Expressing your love.

Brighton, Wednesday, November 5th 1845. A crisis was breaking. Lady Adela Villiers, the seventeen year old daughter of the Earl and Countess of Jersey had disappeared. At 5pm that afternoon, Lady Adela had retired to her room to dress for dinner. But she then never appeared at the table. The house was searched, but no trace of her found. On further inquiries, it was discovered that at 5.15pm she had been seen traveling through the lodge gate and turned down St James’ Street with a small bag. The staff at the local railway station reported seeing no-one of her description. On Thursday morning there was still no information to her whereabouts. She had vanished.

The disappearance whipped up a furore in Brighton high society, The Satirist published a letter from one inhabitant

‘The comparative dullness (compared to days of yore) that has latterly pervaded this once right regal town has at length been dispelled – the spark of excitement is rekindled – scandal reigns supreme – or, more appropriately, in the words of the poet, Brighton “is itself again”.’

An answer to the mystery was soon forthcoming. Further inquiries at the railway station suggested a man, who had been holding a handkerchief against his face had bought tickets to London for himself and a woman who answered Lady Adela’s description. Then two letters were discovered from Lady Adela left in the house for her mother and her two sisters. On Thursday, at 4pm, Lady Adela’s brother, Captain Frederick Villiers, left London on an express train. His destination was Gretna Green, the village in Scotland famed as a destination for runaway English couples wanting to get married. A race was now on, could the Captain catch his sister?

The Lady Adela affair highlights the incredible impact the railways had on getting around Britain in the early nineteenth century. In 1836 express stage coaches could travel from London to Manchester (almost 200 miles) within eighteen hours, themselves a massive improvement on the three days it took in 1750. But with the developments following the opening of the Stockton and Darlington railway in 1825, the first public passenger railway in the world, these journey times would be slashed. In 1838 the London & Birmingham railway, the first intercity railway to connect London, could get you to Birmingham, 112.5 miles away, in 5 ½ hours.

Locomotive of the London & Birmingham Railway, from Wikimedia Commons.

On Wednesday evening Lady Adela and her companion had reached London, and travelled straight to Euston station. Just before 9pm they were seen on the platform, the gentleman requesting a coupe for himself and the lady on the express train to York. By Thursday morning the pair were breakfasting at the York station of the North Midland railway, where Lady Adela’s ‘elegant’ appearance and manners apparently attracted the attention of fellow diners. They then took their places in the mail train (mail trains were typically the fastest express trains available) to Newcastle. At Newcastle they were met by the gentleman’s private coach, sent up the night before, which was attached to the mail train (private carriages could be placed on wagons and then affixed to trains). Unfortunately at this point the railway officials attempted to move the couple from their private coupe  into a first class compartment with two other passengers. At this, the gentlemen, revealed to be Captain Ibbetson of the 11th Hussars, put up determined opposition, demanding a vacant carriage for Lady Adela and himself. Such was his manner and eloquence he got it, though now the fugitive couple could be readily identified. At 1pm the train reached Carlisle, the couple having covered around 400 miles within 19 hours. Here Captain Ibbetson’s carriage was detached, some post-horses put on, and the couple raced off towards Gretna Green. By 2.30pm they were married.

'The road to Gretna Green', London Illustrated News 1871

‘The road to Gretna Green’, London Illustrated News 1871

For Captain Villiers the race to catch his sister was over before it even began. At 4pm Villiers took an express from Euston to Wolverton (now part of Milton Keynes). There he was forced to take a third class parliamentary train (required by law and stopping at all stations) to York. Once there he tried to arrange a special engine for his own use (a charter train, whereby a whole train could be rented by an individual), but this proved impossible, so he was forced to wait until 9pm when the London mail train arrived to take him to Carlisle. He got there at 2pm on Friday, and by 4pm was in Gretna Green, a full day after his sister had departed the town for Edinburgh with her new husband. All Villiers could do was take the news of the marriage home with him. Lady Adela and Captain Ibbetson were re-married at St Pancras church in London later that year, affirming their somewhat dubious elopement in the eyes of her family who were forced to accept the arrangement and undertake some damage control.

