As the web site tends to have a bit of a northern bias I thought you might like to redress the balance with some tickets from a long defunct rural North Essex operator.
Aubrey Ernest Letch began operations in 1919 with market day services from his home village of Sible Hedingham to Braintree on Wednesdays and to Sudbury, just over the Suffolk border, on Thursdays. His buses were kept in wooden sheds behind some houses (once occupied by workers in an adjacent brick works) in Wethersfield Road, Sible Hedingham.
In March 1935 Letch acquired the business of P.W.Fitch who ran similar services to the same towns but from the neighbouring village of Castle Hedingham. The Fitch service to Braintree included some works journeys and in 1946 these were consolidated and extended back to start from Great Yeldham.
The weekly ticket is helpfully dated July 6th 1959 and shows the various stages it could be used between. The “5” refers to the numbers of days it was valid for rather than the service no which was 4. The ordinary Bell Punch tickets are probably from an earlier period as Letch began renting two Gibson machines in the late fifties before inheriting some Insert Setright machines from the defunct Corona Coaches in 1959.
In 1960 Aubrey Letch decided to retire and, without family to follow him, that could have been the end of the story. However by this time a young bus enthusiast had begun to assist him with administrative matters on a part time basis at weekends. As this enthusiast had an economics degree (specialising in transport) and some previous practical experience with Eastern National he felt that it might be possible to take this rather run down operator with eight elderly vehicles, rename it and, with a good deal of hard work, turn it in to something rather larger and better. And that is why, should you pass through north Essex in 2011 you will see any one of a hundred smart modern red and cream vehicles bearing the legend “Hedingham & District Omnibuses Limited, D.R.MacGregor MBE, BSc(Econ), Wethersfield Road, Sible Hedingham”. Indeed you may still take one of those buses from Sible Hedingham to Sudbury or to Braintree though I fear your ticket and fare may be rather different from those shown here.
Photograph and Copy contributed by Nigel Turner
21/04/11 – 06:33
Well Nigel, what extremely interesting tickets these are, particularly the very simply designed Bell Punch ones. I have always had a great interest in and affection for Hedingham and District, and I’m very surprised to learn of its humble origins. Rather similar and equally fascinating circumstances surround the beginnings of the superb Premier Travel of Cambridge, which grew from "in house" university students’ transport into a highly respected and professional bus and coach operation.
15/06/12 – 11:45
In 1970 or thereabouts I had a young wife, and with our herd of goats we moved in as unpaid caretakers of a small farm near Halstead. I had a psv all types licence, one of the Hedingham bus drivers had just died unexpectedly, and his uniform fitted me, so I took his place. I well remember driving the former Letch routes between the Yeldhams, Sudbury, the Hedinghams, Halstead and Braintree in my small Bedford one man bus. Mine was the only one with no route number box, and at that time the only depot was the original one located up a country lane at Sible Hedingham. Two rattly old Bristol (MW5G?) saloons were still operated, though only one was in regular use (usually on the Braintree route) and having earlier driven Dennis LoLine double deckers for "The Tracco" – Aldershot & District Traction Co – after being a bus mechanic driving RTs and RMCs on London Transport’s Country Buses & Coaches division, I became firmly convinced that if you were given a Gardiner-engined Bristol or Dennis to drive, you didn’t need a timetable. What you needed was a calendar!
The punch tickets illustrated look to me like a standard Williamson design as used by many small country bus operators. Didn’t White Bus Service use something very similar on their route between Bridlington and Flamboro North Landing / Lighthouse, and also Pearce’s Motors down in Polperro? Incidentally, the two Pearce’s Motors tickets shown on this site are wrongly described as Bell Punch tickets when they quite clearly bear a Williamson’s imprint.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the geography, the Letchs’ season ticket doesn’t show three separate routes, but variations on a single route.
Coming from the Yeldham direction towards Braintree, you turned off the main road and passed the Eleven Elms pub, where some journeys to and from Braintree turned short, then had to skirt round Castle Hedingham because its medieval streets were far too narrow to get a bus through. Past the sawmill and former station at Sible Hedingham you rejoined the main road to Gosfield Corner. There you either continued straight on to Bocking and Braintree, or swung sharp left for Halstead and the 88 route to Colchester. From Halstead the Braintree road joined up with the Yeldham – Gosfield – Braintree route just a few miles along the way, so that Gosfield Corner – Halstead and the Halstead – Braintree road formed a triangular diversion off the Yeldham – Hedingham – Gosfield 0orner – Braintree direct route.
