Exploring Southwark and discovering its history
In front of a recently built residential development in Nunhead Lane, there is a plaque that records:
“On this site stood a Garage for the
Steam Buses which the National Steam
Car Company Limited opened in 1911.
The Clock Tower is a replica of the
one which existed until 1999.”
The National Steam Car Co Ltd was founded by someone called Clarkson, Thomas Clarkson that is, who has been described as a big flamboyant and generous man with fiery red hair, beard and moustache. Born in 1864, he was employed at King’s College London in 1889/90 as a lecturer in metallurgy but left to pursue and develop his own inventions. At the end of the 19th century he had begun adapting steam engines to use in automobiles and by 1903 had founded Chelmsford Steam Cars.
In 1909 he founded the National Steam Car Company, which became a public company in 1911, to operate steam buses in London. The company’s first garage in London was in Hercules Road, Lambeth with the one in Nunhead Lane opening in 1911. By the beginning of 1914, there were 173 National Steam Car Company’s buses running in London with routes to Shepherd’s Bush and Hampton Court. The steam was generated by paraffin and, as the cost of paraffin increased, the buses were withdrawn from service.
The garage in Nunhead Lane was sold to the London General Omnibus Company in 1919 which later became London Transport who closed the garage in 1954. It was purchased three or four years later by Banfield’s Luxury Coaches, a company founded by Charles Banfield who had been a bus driver for the LGOC in the 1920s. He had been sacked when LGOC discovered he was moonlighting at weekends in competition with them using his own coach! Banfields vacated the garage in Nunhead Lane some time in the 1970s.
Southwark Council received a planning application in the late 1990s to demolish the garage but the Peckham Society objected as the bus garage with three central bays and a central clock tower was believed to be the last remaining example of this design in Britain. It was a condition of planning that a replica clock tower be incorporated into the final design of the new build and the old garage was totally demolished in 1999.