Funny how something so innocent as an old railway ticket can start my mind running; I wonder whether you have the same reaction when you see this, posted on Facebook last week?
The basic details are evident: a used second-class ticket for a child, for a one-way journey from Hassocks to London (SR) (Ed: Southern Region), valid for three days from 2nd November 1972 in exchange for £0.49. It even has a number, 0348, although the relevance of this is not obvious. A stiff piece of card unlike today’s rather flimsy paper ticket.
Then the enquiring bit of my little brain takes over. Was this a train pulled by a steam engine? When did decimalisation in the UK take place; surely it was about this time? Who was the child and where was he or she going on this single journey? Were they accompanied or were they old enough to travel on their own? What was going to happen when they arrived in London? And maybe more importantly why had they kept this particular ticket and where had it lain for over forty years, as it’s remarkably clean? Indeed why do any of us keep stuff like this?
If my memory serves me well, the owner of the ticket, let’s call him Freddie Chumboy, attended a boarding school in the village of Hurstpierpoint a few miles from Hassocks. They were aged 13 at the time of this single journey and I think it was probably too late to be half-term, so why were they travelling to London? The validity of the ticket is three days and the second of November in 1972 was a Thursday, so possibly they travelled on the Friday or Saturday – or was he doing a runner, filled with a mixture of excitement and anxiousness, walking the mile or so from College to the Hassocks Railway Station, making his way to home in the London suburbs to plead not to be forced to board, hoping of course for a sympathetic ear? You may recall my own experiences of boarding school so I would certainly be on his side!
Hassocks has a railway station which is two stops north of Brighton. London-bound, you would travel through Burgess Hill, Wivelsfield Green and Haywards Heath before crossing the glorious Victorian construction of the Balcombe Viaduct.
At the bottom of this photograph the road crossed the River Ouse on a little hump-back bridge. As a child I sat in the back of the bus and was lifted off the bench as the bus went over; simple pleasures huh!
In PC 58 ‘Going Home’ I recalled my 2015 visit to the house that my parents bought in Balcombe, 18 miles north of here, in 1956. My stepfather commuted to London Victoria from Balcombe railway station, tipping his hat to Mr Smart the Station Master; his office was in Tothill Street in Westminster. The trains were pulled by steam-powered locomotives up until 1967; the carriages had long corridors and compartments for 8 people, outward-opening doors and windows you could open by pulling up a leather strap and fastening the strap on some brass studs to ‘lock’ it open. As any child would have done, we loved putting our heads out of the window, careful not to get covered in soot or having one’s head taken off by a track-side signal pole! And the smell of burning coal ….. and steam ….. and soot ….. and oil …. remains seared into my memory.
But when he took this journey, Freddie’s train would have had a diesel-powered locomotive. I can imagine him delighting in his new-found freedom, even if he had to wear his shorts and school cap. He may remember the Ticket Inspector snipping the right-hand side, probably with some comment and smile:
“Why Thank You Sir! Enjoy your journey.”
North of Balcombe the railway line went through a long tunnel, a favourite spot for those wishing to end their lives, according to our local doctor, a Doctor Haire. Whenever he attended a drinks or supper party at our house he would tell some hideous stories of when he had had to help the rescue services in recovering the body. The whole London – Brighton railway line featured in a speeded-up film, taking one minute to travel the 58 miles.
A box of treasures
But where has the ticket been? If you read PC 70 from May 2016 entitled ‘My man-drawer’, you will know that I have to have somewhere for those you-never-know-when-I-might-need-it items, but this is different. This is a memento, a treasured piece of cardboard which to their touch would immediately flood their mind with emotions, good or bad. I first meet Freddie on Wandsworth Common in London in 2002 where, in the early morning mist, we would walk our respective Labradors, my Tom and his Sam, Tia and Aero. So I wasn’t surprised to see he had found this old ticket, as I know him to be a hoarder extraordinaire. What I don’t know is whether there are boxes of other used tickets etc hidden somewhere. Incidentally on the reverse side would have been the Terms & Conditions of Carriage.
Much to Celina’s dismay ….. no, that’s the wrong word ….. resignation …… I have little cardboard boxes/folders/tins/plastic boxes full of stuff. The oldest stuff in the bottom, more recent treasures or mementos or ‘that might come in useful’ towards the top. You might detect that I have kept all my old passports and wallets? Why? Search me …… nostalgia I guess.
Before 15th February 1971 Britain’s currency was based on the Roman system (Librum, solidus and denarius equated to LSD – pounds shillings and pence) There were 12 pence to a shilling and 20 shillings to a pound. To confuse Johnny Foreigner we also had a florin (two shillings), a Half Crown (two shillings and sixpence), a Crown (five shillings) and a Guinea (One pound and one shilling) (Note 1.) So Freddie’s ticket cost 49 pence, almost ten shillings in ‘old money’.
Opening a box of one’s mementos is like starting an archaeological dig through the strata of one’s life. Down in the ‘Teenage Era’ Freddie unearthed an old railway ticket from 48 years ago – ‘Just the ticket!’ you might say.
Richard 7th May 2020
PS Do you have something that could make the subject of some future scribbles? Let me know ……
Note 1 When a thoroughbred race horse is sold in the UK the price is determined in Guineas; the original gold for the gold coin came from Guinea in West Africa. Some of the more famous UK horseraces retain the connection – for example the ‘1000 Guineas’ and the ‘2000 Guineas’.
Note 2 Podcasts for some 30 PCs are now available on http://www.podbean.com