Remembrance of Things Past

Mostly about growing up the 1950s in Ilford, Essex.


[108] Ticket to Ride

I tried to finish transport back in number [104] but didn’t get beyond cars. Let’s see how far we can get this time.


Town Busses

In Ilford and I think throughout the country, we had double-decker red busses. I can’t find a suitable picture but the model above shows how they were – no doors but open at the back for access. With a slow moving or stopped bus in traffic it was possible to get on and off between bus stops. It was probably not allowed but it happened a lot, especially getting off.


You will have read of my fond memories of bus tickets. The driver was supposed to concentrate on driving and he had nothing to do with tickets or the passengers. Every bus had a conductor, who went round issuing tickets. Sometimes an Inspector would get on and check.

[I don’t know how it worked but drivers were never women. That was unthinkable. Many conductors were women. Yes we called them bus conductresses – that’s the way the language used to work then.]

They were double-decker and had conductors but a bus ride was much the same then as it is now. There were push-buttons on the bus for a bell. Many bus stops were marked as ‘Request Stops,’ where the driver would only stop if you rang the bell (or if someone at the stop put out an arm to signal a request to stop.) I don’t think that happens now. [Sorry but I hardly ever use the bus now so I don’t know so much about modern busses.]

As a Senior Citizen I have a bus pass now giving me free rides throughout the country. That certainly didn’t happen then.

One other difference – smoking was permitted on the top decks only.


Other Bus and Coach

I didn’t travel around much as a child and as a teenager I stayed fairly local. I don’t think I ever saw a single-decker bus. The red busses were relatively short routes in and around the borough of Ilford (later Redbridge,) and I think similar local busses operated in all other towns. I was aware of a separate system of green busses. I think these were also double-decker and may have been called something like Green Line. They were country busses going to distant places like East Ham. I never went on one.


Coaches ran in much the same way as they do now but again I can’t report much from experience. They were not as comfortable, not heated so well and certainly did not have seat belts [and no free wi-fi!] As always it has been difficult finding pictures and it’s hard to date those that I do find.


I think both of these pictures show Cheltenham Coach Station in the sixties or seventies. After moving to Cheltenham in 1969 I used to travel by coach fairly often. This huge coach station acted as a central hub. Routes from all over England arrived at Cheltenham every day and then at 2:00 p.m. coaches left again on routes everywhere. You can imagine the traffic as so many coaches simultaneously left through town!

I think it changed over twenty years ago so that Cheltenham now has just a few coaches going from its much smaller local bus station. If I travel now to Norfolk, which used to be a direct route, I have to go via London Victoria or Birmingham with a long wait. It takes twice as long! The site of the old Coach Station is still there, currently serving as a car park. Various proposals for building developments there have come and gone!


As far as we were concerned in Ilford, taxis were the standard big black London Taxis, fairly similar to those we still have. I think the same was true everywhere. You hired one by waving it down in the street or going to a taxi rank. I remember when I was very young being so jealous when my younger brother had a ride in a taxi. He had broken a collar-bone and was being taken to hospital!

Minicabs hired in advance by telephone started in the late sixties. These were normal cars adapted for private hire rather than the big black taxis.


Tube Trains

Using the underground was as easy as hopping on a bus. In those days you bought tickets at the ticket office (by queueing up and paying in cash. That was the only option.) There was no automated ticket recognition so you could get as far as getting on the train without a ticket. But when you came out of the station you passed a barrier and showed your ticket to a ticket collector as you exited.

The picture above shows a Central Line train, basically much the same as today. The upholstery, seat rests and wooden floors are a bit different. The way the trains ran and the sliding doors were similar to today. Of course smoking was allowed. (Trains always had eight carriages. The last one was always non-smoking and possibly one or two others.)


I think this map of the London Underground dates from about 1960. It has been very difficult to find on the Internet!

If you compare this with the current map you will notice that the Victoria Line (opened in 1968,) Jubilee Line (1979) and Docklands Light Railway (1987) did not exist back then.

There are many other changes of detail but to me the most significant one is that the end of the Central line from Epping to Ongar (at the top right of the map) is no longer part of the London transport system. This section is now run as a heritage railway line.