In my time at Hedingham the Gibson ticket machines had long gone but we still used Setright Speeds, which were lovely trouble-free ticket machines. Ideal for one-man country bus routes, they would probably still be in widespread use if the national bus pass scheme didn’t require operators to use electronic ticket machines if they want to be paid for journeys made by the elderly and disabled.
I am greatly surprised to learn of an operator "upgrading" from Gibsons to insert Setrights. I have an insert Setright machine of my own as well as numerous Setright Speeds and many other types of ticket machine and both bell and hand punches, but most operators would progress from insert Setrights to Gibsons, not the other way round.
I’d expect it on London Transport’s Country Buses, where one-man buses used Ultimates, two-man bus crews used Gibsons, and Green Line crews used Setright Speeds – because they could handle a much wider range of fares – but for a small country bus operator like Letch to be using Gibsons at all in the 1950s must be rather unusual. How did that happen?
15/06/12 – 12:00
Correction to my input on the Letch’s posting:- I think that the ticket machines used on the London Transport one-man country buses were actually Solomatics (though everyone referred to them as Ultimates and they used Ultimate tickets). The railway machines that issued double-length tickets were Ultimatics. However, the only difference was that Ultimate machines had the ticket issuing lever on the same side of the machine as the slot where the ticket emerged, whereas Solonatic machines had the issuing lever on the back of the machine while the tickets emerged at the front. This made the Solomatic much easier to use when fitted to a one-man bus.
Bell Punch type tickets by any printer are all now headed just as ‘Punched’ its just that I haven’t quite got round to changing them all yet.
16/06/12 – 10:10
Why did A E Letch use Gibson machines? I don’t know the answer but by the late 1950s (which was when they had them), demand from London Transport was obviously muted. The makers (who also made the TIM machine) seem to have made an effort to interest smaller firms in the Gibson and there were others, like the Farsley Omn Co. and Lockeys of West Auckland, who tried the Gibson/had small numbers.
They did have the advantage that there were counters for every value, so provided you only needed 14 values, you got pretty good stats.
The design of the Letch tickets was indeed used by Williamsons for many other operators’ tickets.
LT OMO buses had Ultimates. The Solomatic ticket could be distinguished from the Ultimate as the machine used a guillotine to cut the ticket.
DRH – Transport Ticket Society
17/06/12 – 12:03
The information provided by DRH about the use by Letch of Gibson ticket machines is a little unclear. However, I take him to mean that by the time Letch obtained them, LT had filled its need for Gibsons to replace punch tickets, and TIM Ltd – who had taken over the manufacture & marketing of Gibsons – were looking for new customers wherever they could be found.
DRH is mistaken, however, about the difference between Ultimate and Solomatic machines. There is a full discussion on this site of the difference between them (and also Ultimatic ticket machines) under the listing for Hardwick’s of Scarboro, but in essence the difference is that Ultimates have the ticket issuing lever and the ticket issuing slot on the same side of the machine, while the Solomatic was developed as a variant of the Ultimate to suit one-man-bus operation(as indicated by the name) and therefore had them on opposite sides of the machine so that the driver didn’t have to handle the ticket, which slowed down ticket issuing. I worked at the Addlestone garage (WY) of London Transport’s Country Bus division in the late 1960s and clearly remember the OMO ticket machines as Solomatic, not Ultimates, though they may well have been using Ultimate ticket rolls rather than Solomatic concertina packs.
18/06/12 – 09:11
The very mention of Solomatic ticket machines still fills me with dread even after forty plus years since I last used one. We had them at Leeds City Transport/Metro, an operator who used the heavy Ultimate ticket rolls in them – no doubt so that only one mass of ticket stocks was necessary thereby saving space/money. The Solomatic should of course have used "cinema box office" style concertina packs where the machine had only to raise a very light weight to the issuing slots. Due to the weight of the Ultimate rolls, especially when a new one had been joined onto the diminishing remains of the previous, caused frequent jams and there were six values – this occurred particularly when a "double" was being issued. All this time wasting hassle occurred on the bus of course, but as Leeds had huge garages where the vehicles were parked a long long way from the traffic offices the ridiculous performance necessary to find the bus and to install the infernal machine on the vehicle was a nightmare in its own right, particularly in icy wet yards and darkness. In the traffic office you had to use two hands to carry three heavy items – the machine itself in its cradle, the metal box containing at least twelve rolls of new tickets in a rack, and your own personal large leather "OPO" bag. The same pantomime in reverse had to be endured when running into the depot at the end of a piece of work. I still have one of the Headingley depot ones, which I had often used "for real" – I bought it many years ago at a rally somewhere "for old time’s sake."
