Peter Pan's Playground

Photo:A Johnstone's minature coach

A Johnstone's minature coach

From the private collection of Dennis Parrett

Johnstone's coaches in the 1940s

By Dennis Parrett

In 1935 Ernie Johnstone lived in Brighton. Whether it was the influence of a coach works at Hove, or the thousands of coaches that came to the south coast in summer, who knows, but he came up the idea of small pedal powered buses for hired at a site on Madeira Drive.

Pedal power first
Holiday makers, who had perhaps travelled all the way from London, then paid for a ride in a small replica of the vehicle that brought them here. The early pedal powered efforts led to a motorised chassis. Johnstone was a prolific builder of miniatures and supplied to amusement parks such as Morecambe and Margate.

Attention to detail
Johnstone's vehicles were pleasing because of the accuracy with which he captured the "feel" of the style of "the coach" even though they were not built to accurate scale. They were popular at Peter Pan's Playground on the Brighton seafront and could even be seen running around on the Brighton roads as they were properly registered. One example is in the photograph provided. They lasted until well into the 1960s.

This page was added on 30/03/2007.
Comments about this page

Ernie made 57 minatures including a double-decker bus, registered KCD 1 (what would that be worth today?) and a fire engine. The single-deckers were based on the then current Southdown fleet and some of the bodies were built by Thomas Harrington. Several are in private collections or in museums as far apart as Rolvenden, Kent and Washington, USA.

By Alan J Piatt (01/04/2007)

As a kid I spent most of the summers in the late 40s and 50s at either Black Rock swimming pool, or Peter Pan's Playground on the seafront. The lovely little Johnstone's Southdown coaches always facinated me, and I watched them for hours. I never had a ride in them as money was tight in those days, but watching them going around was enough. Lovely simple days long gone.

By Mick Peirson (01/04/2007)

I believe at least one of these has survived as I saw a miniature coach like the one pictured at the junction of Elm Grove and Queens Park Road last summer. Maybe someone else has more imformation?

By Neil Underhill (01/04/2007)

These Johnstone's Midgets were built in the Old Forge in Preston Village. Mr Johnstone and his family lived next door. I went to school with Tony Johnstone and frequently called at the workshops en route home from Preston Primary School. I believe Tony may still have at least one of the buses. There may have been more than one fire engine. They gave rides along the north drive of The Level.

By Raymond (Dickie) Bird (09/04/2007)

What fabulous memories. As a child in the 50s and 60s, I would travel from Swindon to spend most of the summer school holidays with my nan at Whitehawk. One thing for sure each year was that I would put by enough out of my spending money to have at least one ride in these miniature coaches. Even as a teenager and then living in Brighton, I would often spend some time watching them.

By Michael Cook (06/12/2007)

There were two fire engines - used Villiers 200cc engines. One is still in use in Arbroath (LCD 1). Two Leyland Tiger coaches (SCD2 and TUF3) also in use in Arbroath. See http://www.matthewkerr.wanadoo.co.uk/

By Duncan (16/04/2008)

Ref/ Johnstones Midgets Coaches. I have full history of the coaches. Please contact me Email tj@tjbrighton.com, 22 Braybon Ave, Brighton,BN1 8EA.

By Tony Johnstone (25/11/2008)

i just remembered these at Peter Pan's. My dad put me in one, but I was looking at the tarmac on the floor inside the bus instead of were I was going. I crashed - mind you I must have only been about 5 years old. Now 50 years on I have decided I am going to build one or two to take to the local shows for charity. I built a romany caravan last year out of scrap and took it to the Findon sheep fair near Worthing. Now I am bored I've got to get another project soon or the missus will have me decorating again. If anybody has some colour photos that I could borrow I would appreciate that. Looks like its going to be a AEC Southdown and a 1940 Bristol with small engine for momentum, room for two to sit in line. Would be grateful for any help.

By Trevor Williams (27/12/2008)

Hello Trevor, I may be wrong, but I have no recollection of Southdown ever having AECs.The old Brighton Corporation ones were AECs though, that would be a nice Brighton Project and I am sure you could count on help from ex-Brighton Corporation people, possibly through this site.

By Jerry (04/01/2009)

Hi, my name is Fay and  am Ernest Johnstone's Great- Granddaughter. Unfortunatley, my grandfather, who was Ernest's eldest son passed away a few years ago. I only have the tales my wonderful Grandfather shared with me, but would be interested in any other memories or photos you may have of the Johnstone minatures.

By Fay Johnstone (07/02/2009)

My great great grandad was a nice man. I loved him loads. I am 11 years old. My grandad unfortunately died, if you have any pictures or any thing to do with my grandad please leave them to help me with my project .

By Sonni Johnstone (13/05/2009)

Ernie was my grandfather and I can remember spending many happy hours at Peter Pan's during holidays. The adult in the photo looks like his son Derek although I couldn't be sure. He went on to work in the prison service at Lewes and then further afield. I am sure Ernie sold one of his number plates to the council for use on the mayoral limo - they were all short numbers (to fit the coaches) and the number plate on the fire engine was, I am sure 999.

