Sunday, 22 January 2012

Hanging around with the Inner Circle

An article on life in the Inner Circle in 1898, from the Windsor Magazine. Nice to see mention of the spring-operated station-indicators and weighing-machines (see pics below):

Illustrated by A. J. FINBERG.

HEAVY sulphurous smell, an atmosphere like a yellow fog in London, an orderly succession of earsplitting bangs, and the wave .of a green flag. This sounds like a description of a battle where artillery has been brought into play, but it is merely the scene of an underground station on the District Railway.

    London is being still further riddled with railways : the electric, cutting right through the heart of the City and West-End, and the Brompton and Piccadilly —a diagonal line for the convenience of Clubland —are in immediate prospect. Whether these will affect the dividends of the existing companies remains to be seen. If the atmosphere is freer and the motion quicker, probably they will. Man will give up much to save his precious time; he will consent to be half suffocated for ten minutes, and temporarily deafened for the sake of half an hour. Yet the most ardent admirer of the railways cannot say it is joy to travel them. They are convenient, they save time, but that anyone should choose to live down in these stygian regions must pass comprehension. There are worse jobs. Perhaps the men who go round with scavenging carts have as much dirt a to their daily allowance as a driver on the Underground; but that men can be found to undertake this task is another mystery.

    I went tour on a tour of inspection in the underground regions to ascertain the views of the men themselves on the question, and was agreeably surprised to find that instead of a mournful round of endurance, they seem quite satisfied and enjoy their work.
    I commenced my raid in search of a man off duty. A friendly porter, impressed into the service, unearthed an engine-driver from a coaling-shed at the end of the platform and brought him to me. He was an honest  looking fellow, delightfully grimy ; one felt one had got hold of the real article. I should not have liked him half so well if he had been cleaned up for the occasion. We sat and chatted together on one of the ample seats of the platform, and had the satisfaction of feeling that we were affording a gratis entertainment for the passengers in the constant succession of trains which every few minutes ran banging into the platform before us.
    My man needed very little pumping ; the porter had evidently given him a tip that he was expected to talk, for it came out spontaneously.
    "I've been on duty now five-and-twenty years. We begin by being a fireman, ye know, and that's at about eighteen or nineteen, and ye get on to be a driver. We get eight shillings a day. That's not bad pay, but then there's no pension ; ever such a little would be a help. Ye see we're on the same footing as policemen and other public servants, the responsibility is on us ; we've got to stand our own ground same as the captain of a ship, and it's wearing that is. We ought to have a bit to look forward to. I'm not an old man yet "—and I smiled as I met his cheery glance and vowed him in the prime of life.
    "But tell me," I continued, " something about your everyday life. We above ground think it bad enough to run along these dismal tunnels from one station to another, but to be all day on duty --" 

    "Well, now, 'tisn't half as bad as ye make out," he said confidentially. "Ye get used to it, and think naught of it. And then it's arranged so's we aren't all day and every day on the Inner Circle ; one day maybe we're off to Putney or Richmond, and another to Ealing. Then one day a fortnight we have a day off, and then there's sheds; that takes up four hours, cleaning your boilers and such like ; there's only one day the week we go round and round the circle."
    "And how many times round then?"
    "It varies ; maybe five or six or seven."
    Seven times round the Underground swallowing an atmosphere too thick to breathe! the grinding of the brakes echoing 182 times at the stations! The slow dropping of water on the brain would be an infinitely preferable madness. I hastened to inquire if there was any break or dinner-hour off.
    "Oh no ; we get it when we can, answered, without deeming it any hardship that part of his daily diet should be augmented by smuts!
    "On days you run round the circle you come back to where you started from at the end, I suppose?"
    "Ay ; sign off where we signed on, that's it. Difficult to arrange where we're to go? Ay, I suppose it is, but we have naught do with that. We goes by the time-table. Hours? 4.30 in the morning to 2.15 in the afternoon. No, it's not the work I mind ; ye soon gets used to that. I'd as soon do it as anything. You've to keep awake, of course.  I haven't ever had a collision, but I've saved three, and that's something! You'd like to hear of that? "
    I assented.
    "Well, the first was near Baker Street, where I nearly ran into a ballast train, and the next was some Great Western coal trucks near Earl's Court, only the third was a tunnel accident—I overtook a train."
    "I thought that wasn't possible."
    "They say it ain't," he remarked smiling. "But I'm speaking of a long while back, and I suppose it ain't possible nowadays. It was in a tunnel, and I saw the tail-lights ahead, so I clapped on the brakes, showed a red light and blew my whistle. No harm done; but if I hadn't a-been looking out I'd have crushed up against it and had them trucks a-top of my engine, and then it would have been marked up against me same as if it had been my fault. I've been a teetotaler the is twelve years," he remarked with sudden and startling irrelevance; perhaps he thought I suspected him of only seeing red lights which had no material existence.
    "Find that answer? " I asked.
    "Ay; and that's my train coming into the station now, or I'd have told you more."
    I let him go, but doubted his ability to tell me more. To an imaginative mind the dark tunnels of the Underground seem full weird horrors, but to the prosaic man, whose aim is daily bread, they dwindle into everyday facts devoid of fear.
    The next link in the chain was again my friendly porter, who gave me some intermediate notions of his own position. The porters' hours vary from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. one day and 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. the next. The work consists chiefly of odd jobs, lamp cleaning — at which each takes his turn — coupling engines and shutting train doors; not much luggage about to bother a man. He is liable to be shifted about from station station, but may remain stationary (no pun intended) for a considerable time. His wages come to one pound one week and twenty-two shillings the next, the larger amount including a Sunday's work.
    Not many tips are there on the Underground or chances of increasing his income by secondary methods. But then there is the glorious prospect of the dizzy height of a guard's position looming before the humble porter. The man to whom I talked seemed impatient of dallying, and the reason was apparent when a strongly built official drew near to us.

