Friday, 7 February 2014

HISTORIC FEBRUARY - a monthly digest of historic dates relating to the London Underground

My database suggests that February 1864 was not month for memorable events. February 1914 was a more interesting month, though only slightly. On 9 February we find a significant change in the way the Metropolitan Railway organized its services at the west end of its inner London network. Before the Metropolitan electrified in 1906, many trains running along the north side of the Circle Line ran through to the East London Railway, terminating at New Cross. The East London was operated by a joint committee of five different railway companies who had differing ideas about how services should be developed and who were disinclined to pay for electrification. Although the Metropolitan retained an interest in the line, without electrification it was unable to maintain a through train service, which from December 1906 was diverted to Whitechapel.

Plummeting traffic levels along the East London finally induced the joint committee to electrify and through trains ran once more, from 31 March 1913. This service at first worked from New Cross to South Kensington, via the north side of the Circle. It is often forgotten that the Metropolitan owned the line all the way round the west side of the Circle via High Street Kensington to South Kensington (the District had a parallel tunnel between South Kensington and High Street Kensington). At South Kensington there was a bay platform, used by the New Cross trains, between the District and Metropolitan parts of the station, roughly on the line of the stairways to the Piccadilly Line that can be seen today.

The East London service was superimposed on the existing Circle (then called the Inner Circle) and Hammersmith – Whitechapel trains, but was evidently not found very convenient to operate. From 9 February 1914 the western terminus was switched to Hammersmith, improving frequencies on that branch and setting the service pattern for the next twenty years or so. At the New Cross end, trains alternately served the stations of the South Eastern Railway and the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway (from 1923 called New Cross Gate).

On 12 February 1914 Metropolitan Railway shareholders first met at the new general offices at Baker Street, described last month. This was not the most historic event to affect this interesting little railway, but it was an opportunity to show the shareholders where their money had been spent. Prior to that shareholders had gathered at hotels for their various meetings, the Cannon Street hotel had been a favourite. I mentioned last time that prior to moving into the general offices the Metropolitan had occupied several small offices in the Paddington area, usually in buildings it owned. I show, below, a couple of photos of their buildings, which still stand. A look at a large scale map indicates that the buildings were located very close to the railway and this is no accident. At the time when the railway was being  built the law was that if a railway needed to use its compulsory purchase powers to buy any part of a property it had to buy the whole of it. Based on the premise that property included the subsoil out to the middle of the road, old properties often included coal cellars beneath the pavement (and often part of the roadway). When the Metropolitan Railway came along, it can be seen that even though it was often built under the road it became necessary to buy rather a lot of property, much of which it then hung onto (it had acquired special powers to do this, while other railways were forced to dispose of surplus land). Using some of this portfolio for its own purposes was therefore very sensible.


5-7 Craven Road, Paddington, the upper floors of which were used as Metropolitan Railway offices between 1872 and 1878. The railway runs at an angle beneath the building.
The building in foreground is 32 Westbourne Terrace, Metropolitan Railway offices 1869 - 1914. The building to its left (now the Royal Eagle Hotel) is at 26 Craven Road and appears to be linked to the main building. This served as offices from 1878 for the Estate, Accounts and Stationery departments. The railway runs immediately in front of the front walls, along Craven Road, probably under the cellars.
At Earls Court, track rearrangements in February 1914 improved the flexibility of services. I have mentioned Earls Court before, indeed, last month I included some diagrams. If you refer to them you will see that trains going east converged onto a single eastbound line as far as Cromwell Road, where the High Street service diverged. This was a huge constraint to services, but the later expedient of turning the siding into a through line was not then possible: the siding was needed to turn round the Willesden-Earls Court service operated by the London & North Western Railway. The improvement just referred to involved changing the locking so that passenger trains from eastbound local platform (the second one down) could at the signalman’s discretion use the rightmost crossover to reach the eastbound line. If an eastbound train from the other platform were passing, the local train could stand clear of the platform (across all the pointwork) leaving the platform behind it clear for another train to pull in. Such was the intensity of service in those days, this alteration was felt worthwhile (the Board of Trade was not entirely happy with this, but conceded the advantages).

February 1964 includes several dates that could be commemorated, though none of very much importance. On 3 February the difficulties of recruiting staff hit home on the Metropolitan Line when a reduced train service had to be introduced. The staff shortage (mainly staff retention) had many different causes, and took years to address. It started in the 1950s when it became difficult to recruit staff prepared to endure shiftwork, and led to recruitment overseas. During the 1960s things got progressively worse, not helped later by the need to recruit additional staff for the Victoria Line. All lines were affected by the shortage, but the Metropolitan more conspicuously so with its wider intervals and its operation to a public timetable. Things got very bad during 1963 when large numbers of trains were cancelled daily, leaving extremely long and unpredictable gaps. The 1964 emergency timetable was a tremendous disappointment for London Transport, following on from the introduction of gleaming new trains on the Metropolitan, and completion of 4-track works and electrification to Amersham.  Seven trains were withdrawn from the schedule during the morning peak, and five in the evening. The off peak fast service on the Amersham line (remember them?) was reduced to hourly and some Watford trains were diverted to Rickmansworth. Staffing remained so bad that it was still necessary to cancel trains ‘randomly’ as well. It was a very sorry time and took the edge off the huge investment in the new improved train service that had been promised. It is arguable, but with staffing difficulties and the long term trend in falling traffic, the Metropolitan never used all these new facilities to capacity.

Not much else happened that month. Mill Hill (The Hale) goods yard closed. Intermediate between Mill Hill East and Edgware, it was on the line that should have become part of the Northern Line in 1940, but diversion of effort into war work meant the electrification was never completed. The LNER (and later British Railways Eastern Region) carried on with freight trains that served the goods yards, but passenger services stopped on a temporary basis on 11 September 1939 and were never resumed. Through tickets were accepted on local buses for a while, retaining the fiction of a railway, but these eventually died away. Today, communications between the large suburban centres of Edgware and Finchley are very slow and indirect and, incredibly, there is no direct bus.

On what should have been a more positive note, on 17 February 1964 LT announced the rebuilding of the Northern Line ticket hall at Elephant & Castle. This unfortunately meant the destruction of the old City & South London station building and roof dome and the construction of a new station building around the existing shaft, the old building being partly in the way of the monstrous 1960s road widening scheme that ran between two giant roundabouts that came to typify this area. None of this benefited the locals, of course, and simply divided communities. Wholesale destruction of communities was followed up by an anonymous shopping centre and truly vast blocks of flats, later to found unpoliceable and the source of all kinds of unforeseen social difficulties and which, as I write this, are being torn down, and not before time. The mean new station building, opened in April 1965, was barely large enough, even at the time. Bristling with glass and chrome, so as to fit in with the social experiments taking place all around the area, it did not take all that long before it looked shabby either. The lifts were not replaced, requiring another lengthy closure in 1983 when two tiny lift cages were installed instead of the larger Otis cages. Happily, this wretched station building has already been torn down, being replaced in December 2003 by something less mean and more fit for purpose (requiring yet another long closure). Even now, the new station is recognized to be inadequate for the growing traffic and expected developments. What is actually needed is a proper new station and transport interchange here, and the pre-WW2 aspiration to have escalators and combine the separate Bakerloo and Northern Line ticket halls. A pre 1964 view may be seen HERE and HERE, and a post 1965 view HERE.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

HISTORIC JANUARY- a monthly digest of historic dates relating to the London Underground

January 2014



A hundred years ago this January a number of developments occurred on the Underground that might be mentioned.