The fact someone could get from the south coast of England to Scotland in under 24 hours emphasised the power of the railways and their technological marvel. It was a quantum leap on the situation just a decade or two earlier. But the speed of the railways was already being challenged.  In 1848 a runaway couple from Cambridge were surprised to find themselves detained on their arrival at Liverpool Street station. The electric telegraph had been their undoing, their details being telegraphed from Cambridge to London the moment their elopement was discovered and beating them there. Runaway couples everywhere would have to take note…

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On strike

‘DAY OF TRAFFIC CHAOS’ printed The Times, before explaining that ‘extreme dislocation’ was the likely outcome of the Underground strike. For Londoners trying to get to work during the current tube strike, ‘extreme dislocation’ is apparently underway, but The Times headline refers to an event from over half a century ago. On Monday January 29th 1962 there was an unofficial strike by London Underground workers and by electric train drivers on the Southern Region of British Railways over wages. The result was travel chaos, as many a Londoner today can perhaps appreciate.

Expecting a tidal wave of cars the Metropolitan Police announced that all parking meters in London would be suspended and penalty notices not issued. Parking spaces were opened up for the expected influx, with the royal parks opened for those needing to park. Horse Guards parade soon disappeared under a sea of cars. There were numerous occasions where drivers offered lifts, British Pathe gleefully recorded overloaded cars filled with hitchhikers , as well as businessmen jogging or roller skating to work. Some observers, however, were bemused by the reports that cars were being filled to the brim. One gentleman wrote into The Times that

‘During a three-hour crawl from Chelsea to Holborn, during which not unpleasant time your crossword was finished and much of London’s skyline lengthily examined and criticized, I was astonished to see that five out of six cars contained only the driver. There is indeed a nursery saying: “Those who ask will get, and those who don’t ask, don’t want”, and the bus queues for the most part did stand motionless, but the lone driver, crawling past a 20-yard long queue, must be curiously insensitive totally to ignore those who stand and wait.’

Despite the extra parking, however, traffic congestion soon brought much of London to gridlock. A London Minicab firm reported their advanced bookings had shot up forty per cent, but noted that ‘it looks as if it is going to be one big jam on all the main roads’. They were proved correct. Such was the congestion that when another strike was threatened a week later the RAC issued a warning to drivers about their car heaters potentially asphyxiating them as they sucked in fumes from other stationary vehicles.

The Embankment from Westminster Bridge on the evening of the Tube strike. London Illustrated News, February 3rd 1962.

The Embankment from Westminster Bridge on the evening of the Tube strike. London Illustrated News, February 3rd 1962.

For those without cars the buses were the main recourse, though then as now they were largely overwhelmed. One organisation, the disturbingly militant sounding People’s League for the Defence of Freedom, announced they were hiring buses which they would run themselves in a sort of vigilante double-decker transport endeavor. One presumes their buses were something like this. But with two decks. The Illustrated London News noted, however, that all in all you were better off walking.

Queues at Victoria bus station during the strike. London Illustrated News, February 3rd 1962.

Queues at Victoria bus station during the strike. London Illustrated News, February 3rd 1962.

It wasn’t all bad, however. The odd roller skater or jogging businessman lightened the mood just a touch, though how much of this was British Pathe’s spin on things is to be debated. The same organisation produced another film later that year showing the impact of the 1962 railway strike (which also included the Underground) which made it look like the strike was the best thing to ever happen. I get the feeling today’s Londoners might not agree.

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Hats all folks.

Of all the items of clothing that humanity has invented for itself, perhaps none are as important as the humble hat. Some of film’s greatest scenes involve hats, whether they underline the murderous intentions of their wearer, or just demonstrate the fact they’ll risk life and limb to keep a hold of one. In 1897 on Christmas Eve one man demonstrated a similar fatalistic desire to retain his hat.

He was a young man, some 25 years of age, who boarded a third class carriage of the 8.50pm District train from St James’ Park to Mansion House. He was, noted the accounts, ‘respectably dressed’, which, to Victorian eyes, made any kind of foolhardy escapade highly unlikely. However, as the train had started moving and entered the tunnel the man decided to lean out of the window of the carriage. To his horror, his hat fell off and onto the railway line. Before any of his fellow passengers could stop him, and to their astonishment, the man adopted a rather unexpected course of action.

