Lindsay Collier Explores Waltham Forest: The Home of British Transport

The Origins of London’s Famous Red Bus

In the early 1900s a man called Arthur Salisbury Jones a City of London stockbroker had a vision to start large scale motorised bus operations all over the United Kingdom.

In 1905 he started the London Motor Omnibus Company which first operated from a small tin hut in Hookers Road Walthamstow. It was from then onwards that the company started to become a serious competitor to the now outdated horse bus operations in London.

Arthur Salisbury Jones had a vision which was not just to control all the bus operations in the United Kingdom but to also build buses and lorries at his works in Walthamstow.

Miles Daimler BusMayor of London

Despite many setbacks in production the company started to assemble vehicles that might one day he believed would become world beaters, however, only a few London Motor Omnibus Company vehicles were eventually constructed.

To overcome his growing fleet operational difficulties Arthur Salisbury Jones then decided to purchase the smart and reliable Miles Daimler bus built in Germany to use on his bus services in London.

His decision to buy these buses soon started to pay off with the public preferring to ride on his slick warm lit buses than a cold, damp, and overcrowded horse bus.

Leytonstone High Road & BearmansMayor of London

The London General Omnibus Company

Waiting in the wings was the London General Omnibus Company who was then still struggling to move forward from horse bus to petrol bus operations in London.

An amalgamation or takeover with the London General Omnibus Company soon followed, making them overnight the largest petrol bus operators in London The General now not only inherited 885 buses but a very useful large works at Walthamstow.

B Type Bus (1910)Mayor of London

The first prototype bus was named the X and was a great success. The B Type bus design soon followed which was also constructed at the Walthamstow works. This was the first standardised built bus in the world.

The B type bus now gave the General the firm foundation it required, proudly proclaiming to the world “Open air buses to everywhere” The company’s buses were all painted red to clearly distinguish the general’s buses from other operators.

B Type TruckMayor of London

The new trading named was called the Associated Equipment Company or known today by millions of people all around the world as just AEC. As the company began to grow further World War One had now began which brought the development of motor buses in Britain to a grinding halt.

By then the company had been producing about 28 new B Type buses a week, with a grand total of 3,000 finally being produced.

Y Type Military TruckMayor of London

The war years started to see a severe test for the vehicles and those at Walthamstow responsible for their production. The B Type bus was adapted as a troop carrier with some 1,300 being acquired by the War Department.

Most of these saw service in France, hence the famous saying ”Born in Walthamstow, and Died in France”.

LNER Steam Locomotive 9635 at Leytonstone StationMayor of London

The World’s First Fully Automated Underground Railway the Victoria Line 1968

A tube railway running from Victoria to Walthamstow was first proposed by a working party set up by the British Transport Commission in 1948. The main purpose was to relieve congestion in the central area. The necessary Private Bill was introduced into Parliament in 1955. It described a line from Victoria to Walthamstow (Wood Street).

The name "Victoria line" dates back to 1955; other suggestions were "Walvic line" (Walthamstow – Victoria) and "Viking line" (Victoria – King's Cross).

During the planning stages, it was also known as Route C and then was named the Victoria line after Victoria Station by David McKenna, whose suggestion was seconded by Sir John Elliot.

The line is equipped with an Automatic Train Operation system (ATO); the train operator (driver) closes the train doors and presses a pair of "start" buttons, and if the way ahead is clear, the ATO drives the train at a safe speed to the next station and stops it there.

Britain’s First Four Wheeled Motor Car with an Internal Combustion Engine 1892

Frederick William Bremer (b.1872) constructed Britain's first four wheeled car in Walthamstow with an internal combustion engine in 1892. The son of a German immigrant, he lived in Walthamstow and put the car together in a workshop behind the family's home on Connaught Road. He described himself as a plumber, electrician, engineer, and bicycle maker. Bremer built the car for personal pleasure rather than commercial profit.