The Metropolitan Railway moved into its huge new offices at Baker Street, for a start. Today, the Metropolitan seems inextricably linked with Baker Street but before 1914 it was just a modest junction station and the Metropolitan worked from offices dispersed across several locations in west London and had little presence at this station. To improve efficiency it was desired to bring all administration to one place, achieved in January 1914. As part of the station reconstruction, described last month, a new four storey office block was built on land along the eastern side of the station. This was on a site filled with older blocks of buildings, fronting Allsop Place, that the railway bought in stages over a decade or so. The new offices included two wings at the rear that projected over the rebuilt platforms, though only at ground and first storey level. In the north wing a lift was installed, allowing directors and senior officers direct access to platforms 1 and 2. The exterior frontage of this unnamed building is in remarkably good conditions but the interior has been so comprehensively modernized over the years that there are virtually no original features evident. The building should not be confused with Selbie House, an unconnected building next door, which so far as I can tell is the only survivor of some blocks together called Cornwall Mansions that came into Metropolitan hands at about the same time and were merely adapted for railway purposes; the other buildings were demolished. A comprehensive history of this fascinating site is called for at some time (perhaps when I’ve a moment).


View of the general office building from Allsop Place. Selbie House to its left and the ugly block in the background is the rear of Chiltern Court. On extreme left is rear of Farley Court, built in 1950s on the bombed east wing of Chiltern Court. The army of dustbins that usually patrol the outside railing really do nothing to enhance the appearance of this interesting building. The decorative ornaments between second and third floors include locomotive buffer beams complete with chain link couplings. By the way, this view is no longer possible and was facilitated only by reconstruction of a building on the left. [Google Streetview]

On 4 January 1914 the Earls Court flying Junctions were opened west of the station. The need for these junctions arose from the rapid development of the Wimbledon branch train service and the ‘local’ service from High Street to Putney Bridge. As things were, there was a flat junction west of the platforms where the westbound Hammersmith service crossed the eastbound line from Putney on the flat. The pointwork here included some viciously sharp curves and trains had to pick their way across this lot at slow speed creating a major bottleneck. It is a curious thing that to the east of the station near Cromwell Road there had been a flying junction where westbound trains from High Street passed under the main District tracks and had been able to do so since 1879, even though the service was not particularly frequent. The works west of the station involved passing the westbound Hammersmith line beneath the eastbound Putney line, both of which were diverted onto entirely new alignments, moving the crossing points somewhat to the west. The new westbound line dropped rapidly at 1:30 beyond the Warwick Road bridge while the realigned eastbound line rose between West Brompton and the crossing point, then dropped at 1:40 before passing underneath the Warwick Road bridge. The alterations were necessarily carried out in stages between 21 December 1913 and were largely complete by 12 January 1914. The new eastbound line was entirely in open air while the westbound was in a brick tunnel (except where the tracks crossed by means of a new bridge, D91A).

At Earls Court station, the northernmost track (against the wall) was designated the ‘main’ road, and the other side of the island was the ‘local’ road, connected to the line from Putney. It might be wondered why the flyover was not arranged to take the Putney Line to the platform against the wall as many of the trains would have been going on to High Street. The reason is that it simply did not matter in those days because the eastbound lines converged east of the platforms for about half a mile so there was no advantage in undertaking the extra work to divert the eastbound Hammersmith track as well as the westbound. The disadvantage of not having made this extra little bit of investment did not manifest itself until 1966 when, by reconfiguring a siding, independent tracks were available all the way from Earls Court to the junction with the High Street line. Now, of course, the 1914 arrangement west of the station showed itself imperfect, as it meant trains from Putney for High Street got in the way of those from Hammersmith to Gloucester Road. This may not have mattered much when traffic levels were dropping, but in a world where traffic is increasing and looks like it will continue to do so, then delays created by historic track layouts become ever more irksome.

I mentioned in my Blog of 1 December 2012 that London was about to miss an opportunity to sort this out at low cost. The suggestion was that the Earls Court area redevelopment scheme will see the demolition of the exhibition hall built on the site over the existing tracks and afford a once-in-a-century opportunity to realign the flying junction so the westbound line from Putney crosses both Hammersmith lines and not just the one, as now. This isn’t going to happen – the business case is too weak, we are told. I don’t doubt that this is so, were LU to meet the full costs of the work and a relatively short term payback is factored in (maybe 40 years or less). I do think that had the idea been seized upon earlier it could have been part of a wider scheme that Section 106 funding would have paid for in its entirety (that is money paid over by developers who benefit from the planning benefits they obtain) and had that been done then the business case could surely only have been positive. I can do nothing but agree that new automatic signalling and an additional crossover will much-mitigate the conflicts here for some years. Ultimately, though, the present track layout requires eastbound services to cross each others paths on the level because the western flyover is wrongly configured, and there is no getting over that. The day will come when someone says, ‘I wish they’d altered the flyover when they had the chance’. The question is ‘when’, I feel, not ‘if’.



On 5 January 1915 the next stage of the Metropolitan Railway’s widening came into use, between Willesden Green and Neasden. As stated in last month’s blog, Willesden Green had been widened in December and the extra tracks stopped a little way north of the goods yard connections. They were now extended along the north side of the railway through Neasden, requiring comprehensive changes to the depot access north of the station. The old up (southbound) platform was transformed into an island, also serving the new down fast line, and a new up fast platform was installed on the north side. This was accessed from the ticket hall by a ferro-concrete bridge, a method of construction new to the Metropolitan and of which they were very proud. It is still there today.

Ferro-Concrete bridge over the new platforms at Neasden (now the southbound platforms)
This was followed on 11 January by extension of the widening through to Wembley Park. The extra tracks were this time on the south side of the line, between the old tracks and the Great Central line; as you might guess this was because the old tracks were too close to Neasden Works to install anything new. The position reverted just outside Wembley Park where the new tracks connected into the existing (southern) platforms and the old lines were diverted into what had been the two bay roads. This meant changes north of the station as the bay roads were now the ‘fast’ platforms requiring the tracks to be extended on the ‘straight’, as it were, to make a gentle connection with the old lines about a trains-length north of the station. The old lines, now ‘slow’, were realigned to meet the fast lines on the ‘curve’ as train speeds would be quite low. This arrangement carried on until changes in the late 1930s swept all this away. The station was otherwise unaltered by the 4-tracking.

The only other notable event in January 1914 was the introduction of landing control on the lifts at Piccadilly Circus. When the early tube lines were built they needed lifts to connect the station buildings with the platforms, deep below. The number of lifts required was a function of the traffic that was expected at busy times and the cycling time of the lift, which was proportional to the depth of the shaft. Those planning the Yerkes stations generally got the estimates about right, though s few lifts were moved around by way of ‘fine tuning’ and at a small number of locations the estimates were disastrously wrong, perhaps Oxford Circus being a good example. Piccadilly Circus had eight lifts, four for the Piccadilly and the balance for the Bakerloo, reflecting both high traffic prospects and substantial station depth. At the top level each bank of four were on opposite sides of the ticket hall and at the lower level there were no connections between them.