"Yon's the inspector," said the porter with indicative motion. "He'll tell you a deal more than I can. I've only been on this job a short while, and he's been here this long while."
    I took the hint, and sauntered up to the man. He was a fine specimen of the product of discipline, combined with a habit of authority—a man on whose probity and respectability one would not be greatly disinclined to stake one's reputation.
    At first he seemed a little chary of my questions, but finding that I was not devoid of a sense of humour, he broke the ice by a good laugh, and we were on the best of terms. He had been inspector for some seven-and-twenty years, of which the last nineteen had been spent on the boards where he now stood. He had a fund of information and anecdote, and asserted readily that he could write a book of his reminiscences.
    The inspector himself has hours similar to those of the porters, varying from the earlier time ending at three one week, to the later beginning at that hour the next. He began his career in one of the railway signal-boxes, and is now responsible for the whole conduct of the station, exclusive of the booking-office.
    "Complaints?" he echoed, in answer to a suggestion of mine. " I should think there were. They'll complain of anything. But it's best to take it all in good part."
    "Chiefly?" I asked.
    "Chiefly? Why, missing trains, and so on ; and then they'll lay the blame on us, or the board man will have put up the wrong train in the indicator. He can't always tell, you know, which one is coming, though he knows which one ought to come, and if another runs in before it—why, the general public will never think of looking on the train to see for themselves, but will get in, and when they find they're wrong I'll hear about it. But as for questions -- you'd think they had nothing else to do! Old ladies are the worst " — with a smile; and he proceeded to mimic an imaginary conversation.
    "Which is the train for King's Cross?"
    "It'll come to this platform, ma'am."
    "When will it come?"
    "It'll be the next one in, in five minutes."
    "Which way will it come?"
    "This way."
    "And how many stations are there between here and King's Cross?"
    He looked at me and laughed. "That's it," he said—"over and over again. I generally tell them—it's best in the end. Then," he continued after a minute, "there are the people who will get out before the train stops. They'll pick themselves up and run, for fear of us summoning them."
    "You don't mind if they don't fall, I suppose?"
    "Oh no ; but we are down on them if they do. We have to keep some check on them or they'd be bringing an action against us for damages, saying that the engine moved on with a jerk, or some other excuse."
    "Have you ever had to give evidence in a case of that sort?"
    "No, but I've often enough had police-court cases arising from the railway, and they're bad enough! I'll tell you one of pickpocketing. A lady got out here in a great state and came to tell me she'd had her purse stolen. I asked her if she'd had anyone pushing up against her in a suspicious manner, and she said yes, an ill-looking fellow a few stations back. Well, as it happened, we were standing up near the steps, and could look the whole length of the platform, and I saw at the far end a fellow dodging about suspiciously on the very platform we were on, and I called her attention to him, and asked if he was anything like the one she had noticed, and she said he was the very man. Well, there stood then—it's done away with now—a sort of collecting-box for the booking-office, with a slit in it like a letterbox, and I saw this fellow brush up against it and drop something in the slit—I could almost fancy I saw something shine as he did it—anyway there wasn't much doubt but he'd hit on what he thought an original plan for getting rid of the purse, which might incriminate him. We marched down to him, and I told him what the lady said. Of course he said she'd made a mistake, and a lot more - I asked her if she would give him in charge. Oh yes, she would, rather ; so I collared my man, and went up for a policeman. There wasn't one about, so I walked him off to the office. On the way he kept asking me to let loose of him, and he'd go quietly. 'Yes,' says I, ' that's likely; but though my muscles are as good as yours, my legs aren't, and once I let you go I'd see you round the next corner.' Well, a detective came around to the station and opened the box, and there sure enough was that very lady's purse. That was an odd thing, wasn't it?"
    I remarked that the man must have been a fool to get out and stand about.
    "But he wouldn't think the lady would have got out at that same station, likely. And he was a good thief too, one that was wanted for other jobs of the same sort—a good one to catch. He got twelve months' hard."
    I inquired if the lady had remembered the inspector's services for good.
    "No," he answered, " but the Company did. I got half-a-sovereign and my expenses when I went to give evidence. I was very well satisfied. Oh, they treat us well enough - over a matter like that."
    At that moment a shrill short whistle sounded.
    "That's for me," said my companion. "I'm keeper of the cloak-room, and I have to go and attend to it ; but I'll come back."
    I sat down on one of the seats meanwhile, and jotted down a few notes of what he had said. It was not a bad place this station—wide and airy enough, and dry. A man might live comfortably at such a job. Life on the Underground is not all dirt and sulphurous atmosphere. In a station of the pattern of Blackfriars or Baker Street one's conceptions of the infernal regions might be greatly enlarged, but here there was nothing offensive.  I remembered how, one dark winter's evening, I had seen a little newsboy hopping about - in the draughty dimness of one of these mentioned above, and had pitied him from the bottom of my heart. Yet on inquiry it turned out that he was not unhappy. It was eagerness to sell that first attracted my attention—he was so evidently a new hand.
    "But you don't make anything by the sale do you?" I asked.
    "Oh no," he answered. " It's all the same us; but if we got a commission I could make --" He paused.
    "You sell a great many papers?"
    "Why, a heap!"
    "How long are you here?"
    "From six in the morning to half-past six at night."
    "That's a long time. What do you think of it all? Rather gloomy sometimes?"
    "I don't know. It's cold at whiles."
    "Better than being at school?"
    "Better than being in the streets "—with warmth.
    "And what do you get for it?"
    "Six shillings a week."
    I added to his income for that week and received the grateful thanks of his bright little face, from which the baby roundness had not altogether departed.
    But this is a digression. The inspector completed his duties upstairs and returned to me again.
    "What do. you think I've been for now?" he asked as he approached. "A lady has lost her umbrella, a valuable one—ivory handle with a gold head. She says she left it at the booking-office, and the clerk says he's never seen it, and I told her if one of our men had come across it he'd have brought it to me. She's going to the lost property office."
    "And where is that?"
    "Moorgate Street for the Metropolitan, and Victoria for the District, then the Hammersmith and City have one at Notting Hill. She'll make inquiries. What else would you like to know?"
    "Collisions," I suggested, by way of giving him a fresh impetus.
    "Well, there aren't many of them. It's worked on the absolute block system. In some parts they have electric interlocking, so that it's impossible for a train to catch up another. We haven't that yet, but it's absolutely safe. I do remember a collision, but that was four-and-twenty years ago, when things weren't so perfect as they are now. I was in the cabin then, and it was by Hammersmith Junction. There's a decline there, and a Great Western engine was dragging a District train—they're not very powerful engines—and the train began to drag back down the decline. The junction had been signalled clear, but the train got across it again, and another ran into it ; no lives were lost, but there was a lot of breakage."
    For about the fifth time during our conversation an Inner Circle train ground slowly to a stop at the platform before us and suggested a fresh line of inquiry.
    "These guards haven't so much to do as on the bigger lines," I said. "No luggage."
    "No, but it's a worrying sort of business stopping every two or three minutes—it keeps them occupied ; they've got packages to sort too, and they'll be continually stopped. Now on an express a man'll get maybe a clear hour to get through in."

    Then I remembered suddenly the comparatively new indicators fixed in some of the District trains, which show the name of the station before arrival. I had always thought it part of the guard's duty to work these, for sometimes the indicator may pass over several flaps before it stops at the right one, and it seemed to me this must be done by human agency. The inspector put me right.
    "No, it's much simpler than that," said he. "There's a flap of wood sticking up between the lines, soon after the train leaves any station, and this strikes a spring on the bottom of each carriage as they pass over, and this sends the indicator round. When some stations belonging to a branch line have to be missed out, there are three or four of these, as many as are wanted, in a row."
    "But it must be exceedingly difficult to arrange."
    "Yes, I suppose so. If they answer we're going to have them on all the District lines." 
    "Yes, soon ; but they won't be all round the circle, you know, because the Metropolitan haven't taken to them. "
    "And how can you tell if they answer?"
    "It is part of the guard's duty to report. There have been very few failures so far—hardly any. They come expensive at first, of course, but the advertisements have helped to pay."