He jumped out of the train.

Arriving at Victoria a few minutes later the other passengers immediately raised the alarm. Railway officials and police signalled all other trains on the line to be brought to a halt. A search party was hastily organised and sent into the tunnel to find the man, or rather, the mangled remains of him. Having swept the tunnel from Victoria to St James’ Park and back again the officials were rather bewildered to find no trace of this erstwhile passenger. They did, however, retrieve one item from the tunnel.

A hat.

With the tunnel reported clear, trains were restarted. However, officials decided it best to search the trains for their missing man. On the next train from St James’ Park the staff were bemused to find, quietly sat in the corner of a third class compartment and bare-headed, the man who had jumped into the tunnel. He was immediately secured and his story extracted. He calmly told the Station Master that he had indeed jumped from the train to retrieve his hat. Luckily the train was travelling at low speed, around 5mph, and, despite there only being a yards gap between train and tunnel wall, he had landed uninjured by the side of the railway. He had then made an attempt to recover his hat, but unable to do so, had instead groped his way back to St James’ Park in the darkness, got onto the platform unnoticed, and waited for the next train.

Having listened to his story, the officials took his name and address, and then, to the man’s utmost surprise, gave him back his hat. He was then allowed to go on his way, none the worse for his adventure. Hats off to the chap.

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Pipe Down

Last month we dealt with how the Underground became a smoker’s paradise. This month, we look at how it all fell apart. By 1926 around eighty per cent of carriages on the tube were smoking cars, and smokers had free reign to smoke in any part of the stations. But by 1959 there concerns from London Transport. Maybe, it was suggested, there was too much smoking accommodation.

In 1959 seventy per cent of carriages on the Underground were smoking cars. But Dr L G Norman, of the London Transport Executive, had made a somewhat startling discovery. Only thirty per cent of passengers smoked during their journeys. He had decided therefore, to reduce the smoking accommodation to fifty per cent of the carriages. Norman, however, was directly opposed to an outright ban.

In Norman’s opinion the public perception of smoking would probably lead to it being banned on the Underground, as it was in other countries, but for the moment London Transport refused to ‘play the grandmother’. When challenged by Reverend Little, the secretary of the National Association of Non-Smokers, that if only thirty per cent of passengers smoked, why hand over fifty per cent of the carriages, Norman noted that London Transport felt it better to ‘encourage, invite, and request, rather than order people about’. The language was conciliatory, but for smokers this was the beginning of the end.

In 1971 London Transport banned smoking on single deck buses and the bottom deck of double-deckers, it also decided to radically cut the amount of smoking accommodation on the tube, to only two cars on each train. They still, however, stopped short of a complete ban. A London Transport official noted ‘we believe our present proposals keep in step with public opinion and accord with our own observations of the proportion of people who smoke when travelling.’

From the 1st July 1984, however, London Transport’s observations had led them even further. Realising that the two smoking cars on each train were less used than the non-smoking cars  they decided to ban smoking on the trains altogether. The reaction of some smokers was indignant. London Transport surveys suggested fifteen per cent of passengers opposed it. Mr Ivor Turnbull wrote to The Times protesting

‘Sir. How now may smokers soothe nerves tortured by the cola-drinking, hamburger-eating, paper-strewing, feet-on-seat-depositing, headphone-tintinnabulating habits of fellow passengers?’

A more serious problem was noted by Ms Linda Kirk who wrote to complain

‘On the London Underground last Saturday I attempted to persuade three youths who had lighted cigarettes in a non-smoking compartment that they should put them out, or move to a smoking car. When they proved uncooperative I asked a uniformed official on the platform at the next station to intervene. He refused to, saying he might well get stabbed. How is the complete ban on smoking in Underground trains – coming in force today – to be enforced?’

Others, however, expressed bewilderment that the ban was only on the trains. David Simpson, of the anti-smoking group ASH, noted his surprise that smoking had yet to be banned over the entire system, but hoped that in years to come the ban would soon be extended to stations as well.

