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John Gillman’s Bus Ticket Collection

February 28, 2016
by the gentle author

John Gillman, 1964

Look at this bright young lad in his snazzy red blazer with his hair so neatly combed, how he radiates intelligence and initiative – trust him to come up with a smart idea, like collecting every variety of London bus, trolley and tram ticket so that people might wonder at them half a century later in the age of contactless! Here John Gillman explains his cunning ploy –

“This album has followed me around for more than fifty years and survived house moves, down-sizings and other clear-out initiatives. Unlike other collections of mine (such as stamps & coins), that have long since disappeared, there was something about it that I believed to be important.

I had not looked at it for many years until The Gentle Author suggested the Bishopsgate Institute might like to add it to their archive, which – to my delight – they have. This prompted me to look at it again with a more considered gaze and what I found was quite surprising.

It was a slightly disconcerting but nonetheless enjoyable encounter with my younger self. The album contains a number of tickets that I bought between the ages of eleven and thirteen, along with an eclectic mix of older miscellaneous examples. So it is a like a diary of my youthful journeys taken.

In 1961, some friends and I discovered that there was enjoyment – and occasionally excitement – to be had by buying Red Rover bus tickets. These entitled you to unlimited travel at the weekend and there are seven examples in the album. We would head off as soon after the ticket became valid at 9:30 in the morning and return in the early evening for dinner. Occasionally, we would take a packed sandwich lunch but we would also eat out – usually fish and chips or, on one occasion, pie and mash with liquor in the East End.

We also held aspirations to purchase a Green Rover ticket one day which allowed access to country buses but, since I do not have one in the collection, I must presume we never did this. We planned to head off into Kent and visit Pratts Bottom – mainly because we found the name hilarious and wanted to see it on a signpost.

What strikes me most today are the detailed notes I wrote. Much of it is in my very best handwriting and, in some cases, I used a typewriter (although I have no idea where I gained access to one). I clearly undertook a lot of research and some items I still find fascinating. The ‘Workman’s Ticket,’ for example, with – as I noted assiduously – ‘unusual punch holes.’ And the special editions, such as those for the Festival of Britain in 1951 and Last Tram Week in 1952. Some are even earlier, issued before 1933, as indicated in my meticulous notes. There is also a collection of 1963 Christmas tickets in gay colours. I remember that the yellow version was particularly rare and the one in my album had obviously spent some time on the floor of the bus.

Each morning, on the way to school, we added up the digits that made up the ticket number – and, if they totalled twenty-one, it was going to be a lucky day. Some people believed that the initials next to the number on the older tickets foretold the initials of your future wife, which proved to be something of a challenge if it was just an ‘X’.”

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

(click to enlarge and study the tickets in detail)

Images courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

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Clive Murphy, Phillumenist

25 Responses leave one →
  1. February 28, 2016

    Fascinating. My brother and I used to collect the bus tickets in Adelaide in the 60’s because there were aphorisms on the back. The man who had the contract to print the tickets, a Mr Leal, had collected the small sayings over many years and added them to the tickets. I wonder if any of the above tickets have something like that?

  2. February 28, 2016

    I love this article the humble ticket elevated by being kept in such a cherished and articulated manner these pages are beautiful. Bring back colour and variety to our tickets of today how wonderful that could be !

  3. Alex Knisely permalink
    February 28, 2016

    A handsome collection; and one VERY seriously in need of the attentions, I think, of a paper conservator if oxidation and associated damage — the tape stains! — are not to go too far; they have already advanced substantially. Very unlikely that any of the materials used, album or tickets themselves, were acid-free, and until that status at least is corrected corrosion from within will continue.

  4. February 28, 2016

    I used to do those squiggles on my school books too.
    My son and his friends have a different buy equally distinctive set of doodle squiggles.

    Excellent collection, bet you loved putting that together

  5. Deborah permalink
    February 28, 2016

    I love this! What career did such an astute young archivist eventually choose for himself in life? It is a fascinating collection. The lucky numbers adding to twenty one brought back memories for me.

  6. Dave S permalink
    February 28, 2016

    I grew up in Cardiff in the 1970s and for several years travelled to school by bus. You were the envy of your mates if the 5 ticket serial number “worked”. If your serial number was 73385 the mantra was “There was a woman of 73, she had 3 children, 8 died and 5 were left”. If worked, that WAS a good day.

  7. Annie G permalink
    February 28, 2016

    I love this! And the careful explanation of the ticket….how many times have I read these and pondered over the meanings. So much information on a throwaway piece of paper. Just seeing that final ticket reminded me of sitting on the top deck of the 25 at Victoria Station,

  8. Brian Weaver permalink
    February 28, 2016

    I to used to like the red rovers tickets. I would like to know if possible what John did or maybe still does for a living. Was it anything to do with transport?Anyway great story all the best John.

  9. Barbara Elsmore permalink
    February 28, 2016

    Priceless, brilliant and utterly wonderful. I think the yellowing sellotape even adds to it plus the exercise book with its artistic decoration too – what a treasure trove. I am intrigued as to what John went on to do I hazard a guess at a career in engineering perhaps or technical design?