THE terror of the tunnel is a thing of the past. When London's vast underground organisations are considered, it seems incredible that England's great railways, at the time of their projection, had to face substantial opposition because tunnels were an essential feature. The passage through a tunnel of only a few minutes, it was urged, would be fraught with alarms, discomfitures, and liability to various diseases.
    Events appear to move more quickly and in an increased ratio as the world grows older. To-day the passengers by the Metropolitan Railway are said to number nearly a hundred millions per annum, the majority of whom accept the idea of tunnel travelling with as much equanimity as they buy a newspaper.
    Notwithstanding anathemas variously expressed, the Underground railway of London pursues the dark and noisy tenor of its way with an increased knowledge of its own importance, and a consciousness that it cannot be done without.
    Sometimes it is referred to as "that Underground" with terrible emphasis, but to the constant traveller it is technically known as the Inner Circle. Not all of these, however, know that the circle is formed by the union of two railways, the same lines or "metals " being used by both companies. Practically the southern half of the circle is pal t of the Metropolitan District Railway Company's system, the northern semicircle being owned by the Metropolitan Railway. To be exact : Aldgate to Kensington High Street (via King's Cross) } owned by the Metropolitan Railway; Kensington High Street to South Kensington } owned by the Metropolitan Railway and Metropolitan District Railway; South Kensington to Mansion House } owned by the Metropolitan District Railway; Mansion House to Aldgate }  owned by the Metropolitan Railway and Metropolitan District Railway. 
    The joint-ownership sections are known as the West and East Joint Connections, the lines for these portions having been duplicated.
    To have built this circle other than underground would have involved such an enormous initial outlay in the purchase (only for demolition) of expensive buildings on a succession of sites amongst the most valuable in the world, that not for a single moment could the idea be entertained. As it is, if all the spaces now represented by ventilating shafts were utilised for buildings, no small income would be assured. Not that such an alteration is desirable; on the contrary, were the companies able to add more ventilation, either by additions to the number of existent shafts, or by mechanical fans to create continuous currents of air in the tunnels where the traffic is most congested, the comfort of passengers would be increased.
    The directors are always endeavouring to improve the ventilation, and a cordial relationship subsisted between the Metropolitan Railway and a committee of the Board of Trade appointed early this year to report on this particular subject.
    The day after the Metropolitan Railway Company opened their first section, in 1863, no less than thirty thousand people travelled on the line. The accommodation has materially improved since then, for a picture published in 1862 in, I think, the Illustrated London News disclosed an interesting sight. A goodly contingent of passengers were seated in the old-fashioned open carriages, similar in design to the modern goods truck. These formed part of the trial train, and the view was taken near Portland Road station.
    The first section of the District Railway (South Kensington to Westminster) was opened in 1868. By adding here a little and there a little, way was made in 1884 for the first two trains to journey round the completed circle. A District train travelled on the inner rail while a Metropolitan train ran on the outer rail.
    The fact that there are now twenty-seven stations, distributed over a short distance of thirteen miles, testifies to the great utility, if not absolute need, of the system. Each station is daily the scene of surging crowds of people who are "something in the City," and people who are not, but would like to be - people with parcels, children, burdens and grievances. All have one purpose in common—a desire to leave that particular station at the very earliest opportunity, either by train or by staircase exit.
    No other railway in the world has so many stations proportionate to its short length as the Circle, and for promptitude and regularity in running, the service would be hard to excel. The secret is found principally in the smartness of the guards and platform executive. You must decide before the train comes in whether you travel by it. The man who hesitates is not lost, he merely waits for the next train. Snow, fog and inclement weather offer no hindrance to the Underground, for it simply revels in a fog. If necessary, it could supply one or two of its own on the shortest notice, with no diminution in strength if you take a quantity.
    Much has been done to lessen the evils consequent on the use of steam motive power, such as numerous outlets for the escape of fumes and the employment of engines designed to consume most of their own smoke. Of late years there has been very great improvement ; yet the friendliest of critics would reluctantly admit that a genuine appreciation of the flavour from the Inner Circle tunnel is an acquired taste in more senses than one. In spite of conditions which are decidedly an inconvenience to some, though others by habit disregard them, there is an enormous daily traffic on the Inner Circle, and to meet the demand the companies offer a magnificent leading line in penny fares. In fact, the work of the directors is beyond praise. They have reduced all their fares to such a low tariff that, were it not for unreasonable and extortionate shareholders, the day surely would not be far distant when the public would be asked to travel for nothing.
    Prior to the advent of the penny-in-the-slot machine there could be seen at every Underground railway station weighing-machines of the old original shape—veritable balances, in which one could be weighed and sometimes found wanting. It was a queer race of boys who manipulated the weights—the sort of pigmy you would naturally expect to find underground, and in looks not unlike a deformed undersized brother to Smith's bookstall boy. The species is now extinct, and the delicately-poised, red velvet cushions no longer tempt old gentlemen to weigh themselves in order to secure a comfortable seat while waiting for the train.
    It will be noticed that many of the carriages have large figures, 1, 2 or 3, on the doors to specify the class. For the sake of the younger generation, who may not have heard the legend, I crave permission from the seniors for mentioning the incident of the Irishman who repudiated the charge of travelling in a class superior to that for which he had taken a ticket. Said he, " I paid twopence for my ticket, and naturally got into a carriage with a 2 on it!"
     Visitors to London usually make early acquaintance with the Circle, for it is so planned that it unites nearly all the London termini of the great railways, and is a connecting link with every suburb of London. The old lady from the country, who begged the guard not to forget to put her out at London, did not realise that there are four hundred railway stations in our capital, and that it is about an hour's journey to cross London by train.
    Every railway has a distinguishing characteristic, be it a particular tint for its posters or a special colour for its engines. The Inner Circle, however, makes a special feature of advertisements, and a favourite amusement with passengers is to find the name of the station amidst the multifarious appeals to one's pocket and credulity which cover the walls. The advertising contractor before long will have entirely obscured the stations' names ; but provided they are known beforehand they can sometimes still be detected with a sharp eye. Who knows? Some day we may see the porters' uniforms embroidered with artistic suggestions of favourite brands, with medicinal remedies labelled over the parts affected. By paying a slight premium, advertisers' wares could be announced by the porters simultaneously with the destination of the train.
    At some of the Underground stations there are movable signals on the platforms giving a complete list of the stations at which the incoming train will call. An excellent contrivance, and one which other companies might follow with advantage. It saves numberless questions, and has appreciably improved the tempers of the porters. Another most useful device adopted by the District Railway is the marking of every ticket with either I or O and the erection of large signboards ALL TICKETS MARKED I (or O) THIS WAY. Notwithstanding these notices some people prefer to make assurance doubly sure by asking the long-suffering men at the barriers.
    As is well-known the platforms are reached by steep flights of stairs, at the bottom of which is the inevitable gate. By horrible ingenuity every gate is so hung that when shut it is out of sight of the would-be passenger hurrying down the steps. Londoners are used to having gates shut in their faces ; but to be at the wrong end of long descending vista, and see the gate closedby an invisible porter, is an exasperation. Some victims assume a stoical indifference, until a fellow-sufferer expresses himself in manner more emphatic than polite, when they may look towards him feelingly, with a "Thank you, sir ; I am obliged to you." Some discuss with the porter the ethics of the situation. Others again vent their wrath by impotently shaking the bars of the gate, and are all the calmer for the exercise, such ebullition of feeling causing a wicked joy in the breasts of the onlookers!
    It cannot be said that architecturally the stations are attractive. Occasionally you see a neat little pile like Portland Road station, but the majority are to be found discreetly retiring behind houses and shops, with an apologetic expression for their existence. No doubt there are people who eagerly devour the long lists of names forming the external adornment of stations, but so far as the writer's personal observation goes, most folks show a remarkable haste in departing as well as in arriving.

National Maritime Museum and Library

A visit yesterday to the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich - a place I can shamefacedly confess I have never visited before - and a tour of the newly refurbished Caird Library.

The museum itself hosts all sorts of great stuff, from these relics of the doomed Franklin Exhibition ...

to a boat-pilotting simulator, where you can dock your vessel in Sydney or New York harbour, or choose to rescue drowning members of the public near Dover. [Hint - take your kids to that one!]

The Caird library has undergone a massive refurbishment, creating a state-of-the-art archive and study space for visitors. I particularly liked this arrangment, below

which is a device for seeing ships' plans - you move around the image on the small screen, and can blow up sections onto a much larger screen above (actually much bigger than my picture suggests). Apparently about 4000 of 1,000,000 of the archive's plans have been digitised; but there's more coming.

The library put a few of its treasures on display. The thing that caught my eye was this beautifully illustrated mid-Victorian diary, relating to a 3 month voyage to Australia in 1854. The pictures of the writers' cabin and the dining quarters were particularly lovely:

The tour ended with a behind-the-scenes look at the rolling stacks and a glance at the thousands of masters' certificates held by the library - currently awaiting digitisation by - which are a family history treasure trove for those of you with maritime ancestors.

My thanks to everyone at the Caird Libray for a fascinating tour.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Going Underground in 1898

