Rare pictures of when horses tried to out-run the buses

It remained a feature of life until recently in some cities to hop on and off a passing bus through the open back door, but as these rare pictures from the archive remind us, it wasn’t the only part of the vehicle to have been exposed to the elements.

circa 1920:  A woman with a very small open horse-drawn carriage rides alongside a bus bound for Southall.  (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)
circa 1920: A woman with a very small open horse-drawn carriage rides alongside a bus bound for Southall. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

Motor buses have been part of the urban landscape since the end of the 19th century – although, as we can see from one picture, the horse and cart initially tried to give them a run for their money.

They were not entirely new. The first “horse bus” service had been established in Manchester as early as 1824, with passengers picked up and set down along a predefined route, just as today.

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The motorised era brought greater speed but not necessarily comfort. Not only the upper decks but also the staircases were “outside” and the upstairs seats unupholstered.

circa 1920: A woman with a very small open horse-drawn carriage rides alongside a bus bound for Southall. (Photo by Fox Photos/Getty Images)

The new technology was seized upon by entrepreneurs and the Edwardian era saw a free-for-all in which competing companies plied for trade, especially in London.

But it was the inter-war period that set the pattern which continued for the rest of the century, with a new system of regulation that saw small, private operators giving way to “corporation” fleets run by local councils. Many of the displaced operators had been First World War servicemen who learnt their mechanical skills in the Army.

The buses themselves were mostly the same from town to town, but as the corporation model took hold, each began to specify its own livery, interior seat pattern and destination board arrangement.

Most ran an unofficial but nevertheless rigid system of gender discrimination: the men up front in the cab and the women “clippies” inside, taking the fares.

March 1914: Two men travelling on the open top deck of a motor bus, in the rain. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

It was a model that had barely changed by the 1970s, when TV’s On The Buses immortalised it.

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September 1917: A line of bus conductorettes marching into a depot where their buses are parked. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)

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February 1917: A bus conductress collects fares from two soldiers on the top deck of an open-top bus. (Photo by Topical Press Agency/Getty Images)
1913: Two drivers chat from their buses outside the Gaiety Theatre, London. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
May 1911: Rows of London buses in the fitting shop of a motor bus garage. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)