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John Gillham

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

Some appreciations

A true LRTL member who insisted on absolute accuracy and perfection in any publication, knowing that such publication was not going to be just for today but also far into the future. He realised very ear1y on, through basic training, that an inaccurate document is useless. If one cannot trust one "statement of fact" as published, when the reader's personal knowledge that statement is incorrect, then you lose heart in anything else published alongside. John tried to ensure that his material was accurate to the utmost degree.

Graham Feakins

I did not meet John until Sunday, 11 April 197l, and it was under unusual circumstances. I had attended a wedding in Manchester on the Saturday, and found myself travelling south from Crewe to Euston in the early hours of the following day. I had but one travelling companion in my compartment, and I noticed that he showed unusual interest in the rumble of the train as it traversed every turnout and crossing in the all-engrossing darkness. Far from dozing at that unholy hour, this fellow was making notes as we travelled. A conversation was struck up, and I asked if by any chance his name was John Gillham: he replied in the affirmative, and subsequently we shared a taxi from Euston at about 4am, he to Ealing and me to South Kensington. Six years later I was working for Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick & Partners on the planning study from which emerged the Tuen Mun LRT network. I was responsible for the outline design of the tram system, all of which was done with detailed track plans. When the Hong Kong Government officer with responsibility for the project carne to inspect progress, he immediately declared, "Why, you have done a Gillham!" He was obviously impressed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Tim Runnacles

His interest encompassed tramways and railways and he made frequent loco spotting visits to West Ealing station, whilst meanwhile his father had acquired a motor cyc1e and sidecar to take the family wider afield to Worthing and the south coast. Apparently his father detested towns and their street tramways, having had an unfortunate accident, colliding with one of the tramway centre poles in Ealing, but with great fortune for the likes of us, this antipathy was not passed on to his son. The quality, brilliance and skill of his cartography have become legendary and because of this, his maps have been used on countless occasions for many of the tramway books published by the Association and others. He was never a man to gloss over or distort the truth and adopt persuasive sales phraseology to market his maps, and I always liked the following quotation from his catalogue - "the whole series is totally mixed and haphazard, with no continuity at all, and only a moderate degree of standardisation in the method of presentation. Unfortunately, it is not practicable to set out this list in any methodical geographical sequence or grouping". All perfectly true and relatively unimportant, but hardly the modern "hard-sell" approach!

David Russell

To the British transport enthusiast there were five icons: the London trolleybus, the Glasgow tramcar, the 1938 London Underground tube stock, the Flying Scotsman and John Gillham. Living in London, he had a strong interest in transport in the capital and on that notorious day of 5 July 1952 (his 35th birthday) he cyc1ed to New Cross to witness "Last Tram Day". An anecdote he related is that having chained his bicycle to some railings, he placed a notice on it stating "Do not steal". After the last trams had run in, he cycled home to Ealing, but on the way took some wonderful time exposure photographs of the silent streets which showed the glistening tram tracks that would never be used again - these views are very atmospheric and show the thought that went into his pictures. His photography was such that one could always tell a "Gillham" at first glance. His photographs were meticulously catalogued in a beautifully written index. Most are transport subjects and a number were taken on London Transport premises - he always referred to such visits as "trespassing".

Hugh Taylor

LRTA Home > LRTA People — John Gillham: page updated 23 April 2009