The End of an Era

A horse bus in London, photographed in 1902.

A horse bus in London, photographed in 1902.

Snippets 82.  In 1898 Daimler sold a double-decker bus to the Motor Traction Company, to be used in London. By 1910 double-decker buses were being mass produced and were becoming a common sight on the streets of London. In 1908, Sixty Days in Europe and What We Saw There by Thomas Rees was published. Rees tells of the dying days of the horse bus in London, and the consequences for the horse bus drivers of the new age of the auto-mobile bus. One cannot help but feel that something special was being lost…

The street car systems of these older cities are not so complete as those of cities of similar size in America, and passengers are conveyed through the busy streets in omnibuses, which have seats on the roof as well as on the inside. There are hundreds and perhaps thousands of these omnibuses in use in London, and to occupy a seat on top of one is a very pleasant mode of conveyance through the throngs that fill the busy thoroughfares. You can sit on one of these and, as far as the eye can reach, see processions of them in every direction which makes it appear as though the city had turned out and was enjoying one grand picnic. The horse ‘buses, however, are being rapidly superseded by the automobile ‘buses, which are more powerful, carry more passengers and are more rapid. While this has given the city an appearance of more hustle and business it has taken away much of the poetical side, if it may be so termed, of the conveyances of London.

The ‘bus driver of London is a character different from almost any other personage on the face of the earth. To sit next him on a trip and get the benefit of his knowledge is worth an extra fare, which he usually expects if he gives you much attention. He is always accommodating and pleased to call one’s attention to the various points of interest on his route, all of which he has time to explain no matter how busy he may be, and he is usually pretty busy in threading his way among the other conveyances that occupy the street. But he is doomed, like the other institutions of a past generation which he represents, and is gradually giving way to the new regime.

One of the last nights that we were in London, as we rolled down the broad thoroughfare under a bright moon, we sat next to the driver, and had quite a conversation with him. It was late at night and the great throng had largely disappeared from the street. The driver was in a talkative mood and told us that for many years he had driven over that route, but that this was his last week, as the automobiles were taking the place of the ‘buses, and at the end of this week he and his ‘bus and horses would be displaced by one of the devil wagons which are now filling up the streets and taking the place of him and his kind. He had saved a little money, and, having read of the beauties of farming and the advantages of Canada, at the end of that week he was going to bid farewell to his old home in London and go way out into western Canada to make a new start in a new life.

There was a sort of sadness in his melancholy story of having to leave his old home, but he was full of optimism and hope for the future, away off in the new country, where his environs would be so different. After all, I could not help thinking it was probably best for him, because there would still be plenty of people left in London, and I sincerely wished in my heart that he would meet with the success which he anticipated.

You can read another quote from the same travel journal in Chaos in Naples (Snippets 39).

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