Over the past fifty years London has been home to a number of transport museums, the first incarnation being the British Transport Museum which opened at a former bus garage on Triangle Place, Clapham in the early 1960s.
The collection housed at this early site included trains, buses and trams from all over the UK. The gallery below contains a number of images from the Illustrated London News depicting the museum as it appeared in the early 1960s.
Before long the large exhibits began to outgrow their space and so the big locomotives were transferred to the purpose built National Railway Museum in York. Other items specific to the capital were sent to a new home; the London Transport Collection which opened at Syon Park in 1973.
In 1980 the collection moved once again, this time to an old market hall in Covent Garden where it has remained ever since and is now known as the London Transport Museum.
Although the London Transport Museum is one of the capital’s most popular attractions, what visitors see represents only a small fraction of the collection. To see the rest, you must head to Acton where the museum maintains a vast, 6,000 square meter depot containing over 320,000 artefacts which cannot be squeezed into the Covent Garden site. It’s the sort of place Willy Wonka would’ve dreamt up had he dabbled in transport rather than chocolate.
The catch with the Acton Depot is that it’s only open a few times a year; the next dates being the 24th and 25th September 2016. For those of you cannot make it, here’s a taste of what lies inside…
There are signs everywhere…
Row upon row of them, from all eras, taken from every station and bus stop you can imagine.
Countless tube roundels representing the system’s development over the years.
And lots of original maps too, many of which would look quite unfamiliar to today’s commuters. This one shows Aldwych station which closed in 1994.
This one’s a bit of a shocker; no doubt it would deter most from trespassing on live rails.
First opened in 1863, the London Underground is the world’s oldest subterranean railway, so unsurprisingly there’s a lot of history packed into the Acton Depot.
Carriages on the earliest line; the pioneering Metropolitan Railway were wooden, gas-lit and hauled by steam locomotives. Here’s the Metropolitan’s crest, emblazoned on the side of a third-class coach.
For years the Metropolitan Railway carried freight as well as commuters. Milk was one of the most popular goods, ferried from the countryside straight into the heart of The City in study churns.
The world’s first deep-level electric tube was the City & South London Railway which opened in the 1890s between Stockwell and King William Street. It now forms part of the Northern Line. Here are some hefty iron segments forged for the original tunnel lining.
The deepest station on the tube network is Hampstead which opened in 1907. Here’s a segment from a vintage lift which whisked passengers between the street and the platforms.
This tube ‘motor car’ was built for the Central London Railway– aka the ‘Twopenny Tube’, now known as the Central Line- in 1903. Trains of this model carried passengers up until WWII and were later converted into ‘sleet locomotives’ for de-icing tracks; a task they slogged out until the mid-1980s.
Improbable as it may sound to younger Londoners now, escalators throughout the tube network were once constructed from wood. They were phased out following the King’s Cross Fire in 1987, although the last wooden escalator remained in service at Greenford station until 2014.
This is part of an experimental, winding spiral escalator which was installed at Holloway Road tube station in 1906. The project flopped and lay forgotten until 1988 when it was rediscovered in a shaft, buried beneath heaps of rubble.
Running a shuttle service between just two stations, the Waterloo & City line is the shortest on the Underground. Until the early 1990s, the line was operated by British Rail making it something of an anomaly and the reason why this carriage is decked out in blue and white. Built in 1940, this unit was also painted dark green during in its time and remained in service for fifty years.
Built in 1940, this hefty fan once spun in the Adelaide Road ventilation shaft at Swiss Cottage. Because it was installed during WWII, the fan (and others like it) was designed to run backwards in the event of a gas attack. Thankfully this aspect was never required and the fan hummed away right up until 1999.
This is one of the few remaining R-Stock trains which were constructed in Birmingham and Gloucester from lightweight aluminium between 1949 and 1959. Noted for their distinctive windows and flared sides, the R-Stock trains could be spotted on the District line until 1983.
These vintage fire extinguishers were a common site on the tube for many years… and came with rather unusual instructions.
Built by Cravens of Sheffield, the A-Stock trains were introduced in 1961 and served the Metropolitan line until 2012. For a time they also ran on the old East London line which is now part of the Overground. Originally coloured silver, the A-Stock were the fastest trains on the network, capable of reaching speeds of up to 70mph as they roared through the suburbs of Metroland. They also boasted luggage racks; a quaint feature now sadly absent from today’s tube.
For decades trains on the Underground carried guards who worked from a cordoned off area in a designated carriage, barking out the familiar phrase, “Mind the doors!” at each station. The very last train to operate with a guard ran on the Northern line in January 2000.
