London Transport “E” Plates
London Transport
Last updated 03-06-08
E PLATES

“Before the 1930s passengers could hail a bus wherever it suited them, and buses could stop anywhere (within reason) to pick up passengers or set them down. This could play havoc with bus running times, and as London’s traffic increased, so the problem became worse. In 1913 the London Genreal Omnibus Company experimented with a few fixed stops, but it wasn’t until the 1920s that the Company introduced bus stops at the busiest places. Even so, buses still had to stop when requested.
“The new London Passenger Transport Board soon grasped the nettle and began to increase the number of fixed stops. In March 1935 it introduced an experimental scheme whereby stops were placed along an entire stretch of route from Euston Road to Tottenham. By 1937 nearly 150 miles of road had fixed strops and LT continued the strategy, either by fitting stops along specific routes or in designated areas. By the early post-war period the whole of LT’s vast area had fixed bus stops.”

John Reed: London Buses–A Brief History

Where multiple routes served the same area, “E” plates bearing route numbers were simply slotted into runners underneath the stop flag on tram, bus and coach stops so that passengers could identify what routes served the stop they were at. This system was used for many years until the plates were replaced by cheaper vinyl stickers. In parts of central London so many routes served the same stop that there were not enough “E” plate spaces on the flag to accommodate them all and, in such cases, London Transport would fit two or even three numbers onto one plate. These “split” plates were usually made for particular stops or groups of stops, and the routes are often found in interesting combinations, and are much less common than the single variety.

“E” plates were made of enamel on steel, measuring 518" (130 mm) wide by 5" (127 mm) deep, and weighed a hefty 812 ounces (240 grams). Strictly speaking, these should be called E1 plates, as there were certainly a number of E2 (the magnificent “double vertical”) plates—some carrying special messages rather than route numbers—and there may even have been the odd E3. Annoyingly, I cannot remember any specific examples but suspect that they occurred mainly in the Country Area.

The back of a typical “E1” plate, in this particular instance from route 55.

Regular plates had black figures on a white background. The back was normally the same colour as the face. Originally “E” plates for Sunday-only routes had white figures on a black background, and by extension this was also used where routes ran to weekend attractions on (usually summer-only) Saturday afternoons as well as Sundays. This did not last for too long and red numbers and lettering became the traditional way in which London Transport indicated weekend, then later only Sunday workings. Green numbers and lettering generally denoted other operators’ services. Blue plates were used for express services, and black ones were for night routes. Green “E” plates—originally with cream characters, but later changed to white—were found on Green Line coach stops, while red was rarely used, other than for special purposes.

78 WEST NORWOOD78 WEEKDAY WEST NORWOOD

Some plates have additional wording such as the days of the week or times of day that a particular route worked that stop, or a destination or type of service. Tram “E” plates were like Country bus ones in that they did not (normally) show restricted days of operation. There is a (rare) picture of Victoria tram terminal which clearly shows an “E” plate which stated 78 | WEST NORWOOD rather than 78 | WEEKDAY | WEST NORWOOD as it would have done if it were on a Central bus stop flag. The words  FARE STAGE  on a reversed background signified that the bus stop in question was a point from where a new fare was calculated.

On the other hand, where bus shelters carried “E” plates at their ends (usually in association with queueing arrangements and usually, but not invariably, at bus stations) the “E” plates carried just the route number without days of operation or other information if there was also a stop flag carrying this info; if there wasn’t then standard “E” plates were used. This accounts for the existence of odd “E” plates showing an apparently daily Central bus route which never operated daily. This probably accounts for the Alder Valley plates which do not show ALDER VALLEY—from one of the Guildford bus stations perhaps.

Temporary plates were made at Parsons Green by London Transport’s own sign shop. They were produced mainly for one of two reasons: a plate was urgently required and was quicker to produce than an enamel one since they were hand-painted onto the pieces of aluminium, or a batch not required and just the one pair was sufficient for just one bus stop. Undoubtably, they are more rare than enamel “E” plates. It is even possible that an aluminium “E” plate was produced using different wordings from the enamel ones, so each pair could be unique. The aluminium plates were produced during the same era as enamel ones.

Production plates were made by Garnier and Co. of London NW10. Leon Daniels writes,

“In the late 1970s I had a lot of dealings with Garniers. Alan Allmey at LBPG [the London Bus Preservation Group] had developed a good trade of providing rally plaques using Garniers. After Alan died I was an LBPG Director and looked after that bit of the business. In my dealings with Garniers I well recall engaging them on the subject of “E” plates which for a while they found completely mystifying until one of their directors said ‘Oh you mean routes; those enamel plates we do for bus stops. They’re called routes here and throughout the factory. Never heard of… what did you call them… E what???’ They were of course “E” plates, but as ever this was a London Transport term only. Interesting isn’t it, that those ‘technical’ terms we learn and use were not as widely recognised as we might have thought?
“I must add that such was their appreciation of the business Alan Allmey had brought them that they made two commemorative plaques to Lynn and Alan (one to use and one spare); the original of which was (and may well still be) in a small garden outside the pedestrian entrance to Cobham Bus Museum.”

Plain Central London route “E” plates are not rare, as they were produced in great quantities, but they are not often seen now because so many have been snapped up as door plates, et cetera. The Country Area (3××, 4×× and 8×× series) routes were transferred to London Country in 1970 which soon ceased using “E” plates on bus stops, preferring to use stickers instead. Green Line plates (for 7×× series routes) are very sought after nowadays and not easy to find. They are especially interesting as there are so many variations of wording.