Each lift required its own member of staff, the liftman. This individual would open the entry gates by hand from within the lift, check the tickets (and collect them on the way out), close the gates, operate the lift to the other landing and let the people out through the exit gates which were air-operated using a lever at his control position. The exit gates had to be air operated because in a crowded lift he could not get across them very easily. This was not very efficient in requiring a lot of staff and making it very difficult to coordinate the despatch of lifts. There was no means of operating a lift from outside the car except in an emergency.

In 1913 the Underground Group aspired to control the despatch of lifts from the landings and not have any staff actually inside the cars, as revolutionary at that time as the idea is today of not having any staff inside the trains. To achieve this, a huge number of technical modifications were required to the equipment, together with the sanction of the Railway Inspectorate who would need to be satisfied the alterations were safe and reliable. This called for a prototype installation and lifts No 1 and 2 at Piccadilly Circus were selected. The additional equipment required included automatic accelerators and banks of relays that would start and stop the lift at the correct places depending on direction, together with landing control panels comprising lamps and push buttons. Perhaps surprising is that the entry gates were to remain hand-operated at top and bottom landings. The landing staff were warned of the arrival of a lift by an illuminated indicator; the exit gates did not open automatically. The lifts were operated in this fashion from the first week in January, during which time a member of staff rode in each lift to provide reassurance. By agreement with the railway inspectorate it was decided to run the lifts from the landings for three months to check all was OK. The experiment having proved entirety satisfactory, lifts 3 & 4 were converted in April. After a further period of reflection the lifts at Great Central were then altered, again using push button controls. The familiar dome controller many of us remember was not developed until later. In later years most lifts were converted to landing control (they could also be controlled from inside the lift if required). I think the last unconverted lifts were at Belsize Park, which I well remember; all four lifts remained in service until the end in unmodernized form.

More recently we find that fifty years ago there are several events to comment upon. The Northern City Line then operated between Finsbury Park and Moorgate but construction of the Victoria Line meant enabling works were required at Highbury which required extensive engineer’s possessions. This was part of the scheme to divert the northbound Northern Line via a new platform, releasing the existing northbound platform for use by the southbound Victoria Line. From 11 May 1963, the entire train service was withdrawn at weekends and after 20:00 each evening, a bus service was operated instead, at 7-8 minute intervals. As work progressed the buses were found unsatisfactory and improved arrangements were put in force involving single-track shuttles. One operated between Finsbury Park and Essex Road (on the southbound line) and the other Essex Road and Moorgate (on the northbound line); the services connected at Essex Road and each ran at 16½-minute intervals. The break in the middle was necessary to operate at a reasonable frequency as single line operation along just one track would have meant intervals no better than half hourly.

On 5 January 1964 automatic ticket gates were introduced at Stamford Brook. This was the Underground’s first electronic ticket gate and was installed on the ‘way in’. Special tickets were issued using magnetic ink in the form of four parallel ‘bars’ in a block, each bar at right angles to the ticket edge; two blocks were printed, the second opposite the first such that as the ticket was ‘read’ by the gate the bars would be read successively as a pair. The bars represented a ‘ternary’ code where a bar on one side represented a zero, a bar on the other a ‘1’, and a bar on both sides a ‘2’. In this form they were loaded into the gate’s memory as the ticket was read. The machine interpreted the complete code (in this case 2,2,2,2) as a unique decimal number by taking the position of the ternary codes as diminishing powers of 3. With four positions the first ‘multiplier’ was 81 (three cubed), the second 27 (3 squared), the third 3 (three to the power of 1) and the fourth 1 (three to the power of 0). This adds up to 224 which was the station code allocated to Stamford Brook; the codes essentially started at ‘1’ and were allocated in alphabetical order. This was the first of a number of experimental gates installed, as a result of which magnetic ink was found unsuitable and a ferric oxide backing was identified as a better medium to carry the 31 code positions required to handle the Underground’s ticket varieties. In its refined form automatic gates were introduced on the Victoria Line when it opened in 1968-69 but it was found to be inflexible and not reliable enough and later partly removed. Only from the late 1980s was a rather different approach adopted that led to the ticket gating system still in use today. There is an article about how this all developed on my website HERE.
Ticket issued on the 8 January, four days after the gate was put into service
First experimental ticket gate at Stamford Brook. About as unattractive a design as one could achieve!








Sunday, 15 December 2013

Driverless trains and the Underground's deep tube programme

I have commented previously on the issues that surround the possibility of having 'driverless' trains on the Underground, and have seen no reason to depart from an earlier blog item and the subsequent article in Modern Railways (which can be found HERE). Of course, the suggestion that Underground trains might go 'driverless' any time soon was really a media misunderstanding of Mayor Johnson's sabre rattling, but it served to get the debate going.

I have much sympathy with the idea that with technology leaping forward, drivers as we know them cannot sensibly be perpetuated for ever and a day, for the reasons I have set out earlier. What I had no sympathy for was the nonsensical suggestion that we switch over to a system such as the Docklands Light Railway uses, with its train captains in the passenger compartments. Heaven knows who put that forward, but it surely cannot have been a transport professional (so we can probably guess who).

It seems that since this hoo-hah first erupted London Underground has spent considerable time reflecting on how to proceed and the answer seems to leap out as a consequence of using no more than sheer logic.

The first thing to consider is that we cannot avoid looking forward for about 40-45 years because that is how long trains last (I wouldn't care to comment about the signalling and control systems, but it will still be many years). The sub-surface lines and the Jubilee, Northern and Victoria Lines are either equipped with new trains and control systems or are in the process of being equipped, so for the time being they are out of the equation. That leaves the Bakerloo, Central and Piccadilly Lines (and arguably the Waterloo & City if it is to be dealt with as a separate entity). These lines are now part of what is called the 'Deep Tube Programme'.

Of these, the priority for treatment is the Piccadilly Line. Although the trains are slightly more recent than those of the Bakerloo, the line is under far greater stress and some of the signalling and control systems are older, or at least more fragile. In addition parts of the line are shared with Metropolitan and District services and it would be desirable to have higher performance, automatic trains on the Piccadilly services that must share those tracks. Following a Piccadilly upgrade, the order would probably be Bakerloo then Central. What happens on the Bakerloo, of course, is dependent on the future of the Euston-Watford line and the mix of services there, and the fact Network Rail is the infrastructure owner.

The logic process works like this. With 'DLR-style' automatic trains ruled out as quite impractical on a line such as the Piccadilly, the choice is between a completely automated railway (that may or may not be 'driverless') and one that functions like the Jubilee and Victoria Lines where the train operates automatically but the train operator operates the doors. London Underground has concluded that full automation in deep tubes cannot be attempted without all kinds of safety systems in place some of which will take quite a bit of development. It would certainly need platform edge doors. By their nature, platform edge doors must have the door spacing at the same intervals as the doors on the train, so all the doors coincide. This presents a problem during any stock changeover in the event that the doors spacings of the old and new stocks are not the same (and bear in mind the Piccadilly Line already runs three slightly different formations).