19/06/12 – 09:11
Sorry if my comment re Gibsons was unclear – the machine was developed for LT and once they had bought all they wanted (in fact more than they eventually needed), Ticket Equipment Ltd, which had the rights to the machine, tried to drum up custom without much success – I think because the Gibson was more expensive than the TIM (which they also marketed).
Ultimate / Solomatic – the comment was only to illustrate the difference between the two ticket types – the machines were of course different although they shared a family likeness.
Chris Youhill mentions the Leeds type Solomatic machine which was slightly smaller than the Solomatic in more general use and took roll tickets. Leicester had these too. I think the idea was that these could be carried about (after a fashion!) rather than left fixed in the bus.
I’m afraid I’m not aware of any use by London Transport of the Solomatic machine, as Tony Adams says. LT was one of the earliest users of the Ultimate for OMO (the first buses having two machines which faced the driver, mounted on the back of the cab door). Later, this was reduced to one machine per bus and the Ultimate was in continuous use until the Almex E took over.
DRH – Transport Ticket Society
19/06/12 – 13:47
Many thanks DRH for that clarification – I was not aware, and couldn’t have imagined, that anything could be larger or heavier than the Leeds Solomatics. At that time LCT/Metro had six very large depots (large both in area and capacity) and those infernal machines were carted daily between the traffic offices and the vehicle parks, often in slippery and hazardous conditions. Most of the traffic office assistants were drivers or conductors who were no longer medically fit for those tasks, and for the "easy" life they had to heave these heavy machines and ticket boxes onto shelves higher than one’s head. There is much scoffing at present day Health and Safety legislation, admittedly sometimes justified, but in the case of this particular pantomime practice it should certainly have been brought to bear on those in charge.
20/06/12 – 08:50
I’m fascinated by DRH’s mention of LT having two ultimates per bus in use at one time; I’m surprised that there was sufficient room on the back of the cab door. Was this because of the number of values required, even allowing for double-issues? If so, surely they could have come up with something better. Were these 5-bank or 6-bank machines or did they try the rare 7-bank models which I’m sure I’ve read about although I’ve never seen or used one? And finally, did the driver have to cart two machines around with him when starting/finishing his shifts or when going on breaks? Making up his waybill at the end of each journey must have been a task and a half! That must have meant a minimum of 20 entries – 24 if they were 6-bank machines!
21/06/12 – 08:06
A photo of the two-Ultimate set-up and fairly massive American "Brandt" change giver on an RF is in the LT Museum Collection here: http://www.ltmcollection.org/
I think the idea was to obtain full statistics of each value in the farescale – exactly as with the bell punch system. They were 5-unit machines; the 6-unit came later (on which LT eventually standardised) and the 7-unit, later still. (Fishwicks of Leyland were one user of the 7-unit, but LT were not).
I don’t know whether drivers had to carry both machines to and fro, but the tickets were "value stock" so they couldn’t be left in the bus overnight.
DRH – Transport Ticket Society
22/06/12 – 08:48
Goodness, gracious me! I’ve never seen anything quite like that arrangement in my life. Take away the glimpse of steering wheel and it looks more like a cinema box office than a bus. I would think it would be very difficult to do a double-issue as, obviously, ultimates were intended to be used "the other way round" and operated with one hand which would be almost impossible with this set-up.
Seeing this from 1955 makes me wonder how OMO ever caught on (if only it hadn’t!) and perhaps goes to show why we now have to put up with extremely clever but terribly boring electronic machines.
Thank you very much for that; I’m amazed!
22/06/12 – 08:49
The story behind the use of Gibson machines by Letch is that by the 1950s Mr Letch had become concerned by the cost of buying punch tickets as fares increased and different values were required. While studying at the London School of Economics, Mr MacGregor learnt of a place in Victoria Street, London from where Gibson machines could be rented. On telling Mr. Letch of this, Mr MacGregor was duly dispatched to London and returned with two machines, one for Mr Letch’s bus and one for a part time driver. However Corona Coaches then collapsed in 1959 and some services passed to Letch together with some Insert Setright machines which had serial numbers with a Z prefix. This rendered the Gibsons redundant and they were returned to London. Subsequently, (certainly by the early 1970s) Hedingham replaced the Insert machines with ex Westcliff (WMS prefix serial numbers) Setrights from Eastern National.