710 OXFORD CIRCUS CROYDON CRAWLEY FARE STAGE“E” plates can be found for as little as 99p; however, one would have to be incredibly lucky to find anything other than a plain number plate in fair to poor condition. More “interesting” plates (from desirable routes, or with destinations or days of operation) can often be had in the £5 to £40 range. The current record-holder for the highest price paid for an “E” plate on ebay is this Green Line plate which sold for £897.99 on 19th March 2006.

Noone really knows anymore why “E” plates are so-named, as that’s what they’ve been called forever. My personal theory is they’re the fifth in a series (with the bus stop flag itself being the “B” plate, according to Andrew Chilcott), as a “G” plate is the (normally red) full-width panel with additional information that is at the very bottom of a stop sign. The popular belief is that the London General Omnibus Company—the predecessor of London Transport—did in fact “letter” types of signs, although many are unknown and lost in time. Mike Harris thinks that “G” stands for “general”, meaning a message applying to all services, and were noted on official works orders as G3, G6 or G9 plates, while those with specific queueing instructions (QUEUE THIS SIDE FOR ROUTES …) were known as G3 Q (or often simply “Q”) plates.

 

“E” plates: 49 SHEPHERDS BUSH ONLY | 73 TOTTENHAM GARAGE JOURNEYS | 73 MON-FRI RUSH HOURS & SAT RICHMOND | 74X SEE BELOW | 75 ELMERS END GARAGE | 78 DULWICH | 81 SLOUGH | 82 HATTON CROSS VIA CARGO TEMINAL | 87 RAINHAM | 96 DARTFORD | 100 TOURIST BUS | 100A VINTAGE BUS “E” plates: 292 EXPRESS | C3 SATURDAY EXPRESS | W1 MON-SAT FARE STAGE | W8 PICKETRS LOCK | N89 NIGHT SOUTHALL | 309 HAREFIELD | 337 WARE HUNTINGFORD | 348 BALLINGER VIA HYDE HEATH | 375 BALLINGER VIA CHARTRIDGE | 425 GUILDFORD | 426 TINSLEY GREEN HORLEY “E” plates: 40A MON.-SAT. | 68 | 79A WEEKDAY | 91 WEEKDAY | 193 WEEKDAY FARE STAGE | 202 MON-SAT | 259 MON.-SAT. | 295 SATURDAY | N68 NIGHT—N88 NIGHT “E” plates: 3 | 115A SAT.-SUN. | 176 MON.-FRI. FARE STAGE | 177 | 180 | 226 EASTERN NATIONAL | 401 EASTERN NATIONAL | 402 EASTERN NATIONAL “E” plates: 30 SPECIAL JOURNEYS ONLY | 45 MON-FRI & SUNDAY SATURDAY SPECIAL JOURNEYS | 62 MON-SAT GASCOIGN ESTATE | 77 SUNDAY KINGS CROSS | 80 SUNDAY BEYOND BELMONT | 80A SUNDAY BEYOND BELMONT | 87 WHITE POST CORNER | 107 SPECIAL JOURNEYS TO ARKLEY | 125 WINCHMORE HILL (HIGHLANDS HOSPITAL) | 247B SUNDAY | 265 SUNDAY CHESSINGTON ZOO LEATHERHEAD | 270 MON-FRI ALIGHTING POINT ONLY | 285 WEEKDAY | 296 EXPRESS ALIGHTING POINT ONLY | 409 FOREST ROW | 503 MON-FRI - 507 | A1 AIRPORT EXPRESS | RAIL-AIR LINK FROM FELTHAM | 151 'BY REQUEST' EASTERN NATIONAL | 260 WARLEY | 7 AND - 81 MAIDSTONE & DISTRICT | 81 THAMES VALLEY | 81A THAMES VALLEY | 72 SOUTHDOWN - 89 SOUTHDOWN

 

In general, if there is no date given at the beginning of a route description, it means that it was already running in 1950. Many of these descriptions were written by Mike Harris for his ebay auctions of surplus plates. (If you’re interested, look for seller punzel9072 on ebay.) Stuart Boxall (dms2456) has also provided a constant supply of images from his ebay auctions. Special thanks must go to Laurie Akehurst, Peter Beeson, David Birch, Laurie Bishop, Brian Burgess, Andrew Colebourne, Leon Daniels, Paul Davis, Chris Hall, Matthew Keyte, Peter B. Lloyd, Keith Williams, David Woodcock, Albert P. Zammit and all the others for the photos and helpful information they have contributed.

Although the primary focus of this site is London Transport “E” plates, it has expanded to also include the bus stop flags, too. There are also subsections for London Transport maps, and an illustrated bibliography of selected books. These sections will continue to (slowly) grow.

My own interest in London and its buses dates from 1970 when I lived there for the year while my father was studying on sabbatical at St. Pancras Hospital. I started this site in July 2005 because I found the plates and information too interesting to just let disappear after a few weeks on ebay, so I took the liberty of collecting them and creating a web site (since noone else has bothered to post anything at all about “E” plates, hence leaving a gaping void …).

And finally, a couple of technical notes. This site is in no way official and I cannot answer any travel enquiries (and I do get some strange ones). Please use the TfL Journey Planner, email or telephone 0207 222 1234. Page headings, titles and “E” plate wordings are intended to display in London Transport’s Johnston type face. (If you wish to obtain a copy of this font for your own computer, a licensed version can be purchased from P22 Type Foundry.) Any errors in editing, posting, HTML coding, etcetera are (probably) my fault, and I can be contacted at . I look forward to hearing from you.

 
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