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John Gillman’s Bus Ticket Collection

November 17, 2020
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

20 Responses leave one →
  1. November 17, 2020

    Extraordinary and phenomenal, what John Gillman did as a Young Boy!

    A very fine Story about his Collection of Graphic Art Icons of that Past. I found myself looking at these Things for a very long Time.

    Who of the Children today collect such wonderful Things…?

    Love & Peace

  2. Laura Spira permalink
    November 17, 2020

    This is wonderful! When I was five I told my parents that I wanted to be a clippie – I thought they kept all the money they collected! I had a friend who collected Tube tickets: I remember him telling me that the thickest were issued at Burnt Oak and the thinnest at Mornington Crescent.

  3. Laura Spira permalink
    November 17, 2020

    And in Sheffield in 1965 I noticed that the bus tickets all carried adverts for an undertaker on the reverse..

  4. November 17, 2020

    What a marvellous and detailed collection! I wish my father could see it. He was born in 1914 and had a passion for trams, trains and buses. He often said that he he owed his entry to Oxford University to his knowledge of train time tables from Wakefield in Yorkshire to Oxford: an interest he shared with his examiner!

  5. November 17, 2020

    My mother and I have just loved reading this: it has brought back so many memories, especially of my dad. She would love to know what John did when he grew up. His collection is so beautifully curated.

  6. Mark permalink
    November 17, 2020

    Fab collection. Love his threadbare jacket in school photo!
    My elder brither, the clever one, (ahem) done this kind of thing.
    ( I’m self isolating so excuse keenness to comment).

  7. Bonny Young permalink
    November 17, 2020

    Oh My I can remember doing the Red Rover trips in the late 50’s. We would always see how far we could get in one day. So the morning was the wonderful Number 9 bus which took us all the way from the East End to Barnes. Then home for Sunday Lunch and the afternoon we would go to Abridge in Essex. Happy Days.

    Some of the boys in my class (at Shoreditch School in Hoxton St) would map their route and see if they could travel on every bus in London starting with the Number 1. I doubt they ever did it in one day.

    Such Simple pleasures when Sunday was a wasteland even “the pictures” didn’t start till late afternoon.

  8. Penny Gardner permalink
    November 17, 2020

    I remember them well , but did not collect them.
    Some of the conductors were characters and sung . One lovely lady always wore an imitation rose behind her ear. As you got older you had to have a halfpass to buy a child’s ticket for school . One perfectly sadistic conductor chucked me off the bus because I had forgotten mine and only had a child’s fare money. I was in full school uniform , on my way to my maths O-Level and had to run all the way 1.5 miles. Only just made it !

  9. November 17, 2020

    As a friend might say: “A pearl beyond price!”. Documents like this are so clearly made for the pure JOY of the maker; I feel giddy that we have the special treat of stealing a glance at these wonderful pages. (plus, hear the words of the mastermind behind the project)

    Today, I am wondering if perhaps creating such books is a “guy thing”? My curiosity is piqued because (as a collector of oddities) I have come across somewhat-similar books, and couldn’t resist adding them to my collection. No, indeed — not bus tickets! But I have an old salesman’s sample book of sturdy woolen fabrics, and some boy (named Walter!) has ripped the swatches from the pages, and industriously glued his “scraps” over top. And, oh dear, it appears that Walter’s dog has chewed the binding. Other finds include a well-loved stamp collection housed in a made-over blank book. And a composition notebook with lined pages (the cover re-done with a brown paper bag) that contains dozens of cigar bands.
    All of these treasures were made by boys — thus the question: “Is it a guy thing?”.

    “There is something about it I believed to be important” — such wise words from John Gillman. How fortunate for us that this amazing collection has survived!

  10. Bernie permalink
    November 17, 2020

    I lived in London for my first 20+ years and travelled much by bus, but this item has told me more about bus tickets than I ever discovered in that time. Splendid!