The web abounds with the fascinating tales and photographs of modern 'urban explorers' who have plumbed the depths of the Fleet sewer and similar subterranean passage-ways, whether with the approval of the relevant authorities, or without. I have, however, found their earliest ancestor - a photo-journalistic account of the Holborn subways and nearby sewer, from The Strand of 1898. It's not a fascinating piece of writing, to be honest, but the photographs are occasionally interesting - at least, I like the one showing street names underground. Anyway, if London tunnels are your thing, cast an eye over this ...
Underground London
[From Photos. by George Newnes, Limited]
It is a time-honoured saying that, if you want to know anything about this great Metropolis of ours, you must not go to a Londoner in search of information. This is, no doubt, a trite remark, but the more one goes about, and the longer one lives, the more apparent becomes its truth. The foreigner—intelligent or otherwise—who comes to London is very properly inquisitive; he questions, he inquires, he seeks for all that is curious or interesting, with the natural consequence that, after a very few weeks' residence, he can often give points to the man who has lived in the "heart of the Empire" all his life. The average Londoner, on the contrary, is apt to take things very much for granted. He knows that, on the whole, matters affecting his safety and his health are well managed, and, such being the case, he does not bother his head much about the why and the wherefore. The vast organization, the capable administration, the host of details which have to be carefully thought out and rigorously applied—all these things are with the majority of people entirely overlooked. The end is good ; why bother about the means? Thus is it that the average Londoner, and not least the travelled Londoner, while he waxes enthusiastic over the wonders he has seen abroad—tells us about the admirable municipal arrangements which prevail in New York, and describes with animation the wonderful catacombs of Paris and Rome—remains in total ignorance' of the fact that here, in our great City, he might feast his eyes upon wonders no less remarkable did he but know of their existence. But it is useless to dilate in this vein ; the Londoner will not be persuaded to go and see the wonders which lie at his very door. Only through the medium of the ever-inquisitive journalist, always prying about in the dark places of the earth, does he sometimes learn about and admire these native wonders, of the very existence of which he had not hitherto dreamed.
    I am bound to admit that, so far as the nether world of the City was concerned, until a short time back I was not much better informed than the generality of my fellows. It is true I knew that there were such places as subways and sewers ; but that was about all. I had hardly the faintest conception of what they were like, and probably should have continued to remain in ignorance had it not been for a visit I paid them a few months back. Quite by accident I came across the "Report of the Improvement Committee of proceedings in connection with the Holborn Valley Improvement," which was issued five-and-twenty years ago, and desultorily turning over its pages, I was struck by the various references and diagrams in connection with the subways. The thing took my fancy : I discovered how ignorant I was of the underground arrangements which so I greatly add to the comfort and safety of those sojourning within the "one square mile"; and I determined, with as little delay as possible, to make of good the defect in it my education.
    So I applied to the City Commissioners of Sewers for the necessary authority, and right willingly was it accorded. The Chairman, Mr. H. G. Smallman, entered enthusiastically into the matter, remarking that if the thing was going to be done at all, it should be done thoroughly. Remember, this was the very first time that it had been proposed to write an illustrated article on the subject. The Chairman was rather dubious as to whether we should be able to get any satisfactory photographs of the sewers; but at all events, he expressed his willingness to do all he could to help us. So that we started on our task under the best of auspices.
    Behold us, then, one September afternoon assembled outside the large iron gate beneath Holborn Viaduct— that gate which most people have noticed, but the purpose for which it is used known to very few. Besides the Chairman, there were Captain Robert Gresley Hall, D.L., the Chairman of the Streets Committee ; Mr. D. G. Ross, the City Engineer ; and Mr. H. Montague Bates, the Chief Clerk to the Commissioners, who, according to Mr. Smallman, is virtually the " permanent chairman." The photographer, with his assistant and the writer, brought our little party up to eight all told. When the gate opened at our summons, Mr. W. J. Liberty, the City Inspector of Subways and—under the Engineer — head of all practical matters appertaining to them, was waiting to show us over his territory. The iron gate, through which the sunlight was streaming, closed with a clang, and walking up two or three stairs, we set out along one of the thorough-fares of the underground city.
    In the first instance, I experienced a feeling of disappointment. The reality was so different from what I had expected. My idea had been that a subway would prove as Mr Mantalini might have said, a "demnition deuced damp" sort of a place, smelling of the earth, dark and filled with an atmosphere resembling that of a charnel-house. And what did I see? A long, clean, and well garnished looking passage, dimly illumined by gas-jets (which, by the way, were specially provided for our visit), and having an atmosphere almost as healthy as that we had just left. But the feeling of disappointment soon gave way to one of admiration when we walked along the subway, and the uses of the various pipes which ran along one side were pointed out to me. They include the mains of the Gas, New River, Hydraulic Power, and Electric Light Companies, also the pneumatic tubes and hundreds of wires belonging to the G.P.O.; and the arrangements whereby the service mains are connected to the various houses show that simplicity which constitutes the high-water mark of mechanical ingenuity. The usual time for making the connection is half an hour, and in case of non-payment of rates, a house can be cut off from its gas, water, electric light, or power supply in a few minutes, and this, moreover, without the unfortunate tenant or the general public knowing anything about it.
    I was rather amused to notice that the names of the various streets under which we were passing were posted upon the walls, as were also the numbers of the houses served by the mains. Thus, in case of emergency or fire, all that has to be done is to cut off the service at the particular branch where the mischief has occurred. As we went along, the Superintendent explained to me the exceedingly ingenious manner in which the difficulties incidental to the construction of the subways had been surmounted, and also pointed out how they were ventilated and generally kept sweet and clean. But as this is not a technical article, I need not weary the reader with such details, interesting as they are to those with a knowledge of underground engineering. Perhaps the most interesting subway of them all is the length on the southern side of Holborn, between Farringdon Street and Shoe Lane, which is lighted by gratings, filled with glass lenses, placed at intervals of 40ft. These render it sufficiently light by day for the purposes of inspection and work. The only daylight which gets into the others comes through the ventilating gratings in the footway, and this has to be supplemented by artificial light. It might be thought, in view of the possibility of leakage from the gas mains, that working in the subways might not be unattended by danger. The idea certainly struck me, and I speedily inquired of the Superintendent whether it was safe to smoke. His answer speedily reassured me. Every morning, before any work is done, a most complete inspection is made; armed with "Davys," the Superintendent and some of his men make a complete tour of the subways, testing doubtful-looking places, and if anything wrong be discovered, speedily setting it to rights. And be sure an extra inspection is made before the arrival of any distinguished visitors.
    Presently, I was astonished to learn that we actually stood over the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway! There we were, after painfully making our way through a subway which necessitated our walking bent double, in order to avoid striking our heads against the girders, directly above Snow Hill Station. Yes, there is no doubt about it. As we wait we can distinctly hear a train come in and the porters calling out its destination. It seems exceedingly close, but closer still, above us, we can hear the footsteps of the people on the pavement in Snow Hill. It is rather uncanny this, and especially so when one learns that only 6in. separates us from the street above and only a bare ¼in. of iron girder (for we are literally in a girder) prevents us from falling some 40ft. on to the metals ! It is a novel experience (especially when the train is moving below, and the spot in which we stand is positively vibrating!), and we are glad to have had it, but everyone is obviously concerned in trying not to allow his sigh of relief to become too apparent when we resume our journey. If anyone looks pale, it must, of course, be attributed to the cramped position in which we have been standing!
    Shortly afterwards we arrived at a spot which, we were informed, was immediately under the Prince Consort's statue at Holborn Circus.
    Coming back to the Superintendent's office, I was shown a great number of coins nailed to the counter. These, I was told, came through the gratings placed at intervals for ventilating purposes. It appears that gentlemen who make a business of passing spurious coin sometimes find it necessary to get rid of their stock-in-trade with the utmost despatch; they drop the coins through the gratings under the impression that they will fall into the sewers and be effectually lost. Alas! for the guilty one's hopes, the coins are found shining on the clean stone floor of the subway, and go to swell the stock in the superintendent's office. I asked him whether other articles were ever found. He replied: "Yes, we get plenty of empty purses. This is what the light-fingered gentry do. They take them from the pockets, or so-called 'pockets,' of ladies, and after carefully emptying them, drop them down the shafts. We find most of these in the dark days of winter, and chiefly in the neighbourhood of crowded Smithfield. I seldom find a gentleman's purse ; they mostly belong to City work-girls. The professional thieves know that when these girls draw their scanty wages on Saturday, they usually go to the great markets at Smithfield to make their little purchases, and ply their nefarious trade accordingly."
    Another interesting object in the Superintendent's little room is the "Visitors' Book." In it the names of foreign visitors predominate ; during the last year or so, scientific men, engineers, and sanitarians from Brazil, Malta, San Francisco, Finland, Santiago, Cologne, Copenhagen, Sydney, and, in fact, almost every great city, have visited the subways. And in nearly every instance the visitor has written a few words expressing his surprise and admiration at what he has seen. I could have stayed a long time chatting to the Superintendent, but the shadows were already beginning to draw in, and it was time for us to start upon the second half of our journey.
