Friday, 8 December 2017

Short life of a long-lived station

Blackfriars Station - now usually referred to as Blackfriars Road to avoid confusion - is still visible on Blackfriars Road. Restored in 2005, its emphatic black name is clearly visible under the railway bridge stands out  as clearly as it did when the station opened in 1864. Over a century and a half later, the entrance is a firm survivor. 

It stood on the line built to connect London Bridge and Charing Cross. London Bridge was, of course, central London's first terminus. It first ran to Deptford in 1836, and lines now ran to Greenwich, Croydon and Brighton - but a connection to the City was badly needed. The Charing Cross Railway Co was therefore given permission by Parliament to build the link, crossing the garden of St Thomas' Hospital and travelling by viaduct over Borough Market. In Southwark, thousands of people lost their homes to the railway construction (over 1,800 on the company's own conservative estimate). 

Yet this station was open for a mere five years: it was replaced by Waterloo Junction (now Waterloo East) in 1869. Stranger still, although the Charing Cross Railway Co constructed the line and station, it was taken over by the South Eastern Railway Co before it opened. The frontage is therefore a long-lived reminder of a very short time. 

Friday, 1 December 2017

To the trains!

This rather nice sign with its guiding manicule is in Stepney Green underground station, directing passengers down the stairs to the platforms. It has been carefully painted around and preserved, 

It is a little mysterious. Since it is part-way down the staircase, and there is no other direction to go unless you turn around and retrace your steps upwards, why was it needed? Perhaps just to reassure the nervous traveller that they are on the right track. Or right stairs. 

Stepney Green station opened in 1902. At that time, the Underground was not a single entity, but an assortment of lines and services run by competing companies. Since adding new capacity in London was expensive, given the compensation which had to be paid to the densely-packed properties disrupted by construction, some of these companies looked to extend services outwards. In that spirit, the District Line and London, Tilbury and Southend Railway were partners in developing the Whitechapel and Bow Railway, linking the District Line at Whitechapel to the Southend Line at Bow Road. Stepney Green was an intermediate stop, as was Mile End. 

The line was fully absorbed into London Underground in 1950. The Whitechapel and Bow Railway is largely forgotten but a few reminders, including this sign and other heritage features, remain at the station. 

Friday, 24 November 2017

Tunnels under Trafalgar Square

With its plinths, fountains, the imposing facade of the National Gallery, and of course Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square looks solid and stately. However, beneath its paving and pools, empty tunnels snake unseen. 

These tunnels were dug during the construction of the Jubilee Line, whose Charing Cross station opened in 1979. Used to transport spoil and materials, they ran from the station at the south-east of the square, up to the north-west corner where the National Gallery's Sainsbury Wing now stands. 

The far end is now blocked off, ending roughly underneath the fourth plinth (the former empty plinth, now used for temporary displays). 

Cast iron plates line the tunnels. Each bears its year: evidence that some were reused from earlier projects. 

There's a noticeable curve to the tunnel. It's not a navigation error on the part of the builders, but a deliberate detour to avoid Nelson's Column. 

These aren't the only tunnels at the station which the public don't see. Another set are used to ventilate it: the grilles allow those within to observe passing people...

... and passing trains. 

At the end, a ventilation shaft reaches up to the surface and far down below our feet. 

It's an extraordinary look behind the scenes: part of the Hidden London programme from the London Transport Museum. The Charing Cross tour combines these tunnels with a visit to the disused Jubilee Line platforms. Booking is open for the forthcoming season, including visits to Clapham South Deep Level Shelter and poster-lined abandoned tunnels in Euston Station

Friday, 17 November 2017

Hidden Charing Cross Station

In 1999, the Jubilee Line was extended to Stratford, via the soon-to-open Millennium Dome. However, south and east London's gain was Charing Cross's loss: formerly the terminal station for the line, it was now bypassed altogether. Instead, the Jubilee line south of Green Park diverted to Westminster and beyond. 

The result: two platforms of Charing Cross underground station were closed. However, that doesn't mean that they are abandoned. On the contrary, their disused status has allowed them to serve three new functions. First, they are used as sidings and stabling for the extended Jubilee line, and for ventilation: useful, but not very exciting. They are use for much more than that, though. 