London Underground has concluded that new trains cannot be the same as the old ones. For a start they want the new ones to be longer than the 1973 stock to take advantage of the full platform length to help improve capacity. There is then the thorny issue of the large gaps between doorways and platforms at certain stations to consider, increasingly frowned on by safety authorities. Without major reconstruction that might not even be possible at certain locations, or may be quite unaffordable, the best solution seems to be to introduce shorter carriages that even without using any new form of technology will significantly reduce the gaps. The thinking is to provide a walk-through train comprising shorter cars sharing bogies with the car adjacent: - maybe nine cars on eight bogies or something of the sort. There is another reason for doing this in that it makes the finished train somewhat lighter (bogies are very heavy) and this is going to be crucial if energy usage is to be reduced. In turn, energy reduction is vital in reducing heat generation in an already warm environment where service frequencies will rise appreciably, and it is hoped will also create a situation where air-conditioning may be possible. Air conditioning not only puts heat into the tunnel that then has to be removed, but because of losses it itself generates additional heat; the ideal would be for new trains with air conditioning to generate no more heat than the present trains do now, though additional means of getting heat out of the tunnels may still be necessary.

So, the new trains will be very different from the 1973 stock. That makes it impossible to install platform edge doors until the last of the old trains has gone. That means the new trains must have driving cabs, despite dark rumours being spread last year. It is of course true that cabs can be removed at some point in the future. What can be expected is that at least initially the new trains will be capable of running automatically with an operator controlling or supervising the doors. Whether the trains enter service in ATO mode or are driven manually is probably yet a decision to be made, but LU has enough experience either way. Only then, can platform edge doors be considered. I will not weary readers with the issue that those will raise, especially if anybody feels they are needed in the open air on tracks that are shared, but some challenging decisions will have to be made, and there are not yet answers to how such doors will function on highly curved platforms, though solutions can be conjectured.

With the best will in the world, from where we are now this looks like a 10-15 year programme during which time, no doubt, the other issues surrounding cabless and driverless trains in the deep tube will have been gone into. I would be surprised to see such a mode of operation in use on any of the deep tube this side of 2030.

Having said that, there are things that could be done. Automatic reversing in sidings or to and from depots, without staff on board, seems plausible. The Waterloo & City Line seems another possible candidate for experimentation, with just five trains. The issues are containable if things don't work out as expected, and the platforms are relatively straight. Could this be 'driverless' any quicker?

I do wonder for how much longer London will tolerate running trains in tunnels not even 12ft in diameter though. 5 years? Obviously not. 250 years? Surely. So when between now and 250 years is something to be done? And what? Reasons for doing something include safety (no side escape as required on modern lines), viciously sharp curves in places constraining train performance and perhaps train size, amongst other reasons. Also, people are getting bigger. The BBC reported that between 1875 and 1975 British men at age 21 have grown in average height from 5ft 5ins to 5ft 10ins. One can have the debate about the precision of the statistics, but that both the height and weight of men and woman has gone up significantly is certain ground, and that heights are still increasing is also certain. If I have done my sums right the doorway of (say) a 1972 stock train is only 6ft 1ins and a significant number of people even boarding today have to stoop (including some women!). The maximum height inside, in the very centre, is only about 6ft 8ins and these trains have no ceiling clutter, which might not be the case with newer trains with air conditioning. I would suggest that it is at least plausible that in 100 years it will be unrealistic to expect to operate trains for much longer with half the occupants stooping, or nursing a banged brow obtained on entering the carriage through a low doorway.

Nobody really wants to bother about what their successors will have to contend with in a hundred years, and I only do so here because the time to start thinking about it is now. At least there should be a strategy, and maybe passive provision amongst other works that have to be carried out. We should not forget it has been done in the past on the Northern and Central Lines, though not on the scale that would be wanted today. If it is a horrendous prospect now, it will get more difficult, not less, as time goes on. Still, it is a more interesting problem to have than the one of running the system down as traffic drifted away, which is what was going on when I joined the organization. How times have changed!



Tuesday, 3 December 2013

HISTORIC DECEMBER - a monthly digest of historic dates relating to the London Underground

December 1863

December 1863 saw the withdrawal of through Great Western Railway trains along the Metropolitan Railway, at least for a while. The Great Western, you will recall from an earlier blog, actually worked the Metropolitan when the line opened in January 1863, but owing to disagreements about several matters withdrew from the arrangement in August, leaving the Metropolitan to run the line itself, with locomotives and carriages hired in from other railways. However, once the Great Western ceased working the line the relationship improved. The GWR actually found the Metropolitan useful as a means of getting its own trains from the outer reaches of London to the centre (for even then Paddington was regarded as rather inconvenient).

An agreement was reached on 1 October 1863 when, subject to some trifling conditions, the Great Western was permitted to run ‘so many trains over the Metropolitan Railway as they might find convenient’. Whilst on the Metropolitan, they were also to carry local traffic and both railways committed to selling tickets for all stations at which the trains called, irrespective of who owned them. Through trains began working immediately, but for some reason the agreement was for just three months so on 31 December the through trains stopped. The service that began on 1 October was between Windsor and Farringdon Street, five trains a day. In fact the service began in the form of through carriages which had to be attached to, or detached from, existing trains terminating at the main line station, involving some shunting, which must have taken the edge off things. This may have contributed to the GWR letting the agreement lapse until something better was thought out. A new agreement was entered into on 29 April 1864 and through trains resumed from 2 May, seemingly dedicated trains this time.


December 1913

Perhaps the most significant of several events during December 1913 was the opening of the Bakerloo Line to Paddington – a seemingly modest extension from Edgware Road. As conceived, the Bakerloo finished at Baker Street. In 1900, after construction had started, the company recognized that Paddington was a much more satisfactory terminus and obtained the necessary powers to get there. The idea was for the Bakerloo to carry on from the Marylebone area beneath Bell Street and then in a westerly direction, in due course running beneath Harrow Road and Bishops Road to a station west of the GWR near Eastbourne Terrace (the tracks themselves finishing somewhere near Gloucester Terrace); interchange with the GWR station was to be achieved by means of a long subway. This left the line pointing south-west, apparently with the idea of further extension to Royal Oak – represented by a public house further along Bishops Road. But what then? Any further extension would be likely to bring it into conflict with other railways offering more direct routes. At any rate this created sufficient misgivings for the extension to be deferred until the rest of the Bakerloo line was more advanced.

Once the Americans had got hold of the Bakerloo they, too, wanted to get to Paddington but had been committed to starting the extension from Edgware Road as work was already in hand. Their plan was a westerly extension that was constrained to approach the main line station from the north and ended up pointing south-east. This would have provided excellent interchange, but left the line in a hopeless position for future extension; it was virtually pointing back at itself. So Edgware Road was eventually opened as a temporary terminus and Paddington went into abeyance, with too many other things for the railway to worry about.

In 1909 the Underground Group found that its interest in reaching Paddington was likely to be influenced by discussions with the London & North Western Railway about joint operation of electric trains to Watford. That is not central to this story beyond placing a demand on the Paddington extension to end up pointing roughly north. This was extremely difficult given that Edgware Road was already to the north of Paddington station. On the other hand, Paddington was best served at its southern end where all the station facilities were located. The only way these conflicts could be reconciled at reasonable cost was to begin the extension at the end of the platforms at Edgware Road and head south-west to a point immediately south of Praed Street (under the Circle Line station) and then turn north-west, by means of a vicious curve, to run along the eastern edge of the main line station. The platforms were built just to the north of the curve, and reversing sidings beyond, extending to a point under where the Hammersmith & City station is located today. Work began in June 1911 and the new station opened on 1st December 1913. The GWR contributed £18,000 towards the works and made wayleaves available in order to get the best interchange they could, as they would benefit from a direct link to London’s west end.  Indeed on the day of opening a whole new raft of through bookings were introduced from the GWR’s Windsor and Reading lines to or via the London Electric Railway, of which the Bakerloo was now a part.

