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Quick or I'll miss it!

As you wait in the queue at the booking office these days you might wonder if ticket issuing has got slower over the years. It probably has, mainly because of the technology used for the accounting and statistical needs of the railway company. It wasn’t always like that. In 1962 I started work at Southall’s booking office, a suburban station 9 miles from Paddington with a lot of commuter traffic. Between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m. on weekdays there were 32 up and down trains to book. There was no technology, simply gravity-fed printed tickets in racks for the most popular destinations. Each needed to be dated using the metal date press with its lead type changed every day and inked ribbon - single tickets at one end and return tickets at both. If there wasn’t printed stock, child tickets used one half of the adult version cut diagonally. Monday mornings brought the added work of issuing weekly, monthly and quarterly season tickets: female passengers had an inky ‘W’ stamped on the non-transferable ticket to stop them being used by men! Men’s season tickets didn’t, but woe betide any woman trying to use one…..

The grim exterior of Southall Booking Office in 1964, although 42/6d for three day trips to the seaside in a week isn’t bad! Photo: Mike Peart

In the grim and draughty station entrance the booking office had three windows, all of which might be needed on a busy Monday morning. On most days we could manage with one. At top speed, commuters’ tickets could be issued and change given at the rate of seven or eight passengers a minute. A damp sponge helped our fingers to get the tickets out of the rack quickly, and a practised flick saw a return ticket dated at both ends in a flash. Banknotes went into a multi-partition tin on the counter and coins were kept as far as possible in rows of their denominations. There was pride in not building up a queue and a wish to ensure that last-minute commuters didn’t miss their trains. The station entrance was uphill from all directions and passengers appeared at the window breathless. People were often in a rush or on autopilot: once I was asked for the “Daily Express” and 10 Woodbines.

Some long-distance Great Western Railway tickets were still being used in 1962, with the original price overwritten, 14 years after nationalisation. If there wasn’t a printed ticket, we consulted the fares manual and wrote out a paper ticket. Tickets were also issued for accompanied dogs, bikes or prams and we were also able to book seat reservations and ferry tickets to Ireland. Additional proceeds such as excess fares collected by the three ticket collectors, ticket sales from the guards on the Staines West and Greenford branches and sales from the staff hostel were collected in and accounted for. Then every week we paid out a large number of weekly paid passenger and goods guards, porters, goods yard, signalling and permanent way staff. Pensioners were paid monthly, many of them signing the paybill in copperplate writing.

Some of the short distance ticket racks in Southall Booking Office with the date press and cash and the GWR Kay & Co brass drum clock. Photo: Mike Peart

“Booking up”, the daily tallying of cash and rail warrants with sales took place in quieter periods. There was a printed book for the purpose which listed our station’s ticket stocks. The racks showed the destination and ticket price for each row and had a narrow strip of slate. You can see from the picture above that if a ticket was wedged vertically in the rack then there had been no issues that day. If there was a ticket sticking out then tickets had been issued. The last two digits of each ticket were written on the slate on the rack with a slate pencil. Numbers on the slate were changed using a damp finger. The numbers of all issued tickets were written in the printed book, so deducting the previous entry from the latest number gave you the number of issues. These multiplied by the ticket price gave you the amount of cash you should have received. For example, yesterday’s singles to Hayes & Harlington at 6d each finished at 6457 and today’s were 6834. So 377 issued equals £9.8s.6d. And so on for the all the issues with you hoping for an exact or very close balance to avoid a repeat - and to keep the auditors at bay. The day’s banknotes, cheques and warrants were placed into a canvas bag which was tied with string and sealed with BR sealing wax. It was then put in a leather pouch with a brass plate carrying our station name and was taken for a particular up train to Paddington in which the Cashier’s Office travelling safe was kept in the guard’s van. The bag was posted in the safe and that was it until the next day.

Mike Peart

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