His first and only petrol car was first driven in 1892, preceded down the road by a red flag. In 1912 the car was displayed at the First British Motor Museum in Oxford Street London, but the museum was relocated to Crystal Palace in 1914 along with the car. Later Bremer considered sending it for scrap but fortunately, it found a new home when Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow opened in 1933 where it remains today.

No.1 Triplane 1Mayor of London

Britain’s First All British Aviation Flight

In the early 1900s, the interest in aviation began to grow in Britain, so much so that prizes were being offered to construct experimental flying models that might enhance the future development of aviation in Britain. A prize of £75 was offered by the Daily Mail newspaper for the construction of a flying model that must weigh no more than fifty pounds and could fly higher than fifty feet. In 1907 a competition was held at Alexandra Palace in North London which was won by the now famous aviator Edwin Alliott Verdon Roe (1877-1958) In 1908, Roe had at last found a partner to finance the building of a full-size aero plane.

John Alfred Prestwich (1874-1952), who became famous for his JAP engines, invested some £50 into the new company, which was called the J.A.P. Avroplane Company. The partnership failed due to many arguments over what type of plane should be built, a triplane or a monoplane.

Not being deterred by this setback, Roe constructed his triplane underneath the Great Eastern Railway viaduct arches on Walthamstow Marshes in London, and in 1909 he became the first Briton to pilot and fly an all-British-built aircraft there.

Greater London Council Plaque commemorating Alliott Verdon RoeMayor of London

The aircraft’s engine was also British built which was manufactured at his former partner’s factory in Tottenham London. The plane was painted bright yellow with the words AVROPLANE in bold letters on the side along with the name BULLS EYE which was the braces company that his brother Humphrey Verdon Roe also then a partner owned. Was this the first form of advertising on the side of an aircraft.

Roe then decided to mass-produce some of his planes and the AVRO Aviation Company was formed in 1910. Roe then decided to sell the company to set up a new partnership with John Lord in a company called Saunders Roe. The Saunders Roe Company mainly concentrated on producing flying-boats, but none were produced in very large numbers.

Under the name of AVRO, the company continued over many years producing various unique types of aircraft, the 504, the Lancaster, and Vulcan bomber being just a few. A commercial model of the Lancaster, the Lancastrian, was the first commercial aircraft to fly from Heathrow, London. The Lancaster bomber was also adapted in World War Two to carry the famous Barnes Wallis “dam buster” bouncing bomb, which was partly designed in the Lea Valley, at the Royal Gunpowder Mills in Waltham Abbey.

Temple Mills Yard and Wagon WorksMayor of London

Britain’s First Battery Powered Vehicle

The late 1800s saw the rapid expansion of tramway development across East London. The North Metropolitan Tramways controlled the operations in Leytonstone where it had set up a works which was involved in the construction or trials of numerous experimental trams. One of these and probably the most innovative of British tramway developments occurred in 1882 with the introduction of the first known form of battery electric street traction in the United Kingdom. The Faure accumulator car as it was known was designed by Mr. Radcliffe Ward for the Faure Accumulator Company. This vehicle was a converted horse tram.

Other notable achievements include in 1877 the Merryweather and Sons Company had experimental steam tram locomotive trials along the tramway from Stratford to Leytonstone towing a normal horse tram car.

Illustration of a battery-powered tramMayor of London

In 1881 Colonel F.E.B. Beaumont experimental compressed air tram locomotive also held trials on the tramway between Stratford to Leytonstone. Colonel Beaumont had other interests in air-driven machinery.

His boring tunnel machines were use in the test tunnels for the original Channel Tunnel scheme. He also advocated the use of compressed air to drive these trains through his tunnels, but nothing came of his idea as these tunnels were never completed. In closing the tram works at Leytonstone in later years came under the control of the London County Council.

Many trams continued to be constructed there for several years including the preserved E1 Class tramcar No 1025.

Credits: Story

Text by Lindsay Collier, Author, Regional and Borough Historian

Further information about the machines referred to in this exhibit can be found in the Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum.

For more information about Waltham Forest London Borough of Culture 2019 please visit

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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