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Route 233
2 April 2013

The 233 has had an interesting variety of operators over the years, and is now for a second time operated by Metrobus from its Orpington garage. The route was re-stocked with new short E20D/Enviro200Darts with the amidships emergency exit (due to being single door). The photographer was out on the first date of the new contract, 23 February 2013, and captured all six buses in service that day. 179 (YX62 DYH) was in Eltham High Street.

Photo © RNAM200 (Robert Mighton).

The section of the 233 out to Swanley has its origins as part of trunk route 21. By 1924, LGOC route 21B ran all the way from Newington Green via the current routes 21 and 321 to Foots Cray, then via route 233 to Swanley, and further still to Farningham. The service out to Farningham was hourly Monday to Saturday, increasing to half hourly on Saturday afternoons and every 12 minutes on Sundays! The route was jointly operated by the brand new Sidcup Garage (SP) and Old Kent Road (P).

By 1935, the suffix had been dropped, and route 21 ran from Wood Green throughout to Farningham, with buses every 5-6 minutes as far as Sidcup Garage, and then half hourly to Farningham round the week. P was dropped, but in addition to SP, Catford (TL), Camberwell (Q) and West Green (WG), all off line of route, got a look in on the allocation. At the outbreak of war, the route was split into overlapping sections most of the time, Wood Green to Sidcup Garage, and Eltham Well Hall Station to Farningham.

During the war, a route 21A was introduced from Woolwich to Sidcup Garage (its home garage) in peaks only, running with route 161 non-stop together over the tram route Woolwich Eltham, for the benefit of munitions workers at the Woolwich Arsenal. A few 21A journeys projected to Swanley or Farningham. As part of the final phase of tram replacement in 1952, routes 21A and 161 became stopping services, covering tram routes 44 and 46 over the Woolwich Shooters Hill Eltham corridor.

In 1956, the Farningham portion of route 21 was transferred to the 21A, except on Sundays when the 21A did not run. The 21A had been withdrawn on Saturdays from 10th October 1962, with the 21 being re-extended to Farningham in replacement. On 15 June 1968 the 21A became daily between Sidcup Station and Swanley (with no more 21s beyond Sidcup Garage), with just a few Monday-Friday peak hour journeys on to Farningham. Just four months later, from 26 October 1968, it was extended back as far as Eltham Well Hall but converted to driver-only operation using single decker Merlins.

Falling patronage over the Kent extremities led to withdrawal of route 21A over the Swanley Farningham section from 2 January 1972, although a limited service remained on the Green Line 719 out to Wrotham until 1st April 1978. Ironically the 21 was to return to West Kingsdown from 1989 to 1997 as part of a Kent County Council contract, with a single one-way journey journey all the way from West Kingsdown to Moorgate at 0634, taking just over 2 hours! Conversion of route 21A to Swifts followed from 24 November 1973, and back to double deck in the form of Fleetlines from 5th December 1976. Then, as part of the "Fares Fair" fiasco, withdrawal Eltham - Sidcup occurred from 4th September 1982.

Soon afterwards, route 21A was progressively converted to Titan operation. On 26th October 1984 the route was renumbered 233, and extended to Eltham again, but via Avery Hill to support heavily reduced route 228. There were still isolated journeys on the 21 to Swanley. From 1986 Sidcup garage was allocated a substantial number of M class Metrobuses, having evaluated half a dozen alongside Titans on the 51 a couple of years earlier.

Early in the Tendering era, route 233 was awarded to Maidstone Boroline, which duly took up the contract from 16th January 1988 with a mixture of its own new Olympians and hired vehicles from faraway places such as Ipswich!

Before the company folded in 1992, resulting in the route passing to Kentish Bus, some interesting vehicles and liveries appeared, such as Scania N113s, Volvo Citybuses and a small batch of Dundee Ailsas, as well as some Metrobuses borrowed from Maidstone & District.

The 233 had been a Monday Saturday service since its inception. From 31st May 1987, Kentish Bus decided to liven up garage running to/from Swanley Garage, from where route 51 was operated. Alternate 51 journeys from Woolwich terminated at Foots Cray anyway, so just on Sundays, these were extended via route 233, but as route 51A Woolwich Swanley. This arrangement prevailed until 5th September 1992, when LRT incorporated a Sunday service between Sidcup Station and Swanley into the 233 contract.

Kentish Bus continued to offer vehicle and livery interest on route 233, such as Leyland Lynx and Greenway Nationals both in "rhubard & custard" and the later green/yellow livery. Considerable enhancement was specified from 14th September 1996, when frequencies were doubled at all times (becoming 15 minutes Monday-Saturday daytime; 30 minutes evenings and Sundays), with the Sunday service extended as per weekdays to Eltham. This covered the complete withdrawal of route 228.

On 24th January 1998, coinciding with a new operating contract, major changes were made. The service was diverted via New Eltham, leaving the route via Halfway Street and Avery Hill to an extension of route 286, and bringing it back into line with its former roots the main part of the 21 now being the 321. The route was also controversially diverted via Longlands Road; there was a big campaign to get this stopped, but your webmaster well remembers the bus stopping outside a house with "Say no to 233" posters displayed, only for a young man to rush out and board the bus! Journeys towards Swanley included a double run via Jubilee Way to serve Sidcup Station, as there were no other suitable stops in the vicinity.

The re-routeing also resulted in the Monday to Saturday daytime frequency being reduced again, to every 20 minutes. The contract had been awarded to Metrobus and was specified for 10.2m low floor Darts, but owing to a tight turn these were diverted to route 181 leading to a cascade of Darts and the use of the smallest possible vehicles on the 233, 8.5m standard Darts. Eventually, new 8.8m MPD Darts were ordered, and these were retained and repainted red following contract renewal in 2003. In 2008 the contract was won by Arriva Kent Thameside, as Kentish Bus had become, before reverting to Metrobus in 2013.

The historical notes are based on an article by Karl Gurney, with permission.

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See also routes 21, 321, 51, 181

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