  10. Barbara permalink
    February 28, 2016

    This has made my day . I too remember having a day out with a Red Rover ticket and getting the paper bus tickets as I travelled up and down the Kingsland Road on my way to school . Best of all I like the humble notebook with the date , AD ! Also to see the name WINFIELD printed at the bottom of it which I think means it was from Woolworths ? Thank you , John for this beautiful collection .

  11. pauline taylor permalink
    February 28, 2016

    What a fascinating collection and well done GA for suggesting that it should be preserved safely, these things are so easily lost or thrown in a skip nowadays. I have happy memories of the man who used to be our bus conductor in my schooldays and his collection of multi coloured tickets in the wooden holder, I loved them just because of the colours. The sound of him whistling through his teeth as he came to take your money and the ding ding of the holes being punched in the tickets, happy days. And my best friend went on to marry the conductor’s son but I don’t think that any tickets survived there, a pity!!

  12. February 28, 2016

    A very fine story! And John Gillman did it well to collect these analog graphic icons. Who of the children today collect such a thing…?

    Love & Peace

  13. Jan Marsh permalink
    February 28, 2016

    when I was young the boy next door did this too – more or less the same obsession. He grew up to work for London Transport.

  14. February 28, 2016

    Oh my goodness -this takes me back. When I was at Junior School I had a bus ticket one day which had all noughts for its numbers! I was so proud of it and took it to school to ‘show and tell’. Alas, the wonderful ticket was STOLEN from the display table in the class-room. You can see it still rankles!

  15. John Campbell permalink
    February 28, 2016

    This brings back many happy memories for me from my own childhood in the 70’s. My cousins and i would leave the leafy suburbs of Harrow and work our way into London via the no 18 along the Harrow Rd. We would go to Westminster and then usually wander the lanes on the south side of the river down to Tooley St for a glimpse at the London Dungeon, the street alone was enough to terrify me! With our packed lunches in a ‘good food costs less at Sainsburys’ carrier bag we would spend those Sunday hours walking literally miles around the capital to sights such as Big Ben and St Paul’s which were just breathtaking to a young kid like me. The day was long and our return journey home was tiring and ultimately ended with a fall-out between us all. Mind you, we always managed to end up doing it again whenever the time of year came calling for a young man to go a wandering. Happy days and an education in geography, history, social studies and a lot more. Many thanks, great post!

  16. Barbara permalink
    February 28, 2016

    mmmh! pie and mash and liquor! Beats all the curries, pizzas and kebabs!

  17. Clare Ungerson permalink
    February 28, 2016

    This brings back memories! I remember being taken by my father on a tram during Last Tram Week and him making a great fuss of the tickets and telling me that I must on no account lose them. They’ve long since gone of course!

    I’ve lived in East Kent for decades now and I have a feeling that John’s projected journey to ‘Pratts Bottom ‘ may have actually been to a small village near Canterbury called ‘Pett Bottom’ – which is even more hilarious if you think about it….

  18. February 28, 2016

    Wonderful stuff. Incidentally it wasn’t just boys who would travel around London with red rovers. I used to do this with my female friends aged c.10 without any hysteria from parents, press etc . I look forward to looking at the collection at the Bishopsgate Institute.

  19. February 29, 2016


  20. February 29, 2016

    Thank you so much for this wonderful collection of personal ephemera. All I can add is:
    “More! More! Please!”.

  21. John Rumsby permalink
    March 1, 2016

    What a wonderful collection. About that time I and my brothers were assiduously ticking off Routemaster bus numbers outside West Ham bus garage. As an inveterate collector of many weird and wonderful things, who luckily made a career out it as a museum curator, I was very impressed with John’s documentation of his collection – just what an archivist likes to see when offered such a collection!

  22. April 19, 2016

    Thank you for displaying this great collection. I heard John’s interview with Robert Elms on Radio London and really enjoyed listening to the background to this fascinating exhibit.

    “Evocative” is definitely the word that comes to mind as I see these cherished old friends.

  23. September 25, 2016

    In the 1960s I used to sit on a wall by the bus stops on Brixton Road and write down the car number plates. Pleasures were simple then!

  24. Alan Platt. permalink
    January 30, 2019

    Terrific collection.

    One observation if I may regarding different coloured tickets via a Gibson machine.

    I was a conductor on the No 14 route, Putney (Oxford Rd.) – Hornsey Rise (Favourite) in the 1970´s and 80´s. Before every journey you were required to check your ticket machine against a way bill to make sure the tickets sold matched the machine, this was mainly for the benefit of any Revenue Inspector that may board your bus so that he could verify that a passenger had a valid ticket.

    Anyway, before your shift started you’d refill your machine with a new ticket roll and stock up with a few extras. As my route passed by Harrods it was common to have coloured rolls, usually yellow, orange or pink but on the reverse an advertisement was also printed, this was done by the actual machine itself as the rolls were blank.

    Strange thinking back now I never asked how it was done and who paid for the special mechanism that had to be installed to print these unique tickets. I say unique as I never saw any other route tickets with the same design.

  25. Anthony Cross permalink
    March 18, 2021

    Great to see this on line. I am preparing a publication about London’s Gibson ticket machine and was interested to see the coloured edge tickets. Can I have permission to use these please in the publication and credit John Gillman? Kind regards…Anthony Cross

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