Buses, umbrellas and the British class system

London Routemaster bus
London Routemaster bus.

How did you stop a bus in 1950s Britain?

There are two types of stop, a 'compulsory' bus stop where the driver always stops and a 'request' stop, where the driver stops if requested by passenger on the bus or member of the public waiting at the bus stop.

But how do you stop the bus? According to the 'Central buses - map and list of routes' from 1968, you should ring the bell, if you are on the bus. If you want to get on the bus, you should wave your arm.

What about waving an umbrella?

Mr J Dromgoole complained in a letter to The Times on 20 September 1957, where he told the story of his friend who wanted to stop a No 19 bus. The No 19 ran from Finsbury Park to Tooting. It took in Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park Corner and Sloane Square. His friend held up his umbrella and three bus drivers ignored him. The fourth stopped, but the conductor reprimanded him and told him that an umbrella was no way to stop a bus.

Mr Dromgoole gave the National Liberal Club SW1 as his address. The National Liberals were a breakaway from the Liberal Party. They sided with the Conservatives. [1]

Fulton umbrella
Fulton umbrella, 1950s

Mr Dromgoole's letter received a reply from Lord Strabolgi, a Labour peer. Lord Strabolgi defended the bus drivers. He told Dromgoole that London Transport notices said passengers should use a hand to stop a bus. Lord Strabolgi thought the drivers ignored Dromgoole's friend because they might have thought he wanted to a taxi.[2]

The two letters prompted four replies. One was from Sylvia A Sulivan, The Haywards, Middle Wallop, Hampshire, (today this property is worth over £1m). A conductor rebuked her for using and umbrella and told her it was rude and bordering on insulting. Mr A Buchanon took no sides but suggested an umbrella could be dangerous to other road users. Hannah Wright wrote that using a hand to stop a bus for another passenger was also unacceptable. But Mr A J Hill suggested Mr Dromgoole's friend try raising his hat instead. [3]

But why was wagging an umbrella so rude?

Middle class office workers carried umbrellas, along with a bowler hat and a brief case. Working class Britons did not have much use for umbrellas. Many preferred to wear a hat. Wagging umbrellas had connotations: a rich customer might summon a deferential worker with one.

For many working class people those attitudes belonged in the past. Jobs were plentiful and many thought the boot was on the other foot. Bus drivers were in no mood to be deferential.

[1] 'How to stop a bus' (letters to the editor) by J Dromgoole, published The Times 23 September 1957 page 9 issue 53953

[2] 'How to stop a bus' by Stabolgi, published The Times 24 September 1957 page 9 issue 53954

[3] 'How to stop a bus' (letters to the editor) by Sylvia A Sulivan, A Buchanon, Hannah Write, A J Hill , published The Times 25 September 1957 page 9 issue 53955

By Steven Braggs, September 2018

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