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Route 47
17 January 2008

The 47 has done quite new for new vehicles in recent years. Until 2000, the route was one of Stagecoach London’s last Leyland Titan strongholds. The elderly Titans were replaced by modern Volvo Olympians, but the requirement for all buses to be low floor on contract renewals saw the Olympians quickly move on, being replaced by new short wheelbase Dennis Tridents, apparently due to a tight turn in the London Bridge area, though the longer variety could be seen quite frequently.

Now, a re-routeing in the London Bridge area has removed that restriction, and the opportunity was taken upon tender renewal in January 2006 to upgrade the route to the higher capacity version. In this view 18483 (LX55 BEO) turns into Catford Bus Garage on 19 March 2006. The destination display has now been superseded by one with Bellingham as the main point, more accurately reflecting the locality.

Photo © James Fullick.

This batch of vehicles was the last of their type, as the ALX400 bodywork style was replaced by the Enviro400 on Dennis Trident chassis. Since the photo was taken, Stagecoach have sold their London bus operations, although these vehicles retain the blue skirt for the time being. Stagecoach's London livery originally had orange and blue swirls at the rear, but these were abandoned some time ago to speed up repaints and because London Buses preferred only the skirt area to be a colour other than red. Assuming the current policy of repainting every 3 years continues, these buses should go into all over red in about a year's time.

The 47 is a very old route and has been linking Catford with the city as far as I can trace back. However, it used to push on beyond Catford to Bromley and Farnborough via what is now the 208 and 358, and taking around 90 minutes. The frequency from Shoreditch to Bromley was every 6 minutes, exactly matching the 208, but bettering the current 10 minute service on the 47. Alternate buses continued to Farnborough.

There have been a few minor changes in between. Apart from the introduction of one-way systems at Shoreditch and Catford — and the subsequent introduction of a contraflow bus lane at Catford and abandonment of the Shoreditch one — there has been a diversion in the Surrey Quays area, first to serve the new shopping centre, and later to serve a new station at Canada Water nearby when the Jubilee Line extension opened. But the most significant one is the diversion of buses away from Deptford High Street to Deptford Church Street. The latter is now the main route through Deptford, having been upgraded to dual carriageway, but the former is where all the shops are. It is also where the market is, which is where the problem lay.

Deptford Market trades Wednesdays and Saturdays, and when it does run, the southern end of the High Street is closed to traffic (it is restricted access at other times also). Thus, for some years, buses ran via the High Street on Sundays, Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesday evenings, Thursdays and Fridays and via Deptford Church Street at other times. Additionally buses sometimes ran via the full length of either street, but sometimes cutting across via Giffin Street. When travelling home from school in the early 1990s, not having studied the timetable, I never quite knew whether to go to the High Street or Church Street, and it seems neither did the drivers, because buses could appear up either. In 1994 this unsatisfactory arrangement was wisely dropped with the routeing now standardised via Deptford Church Street.

As mentioned, the route used to originate from Farnborough. Introduction of route 199 in 1958 saw the 47 cut back to Bromley garage on Mondays to Saturdays, but the status quo was restored in 1964. The 4 September 1982 scheme saw trunk routes in the Bromley area revised, with route 94 withdrawn in favour of new routes 208 and 261. The latter also replaced the 47 between Bromley Common and Farnborough (and the 229 between Farnborough and Orpington).

The 47 was further curtailed to the rather silly terminus of Downham in 27 April 1985, which was a device to allow the southern part of the route, now numbered 47A and running from Bromley Common to Surrey Docks, to lose its conductors, having already lost its Routemasters the previous year. The 47A interestingly had a Sunday extension to Aldgate via Tower Bridge, to serve market traffic. However, the 47A lasted just five months on Mondays to Saturdays, being replaced by a re-incarnated 199, which ran via Greenwich and continued to Trafalgar Square via route 1. The rather useless section of the 47 between Downham and Catford garage was withdrawn without replacement in November 1988.

See also routes N47, 136, 160, 185, 199, 208, 358

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