By splaying the platforms apart at Paddington it was possible the get the lower landing for the escalators between them; Paddington was only the second Underground station to be built from new with escalators, two Otis machines with a fixed stairway between. Unfortunately level access with the street was not possible at the top level. Today the cramped ticket hall and fact the station still has only two escalators makes the station very crowded in rush hours and it can be very difficult to clear the platforms. Crossrail works, we are assured, will provide the necessary relief.

The November blog covered the widening of the Metropolitan Railway between Finchley Road and Wembley Park. All that it is necessary to say here is that the next section opened on 17 December 1913 at Willesden Green. This station had opened on 24 November 1879 with just two platforms, one either side of each track. The ‘up’ platform, on the north side, was converted into an island in 1906 and formed a bay road for terminating trains, and there was another track beyond that acting as an engine run round and headshunt for the sidings, further west. The 1913 4-tracking scheme appropriated the bay road with the platform serving the new ‘down’ fast road (today’s southbound Jubilee Line) and the run round loop became new ‘up’ fast road with a platform crammed in against the wall of the roadway, giving rise to its rather irregular shape. This section of widened railway ran much of the way to Kilburn where heavy engineering meant work beyond was much slower. The new shelters and footbridge at Willesden Green were not finished until 1914.

On 31 December 1913 the Metropolitan Railway announced that the reconstruction of Baker Street station was complete. This was not entirely true as the design of the station anticipated the construction of a hotel above the station into which the station frontage would be a harmonious part. It was the harmonious part that was completed and left in a condition expecting other works to follow on, but they did not. Work on the upper building did not commence until the late 1920s and behind the hoardings the only thing that was expanding was the buddleia.

The Baker Street station that opened in 1863 had ticket offices at the western end of the platforms, one on either side of Marylebone Road. The entrance to the platforms was where the stairs are to the overbridge that was installed as part of this reconstruction (the bridge is actually dated 1911). When the Metropolitan & St Johns Wood Railway opened it had two platforms with an entirely separate entrance from the south ends of its platforms via a long passage into Marylebone Road. In due course a low level connection was installed to connect these platforms with the older ones at their east end. When it became clear that through trains from the St Johns Wood line to the City were inconvenient, later reconstructions reduced the two ‘through’ tracks to one with a platform each side. To the east were two bay roads, each served by a single platform.

After electrification, station reconstruction became essential as it was desirable to restore through running to the City (meaning rearranging all the St Johns Wood platforms) as well as consolidating and modernizing the station facilities, concentrating them on a large new ticket hall nearer the junction between the two railways. This was incredibly difficult work involving numerous phases of activity that resulted in the platform and ticket hall layout pretty much as we see it today. The first job was to convert the western platform (adjacent to the single track through line) into an island, creating today’s platform 1 (the other face becoming platform 2, more or less unchanged). This allowed the other platform face of the through road to be taken out of use (and the bay road behind it) allowing the new southbound through line to be laid in, and part of what is today platform 3 (which during this phase work must have been quite short). The really tricky bit was then to reverse the positions of the remaining bay platform (against the wall) and its track so that a new island platform was formed with the track for platform 4 against the wall.

While all this was going on the new ticket hall had to be constructed across the site, connections made into the Circle Line platforms and luggage lifts installed. At the north end of the 'St Johns Wood' station was a bridge, originally installed to link the Metropolitan Railway station into the back of the Bakerloo one in 1906. This had also to be reconstructed to suit the new platform arrangements and it is interesting that a plan of this showed that passing provision had already been made for it to lead down to no fewer than seven platforms, a scheme obviously not carried out. The bridge, in its reconstructed form is still there today, though the old Bakerloo ticket hall (next to the Metropolitan substation) is no longer there.


December 1963

In more recent times, on 13 December 1963 the last train of the Metropolitan Line’s A62 stock entered service (units 5228+5231). The loss of locomotive-hauled trains meant some track simplification was possible and the locomotive spur at Baker Street (next to the signal box) was removed, completion being effected from 16 December 1962, together with removal of all the shunting signals that locomotive changeovers required. The removal of the loco spur meant lifting a section of bridge rail which had been put in there, for some reason, probably in 1913. There is, incidentally, still a small amount of bridge rail left at Neasden depot which I believe was recovered from the Central Line where it was being removed at the same time Neasden was being built. I do hope someone has the wit to preserve a small section.

December 1963 was also the month that most of the demolition work took place on the old South Acton branch. The line closed in February 1959 but as is the way of these things the recovery or destruction of the assets actually costs money and is not to be rushed into. Leaving Acton Town, the line swept across an area formerly used as siding space until it reached what was later the entrance to Acton Works where it struck north and crossed Bollo Lane, proceeding beyond on embankment whence its level fell to approach, but not quite arrive at, the level of the North London Line at South Acton station. There were two bridges: Bollo Lane (just mentioned) and Palmerston Road. The former was a proper bridge with a road underneath it with traffic and pedestrians and that kind of thing. The other bridge was an apology of a structure which I don't think vehicles could actually negotiate, though there was nowhere they could go anyway. Two observations might be made. First it is very unusual for an entire railway embankment to be simply taken away, but that is what happened, and I'd like to know where it went. The second is that for some reason or other demolition of bridges is 'difficult'. The Bollo Lane bridge was suitable uncooperative and the structure came apart not quite as planned with a beam crashing into the road and smashing a water main. I recall someone who lived in the area telling me this happened on a Sunday and the road had been closed (at least to motor traffic). Nevertheless this shouldn't have happened.

I gather bridge collapses during 'planned' demolition are by no means unusual though. I was told by a friend (sadly no longer with us) that much the same had happened in (I think) 1953 when the Grove Road bridge was being demolished in Hammersmith and that someone was killed. Try as I might I have not been able to confirm this story but I would like to know more about it. Discarded railways are not supposed to seek revenge like this.

Do check this blog in days to come, by which time I might have found some photographs.

Monday, 25 November 2013

The Police Telephone Box - the ones that do not travel in time.

The recent orgy of TV and radio coverage about a certain wandering police box caused me to wonder how much was known about them, by which I mean the non wandering variety that were common when I was a lad and can still be seen in a few places. The answer, it would seem, is not very much.

Before looking at the police box we should first look at what problems the police were encountering to which the police box was the solution.

What is said here predominantly relates to towns, as policing in country areas presented slightly different challenges. The police as we know it today, it must be remembered, was conceived as a preventative force where an organized body of constables were out and about in sufficient numbers (a) to discourage the commission of crime, (b) to be on hand to discover crime quickly and pursue those suspected of committing it, and (c) to arrest those suspected of committing crime and bring them before a magistrate. In the age before either the telephone or mechanical transport were available, the uniform police attached to a police station were organized into shifts (called reliefs) and subdivided into sections (under a sergeant) and further subdivided into beats.