For the most part the new ban seemed to be accepted fairly readily. The Times noted that on the first day ‘the price was paid in long faces, chewed fingernails, and an increase in peppermint consumption’. One passenger, however, managed to make legal history on September 14th 1984 when she became the first person to be prosecuted under the new rules. Miss Angela Williams was caught smoking by Chief Inspector Leithead of Scotland Yard on a train. Unfortunately, she apparently didn’t realise the Leithead was a police officer, resisted, and found herself being prosecuted not only for smoking, but assaulting a policeman and using abusive language.

In December 1984 came a warning of the danger of a lack of a complete ban. A fire at Oxford Circus, probably caused by a cigarette or match, put the Victoria Line out of action for several weeks. From February 17th 1985 London Transport decided to ban smoking on all stations that were below or partially below ground. David Simpson, the Chairman of Ash, noted ‘This is a sign of the times. Smokers are becoming a small minority. All the dangers, which of course include fires, are now being recognized.’

Smoking ban

But on the Monday after The Times reported that the ban was hardly noticeable.

‘Smokers puffed on cigarettes, pipes and cigars, often in the presence of London Regional Transport Staff, clearly unaware that the previous ban on smoking in trains had been extended to all parts of the system beyond ticket barriers. The only exceptions to the new ban are open-air suburban stations.’

On the 18th November 1987 someone, in violation of the smoking ban, dropped a lit match onto the escalator at Kings Cross station. At 7.30pm passengers reported a small fire on the Piccadilly line escalator. Around 7.40pm firefighters arrived to find a small fire and decided to fight it using a water jet. At 7.45pm, however, a flashover occurred filling the ticket hall with intense heat and smoke. Thirty-one people died.

Subsequent investigations found that several small fires had occurred under the escalator in the past, probably caused by dropped matches. These had all burned out, but on that night a fire had finally managed to take hold, and through the so-called trench effect, had been funnelled to devastating effect up the escalator. In the aftermath smoking was finally banned on all parts of the London Underground.

In the nineteenth century smokers had fought for the right to smoke on the underground. Ideas that smoking was good for your health abounded and its allowance from 1874 was viewed as a major benefit to the public. By the late 1980s, however, opinion was largely reversed. Smoking was anti-social and practised by a minority. Coupled with chronic underinvestment on the Underground it was also exceptionally dangerous. The smoking ban was soon followed on London’s buses in 1991 and on Network Southeast, the company running London’s commuter trains, in 1993.

Long gone were the days of Lord Ranelagh, who when caught smoking in 1867, had gruffly retorted to the guard of his train that ‘there was no one there to annoy, and he would smoke and be damned to me’

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Pipe up

In January 1868, Thomas Herron, also known as Viscount Ranelagh, was brought before Clerkenwell Magistrates Court. This noble Lord was being prosecuted for an action he thought hardly criminal; smoking on the Metropolitan Railway.

The Metropolitan Railway had opened in 1863 and was (along with its younger sister the District) the only railway in the country where smoking on board trains was prohibited (it had been exempted under the 1868 Regulation of Railways Act which obliged railways to offer smoking accommodation). The special conditions surrounding the Metropolitan, it being a short distance, high capacity underground railway, were argued by the Directors of the company to make it impractical to offer smoking compartments on trains.

Ranelagh put forward a guilty plea, but as he was being fined, decided to claim that he wasn’t a law-breaker after all, but rather pleaded guilty to save his time and wanted to offer some observations. Faced with this clear claim of innocence the Magistrate obliged him to remove his guilty plea and call evidence. The evidence did not help Ranelagh’s case. On the 20th December 1867 Ranelagh had been travelling on the 10.55pm train. According to the train’s guard, Ranelagh was smoking at Aldersgate Station (now Barbican) and he asked him to stop. At the next station, Farringdon, the guard once again found Ranelagh smoking. The guard again asked him to desist at which point Ranelagh ‘said there was no one there to annoy, and he would smoke and be damned to me’.

