This grand Victorian hotel – originally known as the Great Western Royal Hotel – was among the first large hotels constructed in London in proximity to railway termini – in this case Paddington Station.

Located 146 Praed Street, it was constructed in the 1850s to the designs of Philip Charles Hardwick and apparently cost some £60,000. The interior was designed in the Louis XIV style and the building as a whole was built with the intention of rivalling the great hotels of Europe.

Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who conceived the project to provide accommodation for people travelling on the Great Western Railway to Bristol and the West Country (and so managed to convince the directors of the GWR to invest), was the hotel’s first managing director.

The now Grade II-listed hotel was officially opened on 9th June, 1854, by Prince Albert and, apparently, the King of Portugal.

The main block, which effectively forms the facade of the railway station behind it, is book-ended by two towers which are said to house two storey bedrooms.

It boasts a sculpted pediment above the main entrance which was designed by John Thomas and features allegorical figures representing peace, plenty, industry and science.

The railway company took over the hotel late in the 19th century and in 1907 it was apparently updated with electric lighting, telephones and a pneumatic messaging service.

Much of the original ornamentation was lost when it was extensively modernised and extended in the 1930s in the art deco style under the eye of architect Percy Emerson Culverhouse.

The hotel was sold off as part of the privatisation of the railways in 1983 and reopened as part of the Hilton hotel chain in 2001. It remains part of that chain today.

For more, see www.hilton.co.uk/paddington.

PICTURES: The Great Western old and new – Top – via Wikipedia; Right -Oxfordian (licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0); 

 

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Long out of active service, London’s Mail Rail service has recently made a comeback as a tourist attraction (which means you can now experience it for yourself!)

The Mail Rail – more officially known as the London Post Office Railway – was initially opened in 1927 as a more efficient means of moving the mail than fighting traffic congestion above ground.

The six-and-a-half mile (10.5 kilometre) route linked the Paddington sorting office in the west, the centrally located Mount Pleasant sorting office and depot, and the Whitechapel sorting office in the east. The main tunnel sits at about 21 metres underground.

The system operated for 22 hours a day and hauled tons of mail through up to nine stations. There were even plans to extend it to the north and the south.

The Mail Rail was eventually closed in 2003 with the Royal Mail, rather ironically given its origins, apparently citing the costs of using it compared to road transport.

These days, the Mail Rail serves as one of the attractions at the new Postal Museum and, located in the former engineering depot, offers a 20 minute ride through stalactite-filled tunnels beneath what was the Mount Pleasant sorting office.

WHERE: Mail Rail at The Postal Museum, 15-20 Phoenix Place, Mount Pleasant, Clerkenwell (nearest Tube stations are Chancery Lane and Russell Square); WHEN: 10am to 5pm daily (except from 24th to 26th December) COST: £16 adult/£14.30 concession/£8 child (includes donation/timed ride on Mail Rail and general admission to exhibition); WEBSITE: www.postalmuseum.org/discover/attractions/mail-rail-ride/.

PICTURES: Above and right – The Mail Rail as it is today; and a curve in the tracks (© Postal Museum); Below – London Post Office Railway cars from 1930, now at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre (Oxyman/licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0)

No prizes here for guessing that this pub owes its name to the long serving 19th century monarch, Queen Victoria.

There’s apparently a story that the Queen stopped off here on her way to Paddington Station and that, as a result, the pub was named in her honour.

Whatever the truth of that, the now Grade II-listed pub – located at 10a Strathearn Place (on the corner with Surrey Place) – was apparently built in 1838 – the first year if Victoria’s reign (and possibly a more valid reason for its name) and remodelled around the turn of the 20th century.

It features a luxuriously decorated interior with fireplaces, mirrors, and an original counter as well as paintings of the Queen, Prince Albert and their family.

The upstairs Theatre Bar features decorative elements taken from the former Gaiety Theatre which were installed in the late 1950s.

The pub, which was apparently patronised by the likes of author Charles Dickens (he is said to have written some of Our Mutual Friend here), Sir Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin as well as David Bowie – who did a live performance when launching an EP here in the 1960s.

