Buses on the Isle of Dogs

Throughout the 1800s, if you wanted to leave or visit the Isle of Dogs, you would most likely walk, take a ferry, or make use of a horse-drawn omnibus, described by Wikipedia as…

…a large, enclosed, and sprung horse-drawn vehicle used for passenger transport. It was mainly used in the late 19th century … and was one of the most common means of transportation in cities. In a typical arrangement, two wooden benches along the sides of the passenger cabin held several sitting passengers facing each other. The driver sat on a separate, front-facing bench, typically in an elevated position outside the passengers’ enclosed cabin. On the upper deck, which was uncovered, the longitudinal benches were arranged back to back.

The Island was, however…

…notoriously difficult to get into, or out of. Traffic was subject to bottlenecks and frequent stoppages at the dock bridges. In the 1850s a one-horse bus (‘the smallest of all metropolitan omnibuses’) ran between the Greenwich Ferry and Limehouse. In 1862 local businessmen set up a new bus service round the loop of the Island, but this closed in the late 1870s.
– British History Online

One Island omnibus company operating later in the 19th century was George Middleditch & Son whose premises were at 227A-C Westferry Road (just north east of Kingsbridge, later the site of ‘Nob’ Davison’s yard/garage).

Circa 1900. Island History Trust

Circa 1906, at the western end of Glengall Road (a section now named Tiller Road) where it meets Westferry Road. The omnibus on the left, possibly belonging to George Middleditch, has a route painted along its side panel, implying that it usually served a scheduled route. However, everybody’s clothing gives the impression that it is a special occasion, perhaps an outing.

By WWI, virtually all horse-drawn omnibuses had been replaced by motor omnibuses. At the same time, due to a strategy of buy-outs of independent operators, 75% of London’s omnibuses were operated by the London General Omnibus Company.

1910s. An omnibus outside the Lord Nelson.

1910s. An omnibus outside the Princess of Wales (aka Macs) in Manchester Road, opposite the corner with Stebondale Street, in an area now occupied by George Green’s School playing field.

1910s. Manchester Road, diagonally opposite the previous photo. On the left is a glimpse of the corner with Stebondale Street. Photo: Island History Trust.

1920s (estimate). A bus and other vehicles waiting for a ship to enter Millwall Docks.

1926. Another bridger at Kingsbridge, this time from the other side. Photo: A.G. Linney / PLA Collection / Museum of London

1933 saw the inauguration of the London Passenger Transport Board, a public service which unified bus and tube services in the London area for the first time, and saw the introduction of many routes and route numbers which still exist in some form. Much of the route information in the remainder of this article was gleaned from the very wonderful londonbuses.co.uk.

No. 56 Bus Route

Introduced in 1934 and initially running from Mile End Road (Station) to Cubitt Town (Stebondale Street) where it connected with the 57. When the 57 was withdrawn in 1942, the 56 route was extended to Poplar. However, at the same time, the section between Mile End Road and Limehouse was discontinued, which meant the 56 route covered ‘just’ Manchester Road and Westferry Road. If there ever was an “Island Bus”, this was it.

The 56 was withdrawn in 1969, replaced by the 277. It was reintroduced in 1980 with a route extending from Limehouse to Aldgate, but was discontinued in 1987 after the introduction of the Docklands Light Railway.

1936. Kingsbridge looking south. WWII prevented the construction of a new bridge as mentioned in the article. Bomb damage to the entrance lock contributed to its closure.

1930s bridger at the West India South Dock Entrance (now served by the Blue Bridge).

Circa 1950. No. 56 seen from a bomb-damaged house looking over Samuda Street, left (with the derelict Manchester Arms on the corner) and Manchester Road, right, showing the very many prefabs in the area between Manchester Road, Glengall Road and East Ferry Road.

No. 57 Bus Route

Introduced in 1937 and running from Stebondale Street to Poplar (Robin Hood Lane, next to the entrance to Blackwall Tunnel). A short-lived route, it was discontinued in 1942.

1930. Island History Trust

1935, Manchester Road (close to The Queen). The bus driver and passengers of a 57 are invited to enjoy a street party celebrating the Silver Jubilee of George V. Photo: Island History Trust

No. 277 Bus Route


Route 277 started in April 1959 to replace the Trolleybus route 677 from Smithfield to Cubitt Town. In October 1961 the Sunday service was extended from Cubitt Town to Poplar replacing the withdrawn route 56. In 1964 Saturday journeys were also extended, and this was followed in 1969 by a weekday extension.

1960s. A 277 driving along The Walls. Photo: Island History Trust

1960s. A 277 in Westferry Road at the bus stop more or less opposite The Ship, close to Chapel House Street (right, out of view). Photo source unknown.

1965. A 277 outside the Vulcan. Photo: Hugo Wilhare.

1965. A 277 parked up at Glen Terrace, off Manchester Road next to the bridge that would be replaced by the Blue Bridge. Photo: Hugo Wilhare

In the 1970s there were two challenges for the 277 route. In 1974, it was temporarily forced to stop at The Queen – when heading north – due to the construction of the Blue Bridge (with passengers walking over the lock entrance to catch a bus on the other side).

Also, new, larger buses had problems negotiating the tight corners and narrow road widths of the iron swing bridges, especially the one at Preston’s Road, where traffic lights were introduced for a while in an attempt to accommodate the buses.

As a consequence of the latter problem, the 277A was introduced, using older buses which could travel around the Island to Poplar without problem (if you didn’t mind the screeching sounds when tyres made contact with bridge ‘pavements’, or the sight oncoming buses which had swung out to make the bend).

1970s. 277A crossing the Blue Bridge. Photo source unknown.

1970s. Kingsbridge. Photo source unknown.

1970s. Manchester Road, outside the lead works. Photo source unknown.

1970s. Manchester Road. Photo source unknown.

1982. 277 at the Blue Bridge. Photo: Chris Hurst.

No. 56 Bus Route (Reintroduction)

Reintroduced in 1980 with a route extended to Aldgate. It was withdrawn after a few years when the Docklands Light Railway opened.

Circa 1980. Westferry Road. Photo source unknown.

1980s. A screenshot from The Chinese Detective. Filmed from the Blue Bridge with The Queen in the background.

At some stage during the 1980s, the bus routes went mad as far as I’m concerned. I mean, I couldn’t keep up with the changes. D this, N that, and even driving over roads that were not Manchester Road or Westferry Road. What was the world coming to? 🙂

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4 Responses to Buses on the Isle of Dogs

  1. Geoff Marshall says:

    As ever, thanks for your research, Geoff Marshall

  2. Jennifer Macaree says:

    Really enjoyed reading that. It brought back a lot of memories of times with my Mum rushing to get the 56 bus every morning go to the Eastern for her to go to work and me to the nursery. Thank you Mick.

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