I take the tube at least twice a week somewhere in town. Predictably I spend rather longer on it than I should: I find myself trying to get a gap in the crowds; a pause in the orderly chaos.
That’s because I’m so often attempting to take a shot that is comparable with the archive shots of yesteryear: those that feature just the architecture and engineering, rather than shots of those who are using it.
Sometimes it can be really quite pleasant to stop to one side, avoid the rush – and for a fleeting moment – experience the #EmptyUnderground.
I’ll be looking out on Twitter for more #EmptyUnderground so do snap some, upload to Twitter with that hashtag and I’ll make a blog post of them in a couple of weeks’ time.
Last week I was very lucky in getting a balloted ticket for the District Dave Forum Christmas Meetup – to go and see something really quite interesting, and very unusual. (District Dave’s Forum is a place for the most ardent London Underground enthusiast to enjoy – there are a lot of very knowledgeable people there who understand the past, current and future of the system much more than I there). I’ve lurked on those Forums for many years and occasionally ask a very stupid question.
One of the things that characterises TfL today is the incredible number of transport enthusiasts who work within the organisation. Thanks to them, the Forum social this year was an expertly-arranged tour of the “Hidden Tunnels of King’s Cross” by off-duty station staff. Our main organiser and guide was one of TfL’s greatest advocates, Jack Gordon. His enthusiasm for his day-to-day role assisting passengers around King’s Cross is superseded only by his love for the history of the network. TfL is lucky to have people like him (and so many others) taking time and effort volunteering to show those of us of a nerdish disposition around something that they adore.
So it was that we took a remarkable two-hour trip in and out of dozens of rooms, corridors and tunnels. From the frankly sci-fi warren of concrete tunnels and rooms beneath the new King’s Cross Ticket Hall (some of these voids are four storeys high) to the faded original Northern Line pedestrian tunnels, still showing signs of damage from the dreadful fire of 1987. We even had a wander around the old King’s Cross Thameslink railway station, now just used as an access route from Pentonville Road to the Underground platforms on weekday.
What fascinates me about our “hidden” or “abandoned” tunnels isn’t so much that they were railways or foot tunnels at all, but that our city and our needs have grown so rapidly that they have outgrown these systems that were built for them. That our growth as humans mean we’re now too tall for some tunnel clearances; and that London sometimes grows or changes priorities so fast that the infrastructure that was built for it was sometimes already outdated before it was completed. It was an exhausting, but truly wonderful trip.
After our epic tour most of my fellow tourists retired to the pub with the rest of the Forum folk, but I headed off to Bekonscot Model Village in Beaconsfield to look at the winter-time evening illuminations and have a drive around the miniature railway. Because, of course, weekends are made for playing trains.
Note: TfL has given permission for photos in these locations to be published online here.
During 2016 the Battle Bus community learning programme has worked with three amazing teams of young volunteers to co-curate an exhibition called From Tottenham to the trenches. These young volunteers consisted of a research team, an exhibition team and an outreach team who all had different roles to play in bringing together the exhibition.
The project began in February with a group of 10 young research volunteers who were students recruited from universities across London. They were tasked with uncovering First World War stories linked to the events of 1916, the B-type bus, and Tottenham. Working alongside Rebecca Hatchett from S.I.D.E Projects, they met with museum professionals and First World War experts, delved into archives and went on field trips to piece together all the information needed to create content for the exhibition. You can read more about what they got up to on their blog here.
This research was then passed on to eight Year 9 students at Northumberland Park Community School, who took on the role of exhibition volunteers. During weekly sessions with Rebecca and the Battle Bus Apprentice, Lamare, they creatively explored the research. They looked at why young men may have signed up to fight, the Battle of the Somme and the role that London buses played on the Western Front. Working with filmmaker Mmoloki Chrystie they used shadow puppets, drama and photography to produce images and a short creative film for the exhibition. You can watch their film here.
The students also went on a bespoke three-day Battlefield tour to Belgium and France. They visited sites that had links to Tottenham and the buses, and learnt more about the Battle of the Somme and the Western Front. The students paid their respects at the grave of William George Ely, a young soldier from Walthamstow whose story features in the exhibition. A film was made for the exhibition which documents their experience. You can watch it here.
Then over the summer five young outreach volunteers worked alongside a spoken word artist, Mr Gee, to create original poems, responding to stories in the exhibition that they felt emotionally or personally attached to. Their work covered the ideas of home, memory, courage and conflict. As well as the poems featuring in the exhibition, they were also performed by the volunteers at exhibition launch events at London Transport Museum and Bruce Castle Museum.
All the hard work and enthusiasm of the three teams of young volunteers culminated in the creation of the exhibition, From Tottenham to the trenches. It tells the story of London buses and the lives of young men from Tottenham who were affected by the First World War. It also marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. We invite you to visit the exhibition, which is on display at Bruce Castle Museum in Tottenham until Sunday 26 March 2017.