    First he took me to the subway sewers which lie under Holborn Viaduct. These sewers are quite unique in their way. As nearly as possible they follow the natural slope of the ground as it descended originally from the hills to the level of Farringdon Street, and consequently between the underside of the subways and the sewer is a large space, and the effect, when looking up from the latter, is very striking. Standing in the sewer (by the way, one is able to traverse these sewers dry-shod, a platform running along one side) one seems to be in a lofty vault. It is, of course, pitch dark, for even the glimmer of light coming through the gratings in the roadway which relieve the murkiness of the ordinary sewers is absent here. The space under the road in Farringdon Street is utilized for business purposes, large cellars having been constructed, with which communication can easily be made from the houses in the vicinity. These sewers are ventilated by square openings and shafts, and receive all the drainage from the houses on the Viaduct. Very great care and ingenuity have been exercised in the construction of these sewers, and also in the disposal of the gas, water, and telegraph pipes in the subways ; in fact, everything is so easy of access that it is thought that only under the most exceptional circumstances will it ever be necessary to open up the roadway, and thus cause a hindrance to traffic and stoppage of business.
    Before going down into the ordinary sewers it was necessary for us to equip ourselves. First off came our boots, and over our socks and trousers went thick woollen stockings, and over these huge waterproof boots reaching to the thighs.  The upper part of the body was covered with a rough blue smock, very similar to those worn by the coastguardsmen. In fact, there was something altogether nautical about the whole rig-out, the resemblance being heightened by the oilskin "sou'-westers" we wore on our heads. We were also provided with rough gloves, as we had to seize hold of things not very pleasant to the touch. Curious looking objects we were when fully dressed, although in one or two cases, which need not be particularized, the effect was decidedly becoming.
    When all were ready, out we sallied into Farringdon Street. About 100yds. from the Viaduct is one of the familiar iron plates let into the pavement, and this was our objective. Quite a crowd assembled to witness our descent; so large, indeed, was it that the kindly offices of two constables had to be requisitioned to enable us to get through. Many and diverse were the surmises with regard to our object. In spite of the fact that we were all smoking cigars, it never seemed to occur to any of the spectators that we were not the ordinary sewermen. Most of the bystanders thought something was wrong ; this opinion rapidly gained ground, and in a few seconds it was freely whispered around that we were a " rescue party" going to succour some poor fellow who had been overpowered by the noxious fumes down below!
    I am afraid, judging by the gingerly manner in which we went down the shaft, that we should not have been much good had any great difficulties been encountered. It was a primitive sort of ladder we had to go down, merely consisting of iron rings driven into the wall at intervals, and in our cumbrous and unaccustomed attire it was not a very comfortable job. However, we got down without any casualties, and, arrived at the bottom, found one of the sewermen waiting for us. He provided us each with a wooden sconce holding a candle, and thus provided we went along a short, sloping passage, at the end of which stood another guide, who assisted us to step down into the sewer itself.
    Down each one of us stepped into about a foot of swiftly flowing water ; the Superintendent of the Sewers, accompanied by some of his men, placed himself at our head, and in single file we commenced our novel march.
    I looked around me curiously. Down here the contrast presented with the clean and cheerful-looking subways was very great. Not, however, that there was anything particularly offensive about the sewers. The air, though close and hot, was not offensive, and there was little or no odour in the large main. But from my position in rear of our party, I could not help but be struck by the weird picturesqueness of the scene. The pitchy darkness of the arched passage in which we stood was dimly lighted up for a few yards around by our candles as we passed along, and the lights and shadows danced and flickered up the walls and along the surface of the water like veritable Will-o'-the-Wisps. Far ahead another beam of light—light of a whiter and more translucent character than that shed by our candles—shone steadily across the channel. It neither flickered nor wavered, but in the distance, sharply outlined against the grim background, looked like a piece of wide tape drawn tightly from wall to wall and just resting upon the surface of the water. As we approached it seemed to broaden out and its edges grew less sharply defined; the blacks and whites began to run into one another until, when we got close up to it, it expanded and diffused itself all around us, and we saw that the little beam we had seen from a distance really came from Nature's own magic-lantern—was, in fact, neither more nor less than the afternoon sunlight finding its way through the narrow interstices of a grating! Why had we no great "impressionist" in our party, someone blessed with the seeing eye and the cunning hand to have seized upon that picture, to have retained it, and finally to have reproduced it as a marvellous study in blacks and whites ? Certainly, no sun-lit ocean, no fog-enveloped city, no mist-laden stream could have furnished more fitting subject for a great painter than this beam of light in a City sewer.
    On we went, our progress necessarily slow, for the bottom was slippery, and the stream ran swiftly past our legs. My guide explained that when there was a heavy downpour of rain outside, the word was given, and the men all went up to the surface, for the rush of surface-water filled the main almost up to the roof, and the augmented stream came sweeping along with the rush and roar of a mountain torrent. "No." he said, "we don't have accidents; we can't afford to. If a man once got caught in such a torrent, there'd be no saving him, unless the water happened to be lower at a junction, and he managed to regain his foothold, otherwise he'd be carried along with the stream until it discharged itself in the river at Barking. That's where he'd be found ; at least, what was left of him."
    The water, as I have said, was only from 1ft. to 18in. deep, but after this little conversation I found myself taking particular care as to how and where I put my feet down. Presently the photographer ordered us to halt and arrange ourselves. He wanted to take a group. Then a difficulty arose : his camera would rest upon its stand, but where was he to find a support for his flash-light apparatus ? Happy thought - a human stand! One of the sewermen was requested to bend down ; upon his sturdy shoulders the apparatus was placed ; then we all waited patiently until the magnesium wire flashed out and made us all blink. Whether the picture was a success or not may be left to the reader to say. Possibly the subjects are not looking very well pleased, but when you are standing in a stream of running waters and can feel yourself perspiring profusely under a lot of unaccustomed garments ; while, moreover, the temperature is some twenty or thirty degrees higher than would be comfortable, and your eyes are getting a little strained by the curious half-light, it is by no means the easiest of tasks to obey the photographer's stereotyped command to "look pleasant." Our photographer, however, was a man of sense ; he did not waste unnecessary time in giving us minute instructions how to deport ourselves, but having once got us focused, "took us" without further ado.
    After being photographed, some of the party seemed disinclined to go much farther. So, leaving them in the broad main, the Superintendent, at my request, took me to some of the side-streets and by-ways of the underground city. As we went, I seized the opportunity of questioning him upon t occupation. He seemed to think it was healthy enough.
    "Oh, yes, men get knocked up sometimes, but is more often through catching colds than anything else. You see, it's hot down here and if men loiter about up above, especially in the cold weather, they're likely to get chills. No, we don't often have men on the sick list with fevers or anything of that sort. Why should we? Its healthy enough down here; you yourself can testify that the smell is no worse than that you often encounter in the open street. Now and then, of course, when at a bend or narrow passage, there's an accumulation of sewage, and the stream gets partially dammed, the men have a rather unpleasant job to perform ; but as a rule the work is not so objectionable as you would imagine. Yes, sometimes a man will stay down here for six or seven hours at a stretch, and they seem none the worse. Smoke ? Yes, as you see" (pointing to his pipe), "I smoke, and so do most of my men; possibly, if we didn't, the smells which we sometimes meet with might affect us more."
    We entered one of the branches, and conversation, except of the most limited description, became impossible. The roof was so low that we had to bend almost double to avoid damaging ourselves ; added to this, it was constructed on a sharpish incline, and the bottom being slippery, it was necessary to proceed with caution. As my guide explained, had it been a wet day this branch would have been quite unnegotiable; as it was, the water in it was only a few inches deep. This came from the surface, as I very soon saw, for at the top end was one of the gulleys covered with an iron grating, to be seen in the roadway.
    Back we went as we had come ; past the place where the main stream forks out into two branches, in which the current, of course, flows more slowly. Along one of these we went, then up another branch even smaller than the first and more difficult, for here the water was almost knee-deep, and was swirling and eddying like the river around the buttresses of one of the great bridges. Previously I had mentioned to my guide that if possible I should like to get a glimpse of some of the rats with which the sewers abound. He had explained that, though they come out more freely at night, he might to show me a few in one of the less-frequented portions of the sewers. And this was the place he had chosen.
    Painfully we made our way for some forty or fifty yards, and then, posting ourselves in a niche in the wall, we waited, but ne'er a rat did we see. Rather disappointed, we were just turning to go back, when I fancied I saw a dark shape flit past our feet. It may have been a rat or merely a shadow ; at all events, I started and nearly lost my balance. With a clutch at my companion, I regained it ; then, as I stood upright, found we were in total darkness. As I slipped, my sconce fell from my hand, and was now being gaily borne eastward at the rate of two or three miles an hour, and, in grabbing at the Superintendent, I had inadvertently extinguished his candle; and we had not a match between us! The only thing to do was to grope our way back in the dark. Luckily, my companion could have found his way about blindfold, and consequently laughed heartily at our predicament. He led the way, and I followed, touching him lightly every few yards to make sure I was in his tracks, as the darkness was so intense that I could scarcely distinguish him. Now, I have a curious fact to relate. The Superintendent declares it was my imagination, but at the time I could have sworn that though never a rat made his appearance when, with candles lit, we stood on the look-out, they simply came out in shoals and rioted about our feet when we were journeying slowly and painfully in the dark. Well, it may have been imagination, and perhaps the journey in the dark had played upon my nerves more than I cared to own.
    When we rejoined the rest of the party, they were all waiting and wondering what had become of us. They laughed heartily when we told our story, and frankly expressed their incredulity when I spoke about the rats. But they expressed no inclination to go and find out for themselves.
    And so back we all went to the shaft, and one by one climbed our way to the surface. And how glad were we to get there! It was an exceedingly interesting experience, and one, that it falls to the lot of few to have, and that I think all of us fully recognised. But after a couple of hours in the nether world, it was doubly delightful to feel the fresh breeze blowing on our cheeks, to hear the busy hum and clatter of the traffic, and to see once again the glorious blue sky over our heads.