Ticket pricing was much simpler (as will be explained when we come to overland trains) and busses and underground trains were both run by London Transport. You could buy a Red Rover ticket, which could be used all day for all London busses and tube trains. It was either 14s or 14s 6d. [That’s 70 or 72.5 pence now.]

hogwarts_express_corridor  hogwartstrain


Before the ‘Beeching Axe’ in the sixties there were many more local lines that have now disappeared – or become footpaths or cycle paths. This was well before the privatization of the railways and British Rail was a nationalized organization.

[Wikipedia has a good entry for the Beeching Cuts. Richard Beeching was the chairman of British Railways. In 1962 he published a report that identified 2400 stations and 8000 km of railway line for closure (over half the existing stations and about a third of the route miles) to stem increasing losses and rail subsidies. In 1965 in his second major report he proposed that only 5000 km of the remaining 12000 km of trunk railway should be selected for future development – so that traffic was just routed along nine main lines. Not all of his recommendations were followed but there were vast cuts during the sixties.]

Trains had compartments and corridors. You can still see the old style in the Hogwarts Express of the Harry Potter films. They lacked the comforts of modern rolling stock. Carriages had little heating and no air conditioning in the summer. They had windows that opened. The passage of the trains was noisier and more uncomfortable as the rails were made of sections with gaps between them. With the invention of an alloy that did not expand with heat, rails were gradually replaced by the continuous, welded lines of today. This has allowed for higher train speeds.

In some ways, train journeys were more formal and upmarket. Journeys between cities took more time than today, and in that time the restaurant car would serve formal restaurant meals with waiter service – not just the limited buffet service which replaced it. Now not much remains apart from a trolley serving coffee.

Cross-country mail used to go by train and was sorted by hand on the trains – no, we didn’t even have postcodes!

Ticket prices

You will have noticed one of my pet moans – about de-nationalization to encourage competition and the consequent wide array of price options and choice. Back I the fifties, if we wanted a bus or coach or train there was no choice of service provider and almost no choice of ticket.

If you wanted a train ticket, which you bought at the station ticket office, you could buy a single or return ticket. That was it. A return was slightly cheaper than two single tickets and it saved you queueing up twice. Single tickets were valid for any route to the named destination and return tickets were valid for three months.

I think the off-peak return started in the sixties. This was a one-day return ticket and you couldn’t travel in the rush hour. The only other ticket options were the special ones that gave unlimited travel for a day or a week.


Heathrow Airport in 1955

Foreign Travel

The fifties were before the general introduction of jet transport, and air travel was not for ordinary people. There were no charter flights for holidays, no jumbo jets, no low cost airlines. We had just the two national air lines BEA (British European Airways) and BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) merged in the seventies to form British Airways. London Airport was renamed as Heathrow Airport in 1966 as Gatwick Airport developed. Heathrow and Gatwick have both expanded much in their traffic levels since. (Stanstead and Luton were much later in their development as London Airports.)

There was no Channel Tunnel but you could cross the channel by ferries, of which there were many more then today. My first travel abroad was in the late fifties with the Boy Scouts. It was a day trip from Dover to Boulogne-sur-Mer. We had five hours in France. They managed it without passports – somehow on a sort of group passport. It was long before the Euro and before conversion to the 1960 New Franc (which replaced 100 old francs.) You could buy 100 FF for 1s 6d. I think we managed on about 500 francs. We didn’t do much and had enough knowledge of the language to buy some chips for lunch.

Here are two busses at Ilford. I have just found the pictures – not sure of dates.



I have enough for a few more posts but have to juggle odds and ends a bit …



[58] A Picture tells a Thousand Words

This time we have a few pictures that I have found recently in my wanderings round the Internet. I can’t guarantee where these photographs came from or their precise dates, but they are approximately from the fifties or sixties and remind me of my early days. Some will show more details of you click on the picture; some are quite low resolution.

  • In fairly random order, I will start with shoe shops.


This is what they looked like, with every size of every style in a box somewhere. New shoes always came in shoe-boxes. Service was personal with assistants measuring carefully for fit, especially for growing children.

  • The next picture, believe or not, shows X-ray machines.