Many thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund and London Transport Museum Friends for funding the Battle Bus Project. Also many thanks to Tottenham Grammar School Foundation and the Friends for funding the Battlefield Tour.
The ticket prices just about cover the costs of running what is a complex operation in logistics, safety and customer experience. So that some of it is accessible to all, the closest thing I can do is to take a lot of photos and share them: so below are some from my recent trips to Clapham South Tunnels and to Euston Tunnels too. I’ll be popping to a few next season and sharing the experience on this blog.
This one is less grubby but no less interesting… miles of fascinating tunnels used for different purposes at different times. The expert guides will take you through the story of these tunnels and their future.
Frank Pick died 75 years ago this week. You’ll know his work; you’ll know his style. Your life is probably better because of him.
Arriving at the Undergound Group from a stint at the North Eastrn Railway at York in 1906, he was made Commercial Manager in 1912. First came pressing matters of fare structures, network consistency and development of some of the earliest travel posters; and by 1915 Pick had commissioned Edward Johnston to create a new, easily legible typeface. Upon that design’s completion he commissioned Johnston again: this time it was to redesign the early “bullseye” station nameboard device – and it became something more akin to the “roundel” we know today.
It could be said that by 1916 Pick had already become a patron of public works, commissioning a visual identity that is known and trusted worldwide today still. Pick’s philosophy on design was that “the test of the goodness of a thing is its fitness for use. If it fails on this first test, no amount of ornamentation or finish will make it any better; it will only make it more expensive, more foolish.”
Charles Holden was his next great appointment. The contract for seven new stations on the Piccadilly Line extension to Morden was Holden’s proving ground from 1925: Piccadilly Circus, also a Holden creation, opened in 1928. A showpiece for the Underground, it was lavishly decorated and many early features survive today including wood panelling, integrated lighting and the famous World Clock.
As of the 75th anniversary of Pick’s death, 7th November 2016, Piccadilly Circus, that hub of London’s buzzing underground network, is now also home to the permanent Frank Pick memorial. The memorial has been installed on the outer wall of the booking hall, where telephone kiosks once stood.
Another 30 Holden-designed stations followed the development of Piccadilly Circus (in my next blog, we’ll be revisiting some of Pick and Holden’s work). Posters were commissioned from Man Ray, Paul Nash and others; Marion Dorn was briefed to create stunning seat fabrics which still stand the test of time.
Pick was a customer champion. He believed that London and London’s transport should be better, and that it could be better. Having commissioned, briefed and ensured so much that went towards achieving that aim, he later became chairman of the Council for Art and Industry (forerunner of the Design Council) in 1934, and an honorary associate of the Royal Institute of British Architects.
You can read more about his life and selected achievements on the main London Transport Museum website. But if you, like me, occasionally stop on your travels around London’s Underground and wonder at the great works of a true visionary, perhaps you might like to contribute towards the Frank Pick memorial too.
I’ve dug out a few photos from the London Transport Museum archives so we can have a tour of Enfield West (now Oakwood) Underground station on the Southgate extension of the Piccadilly line, in 1933 – at the time of opening.
We have taken the train today, and we start our architectural tour on the platforms just as our train departs. The station was designed by Charles Holden and C H James in 1933, and our train is quite new too. Concrete shelters for the platforms are supported by concrete pillars, and wooden bench seating has been incorporated into the pillars supporting the shelter.
Looking further down the platforms, now we see:
Those integrated lamp-posts and poster display boards were quite extraordinary, and similar ones were found throughout the Southgate extension. There were a couple of variants.
The platform panels aren’t the only minutiae of note, though.
Upstairs, the booking hall is glorious in both day…
But particularly at night…
Moving out towards the street, we look back:
That light tower was quite something: Holden did like light fittings integrated with other things.
And bringing us right up to date, you’ll be pleased to know that not only is Oakwood station still very well preserved, but that mast sign with light tower is too.
As we continue to remember the First World War 100 years ago and think about the men recruited from London’s transport workers who fought in it, we have an opportunity to take a closer look at some of the less well-known objects in the Museum’s collection connected to this human story. One such item is An alphabet of TOT produced by the TOT Mutual Aid Fund at the end of 1915 (TOT stood for Train, Omnibus, Tram) which is in our library collection.
At the start of the war the TOT Mutual Aid Fund was set up to support the struggling families of men from the bus, rail and tram companies who were serving in France and elsewhere. The alphabet was one of many fund-raising initiatives undertaken by the organisers.
At first sight, this book intended for small children seems nothing out of the ordinary. Closer inspection though reveals a lot more. The beautifully crafted illustrations, inspired by public transport and drawn by the well-known poster artist Charles Pears, reveal a wealth of intriguing details about London’s public transport at a time of transition between old and new.