By Nigel Moss (22/06/2009)

I have come across a novelty film which includes a brief clip of KUF 999, Brighton's Fire, appliance turning out from presumably the main fire station with an adult driver and a crew of kiddies. They were filmed putting out a small fire and doing ladder drill. Its currently listed on ebay as "Johnson Miniature fire engine ...DVD" That should help identify one fire engine - although it could hacve changed hands later. Regards Jim

By Jim Wilkie (26/12/2010)

My Father used to drive these coaches at Hastings when I was young. I am now 63 years old but have fond memories of these wonderful machines. A place worth visiting is the motor museum at Rolvendean,Kent very interesting people run this place with good write ups and photos and two coaches.

By Keith Goodall (14/06/2011)

Hi I believe that I drove one of the original Johnson's buses. I have been told of its history by many that used to ride on it in the 40s. I also have spoken to some guys that have seen me driving it and told me that they worked on the bus when Ernest built them. I get customers in my shop were I keep the bus on show and drive it around Brighton. Been driving it around Brighton for about six years now I got in from an antiques dealer in Guildford. It is now running off two car batteries. I welcome any one that would like to have a photo taken in the bus as I ask for a small donation to support the rocking-horse appeal (local children's hospital) my shop is at 83 London Road Brighton. All are welcome. I know this sounds like a plug for my shop but its not. I recently made news headlines for having a parking ticket on it. The shop is called Giovanni's hair salon. Please help support us raise money. Thank you.

By Giovanni Corteggio (03/07/2011)

I am the owner of two of the Leyland Tigers and one of the fire engines. I know that there were three built, one of which is now in Germany. I will keep mine running for as long as possible and am currently planning a trip around Scotland/UK. Based in Arbroath, they still give trips to children up and down the local promenade. For more info have a look at www.kerrsminiaturerailway.co.uk

By John Kerr (09/11/2011)

Hi, we have a Harrington miniature coach being restored at Faversham, Kent. It is nearly there. It has a 125 cc engine and takes an adult and two children. I hope it's finished this year. 

By Raymond (08/07/2012)

IT IS GOOD TO SEE PEOPLE ARE STILL INTERESTED IN THESE COACHES. THE ONE BEING RESTORED, IS IT AN ORIGINAL JOHNSTONE'S MIDGET? YOU DON'T HAPPEN TO BE RAYMOND JOHNSTONE DO YOU?

By NORMA HALFORD (09/07/2012)

I remember having rides on these buses in (I think) the early 50s. I always had two weeks holiday in Brighton with my aunt, at 49 Ashton St. The family ran a greengrocers shop in Sydney St. My cousin, Beryl Speed, still lives in the Brighton area. Her married name is/was Tucknott. The last time I visited Brighton Museum, they were showing a video of the buses operating at the playground, which was a pleasant surprise. It's good to have now found out so much information. Thanks a lot for the info everybody.

By Jenny Baker (18/08/2012)

Hi, I have hanging on my garage wall an original radiator grille I bought i at an auto jumble in Ardingly a few years ago. As I have lived in Brighton and Hove all my life I bought it. I remember the little coaches very well and would have rides on them as a child. I also remember the "old forge garage" as I did my apprenticeship at Braybons in Preston village. I would like to see the grille back on the front of one of these little coaches. If any one is interested please contact me by email at, paulcheal@hotmail.co.uk

By Paul Cheal (09/12/2012)

As a young school boy in the 1950s I remember being fascinated with the Johnstone miniature buses driving around Peter Pan's Playground. Being a bus enthusiast I was green with envy - I wanted one! Fifteen years or so later in the mid 1960s I was told there was one by the workshops for the Southend on Sea Kursaal amusement park. Alas after going there in my lunch break I was crestfallen to see it had been cut up like sides of bacon! I was told there was another one though and I think within 24 hours I had bought it (JCD 202). I renovated it and painted it in Maidstone & District green and cream livery. For many years I had much enjoyment owning it but with two daughters not being bus enthusiasts decided the time had come to sell after having had the bus in my possession for in excess of 45 years. So I can advise it went to a good home (in 2009) in the north west of England to a man with three young sons who together would renovate it again.

By Anthony Allam (02/10/2013)

Fond memories of Johnstone's Miniture Coaches as I was friends with Tony & Ray ( Ernies young sons) & would spend a lot of my school holidays helping them out at Peter Pans.

By Adrian Tincknell (11/10/2013)

I have many photo's of the 'worlds smallest motor coaches' as my grand father Arthur Tiltman worked a lot with (or for) the Johnstones, I would be interested in anyone who knows more about my grandfather's involvement.

By Brian Ovenden (11/10/2013)

Anthony Allam, Adrian Tincknell, Brian Ovenden, I can send you a good part of the history of Johnstone's Midgets. Please send me your email address, plus photos. T.J. tj@tjbrighton.com

By Tony Johnstone(TJ) (23/10/2013)

A photo of Johnstone's coaches that appears on 'East Brighton Bygones' has my grandfather Arthur Tiltman and myself as a small girl sitting in front of him.

By Carol Bayton nee Ovenden (24/10/2013)

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