Each beat was arranged to occupy the majority of a shift and consisted of a route which might take (say) an hour to perambulate. There were a number of beats attached to each police station such that between them they covered the entire ground. Although every single minor road or alley might not necessarily be walked, all would have been in sight at some point, and a beat would never have been far away. By this means the police soon became familiar with an area and could immediately spot something suspicious; in addition the public either knew when and where a policeman was to be found quickly, or could simply shout for one as there would have been a good chance there would have been one fairly close. Beats were closely timed, but policeman were not expected to walk quickly as that made it difficult to pay attention to surroundings, did not leave time to help members of the public (for example to give directions) or to check something that looked odd. The sergeant was supposed to visit every man in his section during the shift, which meant having a good idea where all the officers would be along their beats at any time. This beat system was certainly adopted by the Metropolitan Police on its formation in 1829, and in a form not all that much modified carried on until the late 1950s when patrol cars began to insinuate themselves into the system, with gradual loss of contact with ordinary members of the public that give rise to some concerns today, but that is another story.

The problem faced by the bobby on the beat was that if something irregular was spotted it could take a long time to get it reported. Something very urgent would cause an officer to blow his whistle (using a particular code) when nearby officers from other beats would rush to assist; for this to work, police whistles were of a very particular type that exuded a very characteristic sound that could not be mistaken. Before telephones were invented the officers would either have to deal with the matter entirely on their own or one of them (or a deputed member of the public) would have to run to the police station to get assistance, perhaps from 'reserve' officers located there. This took time. In addition, once an officer was out and about it was very difficult to get hold of him, and tied up another officer in doing so. It was also difficult for a member of the public to get hold of a policemen quickly if one were not actually in sight.

To improve on all this, the police box (strictly police telephone box) was devised. The first examples appeared in Glasgow as far back as 1891. In England, the earliest examples seem to have been in Sunderland (1923) and Newcastle (1925). Perhaps rather surprisingly the earliest Glasgow boxes were also fitted with a signal light arranged (with great ingenuity) to be illuminated by gas when the station required to contact an officer on the beat. Later Glasgow boxes, introduced by Chief Constable Sillitoe from 1930, were similar to London ones, but the doors had three panels rather than four.


Met Police instructions describing the system. This is the ninth issue and moves me to see if I can see a copy of the first.
The Metropolitan Police began to install telephone boxes in 1929, to a design by Gilbert Mackenzie Trench, surveyor to the Receiver for the Metropolitan Police District. The box is essentially of concrete construction, with wooden doors; there were detailed design changes during their period of introduction and by 1938 some 685 were in use within the MPD, all painted blue. Glasgow followed the Metropolitan design and installed 325, originally painted red (but later blue). Edinburgh was another user of police boxes, of an entirely different design, and a recent visit there suggests that many are still in place, some out of repair and at least one used as a coffee bar. A few remain in Glasgow, after pressure was brought to retain some on heritage grounds when the bulk were scrapped.


A surviving Edinburgh police box.
The Metropolitan Police boxes were used by officers on the beat who were expected to call the station from one at predetermined times as part of their beat patrol (spending no more than two minutes in doing so). The instructions note that to prevent criminals becoming overly familiar with the movements of the beat officer the beat schedules were selected daily from a set of four, each of which was timed differently. The boxes were equipped with a desk and stool, and an electric heater. They could be used as a place to take refreshment if the beat was remote from a police station and officers were expected to use them as a location within which they could write reports about incidents that needed to be written up; some divisional superintendents had a particular aversion to seeing beat officers in a police station during their duty without a very good reason (and, in a few cases, for any reason at all). Police boxes could also be used to keep a prisoner out of the way while a vehicle was summoned to collect them both. It was very much part of the system that motor transport was part of all this, and each police station was allocated two motor cars and a van. An additional inspector was provided on each subdivision, and he was supposed to be out and about all the time, often in one of the cars, and was required to keep in touch with the stations using the box telephones. For some reason they were supposed to be internally illuminated at night, despite pleading the need for economy in the use of electricity.


Metropolitan Police Box showing officer using the telephone from the outside
If the light were seen flashing, then any officer was expected to go to the box immediately and call up the station to see what was wanted. All boxes had a common key which became part of the officer's appointments and had to be shown before starting duty. Special constables were not issued a personal key, but were given one to use during their shift. Each box contained a first aid outfit and a fire extinguisher (and the outside of the box sported a St John's Ambulance badge). Arrangements were made for the boxes to be cleaned regularly.

In London the placing of police patrols in cars, coupled with the introduction of pocket radios, meant that the boxes were no longer so useful and removal began in 1969, being completed in 1981.

The BBC regarded the police box as a well recognized piece of street furniture when it was selected for use in the Dr Who programme, but strange to say it was only in 2002 when the ire of the police was created. It seems that permission had originally been sought from and granted by the police when the BBC originally wanted to use the design (for they used a wooden or fibreglass copy not a real one), and there the matter might have rested. However, in 1996 the BBC found themselves using the design on commercial and promotional material and felt it prudent to register the design as a trademark. At this, the police baulked, and challenged the application on a number of grounds, but essentially arguing that the design was a trademark of the Metropolitan Police, albeit an unregistered one. Detailed and abstruse arguments were put forward on each side but the examiner, after referring to a number of precedents, concluded that it was unrealistic for the Metropolitan Police to argue that this particular piece of street furniture could be regarded as a police trademark and that the BBC's commercial use of it to support a fanciful television programme was most unlikely to clash with anything the police were using it for, and the risk of any confusion or abstraction of 'trade' was not tenable. The objection was therefore dismissed. (There had been plenty of opportunity since 1929 for the police to register it as a trademark and commercially exploit the idea for toys and so on, but they had not.). 

The Metropolitan Police do still use a police box which at first sight looks like an 'ordinary' one, and this is located outside Earls Court Underground station. It was installed in April 1996 as part of an exercise to improve local security. This one is made of wood, based on police designs and was constructed by London Underground carpenters at their Lillie Bridge works as a contribution to the scheme. It was opened by the mayoress of Kensington and the local borough police commander and has an emergency telephone to enable the public to call the police, while inside it has CCTV monitors so that someone on the spot can watch the local area. Some police forces also used police pillars where it was not possible to install a box. These had a telephone and a calling lamp. Several survive in the City of London (by no means necessarily in use), and the Metropolitan Police still have one at Piccadilly Circus. The City ones were a paler blue. 

The Tardis, incidentally, was based on the Met Police Mk II design. However, how many of you have noticed that this prop was not only never a correct representation but also varied considerably between the various series of the programme. Yes someone has done a study, and you can find it HERE.

There is a website that seeks to collate photographs of Metropolitan Police telephone boxes in their original surroundings, and it can be found HERE.

Excellent drawing of the Metropolitan Police box and some information about its history can be found HERE.

There is a Flickr stream devoted to surviving police boxes (of which there seem to be a lot) and can be found HERE.

A useful illustrated history of the Glasgow system can be found HERE. It also contains more general information about other police box systems.

Happy hunting.






Wednesday, 30 October 2013

HISTORIC NOVEMBER - a monthly digest of historic dates relating to the London Underground

This is the second of what may become a regular series of articles about events gone by based on the theme of a century ago (and 50 years and 150 years).

November 1863 seems to have been a quiet month for the Metropolitan Railway so we turn to November 1913 where quite a lot was going on.