It’s also been associated with more recent celebs like musicians Ronnie Wood and Liam Gallagher, artist Damien First and actor Keira Knightley.

There’s also a story that in 1960s one of the paintings on the walls was found to be a valuable portrait of a member of the Royal Family. It’s now apparently in the Royal Collection.

The pub is now part of the Fuller’s group – and has twice won their ‘Pub of the Year’ award. For more, see www.victoriapaddington.co.uk.

PICTURE: Ewan Munro (licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0)

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A new exhibition featuring designs for the 10 new Elizabeth line Underground stations has opened at the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). Platform for Design: Stations, Art and Public Space provides insights into the design of the new railway – part of the massive Crossrail project, its stations and public spaces which are slated to open in 2018. Each of the new stations will have their own distinct character designed to reflect the environment and heritage of the area in which they are located. The new Elizabeth line station at Paddington, for example, is said to “echo the design legacy of Brunel’s existing terminal building” while the design of the new Farringdon station is inspired by the historic local blacksmith and goldsmith trades and the distinctive architecture of the Barbican. Many of the new stations will also featured permanent, integrated works of art design to create a “line-wide exhibition”. The Elizabeth line runs from Heathrow and Reading in the west across London to Abbey Wood and Shenfield. The exhibition at RIBA at 66 Portland Place in Marylebone runs until 14th June. Admission is free. For more on the exhibition, including the accompanying programme of events, see www.crossrail.co.uk/news/news-and-information-about-crossrail-events.

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One of many memorials located in London’s railway stations, the  Great Western Railway War Memorial is located on platform one of Paddington Station.

The memorial features a bronze figure of a soldier sculpted by Charles Sargeant Jagger standing against a granite and marble backdrop designed by Thomas S Tait. The soldier, who is dressed in battle gear with a helmet on his head and a great coat thrown about his shoulders, is depicted apparently reading a letter from home.

GWR-Memorial-smallTo either side of the soldier are reliefs depicting the emblems of the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy while inscribed on the plinth beneath him is an inscription dedicated the memorial to employees of the railway who died in World War I. Inside the plinth was placed a sealed casket containing a vellum roll on which is written the names of all 2,524 men who died.

The memorial, known as the ‘GWR Memorial’, was unveiled on Armistice Day by Viscount Churchill, chairman of the Great Western Railway, in 1922 before a crowd estimated at around 6,000 people. It was later updated after World War II.

Restored in 2001, the memorial recently featured in the World War I commemorative project – “Letter to an Unknown Soldier” – in which members of the public were invited to write a letter to the soldier. The statue is also among more than 20 in London which have been brought to life as part of Sing London’s Talking Statues initiative (it has the voice of Patrick Stewart!).

Among our favourite railway memorials, others include the magnificent “Victory Arch” at Waterloo Station.

PICTURE: Cnbrb at the English language Wikipedia

In this, the year of the 150th anniversary of the creation of what we now know as the London Underground, it’s only fitting that we take a look at the city’s oldest Tube station – Baker Street.

Opened on 10th January, 1863, by the Metropolitan Railway, the Grade II* listed property was designed by John Fowler, the company’s engineer in chief. While some stations on the initial railway – which stretched from Paddington to Farringdon – had platforms located in open cuttings, Baker Street was one of only three initial stations (the other two were at what was then named Gower Street (now Euston Square) and Great Portland Street) which was genuinely located underground, with subterranean platforms covered by brick barrel-vaults and lit by gaslights as well as natural light brought from the surface by “lunettes”.

The station was subsequently extended and further developed and, thanks to the company’s desire to make Baker Street its headquarters and “flagship” station, it underwent a major overhaul in 1911-13 with Charles Walter Clark, another Metropolitan Railway employee, designing a new grand booking hall and concourse featuring a lost property office, “ladies’ room” and a WH Smith bookstall.

