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The webmaster, Pat Cryer, as a young child

Bus conductors in
mid 1900s London

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Graham Burgess in authentic mid 1900s bus conductor uniform

Graham Burgess at London Bus Museum at Brooklands in authentic bus conductor kit - unfortunately without the hat.

When I was growing up in 1940s and 1950s England, every bus had a conductor as well as a driver.

Most of my recollections are of bus conductors being men, but during the Second World War war, they were often women because young and fit men were away on active service. These women were known as clippies.

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The uniform of a bus conductor

Women bus conductors, known as clippies, during World War Two.

Women bus conductors, known as clippies, during World War Two. Courtesy of Send and Ripley History Society.

Woman bus conductors, known as a clippie, during World War Two.

Woman bus conductor, known as a clippie, during World War Two.

The various photos show bus conductors' uniforms.

London bus conductors and clippies had dark navy uniforms with peaked caps and they wore various badges. The uniforms of rural bus conductors was identical but in dark green.

  

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The role of bus conductors

Identification tag worn by a London bus conductor

Top: identification tag worn by a London bus conductor, photographed in the London Transport Museum.
Below: London Transport lapel badge, photographed at London Bus Museum at Brooklands.

London Transport lapel badge, mid 1900s

Bus conductors were in charge of their buses. They monitored safety and signalled to their driver when it was safe to drive off after a stop. In particular, they collected passengers' fares, i.e. they sold the bus tickets.

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Selling bus tickets

Bus tickets could not be bought in advance.

Bus conductors sold the bus tickets once passengers were settled on the bus, This had the huge advantage that the time spent at bus stops was minimal - only long enough to allow passengers on and off. So journey times were much shorter then than in the later years of single operators doubling as driver and conductor, collecting fares from an entire queue at each bus stop before moving off again.

To sell the tickets, bus conductors moved up and down the passage between the seats selling tickets as the bus was moving.

Often, as the buses were very crowded, the conductors had to squeeze past the standing passengers. Officially only five standing passengers were allowed on the lower deck and none on the upper deck, but the conductors were often kind enough to allow more when the weather was cold or raining.

A conductor collected passengers' money in a leather pouch slung over the neck and shoulders. There were separate slots in these pouches for documents and different coins, probably for silver and copper. I seem to remember notes being kept in conductors' pockets, but there were few of them. The value of money was such that in normal circumstances no bus journey would cost as much as a note, and conductors certainly did not like being asked to give change for them!

Mid 1900s bus conductor punching a bus ticket

Punching a bus ticket, demonstrated by Graham Burgess at London Bus Museum at Brooklands. The bus ticket is put into the slot with the right hand and a lever is pressed with the thumb of the left hand, which punches the hole in the ticket.

Passengers told the conductor their destination and he - having invariably remembered where they got on - seemed to know immediately what the fare would be. He then pulled out an appropriate ticket from the rack and punched a hole in it. I suppose the hole must have been over the destination point, but I can't remember ever checking.

Mid 1900s bus conductor's leather shoulder bag for coins and documents

Leather shoulder bag with pockets for coins and documents.

The gadget on the left is for unlocking the conductor's private compartment and for winding on the route display.

Conductors always seemed to be remarkably good at remembering who had and had not paid - or maybe everyone was more just honest then. It was certainly common practice for passengers to hold their money out to show that they still needed to pay.

If you can add anything to this page, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer, webmaster

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.