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John Gillman’s Bus Tickets

January 8, 2023
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

15 Responses leave one →
  1. Keith Hainge permalink
    January 8, 2023

    I must be about John’s age & although I did not collect bus tickets his mention of buying a Red Rover ticket brought back happy memories.
    Along with a particular friend of mine I also used to buy one & like John we would cruise the bus network , going where our fancy led us , all over London & the suburbs .
    Also ,like John , we also took a packed lunch ( once ” attacked ” for our sandwiches by a horde of geese in St. James’s Park ) or dined out , preferably in an ” Old Kentucky :”.
    I must also mention the Twin Rover which allowed travel on bus & underground.
    One Summer’s day we left our homes in Greenford & Ruislip & made our way to Hendon Central where , with our Green Rover tickets we went to Dunstable by Green Line bus & then a local bus up to Whipsnade Zoo where we roamed until closing time.
    I did’ nt get home until gone 10 pm & got a bit of a ticking off.
    We were both 9 or 10 years old. Imagine that happening these days.

  2. January 8, 2023

    It is always fascinating to see what this young man has collected. And every time it is a pleasure to look at this collection of ephemera — because you always discover something new: for example, the “emergency tickets”.

    Wonderful that the Bishopsgate Institute has archived it!

    Love & Peace

  3. Christine Swan permalink
    January 8, 2023

    It is fascinating what people choose to collect. My late parents chose to collect everything which is proving to be a bit of a headache as I clear their house. It is manageable to have a small, compact and unique collection such as this. I only possess one card bus ticket. I used to catch the bus everywhere when I was a student studying in London. I loved travelling on the Routemaster buses because, if you timed it right, you could leap off exactly outside your destination rather than waiting for the doors to be opened. I also appreciated the gentle glow of proper light bulbs after dark, rather than harsh neon strip lighting. So much kinder to the eyes after a late night out. My one card ticket was given to me by a conductor whose ticket machine had broken. “You should keep this,” he said, “these are collectors’ items”. Funny that. I still have it somewhere. I just need to find where somewhere is.

  4. January 8, 2023

    What an interesting and heart warming piece. An amazing collection. I loved the bit about adding the numbers and if they added up to 21 it was going to be a good day. I’d be so interested to know what John went on to do as a job. Surely something that required him to use his excellent organisational skills.

  5. Michael Lever permalink
    January 8, 2023

    Nothing like as many bus tickets as John, I have a few bus and train ticket of old. The bus tickets were given to me by a relative but the train ticket I bought and used. During my teens I used to collect bus numbers. Unlike train-spotting where standing around waiting for another train to pass by in the hope of noting the number didn’t appeal, bus numbers enables me to travel. Mostly it was in London but when at the age of 13 I first went to Malvern in Worcestershire I started collecting Midland Red bus company numbers. In London, on a Sunday morning when out riding my bicycle i would go to the AEC factory in Southall and peer over the wall at where Routemasters were made. Sometimes I’d cycle to Teddington and see the trolley buses in Fulwell. Where I lived then wasn’t far from Chiswick where from the high road I could see double-decker buses toppling side to side on the skid pan. It wasn’t allowed to wander into a bus garage – probably still isn’t – but that didn’t stop me, In Brixton, i came across ‘Old Bill’ which I was told whist being told to get out of the garage was an elderly bu that had seen service at Dunkirk.

  6. Gee Farrow permalink
    January 8, 2023

    Great work John – as always we will say ‘if only I’d thought of doing that!’

    Used to love the 60s buses with their conductors, and although I lived in rural Essex they were always plentiful. The conductors were usually jolly chaps with their ‘hold very tight now!’ and ding/ding on the bell. They would always want a chat, and in their way provided a great social service …talking time to listen to those who lived a lonely rural life with not many people to talk to and often knowing their passengers by their first names.

    There have been great improvements but also great losses over the last 50 years.

  7. January 8, 2023

    All of us “of a certain age” will resonate to Mr. Gillman’s amazement that this delightful artefact has survived so many moves, transitions, down-sizing, and clear-outs. And we applaud that such a special, unique collection is still in circulation! — delighting all the Readers this morning. I think this post is probably one of my favorites. Not only because we get to peek into this hand-crafted book of fascinations, but because we all have ephemeral things in our lives that have slipped away but are lovingly remembered. Seeing John Gillman’s miraculously-preserved book makes up for the loss of…………..all my scribbled adolescent diaries, a landfill of hand-made paper dolls that I worked on throughout childhood, a Girl Scout album full of pressed leaves that my mother helped with, and heart-shaped Valentine candy boxes brimming with love notes from my first boyfriend.

    Happy New Year.

  8. January 8, 2023

    What a wonderful thing to eyeball; thanks for creating this and I thank the Gentle Author for publishing this. The best bit for me was the story around Pratt’s Bottom. Still smiling. Humor and curiosity are both such strong forces in my kind of adventures and adventurers. Speaking of adventures…
    I lived in Sydney, Australia, in 1999 for a year or two, and some airline, I think it was Qantas, had a wild year-long or more promotion called “Mystery Flights.” It was a seat-filling program, I think. For ninety-nine bucks or so, you could get a round-trip plane ticket that would fly out of Sydney and return the same evening, but you didn’t know what city you’d be departing for until the morning of the flight. I loved it. I went on all kinds of adventures to places I would never normally have planned on seeing. For example, I met fascinating folks at a bizarre shooting range on the Gold Coast one day or walked a garden designed by Walter Burley Griffin in Canberra on another- and- was home for dinner. But I would have loved it if Pratt’s Bottom was on the destination list. 🙂

  9. Stephen permalink
    January 8, 2023

    Thank you, a lovely tale. I am from Bolton, Lancashire. I remember as a schoolboy counting the numbers on bus tickets and 21 being the lucky number. I think there were other meanings in certain numbers but I cannot remember them.

  10. Cherub permalink
    January 8, 2023

    I found this very interesting as my husband has often spoken of Red Rover tickets when he was a boy in East London. We love going to transport museums and went to a fantastic tram museum run by volunteers in Zurich recently (the volunteers were all retired tram drivers and engineers). One attraction was how ticket machines and tickets styles had evolved in Zurich over a period of about 70 years, also uniforms. There was even a little wooden tram you could drive by turning a wheel which was fun.

    On another note, I’ve been struggling with a flu virus since 23rd December, but a daily visit here has cheered me up no end!

  11. January 9, 2023

    As a schoolboy plane-spotter I used the Green Rover ticket from Staines to Biggin Hill via Gatwick and Redhill airfields. Didn’t the Red Rover tickets have to be purchased from Tube stations (not on the actual bus?) But the Green Rover must have been bought on the bus?

  12. January 9, 2023

    Also I like the woodgrain Winfield exercise book (a Woolworth brand) dated 4th April 1964 A.D.

  13. Marcia Howard permalink
    January 12, 2023

    Wow! These brought back some memories. One of my older brothers also saved bus tickets and had a wonderful collection. In the 1950s after passing his 11+ he started at Westminster City School in London SW1. One day he took his ticket collection to school despite my mother advising him not to. The collection was sadly ‘pinched’ that same day. He was very upset about that; and a hard lesson learned!

  14. Jan permalink
    January 13, 2023

    the boy who lived next door to us also collected bus tickets, and had a ticket machine, so we used to play bus rides. With red hair and freckles he looked not unalike John T…. but wasn’t

  15. January 17, 2023

    I can remember writing pages of those same curly S on the cover. Were they 1960s handwriting practice? I can’t remember now.

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