Features inside include a cast-iron screen – complete with clock –  installed at the entrance to the lower concourse in 1925 to help control passenger flow during the British Empire Exhibition at Wembley, a marble memorial to Metropolitan Railway employees who died in World War I, and, in a nod to the proximity of his fictitious Baker Street residence, large and small Sherlock Holmes silhouettes on tiles located at various places inside (there’s a statue of him outside the station).

For more on the 150th anniversary, see www.tfl.gov.uk/tube150.

Apologies for the delay in posting this piece – next week we’ll post the final in this series!

The first underground railway system in the world, the London Underground – fondly known as the ‘Tube’ –  is this year celebrating the 150th anniversary of its creation. 

Born out of an idea to link the inner city with the various large rail termini on the outskirts, the first section of what is now the underground system – a six kilometre stretch between Paddington and Farringdon – opened on 9th January, 1863, and was run by the Metropolitan Railway, known less formally as the ‘Met’.

South-Kensington-stationIt was constructed using the ‘cut and cover’ method in which streets were dug up and tracks laid in a trench before being covered by brick-lined tunnels and the street above replaced (the method was later abandoned, apparently due to the disruption it caused to traffic). The first trains were steam-driven locomotives and drew gas-lit wooden carriages behind them (the first journey was re-enacted earlier this year – see our earlier post here. Other events commemorating the 150th included a visit to Baker Street Station by Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip and the Duchess of Cambridge).

The idea proved a success – 26,000 people used the new railway every day during the first six months of its operation – and the Metropolitan District Railway opened a new line between Westminster and South Kensington (station is pictured) in December, 1868, while the first Tube tunnel under the Thames, from the Tower of London to Bermondsey, opened in 1880, and what is now the Circle Line was completed in 1884.

In December 1890, the world’s first deep-level electric railway opened, running between King William Street in the City and passing under the Thames to Stockwell. Ten years later the ‘Twopenny Tube’, more formally known as the Central London Railway, opened between Shepherd’s Bush and Bank (it was from this that the use of the word ‘Tube’ to describe the Underground system caught on).

The uniting of the system began the following year with the creation of the Underground Electric Railway Company of London and by World War I, all but the Met were within a single group organisation. The name Underground first appeared on stations in 1908, the same year electric ticket machines were introduced.

In 1933, the Underground came under the control of the London Passenger Transport Board – the same year that Harry Beck’s first diagrammatic map of the underground system appeared.

Stations in the system were used as air raid shelters during World War II – part of the Piccadilly Line was closed and used as a storage site for treasures from the British Museum. Following the war, the organisation running the system went through various name changes until the formation of London Underground in 1985.

The system has since expanded – the Victoria Line was opened in the late 1960s and the Jubilee Line a decade later – and now consists of more than 408 kilometres of railway lines and 275 stations which serve more than three million passengers a day – equating to more than a billion a year, the same as the entire national rail network.

For more on the history of the Underground, see our earlier 10 Questions with London Transport Museum curator Simon MurphyPoster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs runs at the London Transport Museum until October. Admission charge applies. For more (including the many events around the exhibition), see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events/events-calendar#posterart150.

For more, check out David Bownes’ Underground: How the Tube Shaped London or Andrew Martin’s Underground, Overground: A Passenger’s History of the Tube.

London’s railway network stands out as one of the greatest achievements of the Victorian age for it was during the 19th century that much of the railway infrastructure still in use today was first established.

St-PancrasThe first railway line in London opened in February 1836 (six years after the UK’s first line opened) and ran between Spa Road in Bermondsey and Deptford on the south bank of the River Thames. The line was extended to London Bridge in December that same year and again to Greenwich, from cross-Channel steamers left – in April the following year.

That same year – 1837 – the station at Euston opened as the final stop for trains from Birmingham (an earlier terminus as Chalk Farm was deemed too far out). It was followed by Paddington in 1838, Fenchurch Street – the first permanent terminus in the City – in 1841, Waterloo in 1848 and King’s Cross in 1850.