Second, the former Jubilee Line station is a popular location for filming. If you want a fairly modern tube station, with escalators and all the rest but without those pesky passengers, Charing Cross is probably your location of choice. Visitors have ranged from James Bond to Paddington - and they've left some subtle traces. 

You'd have to do a lot of circuits of this station to find the District and Circle lines, since they actually run through nearby Embankment Station. The signage is left from filming of Skyfall, where it served as a (somewhat inaccurate) stand-in for Temple Station. (The 'stand on the right' signs were also removed from the escalators to avoid injury during the chase scene.)

Art of Lies is nowhere to be found on IMDB, and won't be in cinemas near you. 

And if you want to sign up to this 'fiber optic' broadband provider, think again: there are no contact details. These are filming artefacts: as showing real posters on screen can cause copyright issues, some have been replaced by generic mock-adverts instead.  

Even the famous roundel has been remodelled for one event!

Finally, the platforms are used to test proposed innovations. Some have since been extended across the network, such as raised platform 'bumps' for step-free access. Others, like these glow-strips near platform ages, have not made it further than Charing Cross.

We might add a fourth use: tours of these platforms are a popular part of London Transport Museum's Hidden London programme. Booking for the next season is about to start, and includes Clapham South Deep Level Shelter and abandoned tunnels at Euston

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Clerkenwell Old Sessions House

In 1782, the Middlesex Quarter Sessions House on Clerkenwell Green opened. It replaced the courts' earlier home on St John Street, Hicks Hall, which had become too small and decrepit. The new location was also more suitable for solemn proceedings: the old site was on the path of livestock heading into Smithfield Market, with all the noise and congestion they produced. 

The quarter sessions was the predecessor of today's crown courts, hearing criminal cases too serious for a single magistrate to deal with (although the most serious were reserved for the assizes courts). Quarter sessions cases were heard by a panel of three magistrates and a jury. So keen were the magistrates to build a suitable home for these proceedings that they adopted an unnecessarily convoluted process for its design. They first considered plans drawn up by the county surveyor, Thomas Rogers, and rejected them. They then heard Rogers' request for the design job, and rejected it. Instead, they held a competition; eleven entries were submitted, and they chose one by ... Thomas Rogers. Once his building was completed - somewhat altered from the original design, since the magistrates kept interfering - cases would be heard in its grand surroundings for over a century. 

The heart of the building is its central hall, rising the full height of its two original floors and topped by a dome. Behind it, reached by the sweeping staircase, was the courtroom itself. The pillars are original, but the screen between them was added when the magistrates discovered such 'open justice' resulted in poor acoustics. 

This double flight of stairs was another alteration made by the magistrates. Originally, rather tighter and more modest staircases were planned - they were reused instead as back stairs. 

The sessions house was remodelled in the nineteenth century, partly in the hope of improving poor lighting and ventilation. Extra court space was also needed as the area served became more populous, and the magistrates' dining room was converted into a second courtroom. 

Further height was added to the building to accommodate an additional floor, complete with new dining room. The hall was also remodelled, giving extra balcony space to cope with the number of people using it. 

Such provision of extra court space must have been timely: a few years later, in 1868, the Metropolitan railway opened at the building's feet, with Farringdon station a short walk away. Clerkenwell Road was built soon after, freeing up some space in the process which was used for an extension to the Sessions House. 

However, its fortunes changed when the County of London was created in 1889. They took over both Clerkenwell and the sessions house at Newington; to save money, they decided to use only the Newington site and sell Clerkenwell. The court moved out of the building in 1921. Ten years later, it took on a very different role as Avery Scales moved in. (They used it as their headquarters, not for manufacturing weighing equipment!) After the weighing machine manufacturers left in the 1970s, the building became a masonic lodge for a while.  

The Sessions House is about to begin a new life as a food venue and restaurant, but there was a chance to enjoy its faded glories during Fashion Week, when it hosted Burberry's photography exhibition Here We Are

Friday, 6 October 2017

Beer, myths, and fire extinguishers

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem in Nottingham claims to be England's oldest pub, established in 1189AD. It's certainly an extraordinary one: built into Castle Rock, several of the rooms are carved out of the cliff. The current building dates back to the seventeenth century, and despite the obvious tourist appeal, it's a pleasant and atmospheric place for a drink. 

