London Transport Chiswick Works
The London General Omnibus Company (L.G.O.C.) first opened the motorbus maintenance works in Chiswick in 1921.
L.G.O.C. had become part of the Underground group in 1911, and much of its vehicle manufacture work was taken over by the Associated Equipment Company (A.E.C.), then also part of the group. However, maintenance work continued in L.G.O.C. workshops across London such as those at Walthamstow and Islington. The idea of a single central workshop bringing the repair, overhaul and construction of buses, parts and equipment to one site was intended to reduce costs and improve efficiency.
The works operated on a production-line system, with vehicles moving around the facility having different jobs carried out at each stage. The usual flow pattern was: removing the mirrors and upholstery; lifting the body of the chassis; conditioning the engine; testing the chassis; repainting the body; re-fitting the chassis. Initially each bus was fully overhauled each year; as bus designs improved, the interval between overhauls lengthened.
The works covered a 32-acre site just off Chiswick High Road. There were some 21 acres of workshops and administration buildings; a half-mile-long test track and 'skid patch'; and a sports ground and bowling green for the employees. There was also a medical centre and a staff canteen large enough to seat 1,000 at one sitting. This building was used for social events, usually organised by the Chiswick Works Sports Association. The works also housed the driver and conductor training school. On the administration side, ticket processing, bus licensing and vehicle transfers were all undertaken at the site.
The site incorporated a design office, and L.G.O.C. continued to work closely with A.E.C. over the design of its vehicles. There was a laboratory where innovative work was carried out on vehicle transmissions and fuel-consumption. The lab experimented with liquid petroleum gas as a replacement for diesel during the Arab-Israeli conflict in the late 1970s. It was in the experimental department (later part of the technical office) that the classic Routemaster was developed in the 1950s.
Although the site was not planned as a manufacturing plant, before the 1940s it was one of the most important bodybuilding works in Britain. However, restrictions on the number of bodies being produced were introduced after the formation of London Passenger Transport Board in 1933, and production stopped almost completely during the Second World War.
During the war, maintenance work at Chiswick continued as normal, although much new work was generated by bomb-damage to vehicles (166 buses were destroyed and 4,000 sustained significant damage). There were also extra war duties. At the start of the war, the works converted Green Line buses into ambulances. Later, the United States Army converted them for use as general transport and as mobile canteens. The works also assisted with the overhaul of Royal Air Force fighter plane engines during the Battle of Britain in 1940; and from 1941-45, as part of the London Aircraft Production programme, workers at Chiswick built 710 Halifax bombers.
Chiswick Works was redeveloped and modernised in 1958. Laboratory facilities were expanded and the number of buses the site was capable of handling each year increased. However, much of the maintenance work was redistributed to the new works out at Aldenham in Hertfordshire.
Chiswick Works continued with bus development throughout the 1960s and 70s, but was in decline. Despite some fresh investment in the mid-1980s and the closure of Aldenham in 1986, more work was being distributed to the operating garages. This was linked to the move towards bus privatisation and competitive tendering in London Transport. By 1990, the Chiswick Works finally closed.
- L.T. Chiswick Works
- Chiswick Works
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