Having seen a boom period during the 1840s, development of new lines took a back seat in the 1850s but resumed apace the following decade with the opening of Victoria Station, connecting the city to Brighton and Dover. Stations followed at Charing Cross, Ludgate Hill and Cannon Street and alongside the grand terminus’ around the outskirts of London where trains arriving from distant destinations arrived, numerous smaller railways began to be built, such as the West End of London and Crystal Palace Railway and the Victoria Station and Pimlico Railway, which took passengers on only short journeys across the city (these smaller railway companies all disappeared by 1923 when the 1921 Railways Act resulted in the creation of what are known as the “Big Four” British railway companies).

And, of course, the London Underground, has its first journey in 1863 but we’ll look at that in more detail next week.

Interesting to note that there were three classes of rail travel and while first and second class passengers had seats, this wasn’t always the case in third class where, writes Michael Paterson in Inside Dickens’ London, passengers, such as those on the Greenwich line, were initially forced to stand in open topped carriages known by some as ‘standipedes’.

Naturally, with the building of the railways came some spectacular stations – among the most spectacular is the late Victorian building which stood at the front of St Pancras Railway Station and housed the Midland Grand Hotel (pictured above). An exemplar of the Gothic Victorian style, it was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott and, following a massive recent refurbishment, is now home to the five star Renaissance London Hotel and apartments.

We can, of course, only touch on the history of the railways in such a brief article – but we will be looking in more detail at some more specific elements of the system in later posts.

Simon Murphy is a curator at the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden – the museum is currently celebrating the 150th birthday of the Underground with a series of events including a landmark exhibition on the art of the Tube (Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs)…

Underground-2How significant was the construction of the London Underground in world terms? And how does it stack up 150 years later? “The Metropolitan Railway was a true world class pioneer, but like all pioneers it made mistakes that subsequent operators learned from. Similarly the first tube railways tested the ground for others to follow. But these pioneering lines are still part of today’s world class Tube network, and some of the original stations, like King’s Cross, are still amongst the busiest, so they must have been on the right track.”

I understand the initial stretch of line ran between Farringdon and Paddington. How quickly were other sections opened? “The Metropolitan Railway’s first extension was authorised by Parliament in 1861, two years before the original line even opened. The railway made a profit in its first year, so financial backing was relatively easy to find, and the extension east to Moorgate opened in 1865, with a westward extension to South Kensington following in 1868. The Met’s main competitor, the Metropolitan District Railway, opened its first section from South Ken to Westminster in 1868. The plan was for the two companies to work together to create an Inner Circle service, but their respective directors fell out and the Circle was not completed until 1884.”

How many miles of line is the Underground composed of today? “The first underground started with less than four miles of track and seven stations; today’s system has 250 miles of track, serving 270 stations.”

When were steam trains on the Underground replaced? “Steam trains worked in central London until 1905, but were still used on the furthest reaches of the Met until 1961.”

When did the Underground take on the name ‘Tube’? “The Central London Railway opened with a flat fare of 2d in 1900, and was promoted as the Twopenny Tube – the name caught on, although the Underground has only been referring to itself officially as the Tube since the 1990s.”

Underground1It’s fairly widely known that Underground stations and tunnels were used as air raid shelters during World War II. Do you know of any other different uses they have been put to? “The station at South Kentish Town on the Northern Line closed in 1924, but the surface building, still looking very much like a station is now occupied by a branch of Cash Converters. During the war unfinished tunnels on the Central line were occupied by a secret factory run by Plessey Components. Also during the war, paintings from the Tate Gallery were stored in  a disused part of Piccadilly Circus station for safe keeping.”

Stylish design has always been an important part of the Underground’s appeal. What’s your favourite era stylistically when it comes to the Underground and why? “Most people admire the golden age of the 1920s and 30s when the Underground’s corporate identity and personality reached its peak with Charles Holden’s architecture, the roundel, Harry Beck’s diagrammatic map and the amazing posters issued in that era, but personally I find the earlier period from 1908 to 1920 more interesting. You can trace the roots of each element of today’s brand being developed at this time, under Frank Pick’s critical eye, starting with the early solid-disc station name roundels, the joint promotion of the individual tube railways under the UndergrounD brand and the introduction of Edward Johnston’s typeface. You can see the company gaining confidence and momentum, especially in relation to the increasingly sophisticated posters and promotion that Pick commissioned.”