Image: Roy Hughes

But is it that old? There is no evidence to prove it has been around that long, so the claim seems questionable. The caves here in the cliff were probably used by the castle's brewhouse at that time; but the first documentation of a pub is on a map of 1610. The name may appear to refer to the Crusades - and the Third Crusade departed in the year of its alleged foundation - but in 1760 the pub was known as the Pilgrim and the current name emerged about forty years later. So we have a centuries-old pub, but probably not England's oldest. 

However, the questionable myths don't stop there! Inside, the unique interior is decorated with some 'legendary' objects. Most are in the Rock Lounge, once used as the malting room and with a sixty-foot chimney extending from the ceiling through the cliff above. 

My favourite was the cursed galleon, encrusted in many years' dust. It is claimed that whoever cleans the ship will die a sudden death (a handy excuse for those of us who dislike housework). Indeed, it has allegedly claimed three lives, although the names and precise fates of those ill-fated cleaners are not given. Lest anyone be tempted to follow them and meet their doom, the galleon is now safely behind glass. 

Less remarkable in appearance is a chair on castors - but a sign tells its legend. Apparently, this is the ancient 'pregnancy chair'. Any woman who sat on it would soon become pregnant. Again, details are lacking (and the chair didn't look all that ancient). A fun story, but far more eye-catching for me was this fabulous, if unheralded, old fire extinguisher. The lowest plaque gives instructions for use: you fill the tank with water to indicated level, add .25lb of bicarbonate of soda, stir, then half-fill the bottle with sulphuric acid and replace the stopple. 'Recharge every 5 years.' These fire extinguishers worked by producing carbon dioxide when the bicarb and acid mixed (on this model, by turning the extinguisher upside-down) which forced out pressurised water. 

Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, then, is a lovely place of history and myth. There's more than enough appeal in its genuine history: a mediaeval brewhouse and maltings, a pub for over four centuries, an ancient building carved into rock. The questionable stories may not add to the academic interest of the place, but they do add to the atmosphere. Cheers! 

Exterior image by Roy Hughes, shared under Creative Commons licence (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Ghost signs (129): nipples and pin points

Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter was home to more industries than jewellery-making. Other metal products, from pen nibs to coffin fittings, were manufactured here - and this ghost sign bears quiet witness to another form of metalwork, pin and wire-making. 

DF Tayler & Co were well-known for their pins, but this sign shows that they also made much more. The company moved here in 1886, and the style of the lettering suggests it is of similar vintage (Brum's Ghost Signs concurs, and adds that it was only uncovered last year). The varied fonts and elaborate swirls are quite a contrast to most twentieth-century signs. The reference to cycles and motors, though, may point to an Edwardian date.  

The sign reads: 'Wire Department - DF Tayler & Co Ltd - Steel & Iron Wire - Cycle & Motor Spokes - Nipples & Washers - Wire on Spools - Florist Wire - Wreath Frames - Jewellers Wire - Pin Points'. The lowest lines are damaged by dirt and peeling paint and largely illegible, although one says 'wreath frames' and the final word could be 'paints' or 'points'. 

The opposite side of the doorway has a similar sign. However, it is harder to read and in places, clearly a palimpsest. While it seems to have been a match for its opposite number originally, there is later painting also visible. Often, the newer words are the same as the old, suggesting that there was an attempt to update the look of the sign rather than the range of products. Frustratingly, the white lettering on black paint at the bottom cannot be deciphered. 

The company was an old one, even when the signs were painted. Daniel Foot Tayler, from Gloucestershire, developed automatic pin-making machines; by 1838, he was in partnership with a Leicestershire attorney, John Shuttleworth. The business included leases of Light Pool Mills near Stroud and of a London warehouse and house in King Street, Cheapside. The mills were described in 1837 as having a main building 100 feet long and five stories high, filled with water-powered machinery. The machines formed the pin in a single piece, compressing the wire to shape the head. (Other manufacturers' pins, by contrast, had heads made separately and joined later.) Each machine could make 45 pins per minute, and the factory reportedly produced over three million a day. 

