The historic No. 12 bus route is under threat of being removed in the latest round of TfL cuts and one of the many reasons that objectors are using against the plan is its claim to be one of the earliest bus routes in London. Although bus routes were not numbered until 1906, the basic route of this bus, from Oxford Street to Peckham (the extension to the Plough in Lordship Lane came later) dates from 1851. In 1847 Thomas Tilling had rented a small livery stable in Walworth and set himself up as a jobmaster, someone who rents out horses and carts or carriages - for one trip or for weeks and months, like a car hire business today. Tilling purchased a horse bus from William Stevens, one of several Peckham based operators who ran irregular services into the centre of London. It came with a licence giving the right to run four services a day to and from the ‘Green Man & Still’ pub in Oxford Street - located near today’s Argyle Street. Unlike Stevens and the other local operators who did not have fixed schedules and were often criticised for finishing their routes where and when they felt like it, Tilling ran his buses to scheduled times, like the newly constructed railways - obvious today but a radical idea in mid-Victorian times.
The route extension from Peckham to the Plough at the corner of Barry Road and Lordship Lane came in the 1880s as more and more houses were built in the area. Bus routes had always been a problem in East Dulwich because of the topography. There was no way a horse bus could safely negotiate up or down Dog Kennel Hill and they could also not travel along Lordship Lane beyond the junction with Townley Road as the incline going south (not for nothing was the area called Dulwich Heights) was even steeper than Dog Kennel Hill. In 1881 a service had been introduced going from the Magdala Pub (now the Lordship) to Peckham and the extension of the notional 12 route to the ‘Plough’ from Peckham took place shortly afterwards. Tilling also built a large set of stables almost opposite the Plough in Milo Road in the 1890s.
The No 12 route was one of the first to be motorised, in 1906, although Tilling had first introduced the Milnes-Daimler motorbus in 1904 (the chassis and engine came from Germany with British built coachwork). In 1909 he joined a pooling agreement with the London General Omnibus Company and in 1911 he introduced the Tilling-Stevens TTA1 on the 12 route, a petrol-electric vehicle which dispensed with the need to change gear and was much easier to drive than a conventional motorbus.
Although the length and final destinations on the No. 12 route changed over the years, at one time it ran as far north as Acton and Shepherds Bush and as far south as Sidcup, the core route from Oxford Circus to the ‘Plough at Dulwich’ via Peckham remained - and is the route today. Many members will recall the outcry over the short-lived change in the name of the ‘Plough’ to the ‘Goose and Granite’, and hopefully, like the name of the pub, the No. 12 will remain.