Can you tell us a bit about how the London Transport Museum is marking the 150th anniversary? “
We started the year by bringing steam back to the Circle line, after restoring an original Metropolitan Railway carriage and overhauling an original Met steam locomotive, and have just opened our fabulous overview of the 150 best Underground posters at the museum in Covent Garden, which runs until October. We are opening our Depot store, near Acton Town station in April for a steam weekend, and have a range of lectures and evening events at Covent Garden linking to the history of the Underground and its poster art heritage. There’s also our comprehensive new history of the Tube published last year and a wide range of new products and souvenirs in our amazing shop.”

Underground3What are some of your favourite Underground-related objects on display at the museum? “The Design for Travel gallery on the ground floor is the literal and metaphorical heart of the Museum for me. Packed with close to 300 objects including signs, posters, models, leaflets and other documents, it’s hard to single out individual items, but I love the simplicity of the small ‘Platform 2’ hanging sign (pictured right) – it’s a real example of the design consistency and attention to detail that I associate with the Underground.”

And lastly, can you tell us a couple of little-known facts about the Underground? History is more than a chronological list of facts, and what one person finds fascinating sends another to sleep, so it’s quite a challenge to choose something that is little known, but genuinely interesting, but I’ll try: I grew up near Brent Cross station so I might be biased, but I reckon that if there was a top trumps for Underground lines, the Northern line would win. It has the longest escalators (at Euston), the deepest lift shaft (at Hampstead), the highest point ve sea level (on a viaduct near Mill Hill East), the longest tunnels (between East Finchley and Morden – 17 miles) and has had more names than any other line – it only became the Northern line in 1937.”

IMAGES: Top: Steam engine at Aldgate (1902); Middle: Platform 2 sign, 1930s design; and Bottom, Angel Underground Station (1990s). © TfL from the London Transport Museum collection. 

Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs runs at the London Transport Museum until October. Admission charge applies. For more (including the many events around the exhibition), see www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events/events-calendar#posterart150.

London-Underground1

Metropolitan Locomotive No 1 recreated the first London Underground journey, which took place on 9th January, 1863, on the Metropolitan Line between Paddington and Farringdon, as part of the network’s 150th anniversary celebrations last Sunday. The newly restored locomotive was the last to be built at Neasden in 1898 by the Metropolitan Railway. It was pulling the Metropolitan Railway Jubilee Carriage No 353, the oldest operational underground carriage in existence. Ex Metropolitan Railway electric Locomotive No.12 Sarah Siddons also formed part of the train. The train will also be running this coming Sunday (20th January) and on special occasions throughout this year and is just one of a series of events planned by the London Transport Museum to mark the anniversary of what is the world’s oldest underground railway. They include an upcoming exhibition of London Underground’s poster art (more on that to come). For more, see www.ltmuseum.co.uk. PICTURES: © Transport for London from the London Transport Museum collection.

London-Underground3

The city’s first underground line – and the first underground line in the world – was the Metropolitan Line, which opened in 1863 with the aim of helping to reduce London’s growing traffic congestion problem.

Running for three miles, the new railway, constructed by the Metropolitan Railway Company, ran for three miles under New Road, from Paddington to Farrington Street and took three years to build.

It was constructed using a technique known as “cut and cover” which involved digging a trench and building a tunnel inside before covering it back up.

Almost 40,000 passengers journeyed between Paddington and Farringdon on the day it opened, with the journey taking about 18 minutes.

The success of the new railway sparked a flurry of interest and in 1868, the first section of the District Line was opened, the same year the St John’s Wood Railway Company opened a line from Baker Street to Swiss Cottage.

Having grown substantially since it’s earliest days, today only six miles (9.7 kilometres) of the Metropolitan Line’s 41.5 miles (66.7) kilometres actually run underground.

The line now carries about 53 million passengers annually and 49 trains operate on it during peak periods.