However, there were scandalous goings-on within the company. At the end of 1838, Tayler sold his share to Shuttleworth for £3,500 plus an annuity of £300 - an impressive amount, equivalent to about £155,000 plus over £13,000 a year today. Shuttleworth, though, appears to have been a rather dubious character: he failed to pay, and declared bankruptcy when judgment was entered against him. More dubious dealings emerged around the time of Tayler's death in 1840: Shuttleworth had taken another 'partner' into the firm several years earlier, without telling Tayler, who believed him to be a mere employee. 

The Williams family took the business over, while retaining its name, and the company moved to Birmingham. DF Tayler expanded throughout the nineteenth century; it even had a special appointment from Queen Victoria. In 1886, it moved to Newhall Hill where it made hundreds of thousands of pins a day - along with the other products advertised in its doorway. 

In the catalogue for the 1908 Stanley Show, held in London by Stanley Cycle Club, Tayler's  were described as 'the well-known spoke-making firm, and examples of their spokes are shown, including plated, and enamelled, the latter in black, green, and red. Spoke nipples, treated likewise, are shown, also tying wire on spools, and samples of brazing spelter. Special copper wire for use in plating vats is also shown.' That corresponds to the wording on our sign, again supporting a turn-of-the-century date for it since by 1914, their Who's Who in Business entry made no mention of cycle spokes: 
Originally makers of Pins only. Premises: Extend over about two and a half acres. Staff: Over 500. Specialities: Pins, Hair Pins, Safety Pins, Hooks and Eyes, Fasteners, and Novelties of all kinds in Pins, &c. Awards: Prize Medals at different International Exhibitions. Connection . Worldwide. Contractors to H.M. Government. Royal Warrant: Special Appointment to H.M. the Queen, also to H.M. Queen Alexandra. Held Appointment to Her late Majesty Queen Victoria and to Her late Majesty Queen Adelaide.
Tayler's remain best-remembered for their dressmaking pins, sold under the name Dorcas. However, even their pin offering was more diverse than this: it ranged from hair pins to entomological pins, used for displaying insects and butterflies. 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

Rhinoceros, rhinoceroses, rhinoceri*

Apothecaries' Hall is home to what must be London's largest rhinoceros collection! The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries doesn't have a menagerie, but it does have the rhino as its unlikely symbol. And not just any rhino, but Dürer's rhinoceros (famously inaccurate, with an extra horn on its back). 

Why this animal? It's thought to be because the horn was reputed to have medical properties (a persistent myth, contributing to the endangerment of the species today). There may even have been some association of rhinoceros horn with the magical powers of unicorn horn. 

The Apothecaries had been members of the Grocers' Company, since they were originally spice-sellers. However, by the sixteenth century, they had pharmaceutical skills and sought to establish their own livery company; they received their charter from James I in 1617. From 1704, apothecaries were permitted to prescribe as well as dispense medicine, and the Society has been responsible for examinations, licensing and regulation of the profession since 1815. Unlike many livery companies, it remains at the heart of its original trade, with medical professionals making up the vast majority of members. 

The Society played a key, if unintended, role in the history of women doctors. Victorian pioneer Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was refused entry to medical school, but was tutored by the apothecary at the Middlesex Hospital, where she worked as a nurse. She was admitted to the Society of Apothecaries in 1865 and was thus licensed to practice medicine. (However, she had done so through a loophole in the Society's regulations - which were quickly amended to exclude women.) Unable to obtain a hospital position, she set up her own practice before going on to take her medical degree in Paris and founding the New Hospital for Women and Children and the London School of Medicine for Women. 

In 1632, the Company acquired its current livery hall site in Blackfriars. Not too many years later, it fell victim to the Great Fire of London, but was rebuilt and the second hall still stands today. 

It is arranged around a courtyard, which features a key tool of the trade: a pestle and mortar. 

A staircase (carpeted with rhinceroses, of course) leads to the court room and parlour. The latter has an impressive collection of apothecary jars, varying enormously in age, size, and shape. Most, though, are the traditional blue-and-white. 

The heart of the building is the Great Hall. And on Open House weekend, it was filled with information about the Society's continuing educational role, with diplomas ranging from medical history to conflict and catastrophe medicine, as well as lecture programmes. The society is very much active in the present, even as the rhinos remind us of its long past. 

* Spot the deliberate mistake! Rhinoceri is not a correct plural of rhinoceros, but rhinoceros is.

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