These were often available in shoe shops, used particularly for children to make sure there was enough room for growth. You can see how the child could look in at the middle, with both parents viewing at the sides. You could see the bones in your feet just as for X-rays used today in hospitals. Now, of course, Health and Safety considerations would not allow such a machine.


  • Next, continuing in a random, order we have a building:


It’s a Telephone Exchange, containing all the equipment to connect calls to just a few thousand lines. It was bulky mechanical equipment, operated slowly and was subject to errors. The building would have had space for some telephone operators and other GPO workers. Now a small computer can replace dozens of exchanges. See [35] Telephones

  • The next picture is a garage – not a service station or a petrol station.


You bought petrol for your car at the same place where you took your car for repairs and servicing. It was not self-service and the man who served you could also check your oil levels; repair or replace punctured tyres; adjust or clean spark plugs etc.

You needed garage services much more then as cars were less reliable. This is a low quality picture so I can’t see the price. It might have been about 5p per litre!

  • Now for memories best forgotten – school dinners.


It was not the high point of the day. The food was plain and simple, dished out together. We queued for it and there was no choice. I have seen it said that the choice was: take it or leave it, but this was not true. You had to take it and you were expected to eat it.

  • Another, much nicer, memory of food, The Curry Emporium.


This Indian Restaurant opened at Gants Hill in the early sixties, our first introduction to any form of non-English cuisine. I remember occasionally going with a group from Ilford County High School for lunch when we were in the Sixth Form, just after it opened. You could get a Prawn Pilau for 6s 8d. (That’s 33p) The Curry Emporium gave me my first experiences of curries, pilaus, biryanis and chapattis. It was all excellent food. I still enjoy Indian cooking.

  • While we are with food, here is a fairly typical family eating at home:


(I didn’t have to say ‘at home’ because that was where people ate their meals.) The picture may be American because that looks like a coffee pot in the background on the oven. Very typical of the era is the fact that everyone ate together at the same time, sitting round a table. It was the easiest way to do it and they had no television to tempt them away. It was, of course all prepared by the mother of the family, the housewife.

  • Perhaps a few years later, here is a television:


This looks like an entertainment centre. Underneath the television is a reel-to-reel tape recorder and by its side is a radio and record player. At the time this was very modern. All of this now could be part of your smart phone!

  • Inside a Department Store:


The goods are tucked away under the counter, much of it in boxes. The assistants would get things out and help you choose. See [52] Are You Being Served?

  • Still in shops, a cash register:


It looks post-decimal, but I think it may be American and older. See [45] How did we Manage Without … ?

  • Now for a car, possibly a bit older than the fifties:


Cars did have running boards at the side like this. It looks British from the number plate and may have been from an early driving instruction booklet. Note the amber indicators, which used to flip out at the side and the explanations of hand signals. When I learned to drive hand signals were still in the Highway Code. [When I went to the USA in the seventies I had a lot of difficulty explaining ‘indicators.’ I think they call them ‘turn signals.’]

  • Bedtime drinks.


I think in the forties cocoa used to be the main bedtime drink, made with warm milk. We had Ovaltine and Horlicks, both of which had their appearances at our household. Shown here is a Horlicks mixer. Hot milk was poured into it, over a measured quantity of a dried powder mix. Using the plunger mixed them together into a smooth drink, also introducing bubbles of air to make it a frothy drink.

  • A Dymo Labeler


I won’t go into how these work but oldies like me can reminisce. It produced strips of plastic marked with embossed letters. The process was slow and fiddly. (The modern equivalent does the same thing without the mechanical processes. It looks more like a keyboard.)

  • Finally, bus tickets.


In the sixties a machine something like this produced bus tickets by printing the details on to a roll of paper, something like a modern supermarket receipt, but much more primitive.

  • These are the real bus tickets that I remember fondly.


These are what we had earlier. For 1d or 2d or 4d you were given a pre-printed ticket, made in different colours. The conductor (or conductress) would clip a hole in the ticket to show that it had been issued. That’s why conductors were known as ‘clippies.’ (Yes, I know, youngsters are asking: What’s a bus conductor? Maybe other blogs will explain some of these pictures a bit more.)

Some of these pictures are American but there were many similarities between the two countries. I have had a comment on Facebook saying how much my blogs remind someone of growing up in Illinois.