The Bus-Trimmed Plane Trees of East Finchley

Dear Readers, I was journeying home to East Finchley on the 263 bus today when I noticed how many of the London Plane trees that line the route had been in effect ‘pruned’ by the double-decker buses that pass under them. Nowhere is it clearer than with the trees in the photo above, where the ones to the left have all been ‘topiaried’ to the exact height of a London bus. However, while the smaller twigs and leaves are presumably safely removed by a bus roof, there must surely be a more managed programme of tree maintenance to make sure that passing omnibuses aren’t ‘scalped’ by the branches.

In the olden days (i.e 1943) there was a special open-topped tree-lopping bus. Have a look at this short film. What is a marvel is not only the low-tech tools used (I have most of them in my garden shed), but that the horse chestnut being pruned is in such excellent health. And I love the bit at the end where the ‘tree-loppers’ throw conkers to the waiting urchins.

Lopping Trees for London Buses (1943)

You may sometimes see signs on the trees lining the road, saying instructive things like ‘Tall Trees’. Some of the Plane trees that line North Hill in Highgate really are tall.

Travelling at speed on a bumpy road on the 263 bus.

However, signs are not always enough: in 2015 a double-decker managed to collide with a Plane tree on the Kingsway, close to Holborn, and the roof was neatly sliced off. Five people were injured, fortunately none of them seriously, though I imagine that they didn’t travel on the top deck for a while. Apparently there was a sign saying ‘Overhanging Trees’ on the tree in question, but clearly it wasn’t enough.

Photo by Stuart Coates (Twitter)

In 2012 there was a similar incident in Croydon, where again the roof was ripped off. I wonder if double-deckers are actually designed in this way? Presumably taking the roof off is better than it collapsing inwards on to the passengers. Any bus nerds out there who would care to enlighten me (and I use the word ‘nerd’ with the greatest of respect, being a bug nerd myself).

The 119 bus that was de-roofed in 2012 in Croydon (Photo from

There is a regular programme of pruning, pollarding etc for London’s street trees, with the condition of the trees assessed, and rotten branches and other dangerous protuberances removed where necessary. This does leave the question of how drivers manage to drive into trees, though I imagine that a branch at the height of the roof is not easily assessed from the point of view of the driver’s cab, especially as they have to do everything these days – on a one-person bus the driver is expected to take fares, sort out any passenger nonsense (of which there is plenty) and drive through the streets of London which often resemble nothing so much as one of those live action video games where people jump out into the road, throw their car doors open without looking, and occasionally stop dead in the middle of the road to check something on their mobile phones. Thinking about it, I’m amazed at how rarely buses collide with trees. It’s something of a miracle.

The avenues of London Plane trees and Limes are a cool and welcome sight as the 263 crests the hill at Highgate and heads towards East Finchley station, and long may they remain so, even if their lower branches have to be trimmed to a convenient height. What venerable trees some of these are!

7 thoughts on “The Bus-Trimmed Plane Trees of East Finchley

  1. Anne

    I notice that some of the large trees growing at picnic sites along our national roads have also been trimmed by the regular passing of large trucks.


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