Lord Ranelagh in 1870 (Vanity Fair, Wikimedia Commons)

Ranelagh argued that when the no smoking regulations had been conceived smoking had been the exception, but now it was the rule. Most other railways offered smoking accommodation and as such the Metropolitan should permit smoking. The Magistrate decided that this wasn’t a particularly valid point of law and fined the erstwhile Lord 20 shillings. Ranelagh paid immediately.

This seems like a random incident, but the debate over smoking on the underground grew surprisingly large. In 1869 the MP for Dudley moved in the House of Commons that the Metropolitan be forced to provide smoking accommodation for each class of passenger, the House dividing in favour 175 to 167. However, the legislation was not immediately successful, and the company only offered smoking accommodation in 1874.

The subject was exceptionally divisive. A season ticket holder wrote angrily to The Times in 1870 to explain that despite the smoking ban he had

‘been much annoyed by the habit which now prevails of smoking at all the stations on the line, and in all the waiting rooms, refreshment-rooms and carriages. Pipes and cigars are puffed by all classes of passengers beneath the very noses of the railway officials, whose indifference makes us wonder at the fate of the passenger whose fine of 40 s is held up as a warning at the stations.’

A similar complaint was raised in 1868 by ‘John Bull’ who argued that

‘No one but a drunken man would attempt to smoke inside an omnibus, and if he did the conductor would very speedily eject him. But in a railway compartment, much more confined in space, smokers seem altogether to forget themselves…’

He added that smoking was practiced by gentlemen as well as ‘roughs’ and the staff did little to prevent it. ‘I have even seen a clergyman quietly smoking, and when I remonstrated with him he only laughed and said the guards all knew him’.

But the smoking lobby was a vociferous one. Writing in reply to ‘John Bull’, ‘M.J.B.’ contended that smoking compartments should be provided given that smoking was something to be grateful for ‘just after breakfast’ and ‘again in the evening after an abstinence of many hours’. He also added that the majority of passengers were actually smokers.

It was even thought that smoking on the Metropolitan was good for you. Henry Sheridan, the MP who moved the smoking bill, claimed in 1868

‘Medical men and others assert that smoking would counteract the effect of the sulphurous vapours which have been so complained of, and which are still as bad as ever, between the Edgware Road and Kings Cross stations…’

Of course, in reality, both smoking and the atmosphere of the steam run underground was liable to ruin your health, despite the claims of certain parties that it was like being in a spa.

The other problem was that the other railway companies who shared parts of the Metropolitan offered smoking accommodation. Trains from the Great Northern, Midland, and Great Western railways used stretches of the Metropolitan between Paddington and Moorgate. In 1871 Mr Arthur Bennet found himself in front of the Magistrates charged with smoking on the Metropolitan. However, Bennet had been riding in a Great Western train in the smoking compartment. When the train started at Ealing, smoking was allowed, but when it reached Paddington (and the Metropolitan), smoking was now prohibited. The gentlemen, despite his protestations that he was a Great Western customer and had nothing to do with the Metropolitan or their regulations, found himself fined ten shillings.

In 1874, however, the Metropolitan (because of the extensions it made beyond the tunnelled section that make up the northern part of the Circle Line) relented and smoking accommodation was allowed. One presumes Ranelagh’s reaction was something like this. The York Herald gleefully noted

‘The introduction of smoking carriages on the Metropolitan Railway under no other pressure than that of a feeling which operates so feebly upon most railway companies – consideration for the comfort of their passengers – is a step which merits the cordial approval of the public.’

But the move bought consternation from non-smokers and especially those who complained about the impact for female passengers, who were also considered non-smokers (read more about this in ‘Ladies first’). Such complaints were soon brushed aside. Indeed, the history of smoking on London’s underground was one of ever increasing provision up to the Second World War.

On the Tube, where smoking had always been allowed on trains, by 1926 around sixty per cent of carriages were smokers. In that year, however, it was decided this was still not enough. Eighty per cent of carriages were thus given over to smokers, with non-smokers exiled to the first and last carriages of the trains. Rules which had banned smoking in the station lifts were also abolished, giving smokers leave to puff on cigarettes, cigars, and pipes anywhere they pleased. Concerns that this amounted to over-provision, and arguments that smokers were a minority in smoking carriages and hence aggrieved the other passengers were casually brushed aside. Smokers were the kings of the Underground.

