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John Gillman’s Bus Tickets

January 16, 2018
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

18 Responses leave one →
  1. Katherine Hand permalink
    January 16, 2018

    What a lovely collection. There’s something extra special about things collected so carefully by a child.

  2. January 16, 2018

    The wonderful mind of 11-13 year old boys. And this one in particular 🙂

  3. January 16, 2018

    1964 AD, flourish, flourish, flourish, flourish. That’s such a time travel back to what it was like to be pre-teen 🙂

  4. January 16, 2018

    What a fabulous album! Valerie

  5. David Bishop permalink
    January 16, 2018

    What a beautiful collection! Thanks GA

  6. David Martin permalink
    January 16, 2018

    Absolutely brilliant! Thank you!

  7. Jane Johnson permalink
    January 16, 2018

    I remember the buff coloured tickets with purple ink. I used to get the 24 routemaster from the bottom of Fleet Road in NW5 to Camden, with a skinny conductor who was always singing and cheerful and who bounded up and down the stairs with effortless gaity and punched down the buttons of his ticket machine with lightening dexterity before tearing off one of these tickets printed on tissue thin paper and which I used to fold in a miriad of different ways. In Camden I changed to the 74 in a tiny street and road it all the way to South Ken. where I spent the morning in the museums. On the way home the buses were often infrequent, especially in winter, and would terminate at what was the huge depot in Chalk Farm so I would have to get off and walk — sometimes in snow —. Utting back through Queens Crescent or up Haverstock Hill, home to Gospel Oak. I loved the sound of a ticket being torn from the serrated jaws of the silver machine the conductor wore around his neck and woe detide anyone one didn’t have the correct change or who stamped their feet on the floor of the front seats at the top of the bus as that was how he signalled to the driver it was ok to pull away when the conductor didn’t want to pull the bell cord at the back of the bus. Happy memories. Thanks for reminding me by sharing these tickets.

  8. StephenJ permalink
    January 16, 2018

    Certainly a very unusual collection, but it reminds me of childhood and the freedoms that we had, I am not sure that we would be permitted to roam free for whole days at a time these days.

    My friend (Rob) and I used to regularly take a Red-Rover up to London, we would generally take in some sights, like the Monument, or the very top of St. Pauls (a shilling), great for girls in mini-skirts for us 12/13 year olds…

    We actually did take a Green-Rover once, and a boring affair it was, interminable by-passes and long runs between stops, not much to see but trees and the odd shopping parade, I seem to recall that we headed towards Sevenoaks and Tonbridge.

    Incidentally, there was not a specific “Green-Rover” ticket, instead you had to ask the conductor for one and he printed a long strip of paper from his ticket machine, which looked like the ticket in Mr. Gillman’s last but one picture (above), but adding up to 3/6 if I remember.

  9. January 16, 2018

    Stating the obvious…….This is a treasure!
    The ephemera hounds and memory scouts thank you.

  10. Peter Holford permalink
    January 16, 2018

    That is a great collection that brings back many memories. Waiting for the conductor as he made his way up the bus and watching the process of extracting a ticket from a rack suspended at his side before punching it to validate it – I was fascinated. It was also the period when West Indians became conductors. But they weren’t allowed to be drivers at that time!

    A couple of my friends bought bus-spotting books and assiduously swapped information about where to find the likes of RTW28 and RM9. That was too arcane for me – I saw how obsessive they got over it and steered clear!

  11. Marcia Howard permalink
    January 16, 2018

    What a wonderful collection, and all beautifully documented in John’s ‘best’ handwriting. One of my older brothers (born 1940) also had a bus ticket collection from our childhood in London. He also had a wooden rack which all the different coloured tickets were clipped along the length of it. As far as I recall, each colour denoted the different prices, e.g the length of journey to be taken. I wouldn’t be surprised if my brother still has them! I shall have to check.

  12. Adele Lester permalink
    January 16, 2018

    What an interesting piece! Memories of friends and I taking the 23/25/15 from Stepney to explore our city. We must have been as young as 11+, and discovered such treasures as the Science Museum, National Gallery, and even Soho. I especially enjoyed the mention of the intended trip to Pratt’s Bottom, just to see the sign. Such an innocent childhood exploit, in a much more innocent time.

  13. Vivienne permalink
    January 17, 2018

    This collection and its arrangement is also visually and aesthetically pleasing. I love the ink colours and how they contrast with the paper. It is almost like a fabric sample book.

  14. Gary Arber permalink
    January 17, 2018

    The bus tickets issued when I was a child in the early 1930’s were even more detailed. Each route had its own set of tickets with every stage on that route printed on it and the conductor punched it at the route where you boarded. When you think of the hundreds of routes run by London Transport, some of which extended well into the country i.e. Chipping Ongar in Essex, the amount of labour use to print every fare stage in the whole area for every individual route must have been very expensive.

  15. January 17, 2018

    Fabulous collection. One of my precious childhood memories is the Red Rover go anywhere tickets from 1960-62. I would hop on a No52 from N.W. London on a mission to The Imperial War Museum, on my own with a packed lunch which I usually ate on the top deck of the bus. I was 12 at the time and felt like an explorer!

  16. Bonny Young permalink
    January 17, 2018

    My friend and I also used to buy a red rover (there must have been hoards of kids doing this) and our aim was always to see how far we could get, so taking a number 9 from Poplar (it only did that route on Sunday) we would go to Barnes and back home for Sunday Roast, then in the afternoon we would go to Hainault in the opposite direction.

    Some of the boys in my class attempted to travel on every bus number in London in one day – quite a feat, and it took a lot of planning! Not sure if they ever achieved it.

    happy memories. thank you

  17. January 17, 2018

    An amazing collection of fantastic graphic design!

    Love & Peace

  18. Graeme permalink
    January 19, 2018

    Such a lovely article…fascinating and so evocative of an innocent world, now lost. Sometimes a Gentle author daily blog stops me in my tracks and this is one such…thank you for sharing it.

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