July 1987; BL 94 is seen in Ladygate Lane, within the considerably- sized 'nice bit' of Ruislip on 7th June 1988, and BL 56 - the one drafted in later to join the original three - is seen in Northwood Road on the same date. A picture of BL 93 can be accessed via the 'thumbnail' image on the front page.


Like the legend in the windscreen
says . . . BL 95 at Ruislip about to start the final journey to Uxbridge, 13th July 1988. Their LS replacements started on the route that afternoon, and the four 128 BLs departed Uxbridge garage for pastures new later that evening. BL 95 is now preserved in original 'Hillingdon Local Service' livery, with yellow window surrounds, and was displayed at the 1998 Cobham Bus Museum Open Day.* If you know what became of the others, please
drop me a mail!

* The notes on the present whereabouts of BLs 1 and 95 are courtesy of Ian Smith, whose 'Ian's Bus Stop' has a feature on Bristol LH /LHSs with London Transport and London Country (link here).




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