But all things must come to an end. As we shall see in next month’s post, the smokers found themselves on the defensive after the Second World War. A story of marginalisation and tragedy followed, and in direct contrast to Ranelagh’s claim in 1868 that smoking was the rule, not the exception, the post-war story was exactly the opposite.

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Taking a walk on the wild side.

In 1922 the Earl of Mayo declared to the House of Lords

‘… I saw a letter the other day from an indignant gentleman who said he walked where he liked. He intimated that this was a free country and he had every right to walk where he liked. If he walks off the pavement in Oxford Street he will be killed to a certainty’

The topic of the debate was rather unusual. In a move which would be considered by the modern Londoner to be an extreme measure of Government interference, the ‘Nanny state’ writ large, the Lords were debating whether to force pedestrians to walk on the left hand side of the pavement. In fact, in July 1922 around 40 authorities in Greater London began to display prominent signs requiring people to walk on the left hand side.

The genesis of this move was in part the result of the rising accident rate in London. In 1924 just under 700 people were killed in traffic accidents, and a further 72,000 pedestrians injured. This was a 52 per cent increase on the rate in 1922. Sidney Webb, then President of the Board of Trade, went so far to point out that you were statistically safer working in a coal mine than you would be walking on the streets of London. To put this in perspective, in 2011 traffic collisions in Greater London caused 29,257 casualties, of which 159 people were killed. One of the chief causes of these accidents, alleged Lord Newton, President of the London Safety First Council (which later became the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents), was that pedestrians walking on the right hand side of the pavement couldn’t see oncoming traffic behind them, and hence were more liable to inadvertently step out in front of a careering vehicle. The walk on the left regulation he proclaimed did

‘…not originate with cranks and fanatics, but is put forward by business people representing transport, such as the tramway and omnibus companies, and people of that nature.’

But if Lord Newton was demanding change, it was not going to be an easy proposition. Despite Newton’s logic it became clear that other officials did not agree with him. Perhaps the most important of these was the then City Commissioner of Police, who claimed people were safer walking on the right hand side. Newton took a dim view of the Commissioner’s ‘audacity’, thundering in the Lords

‘I think this gentleman would have been an official after the heart of the late President Kruger [the former President of the Transvaal], who was under the impression that the earth was flat.’

But the Commissioner’s view held a large amount of sway. It meant that in the City of London people were often being told to walk on the right, which had been the traditional instruction, and the resulting confusion at Borough boundaries started playing havoc. The Boroughs of Chelsea and Stepney concurred with the City. Confusion became a regular occurrence. In one example complained Newton

‘It appears that pedestrians crossing Richmond bridge are invited by overhead placards to keep to the right, whereas there is chalked upon the pavement an invitation to walk on the left. Surely this is an absurd and ridiculous state of which I do not think you could find in any other civilised country.’

But the mismatch of rules created broader issues. The London County Council, as a result of the City’s rejection, refused to display signs advocating the walk on the left rule, despite the fact the LCC itself agreed with the principle. The Metropolitan Police, similarly, decided it was best to adopt a policy of neutrality. Indeed, the primary means of forcing people to walk on the left appeared to be the Earl of Meath, who cornered unfortunate members of the public walking on the right and severely told them off.

Other issues also arose. The Times commented in 1922 that

‘Unfortunately, the first days of the new rule coincided with the first days of the summer sales, and the call of windows full of marked-down garments was difficult to resist; and it is hard to remain on the left when that may mean missing a bargain on the right.’

Lord Newton himself remarked, slightly facetiously

‘I admit that there is one section of the population to which all appeals and exhortations would be perfectly useless – I allude, of course, to those females of all ages who congregate in solid masses in front of the great drapers’ shops, and upon whom, probably, no means of persuasion short of machine guns or tanks would have any effect at all.’

It also appeared that the free-natured English psyche itself was to blame. Lord Teynham noted

‘I may say that I have had letters from a gentleman who writes to me, not without heat, indeed somewhat intemperately, saying that he would prefer to die in prison rather than walk on the left instead of the right.’

