London Transport
Red Plates

Last updated 20-1-10.

“E” plates with red backgrounds were rarely used for route number, being confined to Tourist services and some of the City of Oxford routes, although there were some exceptions for special purposes. They are not easily found nowadays.


On this plate the word VINTAGE has been signwritten onto the space where it previously read TOURIST. Many of these plates were officially altered by grinding off the original word and signwriting the new text on top.
The later style of enamel “E” plate, with original VINTAGE BUS lettering on two lines.
184 MON-FRI RUSH HOURSA further version was made in vinyl and used a typeface known as Granby which resembled Johnston at a time when the latter was not commercially available or released outside London Transport’s main letterpress printers. These stickers were affixed onto old “E” plates—note the white enamel peeking out along the left and right edges. This one was made from a 184 MON-FRI RUSH HOURS plate.
D 142
On a summer day in 1980, 55-year-old Dennis D142 [XX 9591] approaches the B(C)E9 stop at Charing Cross station.
Kevin McCormack photo; HLB
Vintage Bus tickets
Three punch tickets from London Transport’s Vintage Bus service 100. It was operated in the 1970s with several different routings, normally by ST922. It was sponsored for a time by Johnnie Walker whisky, and the bus and these tickets carry an advertisement for the company.

Leon Daniels (former Director of Obsolete Fleet, operator of Vintage Bus route 100) writes, “Route 100 first ran from 1972 and existed many (but not all) summers from then on. In fact, the routings often changed each season and had little in common, although the route number and the use of ST922 was consistent. Following the opening of the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden [in 1980], the last iteration of the service—from Covent Garden to Oxford Circus (and subsequently Marble Arch)—ran using ST922 mostly, D142 from time to time, and RT1 a little towards the end.”

Route 100A was a planned variation to the service in the late 1970s which never operated, but some “E” plates were produced. The letter As were added to stock route 100 “E” plates in preparation, and then subsequently obliterated to be used for the regular service.

This is an astonishingly rare “E” plate and the 100A didn’t appeared in any other form. The edge chip is possibly caused by this being a very thick plate and therefore a tight fit in the bus stop runners.



In 1988 a new route 400 ran to Greenwich for the National Maritime Museum’s exhibition celebrating the quadricentennial of the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Although the route was an express service and and the buses used displayed white on blue blinds, the “E” stickers were white on red and worded 400 ARMADA.

Selkent’s coach-seated Olympian L262 [VLT 14, but originally D262FUL] pulls around past Cityrama’s open-topper number 39 [KUC939P] (ex-London Transport DMS1939) in Trafalgar Square on 30 July, 1988. The Daimler was scrapped five years later, but the Leyland was still soldiering on a decade later. The green-on-yellow “Tourist Route” sticker (partially visible in the enlargement) is a combined one for the 24 and 29.
Andrew Colebourne photo.
24 - 29


These FARE STAGE plates were a new way of showing fare stages on bus stops. Fare stages were the points from which a new fare was calculated. They previously had been shown by means of a small circular black disc near the top of the post. In a few cases, such as on bus shelters or in bus stations, there was not a suitable pole and an “E” plate was used instead, sometimes placed in runners on top of the shelter. It was a short-lived method, and was subsequently changed to a tall vertical red strip, the depth of the bus stop flag, attached between the post and the flag.



A headstop sign, either of the “E” plate or G3 Q variety, was used when one-man buses were being introduced, and stopped at a bus stop with conventional rear entrance buses. They were needed in cases where just forward of the stop there might have been a driveway which was not to be obstructed by a bus at the bus stop, so the sign was used to tell drivers of rear entrance buses to stop with their front, or “head” at the stop. If there was only a rear entrance bus serving the stop, the bus stop post would have been moved further back, about 30 feet, so the bus could stop in the correct position. Similarly, there were also TAIL STOP “E” plates and G3 signs, and in those cases, it was to tell the driver of a one-man bus to pull forward and stop with his rear at the bus stop. The latter were quite unusual.

HEAD STOP “E” plates normally had black—or occasionally green—lettering on a white background. The red HEAD STOP plate was spotted on the internet, but was probably experimental.


The City of Oxford and District Tramways Company Limited was formed in 1879, and started running in December 1881. In 1905, Oxford City Council exercised its option to take control of the system, but then leased it out by public tender to the National Electric Construction Company, which took over operation in 1907. The NEC was to convert the system to electric trams, but Council wanted no overhead wiring. Stud contact proved unworkable, and presumably conduits were too expensive. The NEC proposed conversion to motorbuses, but no action was taken until William Morris (founder of the Morris Motor Company) started up his own bus service in December 1913. In response, the tramway company began running its own motorbuses shortly after. Morris sold his enterprise to the tramway company in early 1914, which then converted entirely to motorbus operation. In 1921 the company was renamed City of Oxford Motor Services Ltd. Following passage of the The Road Traffic Act in 1930 the company took over many small local operators. At about the same time the Great Western Railway bought a 49% share of the company, and NEC was taken over by British Electric Traction in 1931. In 1968 BET was nationalised.