Monday, 16 January 2012

London Society Underground

First impressions of the London Underground, from 1863. The descriptions of railway food are priceless and still hold true today ...


     THERE is a class of prosy gentlemen whom the inexorable fates decree that we should meet sometimes at the corner of a street on a windy day, who come between us and the object of our affections at a botanical fete, and hold us metaphorically by the button on every inconvenient occasion, to tell us something which we have heard a hundred times before, or retail one of those remarkable adventures in which the chief characteristic is the constant recurrence of the first personal pronoun.
     It was my lot a short time ago to sit next an old party of this description at dinner. He wore that species of cravat the invention of which is due to the ingenuity (or, as some say, to the cervical disorders) of George IV., and which usually extends from the middle of the human chest to the tip of the chin; the only advantage apparently to be derived from its wear being that it sustains the head at an angle impossible to realize for five minutes together except by this means. Turning round to my side, as far as this eminently respectable impediment would permit, and when the fish (an excellent turbot) was removed, he addressed me very solemnly in the following strain:-
     'Ahem! We live in an age of progress. 'When we look around us and see the advancement - nay, the rapid strides which art and science have made - when we notice the gradual but steady development of those resources of nature which form at once the basis and incentive of human industry, we cannot fail to be struck with the superiority of English intellect in the nineteenth century over that which has appeared in any former age. It is to the present era we owe the application of that wondrous agent, steam. The manufacture and use of gas are also of recent date. It is only of late years that we have learnt to guide the electric fluid harmlessly from our public buildings and made it subservient to our will in transmitting messages from one end of Europe to another. Photography lends its valuable assistance to pictorial art. The talents of an Armstrong are brought to bear upon the science of modern warfare. Thanks to the genial influence of chloroform, our surgeons can now with ease pursue their interesting calling, and amputations - allow me to give you a leg of this chicken? - no? - welI, as I was saying, amputations are now fearlessly and skilfully performed. Then, again, look at the Metropolitan Railway. With what ease and rapidity can the denizens of this vast and thickly-populated city traverse its enormous area! Is it not a wonderful and awe-inspiring fact that man in the nineteenth century can be thus transported from - yes, from the Edgeware Road to Farringdon Street in twelve minutes for sixpence?'
     'Certainly,' said I; 'and I have heard that the first-class carriages are very comfortable, and the smell arising from the steam has been much exaggerated.'
     'You have heard!' exclaimed my neighbour, with some astonishment. 'Am I, then, to understalnd that my young friend has allowed so many weeks to elapse without examining this last achievement of engineering skill?'
     'Why, the fact is-' I began.
     'The apathy,' interrupted my friend in the obdurate cravat·- 'the apathy of the rising generation regarding scientific subjects is very remarkable. When I was a young man,' &c. &c. And here followed a long and somewhat severe comparison between the youth of 1863 und that of fifty years ago, in which I need scarcely say we of the present day came the worst off; and while the odious vice of smoking and the growing taste for bitter ale in our universities were severely censured, not a word was said about the now obsolete custom of taking snuff, nor of the peculiar habits of those 'three bottle men' who flourished so extensively in the Georgian era. Indeed I have often noticed that gentlemen who took quite kindly to the follies of their own day, are apt to be severest on the tastes of their descendants, and should any new narcotic be devised or alcoholic stimulant be introduced in the twentieth century, I make no doubt that such of us who survive to see that epoch will be equally forgetful of our own failings, and preach with great zeal against the vanities of 1900.
     However, on the subject of the Metropolitan Railway, I confess, my stiff-necked censor, to use a familiar expression, had touched me on the raw. I did feel somewhat ashamed that, whether owing to modern apathy or accident, I had not yet travelled by it, and determined to make my journey the next day.
     They are queer little buildings, those offices on the Metropolitan line; I mean, of course, that portion of them which crops up into the thoroughfare above. For the most part they resemble isolated police-stations, or half an establishment for baths and wash-houses come astray. There is something, too, of the telegraph-office air about them, and the casual passer-by would be divided in his opinion as to whether the little crowd of humanity which pours in and out of their portals had gone thither to obtain a summons, send a message to Timbuctoo, or wash itself. On entering the door, however, these doubts are dispelled. There are the traditional pigeonholes, labelled respectively '1st Class,' and '2nd and 3rd Class,' between which, on the occasion of my visit, a youthful railway official was dividing as much of his attention as could be spared from a round of bread and butter in his hand. A railway clerk must lead a strange, eventful, and yet monotonous sort of life. How many hundred different faces must peep in daily at those little windows! all momentarily and successively framed by the aperture into a vast collection of endless family portraits - I mean that great national family of which I suppose we are all brothers and sisters. I wonder, does our ticket-vendor smile more benignantly at the first-class casement than the third? Is he a physiognomist? He would have more experience than Lavater if he had the time to study all his models. Rich and poor, old and young, wise and ignorant, fair and ugly, bad-tempered and good, each address him in turn with various accents; but he has one answer for them all, and that is written on a bit of coloured cardboard. There is no time for colloquy, for interchange of sentiment, for forming friendships; sharp is essentially the word. 'What d'ye say? one second return to Gower Street? Sixpence.' Click, click, goes that awful machine; the change is banged on the counter; Viator seizes his ticket, and passes on to make room for the next man. Unhappy youth! perhaps that old plutocrat in blue coat and brass buttons may have no heir. Had you but the chance, you might cajole him into leaving you his investments in the Three per Cents, or that comfortable little property in South Devon. That smiling angel in the tulle bonnet, who nearly gave you a sovereign by mistake as she ungloved her pretty hand - who knows but her agitation at the moment was caused by seeing you, for the first, and probably for the last time? Ay! there's the rub.
     'Show his eyes, and grieve his heart.
      Come like shadows; so depart.'
cries the railway company, like the witches in Macbeth, and thus a score or so of fair visions appear and vanish daily before the distracted eyes of the employé. It must be a singular fate, I say, to stand empannelled in that ugly room, looking out upon mankind from a pigeonhole. Altogether, I think I should prefer being the hermit at Cremorne. When he has issued a certain number of acrostics, and collected a proportionate quantity of sixpences, he may shut up the Book of Fate, lay aside his beard and magic robes, and mingle freely in the mazy dance; but here, voe misero! one train succeeds another - every minute fresh passengers arrive - more tickets are wanted - the same demands are made all day - ' first class,' 'second class,' 'third class' - , 'sixpence,' 'fourpence ' 'twopence' - single fare, return fare - ordinary and express trains - click, click, click everlastingly. The gentleman who worked the Delphic oracle in the height of the season must have had an easy lot compared with this.
     I descend the broad stone staircase which leads some thirty feet below, and as I do so, leaving the genial morning air outside, become aware of a certain chill, which creeps upon me like the change one experiences in entering a cathedral on a summer's day. There is an unmistakeable smell, too, of railway steam, which increases as I proceed; and having at length reached the platform of the subterranean station, I am free to confess it is not a very cheerful place. I do not say that stations are so anywhere, as a rule. Adorn them as you will, they are but dreary tarrying-places at the best. A roof of corrugated iron and glass, columns and tie-rods of the same material, walls decorated with that species of light literature which sets forth the merits of cutlery, sixteen-shilling trousers, and restorative elixir, is not calculated to cheer the heart of man above ground, and, ici bas,  a few strata down below the level of every-day life you must make up your mind for the worst. The family vault on a large scale, with a series of hip-baths introduced diagonally into it for light and ventilation from above ground, is perhaps the nearest description I can give as to the general aspect of the place. The hip-baths are lined with glazed tiles, and, to keep up the resemblance to their prototype, we find the leakage drained off at the lower end into a vessel something like a soapdish. A dense fog filled the place when I was there, and as the people waiting for the trains were seen wandering up and down the platform, one might have imagined them ghosts of the great unwashed, condemned to linger here in sight of those very lavatories which they neglected in their mortal life.