  11. William Martin permalink
    November 17, 2020

    It would be interesting if any of the skills he earned in collecting and curating these tickets were of use to him in later life.

  12. November 17, 2020

    And I thought I was a nerd! Seriously though that is brilliant. John wasn’t alone in pastimes like this. Many collected Engine numbers and I recall writing down car registration numbers at one time which does seem to have been a particularly fruitless occupation especially compared to John’s endeavours. I am however delighted to see the reference to the adding the digits to try make twenty one which I remember well though I must admit I had forgotten where that was supposed to lead.

  13. November 17, 2020

    My second eldest brother (I’m the youngest of 5 siblings) also used to collect bus tickets, although 10 years before in the very early 1950s. He had an excellent collection of different coloured ones, each colour denoting a certain fare paid. These all sat in a wooden spring rack held by the conductor on the bus, who clipped the ticket you needed for your fare. One day, my brother foolishly took his collection to Westminster City Grammar School which he attended, and his precious collection had mysteriously disappeared before that same day was out! He never did get it back.
    What lovely neat writing John Gillman had, and I noticed by the name Winfield that his exercise hat been purchased from Woolworth’s – another piece of history!

  14. November 17, 2020

    A wonderful treasure trove. I must be around the same age as John because in the 1950s I also collected bus tickets, as well as bus and trolleybus numbers. The highlight of my week was sneaking into bus garages, sometimes with the agreement of staff, and emptying the used ticket bins. One foggy day in the East End, at Bow garage I think, I came across about six pre-war double-deckers covered in dust and found lots of really old tickets. Such innocent pleasures! Now I’m in my 70s and retired, I’m reliving my youth by volunteering at the London Bus Museum in Covent Garden (sadly shut at present) and boring the grandchildren about my exploits in the 1950s. As people have said, the Red Rover(at 2/6p) was wonderful and taught me so much about history of London. Best wishes to John.

  15. SJ Kurtz permalink
    November 18, 2020

    My jaw is on the floor and my heart is in my throat. This is absolutely splendid. My alpha/color organized collection of bus transfers is jealous of his attention to detail.

    I am in awe. Marvelous.

  16. Pamela Traves permalink
    November 18, 2020

    What a Great Collection of John Gillman’s Bus Tickets was Wonderful!! I Love it Very Much!!🥰😘😊💟👍🌈🐩💋

  17. Diane DOBLE LEEMANS permalink
    November 18, 2020

    Fantastic article. Reminded me of using London Transport as a child when my sister and I collected the tickets and made colourful concertinas from them. We also spent many weekends and holidays with our parents taking the red buses and the Green Lines to full advantage of their 1400 miles potential. Our parents bought tickets ( Red Rovers and Green Rovers) for 2/6 and 5/ and would travel to a place for a long walk, then take another bus to see a museum, or down to Westerham to see the statue of General Wolfe. Then take more buses to bring us home. We also took our I-Spy books from the News Chronicle to note down and tick off many things like street signs, statues, manhole covers, and so forth. It made us super observant! Happy days for families who did not need or could not contemplate owning, or using a car.

  18. nick permalink
    November 18, 2020

    Get a life – start doing jigsaw puzzles or something

  19. February 15, 2021

    Coming to this late, reading posts saved. I love this collection and the meticulous attention to detail in keeping these records. I’m so glad it gets a place in the Bishopsgate Institute.

    The handwriting is precisely the type I learned in the 1970s in the UK and the pattern with which John decorated the cover of his book was one we had to practice daily in the classroom. I still enjoy doing those lacy loops to this day. Thank you for sharing this, GA.

  20. April 29, 2021

    Sometime in the mid sixties two companions and I boarded a Green Bus at Welwyn Garden City about 8 am. We then travelled via Harlow, then South of the Thames and skirted South London to Woking and then finally back Northwards to finish at Welwyn Garden City at about 8 pm. We had successfully circumnavigated London on a 5 shilling Green Rover ticket.

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