Thursday, 27 May 2010

A Journey Through The Smoke


I'm back in London for the start of Bus Stop Britain part two – and, boy, am I going to be busy!

With all socks and t-shirts duly washed and ironed (the t-shirts, that is, not the socks...), I have completed my all-too-brief sojourn at home and made the long journey down from Tyneside to London for the start of the second phase of my journey through Britain by bus.

This phase of my travels will basically see me travelling back home again, albeit by way of the West Midlands, Wales, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Lancashire again and the Lake District. They don't call me Iain 'Scenic Route' Lynn for nothing! Actually, they don't call me Iain 'Scenic Route' Lynn at all because that would be rather silly... still, the scenic route home is the one I'll be taking and over the coming two weeks I'm looking forward to having you along with me- by Twitter and blog - on the way.

Today, which is actually Day 9 in my great Land's End to John O'Groats odyssey, will be spent doing two things – firstly, finishing off my aborted journey by bus into Central London that I attempted last week only to be thwarted by traffic and very, very,v-e-r-y slow buses, and secondly exploring some interesting public transport-related 'hey-wow's' that can be found within our nation's crowded capital.

As ever, if you know where to look you can come up with all kinds of surprises – but I'll leave that for tonight's blog.

In fact, I have already started, as you will see from the slightly bizarre photograph that accompanies this blog entry. You probably weren't expecting a churchyard but there's a good reason why I've been headstone-spotting and here it is.

I decided to begin this stage of my journey by paying my respects to the man who basically invented the omnibus as we know it, George Shillibeer. It was he who first launched the very first regular horse-drawn carriage service in London which, unlike private carriages or hackney cabs, was so inexpensive that almost everyone could use it. It revolutionised London, allowing people living some distance from their places of work – which most people did – to travel to work more quickly and in some comfort, and for the cost of just a few pennies. George gave his first public carriage – which was little more than a van fitted with bench seats, really – the rather grand name of Omnibus, and the name stuck.

It was soon apparent that George's idea was a good one and a highly lucrative one, too. Within a few short years, many more such omnibuses appeared on the streets of London and poor George, the progenitor of the whole public omnibus idea, found that in he couldn't compete against such overwhelming competition, and he was forced to sell up and move on.

George made a new life for himself in the east of London, in Chigwell, where it is thought his former omnibuses were adapted by him for his new life as an undertaker, which at least ensured that he continued to use his revolutionary vehicles to ferry people around – albeit dead people!

Actually, it is believed that he converted one of his now unused omnibuses into a revolutionary hearse-omnibus hybrid which allowed both the living and the recently-departed to share a vehicle for a cosy journey to the graveyard, but I understand they were not a great success (largely on the grounds of taste, I should think). George was himself to make that final journey in 1865 and he now lies, largely uncelebrated, in modest plot in the graveyard of St Mary's Church in Chigwell.

Well, having paid my respects to George Shillibeer, I'll be putting his invention, which first turned a wheel some 185 years ago, to excellent use over the coming two weeks as I make my way north from London. Much of the estimated 450 mile criss-crossing journey to Tyneside will be undertaken by bus, with the odd tram or ferry thrown in for added spice, so it should be possible by the end of all that to see whether George's invention has stood the test of time.

The question is.... will I?

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