     The fog clears off, and I find myself standing by a live Metropolitan Rail way policeman, one of that order of gentlemen who appear either to be very affable and obliging, or precisely the reverse. In the present instance I must say I had every reason to be satisfied. He responded to my questions with great readiness and civility, standing, at the commencement of every answer, alternately on the right and left leg, and bending the other (like a pair of Sydenham trousers), in the professional attitude adopted by 'the Force.' How long had the Metropol'tan been hopened? Why, the Metropol'tan had been hopened about a month. (Right leg.) Did he consider the trains filled well? Yes, he did, and very well - 'specially mornings and evenings, with City men, and sich like. Yis - power o' traffic fust week - people corned to see what 'twas like, same as they would to see what any think was like, and always would do - 'twas human natur. (Left leg.) Had there been an accident? Yis, there ad been a accident; but, law bliss you, nothink to speak of. 'Twas exaggerated awful. There was more crams told about that there accident than anyone would suppose, now; and he wondered the papers was not ashamed of it. How did it happen? Well, it happened all along of a young hand as didn't know his work - in fack, he'd never been on a line before - leastways, not what you might call reg'lar dooty anywheres - let alone a tunnel: consequinlty, what could you expeck but a accident? (Right leg.) Couldn't say how he come to be put on - s'poscd 'twas somebody's fault; but, you see, in them matters you couldn't blame it on to anyone in partic'lar - of course not. And that's where it was, you see. (Left leg.) Was there much complaint about the smell of the steam? Well, there were - a little. The fack was, some people must have some think to cry out about. If they hadn't, they wasn't happy, some people wasn't. 'Twas the way o' the world. (Right leg.) But, law bless you, about this here smell - there was a deal o' fancy in these things. There was a gent down here last week as fancied he knew all about it (which it was a way some folks had got as must have a say in every think, whereas they only showed their ignorance), and he says, says he, 'What a ammirable idea it was this Metropol'tan, and what a conwenience it was to Londoners to have such a deal o' heavy traffic took off the streets.' 'Which, d'ye think it makes much difference?' says I. 'Think?' says he; 'why, there aint no call to think about it. You wouldn t know Oxford Street again,' he says, 'sich a alteration.' 'Really, now - sure of that?' I says. 'See it with my own eyes,' says he. 'Well,' I says, 'that's sing'lar,' I says; 'I'll make a note of that,' I says. 'And why is it sing'lar?' says he. 'Well, sir,' I says, , it's sing'lar, because we ain't begun to run no luggage trains upon the Metropolitan line at all yet,' I says. And that'll show you how far fancy goes in these here mutters. Stand back, if you please, sir - this is your train."
     On it came - the long flat engine putting at its head with subdued snorts, and glaring out of the dark abyss behind with two great fiery eyes. 'Edgeware-road ! Edge ---- ware-road!' shout the guards, emphasizing the last syllable after the manner of railway tradition. The carriage doors are flung open, and I have no sooner popped in and seated myself than they are shut again, and the train is in motion. One last gleam of daylight enters at the window, and then we plunge into the tunnel. Not into darkness, though - there is a good steady light from the gas-burner above, which enables you to read, should you be so inclined, as easily as you could by your moderator lamp at home; or you may lean back in the well-cushioned, comfortable seat of the most roomy railway carriage in England, and, forgetting that you have twenty feet of earth above you, contemplate your opposite neighbours. Mine was a timid, pretty girl of sixteen, taking her first subterranean ride in London, under her father's care. I saw the little delicate and ungloved hand creep gradually towards his whenever the signal-whistle was louder than usual, or when the train swayed slightly to and fro at its highest speed. Papa was absorbed in the 'Times,' and I don't think paid that attention to his pretty daughter which - well, which somebody else might have bestowed in his place. Ah, fair unknown - sweet stranger, in the seal-skin jacket, mauve-ribboned bonnet, and infinitesimal boots! - who shut the carriage-window when you complained of a draught? and who opened it again the instant you hinted at a headache? Who picked up that delicate little mouchoir of yours from the carpet? Who jumped out before the train stopped (in direct opposition to the advice of the Company), in order to assist you in alighting? You will read HIS initials at the conclusion of this article; and if, perchance, you should regret that, during your transit from Paddington to Newgate, you (very properly) did not reward his attentions with a single glance, remember that the slightest acknowledgment, conveyed (with papa's permission) to C. L. E., through the Editor of 'London Society,' will be still received with the deepest gratitude.
* * * * *
     In railway travelling, your first-class carriage does not, as a rule, afford much material in the study of character to the philosophic mind. That 'reticence' so strictly observed in the upper crust of English humanity is particularly noticeable here. The old coaching days, with 'four insides' and a jovial party on the roof, are universally admitted to have been much more conducive to 'interchange of sentiment and flow of soul' than this age of express trains and time-tables will ever be. lt is just the difference between a cosy family dinner and a state banquet in the City. We have ortolans, and choice Madeira, and peas in February at the one, but lack the genial spirit which attends honest port and mutton at the other. Yes - 'Persicos odi' - I prefer the humbler feast, and the ancient mode of travelling. The vehicles are more splendid now, the speed has increased tenfold - but the journey itself - alack! it is a dismal affair upon the best of lines. A gentleman in a white beard, who ate ipecacuanha lozenges the whole way, was shut up with us, and dubiously entertained the rest of the company by describing to his neighbour, sotto voce, the peculiarities of a fellow-passenger whom he once met on the Flamborough-cum-Crammingham line, and who, it would appear, was in the habit of travelling first class wherever he went with a second-class ticket. The best of it was, that our venerable friend, instead of commenting severely on the moral obliquity of this transaction, seemed to look on the affair as a tremendous joke, and laughed so heartily at the bare recollection of the circumstance, that half a lozenge nearly lodged in his larynx, and set him coughing for the rest of the journey; a fact which attracted the attention of an old lady in a brown front and black mittens, who sat next me, and who was distinctly heard to murmur something about 'a judgment' while he continued in this state of bronchial irritation.
     When we arrived at the Farringdon Street terminus, I felt rather ashamed at seeing everyone hurrying off to his or her destination in the City, while I had really none in that nor, indeed, in any other direction. I had simply travelled over the ground to see what this new Metropolitan line was like; and, being equally undesirous of exploring the ancient pens of Smithfield and of encountering Mr. Tennyson's 'merry March air' on Blackfriars Bridge (where I had, unfortunately, been detained exactly one hour and three quarters in an open carriage on the illumination night, on which occasion it blew pretty strongly up from the river) - having, I say, no definite plan or prospect before me, I consulted my watch, and finding it past one o'clock, I turned my attention to - lunch.
     I cannot say that hunger induced me to concentrate my energies in this direction, having made a very hearty breakfast a few hours before; but the fact is, I felt it incumbent on me to do something. Here had I alighted from a train, the passengers by which had already all disappeared on their several errands, with one solitary exception, viz. myself, and I only wanted to loiter about on the platform for a half-hour or so, and then go back again. I am naturally rather a nervous man; and when, while affecting the deepest interest in the construction of the vault above me, I became aware that I was being studiously watched by B 66 (a most intelligent, but perhaps somewhat officious, policeman), I felt extremely uncomfortable. The line had been opened too long to allow the supposition that I was here out of mere curiosity; and all the various other motives which might induce certain people to linger here crowded upon my memory. I had read in the papers how swindlers ('of gentlemanlike exterior') adopted such means to appropriate stray umbrellas and deserted parcels, and the horrible suspicion rose that I might be mistaken for a member of that body. As my eyes met the steady glance of B 66, I was conscious of becoming very hot and uncomfortable. To retire at this juncture would have been injudicious. There was only one other course open to me, and that was to - lunch.