On 17 November 1913, West Harrow station was opened. Lying between Harrow on the Hill and Rayners Lane, the station was needed in order to serve an area in which house-building was in progress but which was about three-quarters of a mile from Harrow-on-the-Hill. Pressure for the station had been exerted by landowners and residents of the New Bessborough Estate (south of the line). Development had started as long previously as 1906 but the railway had been slow to oblige. The new station was built almost entirely of wood, very much in the ‘halt’ style the Met favoured for these emerging communities. The 350ft long platforms (most of which were 10ft wide) each had a small wooden shelter half way along. Each platform was accessed from Vaughan Road by steps and individual access passages that were located either side of the bridge. The passage on the ‘up’ side was provided with a small booking hut adjacent to the roadway. The ‘up’ side shelter was increased in size around 1916, after traffic had picked up, and even included lavatories. The creosoted wooden structure presented a particularly grim view high up amongst the bright new houses and after some pressure had been exerted the outlook was softened by provision of shrubs and trees along the embankment. The platforms were lengthened in 1929 in order to take 8-cars and at the same time the stairs to the road were roofed over, the 'up' side shelter extended, and the covered area of both platforms enlarged by extending the canopies.


West Harrow in early 1930s
Despite these improvements, the station essentially survived in pretty much original form until rebuilding began in October 1989. The present, modest, structure has retained ticket-selling facilities on the ‘up’ side only and still requires passengers for the Uxbridge direction to return to the street before using the separate passage to the other platform, an unusual arrangement these days that may even be a unique survivor (Hounslow East had been another until quite recent years but I cannot think of another Underground station today where one must resort to the street to change platforms). Such good design features as the rebuilt station may have are somewhat marred by the overpowering impact of the metal railings that flank the access passages, a feature that is particularly sinister at night, reminding one perhaps more of a prison camp than a railway station. I think this is a good example of a location where a lot of well meaning people, each with their own standards, objectives and targets, come together to present the world with the ‘wrong answer’. West Harrow was never a particularly busy station, and it was only from 1974 that all passing Metropolitan Line trains called there.
West Harrow (WB). Can't fault the level of lighting, but this is about as unattractive an entrance as one can find.

On 30 November 1913 the Metropolitan Railway opened its ‘widened lines’ between Finchley Road and Kilburn. It was short of Kilburn, actually, as the additional tracks terminated at a junction with the old ones just east of the bridge carrying the Metropolitan over what today we call the North London Line. This was the first section of a widening project that extended from Finchley Road to Wembley Park, the other portions requiring far more extensive engineering work. The railway had originally opened from Swiss Cottage to West Hampstead on 30 June 1879, extending to Willesden Green 24 November 1879 and through to Harrow on 2 August 1880 and was just two tracks throughout. This section of line was electrified in 1905 and stimulated the process of housing development to which the Metropolitan responded by further improving train services to its outer areas and developing a complex pattern of stopping and non stopping services. It was not long before the constraints of a twin-track railway became all too evident, so the railway decided to build additional lines to carry the fast trains as far as Wembley Park, by which point the services had thinned down. The widening required complex phasing of work and the conversion of the platforms at Finchley Road from side platforms to an island (this is the one that today serves northbound trains). The new fast lines then bypassed the station on the north side and converged with the old line in tunnel south of the station, a difficult job underneath the road that was achieved with little interruption to the train service.
This view looking 'north' into Finchley Road station in 1913 shows the old lines slewed to the left, with the old 'down' platform converted into an island. The old 'up' platform on the right awaits demolition before the new pair of 'fast' lines are installed.
It was in November 1913 that the automatic signalling was finally completed on the Central London Railway when new Westinghouse electro-pneumatic signalling was installed at Shepherds Bush, replacing the manually-operated signals there. It is hard, today, to imagine a deep tube line controlled by men in signal boxes at every station, pulling large mechanical levers that operated wooden signal arms mounted at station headwalls, but that is how it was (intermediate signals were also mechanical, but had just the coloured spectacle plates as there was no room for signal arms). The mechanical signalling was provided by the firm of Evans O'Donnell, but was enhanced by so-called ‘lock and block’ control designed by a man called Spagnolletti, previously the Great Western Railway's telegraph engineer. By this means rigid adherence to the block telegraph regulations was enforced by the fitting of electric locks on the levers controlling the starting signals. By this means the signal allowing a train into a section could not be lowered until the signalbox in advance had accepted the train, and additionally the train ahead had to be proved to have departed by having operated an electric 'treadle' plate situated on the track and against which a copper brush located on the rear car of every train had made contact. It was unfortunate that shortly before the equipment in Shepherds Bush box was replaced there was a serious accident. Provision had to be made for releasing the electrical locking in case of failure, and at Shepherds Bush it was released irregularly. An experienced signalman made an initial mistake in putting a signal back before an approaching train had actuated the treadle, and had to release the locking using a sealed plunger. He then got into a muddle and made a succession of further mistakes that allowed the following train to approach before the first train had left the station, allowing a low speed collision to occur. The inspecting officer noted that automatic signalling was about to be introduced and remarked that lock and block was evidently not foolproof (though it remained in use on several busy sections of the Underground for a decade or so longer).

It was in November 1963 that a rail-heating trolley was introduced for use on open air sections of the Underground to facilitate certain work on the track. As we all know, rails tend to expand and contract as air temperatures vary. Normally, undisturbed long lengths of rail do not need very much attention but difficulties arise when a line of rails is broken during engineering work (for example to replace a section of rail). The get the stresses correct a quantity of keys were removed until the stresses were correct, but this work could only be completed satisfactorily during certain times of the day in spring or autumn as temperatures affected the dimensions of the rail and the stresses within it. Needless to say, this was very restrictive and required severe speed limits being imposed on trains as the work took place while the service was running. The ideal was to do the work at night, when trains were not running, but the rails were then too cold. The answer was to warm up the rails to get the conditions correct. Experiments during 1963 proved this to be a viable process and in November a trolley was introduced upon which was fitted a gas cylinder and burners that were located just above the running rails. The trolley was pedal-propelled and could be driven along the section concerned until the rail was approximately at the desired temperature, between 75 and 80 degrees Fahrenheit. When all was ready, the necessary adjustments were made at the rail expansion switches and the keys all replaced. The initial experiments took place at South Ealing, but the process was also tested on a section of flat bottom rail (then not very common on the Underground).


Rail heating trolley near South Ealing, burners in front of it.
It was on 25 November 1963 when High Street Kensington goods yard was closed (officially the first day of closure, a Monday, though no trains were scheduled over weekends – the date of last train I do not know). This had originally been opened by the Midland Railway in 1878 and was just west of the station; it was connected to the District Railway via a steep incline that connected with platform 4. It was primarily a coal yard and trains from the Midlands travelled via Cricklewood, South Acton, Acton Lane and over the District Railway between Ravenscourt Park and High Street Kensington. On arrival in platform 4, the locomotive propelled the train up the incline to the shunting neck, at street level. While the incline to the yard had been constructed some years after the District Railway opened, the retaining wall at the end of the platform was already recessed as there had originally been a turntable there. The final timetable shows the final freights timed as arriving at High Street at 09:49 and departing at 14:23, operating on Tuesdays and Thursdays only. There was another train running only ‘as required’ between Mondays-Fridays arriving at 13:22 and departing at 15:23.
Former Midland Railway goods yard at High Street Kensington about six months after closure
It was during 1963 that staff shortages began to hit Underground services quite badly, the Metropolitan Line being particularly badly hit (which was rather a pity given its recent modernization and timetable enhancement). The week beginning 25 November 1963 was recorded as particularly bad, the worst day being the 29th when 67 trips were cancelled. Not perhaps a cause of celebration.

