Finish your toast!

“Finish your toast, Andre, then we’ll get the 51 to grandma’s”

I was 6 years old. My mum had taken me to the Birmingham Diaries café for tea and toast after my dental check-up: no breakfast on dental appointment days, but a treat for attending. I enjoyed the toast with butter dripping off it, pleased that Dr Crocker did not need to give me any fillings.

We crossed the Walsall Road to the bus stop, where a new Daimler Fleetline bus was waiting.  The bus crew emerged from the newsagents next to the stop and beckoned us on board. We sat on the back seat downstairs, me next to the emergency door. I liked sitting on this seat as someone had thoughtfully provided a padded armrest next to the emergency door, though the seat itself could get warm due to the proximity of the engine slung across the back. There was also a small sighting glass above the back window for the route number display, and two handles which I was under strict instructions not to play with. Perhaps my winding down of the tennis nets in Red House Park served as a warning to mum.

Birmingham buses of that era had two “loaf of bread” shaped notices positioned towards the front of both decks. One warned of the consequences of fare evasion, which I understood, but the other read “Spitting strictly prohibited. Offenders will be prosecuted”. I wondered who would dare spit on a bus?

“It must have been the workmen when they used to chew tobacco”, said mum. The approaching conductor had heard our conversation and said “Yes, that must be it. They’ve had those notices on the buses for as long as I can remember, and the old trams. Adult and child to the Beeches?”

“Yes, please” said mum, handing over some change. The conductor quickly flipped one lever of the ticket machine for mum’s adult ticket and another one for my half fare, handing the 2 pence child ticket directly to me and giving mum her change from his cash bag.

Two weeks ago I was cataloguing some pamphlets and came across one written by Alfred Greenwood (Medical Officer of Health, Crewe), published in London by the Sanitary Publishing Company, 1902. “The prevention of infection in public vehicles”. Here is a link to the digitised version:

As I read the text, I realised that the notice I had seen on the bus was based on considerations of prevention of infection on all forms of public transport, particularly important in the early part of the twentieth century as municipalities expanded their transport networks and urban areas grew and standards of housing were improved.

Image copyright Elliott Brown, (viewed on Flickriver )