The origin of the Oxford to London service was the Varsity Express Motors operation via High Wycombe that started in the 1920s. Also, in 1921 the South Midland Transport & Touring Company Ltd. started a London–Henley–Oxford service. The Varsity Express service was taken over by Eastern Counties Omnibus Company in 1933, which then transferred it to United Counties Omnibus Company in 1934 on an area agreement, both being Tilling-associated companies. It was further transferred to South Midland in 1952, which was by then under the control of the Thames Valley operation (having been sold to the British Transport Commission along with other Red & White group companies). In 1971 the City of Oxford Motor Services was merged with South Midland’s Oxford-to-London express services, becoming the Oxford South Midland division of the National Bus Company. In 1983, following deregulation, the companies were once again split into separate units, both of which were subject to management buyouts.

Information from Oxford Bus Company: company history and Ed Maun via the Oxford & Chiltern Bus Page.

Oxford timetable Nº 169; 31 May 1959
City of Oxford Motor Services Ltd. timetable book Nº 169, dated 31st May 1959, contains 176 pages and a fold-out route map inserted in the rear cover. It cost 6d (2½p).
Oxford timetable Nº 176; 11th November 1962
Official Timetable Nº 176 was effective 11th November 1962, and now cost 9d (3¾p).
Oxford timetable Nº 180; 13th June 1965
Two-and-a-half years and four editions later (Nº 180—13th June 1965), the price of the City and County BUS TIMETABLE had risen to 1′3 (6¼p), but also covered coach and rail services.
Oxford timetable 11 July 1976
By 1976 COMS had become part of NBC’s Oxford South Midland, but still insisted on some individuality with their 11 July 1976 timetable book (now costing 10p), which sports a photograph on the cover rather than the standard stylised map.

Oxford route 30 was the former South Midland service between London (Victoria) and Oxford via Slough, Maidenhead, Henley-on-Thames and Wallingford. It was renumbered 390 in 1975.

It is very unusual to find “E” plates with numbers on a red background, although there are a few that exist. Interestingly, many of those that do are for Oxford services.



The City of Oxford’s route 70 was the service from London (Victoria) to Oxford via Uxbridge, High Wycombe and the A40. It was replaced by Oxford South Midland route 290 in 1975.

Oxford South Midland route 290 began running in 1975 between London (Victoria) and Oxford via Uxbridge, High Wycombe and the A40. It was the replacement for City of Oxford Motor Services’ route 70. In the 1980s the London to High Wycombe section of the 290 was operated in conjunction with Green Line route 790. After a period of joint operation with Luton & District, Magpie Travel of High Wycombe took over the of the 290 group of services. The 290 has been withdrawn, but a remnant survives as Red Rose route 275 between Wycombe and Oxford.

Uxbridge Station stop A
Uxbridge Bus Station stop A had a red OXFORD 290 “E” plate, as well as blue ones for Green line express routes 724 and 727.
Andrew Colebourne caught Oxford South Midland 84 [RBW84M]—a Bristol RELH6L with ECW DP49F body—approaching stop A at Uxbridge Station on 26 June 1977.
Magpie Travel K5JFS
Magpie Travel K5JFS
Perhaps the most unusual vehicle to wear Green Line livery is this Autobus Classique bodied Mercedes 811, formerly with J. Fishwick & Son, but seen with Magpie Travel, who’s fleet was exclusively minibus. The bus’ rear acts as a good promotional device.
Top photo courtesy Andy’s Bus & Coach Photos;
bottom photo courtesy Showbus.
These three examples exhibit all the variations found on Oxford route “E” plates. The name can be above or below the route number, or in both places! The extreme chipping along the edges of the first plate is typical of the occasional extra-thick ones which didn’t quite fit into the runners and often had to be forced into place, with consequential results.


Route 390 was the 1975 renumbering of Oxford route 30. It also ran between London and Oxford, but via Heathrow Airport, Slough, Maidenhead, Henley and Wallingford. A route 190 also existed as a non-stopping motorway relief for the 290 and 390. British Rail objected to it, and a Traffic Commissioner’s hearing was called. However, BR’s complaint was rejected on a technicality because the 190 was an unlicenced relief service, whereas the 290 and 390 did have licences but weren’t competing with the railway. (Thank to Steve Annells for this note.)

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