Indeed, the right of the Englishman to walk on the right hand side was described in a letter to The Times in 1935 as ‘the habit of the nation’.

But whilst Lord Newton’s campaign to force pedestrians to walk on the left hand side was well intentioned and undoubtedly common sense, it was missing a broader point. Why were so many accidents happening and why was the rate increasing? The answer lay not only with the pedestrians, but with the burgeoning number of private motor cars and the lack of legislation surrounding them. One issue, perhaps central to the whole problem, was that until 1934 there was no British driving test. As such, bad driving was almost endemic. This 1939 film gives the viewer a good idea of the hazards of the road at the time. Speeding was a major issue. The Earl of Mayo complained in 1924 that

‘I often go out to buy newspapers on Sunday morning, and I find that you cannot judge of the pace at which a modern motor car is travelling. If you are not very careful, and if the sun is in your eyes, you will find yourself in hospital “and wake up dead.” as they say in my country.’

Lord Banbury of Southam regaled the House with a strikingly vivid account of his own recent misadventure

‘Only this morning I was very nearly run over at Hyde Park Corner. An omnibus was standing by the side of the road waiting to take up passengers. I went in front, looked round to the right to see if anything was coming. I saw a taxi-cab some distance away, but, as you know, it is difficult to estimate the speed of a taxi-cab which is coming like an express train on some of our railways and to know exactly how soon it will be before it is upon you. I rather misjudged the speed of this taxi-cab. There was plenty of room, but before I could get to the refuge a few-yards away it was practically upon me. I ran and managed to reach the refuge.’

Later in the debate Earl De La Warr rather dryly suggested that it was a possibility ‘that the taxi-cab increased its speed when the driver saw the noble Lord’.

It transpired that the Metropolitan Police, whilst able to prosecute speeding drivers, were in actuality both effectively unable and reluctant to do so. To obtain a conviction the Police had to provide evidence that the driver was speeding, but the only way to do this was to use a stop watch to calculate the speed of the offending car over a set distance. This was clearly impractical, so speeding cars were unlikely to be stopped.

In any case, aside from the walk on the left campaign, other novel ideas were being developed to protect London’s pedestrian masses. In 1935, in a first which has become a standard across the UK, the first pedestrian activated traffic light was introduced in Trafalgar Square. Other ideas, however, were less successful. In 1936 the Police fixed a loudspeaker on top of a car and proceeded to shout instructions to people trying to cross the road. Though perhaps this was simply ahead of its time.

Ultimately the walk on the left campaign was only marginally successful. In 1935 there was an attempt to introduce it into the Highway Code, though, as one writer to The Times pointed out, there was no reason why any substantial number of pedestrians would bother reading it. A further complication was that, as is still the case today, when walking on a road without a pavement, pedestrians are required to walk on the right hand side, towards oncoming traffic. Another writer to The Times argued

‘The inversion confuses. “I cannot remember,” said a Swedish peasant, “whether my wife said I was to take two glasses and come home by 10, or 10 glasses and be home by two.”

It wasn’t a complete failure, however. The current Highway Code requests that pedestrians on the pavement should avoid walking on the kerbside with their back to traffic, effectively a suggestion to walk on the left. Despite this, it would seem the nation’s pedestrians remain of the inclination, so often remarked upon in the 1920s and 30s, to walk however they please.

Perhaps the Government should send out the Earl of Meath out to shout at people again. Who could say no to a face like that?

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Busker rhymes

‘I don’t know whether these young people pay the same fares as other passengers, or whether they pay at all; but granted that they do, their fares only purchase for them the right to travel – not to torture all the passengers in the carriage they select.’

So wrote a passenger travelling from Edinburgh to Glasgow in 1869. His target, the so-called ‘itinerant musician’, or, to the reader of the 21st Century, the busker.

