The death occurred at his home at Gunnersbury Park, Ealing, of John Gillham. An outstanding transport historian, author, cartographer and photographer, as both an enthusiast and a transport professional, he was a member of several transport societies including the Association, of which he was a founder member. A loyal attendee of its meetings, both general and those held in the London area, he was present for the 70th anniversary celebratory dinner at London Docklands in 2007 and had hoped to attend last year's AGM in Valenciennes, but was prevented by a fall He died peacefully in his sleep on 22 March at the age of 91.
John Charles Gillham was born on 5 July 1917 in South Ealing, the son of a schoolmaster. In 1928 the family moved to a newly-built house at 209 Gunnersbury Park and that was to be his home for the rest of his life. He won a scholarship to Ealing County School for Boys and on leaving school was for a short time employed as a solicitor's clerk before becoming apprenticed with London Transport at their Chiswick works, where he qualified as a draughtsman. He was one of the team responsible for the RT bus and earlier design stages of the Routemaster. Later he worked for Elastic Rail Spike Co, as a draughtsman for its Pandrol rail track fastenings. He entertained ideas of becoming a transport journalist and did indeed undertake editorial work for Commercial Motor and Passenger Transport.
He soon developed an interest in most forms of surface public transport: trams, buses, trolleybuses, trains and canals. He was drawn to the Light Railway and Transport League (as the Association was first titled) when the advertisement announcing the establishment of the organisation appeared in the transport press in May 1937. The first meeting he attended took place on 11 September 1937 in the sitting room of the home of the late J W Fowler. This magazine, then known as The Modem Tramway, was launched the following year and John contributed the first of many articles to it in November 1938 - on The Metropolitan Electric Tramways.
At about this time, another contributor, the late Wingate Bett, was writing a series of articles on British tramway systems and in August 1939 John took over the series in relation to Scottish systems. These articles were brought together in book form the following year as Great British Tramway Networks, with Wingate H Bett and John C Gillham as co-authors: two names forever thereafter to be conjoined in tramway lore. And so the bible of British tramways was born. Comprehensive and meticulously researched, it ran to four editions before adopting its present format of regional handbooks. John remained involved in the production of each issue, including that on the North-East of England, published this year. Books written by him for other publishers began with London Transport's Double-deck Buses for Ian Allan in 1950 to his final major project on the Waterloo and City Railway for Oakwood Press in 2001.
But probably John' s greatest claim to fame rests on his maps, especially his tramway and railway track maps. He was good at map drawing at school and his later training as a draughtsman perfected his technique. Virtually all space would be utilised, often by insets round the edges to provide enlargements of junctions or extended routes. The maps were based on detailed research and to this end he amassed an enormous collection of town plans. He produced a total of 503 such maps and many were used to illustrate books and articles on tramways, railways and trolleybus systems. He expressed particular satisfaction over his maps of Calcutta and Vienna tramways, the latter completed as recently as October 2006. They were distributed far and wide: for example a framed copy of his Karachi tramways map for many years hung in the offices of the Mohammed Ali Tramways Company in that city.
As to the man himself, he was the holder of firm and fixed views. When the name of his road was changed to Popes Lane, he continued to use Gunnersbury Park and fortunately the postal authorities accepted this! He carried on answering the telephone with "Ealing" long after the exchange had gone entirely digital. He would not accept the 24-hour clock. His letters were an art form in themselves, invariably employing foolscap paper until supplies ran out. Margins were eschewed, with typescript carried to the edges of the paper. And they were lengthy affairs: it was said of him that he would never use one word where eight would do! But these idiosyncrasies were accepted by his wide circle of friends and other correspondents because of the enormous respect in which he was held.
He never married, but is survived by his sister Dr Mary Gillham, MBE, who lives in South Wales. A large number of mourners attended his funeral service at the Ogden chapel, Hanworth. Drawn up outside, in some measure to demonstrate his transport interests, was his ancient Vauxhall car and Reading Corporation pre-war bus 47. The congregation dispersed to the tune of Transport of Delight, the Flanders and Swann' s tribute to the London bus. And so departed a kindly and generous man - whose determined and rigorous researches and records have done so much to chronicle the public transport scene for posterity.
GBC, assisted by RJC, IWF, DFR and HT
LRTA Home > LRTA People — John Gillham: page updated 23 April 2009