     It has always been a mystery to me to what class of passengers our railway refreshments are offered. By the first and second class they are instinctively associated with indigestion. The third is accustomed to look upon them as expensive luxuries. I am not now alluding to the Farringdon Street terminus establishment, where I only partook of a sandwich and a glass of ale, and which, when regularly organized, will, I hope, prove an exception to the rule. But it is an incontrovertible fact, that at railway stations generally, and at London termini in particular, the 'commissariat department' is disgracefully managed. For a period of some weeks last year I was compelled (as the phrase goes), by circumstances over which I had no control, to lunch at a well-known terminus in this metropolis. No less than six separate rooms are devoted by the proplietor as bars and salles a manger to the accommodation of the public. The rooms are large and commodious, the servants numerous, and the appointments, to all appearance, good; yet the viands exposed for sale on the counter, the quality of the meat supplied for an early dinner, and the attendance of the waiters are, one and all, execrable. If you are inclined to ' feed ' at the bar, you will find nothing but stale pastry, musty ham, and flyblown buns. If you resort to the dining-room, you will be regaled with coarse-grained beef and flavourless mutton, underdone potatoes, and bad butter. The waiter will not approach you until five or ten minutes after you have called him; and when he does come, ten to one he will be munching the fragments of his own repast. The wretched man is always nibbling in sly corners, tossing off remnants of ale surreptitiously when he thinks no one is looking, and, in fact, having no particular or stated time for his 'meals,' partakes of one long and diffused refreshment throughout the day. As for the ladies behind the bar, they appear to have entered into a solemn compact not to wash their hands more than once a week, and to eschew the use of the nailbrush altogether. One damsel is in the habit of using a toilet-pin in a manner for which it was certainly never intended; another appeared to me one morning in the act of mending an old boot; a third, resenting some remarks which were made on the other side of the counter, once dashed half a glass of porter which she was drinking in the offender's face. Add to these peculiarities a. general sulkiness of demeanour, and yon may form some idea what it is to be waited on by these terrestrial Hebes. To give them their due, however, I will say that they all zealously defend the reputation of the establishment. 'The buns was always considered excellent,' - 'We never had no complaints of the pastry before,' - 'These ham sandwiches musty and dear! Well, you was the fust as said so,' and so on. There is one traditional article of food that they persist in tendering, and the bare recollection of which is enough to induce dyspepsia. It is a huge oblong box of half-baked dough, containing dice-shaped nuggets of cold pale meat and pork-fat. This is cut up into slices, revealing a crust of some half an inch in thickness, and is dignified by the name of veal-pie. I regret that I cannot add the name of the maker; but I strongly advise him to submit it, in case of war, to the authorities at the Horse Guards. A few of these destructive agents left by our commissariat within reach of a hungry regiment, would be admirably adapted for disabling the enemy at an hour's notice.
     Joking apart, the managers of our railway refreshment rooms hare reason to be heartily ashamed of the manner in which they cater for the public. Everything they offer for sale is as bad as it is dear, and dear as it is bad. A man may dine comfortably in the City for less than a miserable lunch costs at these places. Let the Metropolitan Company look to it; and as their carriages are more commodious, and their fares cheaper than on most lines, let them see what improvement they can effect in their restaurants.
* * * *
     Having at length, by an open and straightforward deportment, removed any false impression which may have existed in the mind of B 66 regarding my motives at the Farringdon Street terminus, I determined to return by the next train; and in order that I might lose no opportunity of seeing 'London Society' in every aspect, underground, I took a second-class ticket half the way back, determining to complete my journey by the third. I found my fellow-passengers more garrulous in these carriages than they had been in the first which I entered. Whether a half-cushioned vehicle encourages conversation more than one which is completely padded, or whether our English notions of 'genteel' reticence are confined to the upper circles, I cannot say, but in the second class, everyone was talking. Half the 'fares' had come in breathless, and were congratulating each other all round on having 'jist' caught the train. After all that has been said in favour of punctuality, its being the 'soul of business' and so forth, I doubt whether those over-precise people who are always to be found everywhere half an hour before necessary, can know the pleasure derivable from just 'saving the post,' catching the Ostend boat only a minute before it starts, or entering a theatre exactly when the curtain rises. There is a sort of triumph in the fact that you have wasted no leisure in attaining your object, that there has been no wearying delay in its accomplishment. There you are, just in the nick of time. The clock hand trembles on to six; the 'departure' bell is ringing on the shore; the last few bars of the overture are being played. Pop in your letter - jump on board - rush to your vacant scat. You are breathless, perhaps, and rather warm; but what matters. You are in time, hurray! I know the feeling of satisfaction which in short, I confess I am an unpunctual man myself.
     The guard had no sooner shut our door than the train was off. At full speed there is a peculiar vibration noticeable on the underground rail. The carriages are too wide and heavy to sway much from side to side, but there is a sort of undulating motion which is due either to the unevenness of the ground or to springs on which they are hung. This did not fail to evoke certain comparisons with the Gravesend boat, &c., among my fellow-travellers, who were also very facetious on the subject of accidents, alluding very pleasantly to the little contretemps which happened shortly after the line was opened, and concerning the particulars of which all appeared to have been credibly informed by 'parties as were in the train at the time.' One gentleman observed that a friend of his - a very decent sort of chap-had received a blow upon one of his 'peepers', 'which, in course, constitooted him,' continued our wag, 'a reglar eye-witness as you may say; but as the Comp'ny had done the handsome thing, and giv him five pounds by way of compensation, he (very wisely) didn't make no fuss about it.'
     A lady on the opposite seat, with a highly horticultural bonnet and a muff which looked like an electrified cat, here remarked that a cousin of her brother-in-law had a friend that knew the medical man who volunteered his advice on the occasion; but either this statement was received with discredit or its connection with the subject was too remote to elicit any general interest, so she did not say anything further.
     A third 'party' then assured us that he had himself only missed catching that very train by half a minute; which fact he seemed to look upon rather in the light of a loss than an advantage, and proceeded to explain that he had acquired, by constant practice, a habit of being generally late for every train, in consequence of having travelled many years on the Slocum and Dragwell line, where no train ever came in until about an hour and a half after it was due, except on one occasion, when it ran down and killed two bullocks by way of asserting its independence.
     When I entered the third-class carriage, I found it occupied by a man in a very loose overcoat and very tight trousers - so tight, indeed, as to give the casual observer an impression that they must be unripped at the scam before he could divest himself of that portion of his dress. This idea almost arose to conviction when one looked at his boots, which were the largest, the most creaseless, and more indicative of bunions than any which I ever noticed on the human foot. After these details, I need scarcely add that he was an omnibus driver, and, indeed, one by whose side it had often been my lot to sit when he was professionally employed in Oxford Street.
     Whether it was in grateful recollection of my cigar case, or because there was no one else to talk to, I cannot say, but he touched his hat and wished me good morning. I immediately, and after the approved English fashion, commented on the state of the weather.
     'Well, it is a fine day, sir,' he answered; 'but law bless you, what's the use o' fine days down 'ere? One day's as good as another for the matter of that. I never see such a game in my life.'
     Presuming that this was a metaphorical way of expressing his contempt for the Metropolitan line, I ventured to ask him whether he found it interfered with his business.
     'Interferes! in course it interferes,' said the charioteer, somewhat testily; 'interferes with every think. 'Tisn't only the 'buses it hinjures: look at trade.'
     'What do you mean?' said I.
     'What do I mean?' cried Mr. 'Busman; 'why, I mean that the shopkeepers on our line won't stand it much longer. How the doose are they to get their goods off now, I should like to know. See what a deal of chance custom they got through the 'buses. Spose a cove wants to get to Lunnon Bridge; well, he goes into Oxford Street to look out for a "Lunnon Genera1."  Spose a "Lunnon General" don't come up exackly at the moment, he's not in a hurry, the cove isn't, but he waits a bit and valks on. Well, in course, by valking on he comes to look in at the shops. Say he sees a 'ankercher in a shop winder - I don't say a cove wants aankercher, but say he sees it - well, praps he likes it. Well, the 'bus ain't come up yet, and if he misses it there's plenty behind. Well, praps he says, "I should like that ankercher," he says, and in he goes and buys it. Well, you can't blame him, you see; it's human natur, and wot's more, it's trade. Now, I ask you, sir, as a gen'leman, can a cove act like that in this 'ere blessed tunnel? In course not; consequently trade suffers.'
     Here I made bold to suggest that the evil he complained of was one which would soon remedy itself, and that the population of London quite sufficient to support both modes of transit.
     'That's all vaa-ry well, sir,' retorted the malcontent; 'but trade is trade. Look here; if a cove--'
     How long he would have gone on I don't know, but at this juncture the train luckily stopped, and I heard the welcome shout of 'Pedding-ton, Pedding-ton,' which announced our arrival at the West End terminus.
     'Do we get out here, please?' asked a little old woman with a plethoric umbrella from a corner of the carriage where she had been dozing.
     'Well, my dear, that depends intirely on your own tastes and inclination,' said Mr. 'Busman, with infinite good-humour, as he opened the door; 'I  dessay the Company'l take you back to Farringdon Street if you wishes it werry particlar, and waits there long enough. All I know is, I've took my first and last ride on this 'ere line. Good morning, sir,' and off he went.
     Such was my experience of 'London Society' underground.


     C. L. E. London Society, May 1863