I have a favourite letter myself – ‘O’ for otter. This illustration tells several stories. The image shows a stuffed otter in a glass case being admired by a lady and her enthusiastic young companion. The text reads ‘O the ozone which improves ventilation. And also the Otter at Mansion House station.’
Ozone was quite a new thing in 1915, used as part of attempts to improve air quality on the Underground. Ventilating plants could inject 60,000 cubic feet of fresh air into tunnels and passages every minute. Before pumping, the air was cleansed of impurities, mixed with ozone and brought to the correct humidity. The motion of passing trains then circulated the air into the lower passages.
The inscription on the otter’s case in the drawing is indecipherable in the drawing, but we know the picture is a true representation, because we have a photograph to prove it. The photograph is of an exhibition of stuffed animals (including several owls and the otter) caught on Underground property. These were then displayed on the platform at Mansion House station. The picture shows the otter in its case and when the image is enlarged, you can clearly see the plaque says ‘Female otter caught at Acton Town station 4 April 1911’. The exhibition moved to Charing Cross (now Embankment) Underground station in 1929.
The illustrations for all the other letters in the Alphabet have similarly interesting historical details in them, so in 2015 we produced a facsimile of this alphabet as part of the Museum’s commemorative activities marking the centenary of the First World War. Illustrated alphabets have always offered a great way to encourage lively discussion between young and old whilst children learn their letters, and this example is no exception. For older readers interested in London’s transport history the detailed pictures provide hours of pleasurable scrutiny.
Get the book
You can buy a copy of this limited edition publication and support the Museum’s charitable objectives by going to our online shop or visiting the Museum shop in Covent Garden.
Written by Caroline Warhurst, Information Services Manager
Our friends at the Postal Museum are working hard to prepare a section of the Post Office Mail Rail at Mount Pleasant for passenger rides in 2017: previously it famously carried post and parcels beneath London on electrified narrow gauge tracks.
But what is lesser known is that for a short while, London’s Underground was also used for the delivery of parcels.
In the years leading up to the First World War, the Central London Railway (CLR, now Central line) ran a parcels delivery service known as the Lightning Service Express. This originated at Post Office station (now St. Paul’s) where the General Post Office was situated.
Wicker hampers, as seen in the photo above, were used to convey parcels between the surface and the platform. The parcels were then whisked off to other stations along the line and then taken by young employees on tricycles or on a horse and cart to their final destinations, depending on size, distance or importance. The rolling stock used was the day-to-day 1903-Central London multiple unit tube stock, but rather incredibly from 1911 there was a compartment built in aboard for a parcels porter to sort the mail as the train went along. That made it rather like a localised version of the Night Mail and Royal Mail Trains which operated on the main line railways above ground.
According to 20th Century London, the Lightning Service Express was a profitable side-enterprise but was discontinued because of labour shortages in the First World War – and it never resumed.
It’s interesting to note that TfL has more recently forged partnerships with parcel collection and delivery companies, so the Underground is once again being used as infrastructure in Britain’s mail distribution network.
The journey, it is said, is often as important as the destination. I’m a transport historian, so naturally I agree (and I do enjoy a good diversion): the processes, experiences, pauses, stops and occasional wrong-turns in any journey are crucial in defining where we actually end up.
Deep in London Transport Museum’s archives there are a lot of places where designers, engineers, marketers, operators or technicians paused, noted down their ideas, and then either retreated or took that idea further forward.
These places where people paused are fascinating, because that’s documentary evidence of something that didn’t quite make it in that format, or that style, or in that way. It’s a depiction of something we never saw fulfilled. What might have been is often more interesting than what actually was. The reasons for failure are often more telling than the reasons for success.
A great example of the design process (not necessarily failure, but a different direction that was taken) is on display now in the London Transport Museum Designology exhibition. It’s the “Barman” moquette, where on the wall are examples of London’s Underground moquette that never quite made it into the public realm.
The namesake of this moquette is Christian Barman: as London Transport’s publicity manager he commissioned the first moquette fabrics for London’s Underground in 1936 and it was felt apt to commemorate his impact upon today’s travelling experience. The “Barman” fabric was created in 2010 by textile design studio WallaceSewell, comprising the talents of Emma Sewell and Harriet Wallace-Jones.
Here to enjoy are some of the designers’ pauses, developments and explorations: and of course some of the moquette designs that never quite made it on to the Underground network…
If you, like me, enjoy seeing unbuilt, non-constructed, never-was design, then the Designology exhibition is an ace place to start to understand what could have been, and what we now have.
But we’ve needed to get around London whatever the weather since time immemorial, and the Underground saw this as a selling point early on. The Underground Electric Railway Company Ltd was a master of identifying its customers’ needs in publicity: in 1925 it commissioned Kathleen Stenning to produce a series of simple but striking panel posters. These were displayed in Underground car interiors, as well as on the inside and outside of buses and trams. Because they did not have to fit a standard frame or wall space, they are smaller than other poster formats and vary slightly in size.