Horse Bus Vehicle Design

How did the omnibuses change over time? Read on to find out...

"The Omnibus is a handsome machine, in the shape of a van, with windows on each side and one at the end", The Morning Post, circa 1829

Shillibeer Omnibus Replica (1979-03-30)TfL Corporate Archives

The 1st London omnibus was designed in the 1820s

Designed by Coachbuilder George Shillibeer, the vehicle's body was ornately decorated, with the lower panels reading 'Omnibus'. Passengers were carried in greater comfort than in the existing coaches that were operating in London at the time. It was pulled by 3 horses

Shillibeer's vehicle had small side windows and could carry around 22 passengers who entered by a door at the rear.

Between the late 1820s and the 1840s, other operators began to introduce omnibus services all over London.

Thomas Tilling 'Knifeboard' type horse bus (1851) by Thomas TillingLondon Transport Museum

Between the late 1820s and the 1840s, other operators began to introduce omnibus services all over London.  Bells were introduced in 1839 in order to attract the driver’s or conductor’s attention, when passengers wished to alight. There were no fixed stopping places

A later idea was for two straps along the side of the vehicle attached to the driver’s arms, which would be tugged to indicate on which side of the road he should stop.

Knifeboard seating (1891-01-01)TfL Corporate Archives

Knifeboard Seating

Roof seats were introduced by the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) in 1856, originally placed back to back and known as ‘knifeboard’ seating, originating from the long and narrow knifeboards used in Victorian and Edwardian households for cleaning and polishing cutlery

Horse Bus with Garden Seating (1914-01-01)TfL Corporate Archives

Garden Seating

This was followed in 1881 by forward-facing double seats known as the ‘garden-seat’ type and introduced by another horse omnibus business, the London Road Car Company

By the late 19th-century, the 2 types of horse-bus in operation (‘knifeboard’ or ‘garden-seat’) generally carried around 26 passengers and had either 3 or 4 side windows. Front wheels were smaller than those at the rear and top-deck passengers were exposed to the elements

To find out more see our story about Horse Buses in London

Credits: Story

Story compiled by TfL using information in records at the Transport for London Corporate Archives. The Corporate Archives seeks to preserve and make accessible records, not to interpret them. A wider range of material is available for physical consultation.

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