Monday, 14 October 2013

The L.G.O.C. Division of the Metropolitan Special Constabulary

In England and Wales the so-called 'special constabulary' has a long an honourable history that in a sense pre-dates regular policing. In essence, local magistrates could appoint men to act under their direction as constables if they felt that there was actual or impending disorder which required the existing peace-keeping forces to be augmented. In pre-Victorian days, of course, police 'forces' were almost unknown and the ability of the petty constables to maintain any kind of order in the face of a serious disturbance was limited, to say the least. The ability to create special constables to deal with specific disturbances was an extension of the common law duty placed on every citizen to come to the aid of a police officer if requested to do so. The creation of special constables went a little further in that magistrates could compel people to perform this duty if they felt it necessary. The arrangement was placed on a statutory footing in 1831 (and amended by later legislation that recognized the creation of a permanent preventative police throughout the country and to whom special constables could be attached.

During the early years of the twentieth century special constables had been sworn in on a number of occasions of which the Salford Docks and national railway strikes of 1911 are but two examples. In each case the magistrates fully recognized that they could nominate people to act as specials, but felt that this would be an unwise course in practice and asked for volunteers instead. On each occasion when volunteers were called for, they came. This troubles proved very useful in demonstrating how little the volunteers knew of their powers and duties and, therefore, what kind of training they needed to be given in the event of a major emergency, of the kind just about to descend on the nation. Under slightly unclear home office guidance a few (of the hundreds of) police forces took the opportunity to establish special constabularies, though the legal situation about appointing constables otherwise than in an emergency was unclear.

It was not until the First World War that very large numbers of special constables were required to undertake duties for an extended period. Although it was felt that a war was self-evidently an emergency, nevertheless special legislation was passed authorizing the raising of a large body of men to undertake extra duties. In the Metropolitan Police District a Metropolitan Special Constabulary was raised under the direction of a Chief Commandant, with parallel ranks to regular police at district, divisional and police station levels (though the district level was soon found unnecessary). A target of 20,000 special constables was set for the Metropolitan Police District. Instructions to raise a force were given on 5 August 1914 (the day after war broke out) and by 15 August all the men required had been selected. The task of swearing them in under the 1831 Act began on 17 August. It took years to get all the men into uniform and at first they relied on only an armlet to indicate their authority, as a result of which they were sometimes not recognized. A bulk distribution of caps proved hard to administer and after a while the constables were allowed to buy their own (to a standard design) and claim the money back. It was not until well into the war that full uniform was provided. It is worth adding that the strength of the regular Metropolitan force then was about 17,000 so the force of specials was numerically larger (though of course they were part time). The shear size of the special constabulary created all kinds of administrative challenges and to some extent an entirely parallel administration.

The vast majority of constables who were appointed were farmed out to the various police divisions, normally ones in which they lived. However, there was also a headquarters division and some auxiliary divisions who rarely get much of a mention. One of these was the London General Omnibus Company, who formed an entire division from its own staff with the primary responsibility for policing its own extensive premises.

The LGOC division was drawn from both its headquarters and garage staffs and the job of establishing the new organization was put in the hands of its engineer, Mr C.J. Shave. Mr G Harding became drill instructor. At first the each of the garage superintendents became a special constabulary sergeant, with each garage acting independently, but in December 1915 the force was consolidated into a proper division under the authority of Mr W.F. Rainforth as divisional commander. A few months later command was transferred to Mr Shave, who became the new commander. His assistant commander was a man called Thomas, and in 1917 the LGOC company secretary, Mr W.E. Mandelick was created an honorary commander and provided further assistance to commander Shave. By 1917 the effective strength of the division was about 450.

The senior officers of the LGOC division provided their own uniforms to the MSC pattern, but the LGOC itself provided uniforms for the lower ranks, placing them at some advantage to constables service in most of the territorial divisions. The company provided generous time off for drilling and other necessary training. The division also provided extensive ambulance training (with 75 being qualified first aiders) and provided two motor ambulances. In addition to this, the LGOC special constabulary made available to the chief commandant every night an emergency squad of 150 - 200 men. These were stationed at the company HQ in Grosvenor Road and were available from dusk each night, remaining on duty until dismissed by a headquarters officer. On receiving an air raid warning squads could be sent out to reinforce A division and man air raid shelters. Other men, using cars or buses, could be despatched as required, and having a good knowledge of London's roads were regarded as being reliable and relatively fast.


Commander George James Shave in special constabulary uniform
The LGOC division performed conspicuously well during incidents such as the big raid of 28 January 1918 which caused many casualties from which the LGOC division moved 17 to Charing Cross hospital. The following night a large gas main near Kew Bridge was ruptured and the escaping gas caught light. A party of special constables from Turnham Green garage bagged up and loaded five tons of sand and took it by lorry to the scene, materially assisting the difficult job of extinguishing the flames.

It is perhaps of slight surprise that when the war was over, with many special constables stood down, the LGOC division continued in existence (a much-reduced MSC having now been put on a permanent footing). The division was still going strong in 1925, by which time it was under Commandant Lansdown; a parade at Chiswick that year saw a turnout of 150 men who took part in a drill competition. Mr Shave was present, evidently as an honorary commandant, and he explained that he regretted that he was no longer active, but still took an interest. I do not have a date for the end of the LGOC's association with the MSC, but would be very interested to know when this was.

The LGOC was not the only 'company' division, though it appears it may have been the largest. Others included the General Post Office (based at the Savings Bank in Blythe Road) and HM Office of Works. In addition much smaller units were raised at gas works, large warehouses and large manufactuaries, and even some local authorities. The total number of specials attached to companies reached a maximum of 9233, and the maximum strength of the Metropolitan Special Constabulary during the war was (according to the answer to a parliamentary question in June 1915) 32,617, a truly enormous number, being double the size of the regular police.

It seems that in 1919 there was a concerted effort to ensure there was a reliable source of special constables for some future emergency, and this might explain the longevity of the LGOC division. We do know that to augment the post war specials the Honourable Artillery Company (based near the City Road) was asked to form a contingent of special constables, and they were happy to oblige. Initially these specials were attached to G Division, and numbered about 150 men. Amazingly, the HAC still nominates special constables, though their men are today attached to the City of London Police. Each HAC man wears an ordinary police uniform with usual 'specials' insignia, but bearing the additional letters HAC. It is perhaps typical of the City of London to carry on traditions like this, probably in this case because the HAC is regarded as a City livery company and because the night-time population of the City is so low as to make recruitment by ordinary methods more difficult than usual.

Any other information about the LGOC 'specials' would be of interest. It would provide a nice little research project for someone...



About Me

I have always lived in London and taken a great interest in its history and ongoing development. This extended into the history of its transport services, about which I have written a number of books - I have spent most of my working life working in the industry and observing changes from within, mostly to the good, but not always so. I continue to write, and have a website with half finished stuff in it so that it is at least available, if not complete. Several new books are in hand. I have many 'works in progress' and some of these can be found on my website; the we address is http://www.metadyne.co.uk