Busking is a fairly familiar sight to passengers on the modern railway, especially on the London Underground. In 2003 Transport for London altered its byelaws and made it legal for buskers to perform on special pitches, leading to a rapid infestation of Irish bands on the Circle line and this guy on his guitar. Certainly some are better than others, but to the railway companies of the 19th century buskers were a recurring nuisance. The LNWR thought them worthy of the same disdain as beggars, vagrants, and prostitutes.

LNWR sign

The LNWR, where no fun of any kind was apparently allowed.

Our Scottish passenger, writing under the pseudonym of An Observer, outlined his predicament to the Glasgow Herald.  Having been treated to one busker on his first train, he was bewildered to find that on his second train yet another busker, equipped with a ‘stringed instrument’ , bundled himself into the passenger compartment. In the compartment were not only our passenger, but three men and a woman, all of whom were in funerary dress and in some distress, having just come from an internment. Not content to add to the troubles of the recently bereaved through his performance, the busker then managed to get into an argument with the occupants of the next compartment, a group of half-drunken sailors, the resulting ‘roaring, stamping, and stumbling’ of which lasted over an hour.

An Observer demanded that something should be done about these “musicians”, but it is clear that the busker was becoming an increasing presence on the railways, and especially in suburban London.

One busker in particular was apparently something of a presence in East London. In 1894 Mr Phillip Rigluth was called up in front of West Ham magistrates. According to a railway inspector, Rigluth was in the habit of taking a two-pence ticket and then travelling for hours around the Great Eastern Railway playing a concertina. In fact his concertina playing wasn’t what had landed him in court, rather he’d tried to get onto another train for which his ticket wasn’t valid, been caught by an inspector, and found himself fined 40 shillings by the magistrate for the pleasure. But the fine didn’t put Rigluth off, far from it.

In 1898 Dr F Greenwood was travelling home from Liverpool Street to Leyton on an evening train. At Globe Road station a busker jumped into the carriage and started playing a concertina. Greenwood demanded the man stop, but the busker was encouraged by some passengers of ‘the rougher sort’ to play as hard as he could. At the next station Greenwood managed to get hold of a guard, who ordered the busker to stop playing. Unfortunately for Greenwood as soon as the train left the station the busker started up again, as ‘the roughs encouraged him with words and coppers’. At Stratford Greenwood tried to get out to make a complaint, but was forcibly restrained by the other passengers as the busker fled the carriage. The busker’s escape was, however, short lived, as he was known to the railway company. It was, of course, Phillip Rigluth, who found himself back in West Ham Magistrates Court and this time was fined 14 shillings, or a ten day prison sentence if he defaulted.

Even this, however, did not dent our erstwhile busker’s enthusiasm. In 1900 he was caught again trying to get onto a train without a ticket, armed with his trusty concertina. Back in West Ham Magistrate’s Court for apparently the fourth time, Rigluth found himself fined 100 shillings (to put this in context, the average wage for a labourer at this time was around 20 – 25 shillings a week), the maximum penalty possible, with the threat of a month’s imprisonment if he defaulted.

Why was Rigluth so keen on busking? The information on him is scanty, but provides something of an explanation. Rigluth was an elderly man. He also claimed to be crippled. The combination of the two, he argued, meant that he was unable to work, so instead he eked out a living busking on the trains. Given he did so for at least six years, it seems a likely explanation, though slightly at odds with the account of his fleeing from the good Doctor two years previously. He was certainly a far cry from the ‘young people’ An Observer was so aggrieved by in 1869.

Whilst buskers were frequently complained about, from the concertina players to the ‘second rate vocalist’, they were a presence on the railways that was here to stay. They were typically male and usually found in the third class section of the trains. Indeed, An Observer remarked that such a commotion would never be allowed in first class, and  Lloyds Weekly wryly commented that among some long-suffering passengers was the suspicion that certain of the railway companies permitted the nuisance in order to drive them into paying more to travel in the busker-free second and first class carriages. Certainly, there are references to the lower railway officials (porters and guards) doing little to prohibit busking, and only when the busker could be prosecuted for travelling without a ticket did the railway companies take effectual action.

Rumours of railway company conspiracy aside, the itinerant musician had become part of the social fabric of the railways, and they remain annoying and entertaining people as much in the 2010’s as they did in the 1860’s.

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