Passenger operated door buttons first appeared on tube trains in the 1930s. They were abandoned in the late 1950s, but made a return on District line trains in the early 1980s and are now in use across the network. Here’s a vintage, pre-war rubber example.
When Queen Elizabeth officially opened the Victoria line in 1969, it was in this carriage that she hitched a ride- including a go in the driver’s cab.
These two tube carriage posters date from the late 1960s/early 70s. One advertises ‘Humpty on Ice’ at Wembley… the other a strongly worded warning to wannabe football hooligans.
We’ve got Oyster cards and contactless now, but years ago commuters had to grapple with these hefty ticket machines which look like they belong more at home in Dr Who’s Tardis.
This train was built in 1938 and used for maintenance on the tube. Because it often worked at night when the electrical current was switched off, it was battery operated. When first delivered it was coloured maroon, but later changed to yellow to make it more visible to workers. It remained in service until 1992.
Nicknamed a ’10 ton, 3-plank’, this ballast wagon was one of 100 ordered by the Metropolitan Railway in 1897. It would’ve been used during WWII by crews repairing air-raid damage and remained in service until 1970.
This is the funky interior of a 1983 Jubilee line carriage, complete with wooden floors and garish, orange decor. This particular design served the line until 1998. Two of its cousins can now be seen perched high above Great Eastern Street where they’ve been adapted as workshops for Shoreditch’s Village Underground. Another 1983 unit can be found tucked away inside Great Ormond Street Children’s hospital where it’s used as the studio for ‘Radio Lollipop’.
This ultra-rare tube carriage appeared in 1986 as a prototype for a new Central line train. There were two other designs; one coloured red, the other blue with Londoners invited to judge which they preferred. If you’ve used the Central Line, you’ll know that this pastel green number wasn’t the winner…
Signalling equipment from Elephant and Castle.
There are no airs and graces at the Acton Depot. Much of it feels like an attic where various bits and bobs have been chucked to gather dust- such as these signs and knick-knacks.
This beauty’s a London Beardmore Taxi, licensed for use in 1955. Beardmores were considered the Rolls Royce of taxis and a number of models were designed between the 1910s and 1960s. As with other vintage cabs the luggage rack was open to the elements resulting in a lot of soggy suitcases.
For many cabbies including myself, this sign strikes a note of fear… for it used to be displayed outside the Public Carriage Office on Penton Street, Islington, the intimidating building where students on the Knowledge had to sit their many, fearsome appearance exams. I had to pass this metal sign many times and was nervous as hell every time I did. The PCO has since moved to Southwark.
Based upon an earlier design for a prototype Beardmore taxi, the Metrocab was first made available to cabbies in 1987. Production ceased in 2006, but the Metrocab brand will soon be reentering the market with a new zero-emission model.
Badge for the London Vintage Taxi Association.
Buses, Trams and Trolleybuses
Horse-drawn omnibuses were the Routemasters of their day. Each route was colour coded which was pretty vital in the days when many folk were illiterate and is a system which lives on in today’s tube map. This particular wagon was introduced in 1885 and trotted the yellow line from Baker Street to Waterloo until 1911.
This beautiful old tram was built in 1908 in Motherwell, Scotland and rattled through London until 1952.
Known as a B-type, this was one of London’s first motor buses and began running between Barnes and Liverpool Street in 1914. When WWI erupted in August of that same year many London buses- including this one- were commandeered for use on the Front Line to act as ambulances and troop transporters. This gnarled warrior was restored in 2014 to mark the 100th anniversary of that appalling conflict.
This Green Line coach used for long distance express services between London and the surrounding counties was built in 1930. During WWII this particular bus was used as an ambulance around Hendon and Golders Green. Other vehicles of this model were adapted by the American army as mobile kitchens dubbed ‘clubmobiles’.
The gallery below features more classic buses from the early 20th century…
Trolleybuses operated in London between the 1930s and 1960s. This one served route 604 between Hampton Court and Raynes Park.
This is a Tower Wagon, built in 1937 for maintaining and repairing tram and trolleybus wires. Crew working on the raised platform communicated with the driver by ringing a bell.
This American Indian chief was the mascot of Guy Motors, a manufacturer based in Wolverhampton. He’s on top of a Greenline bus that was built in the 1950s and based at a garage in Amersham.
This Green Line bus was built in 1977 and remained in service until 1982. Although reliable, it had a reputation for having very bumpy suspension.
As well as the full-size trains, buses, cabs and trams, the Acton Depot also contains many intriguing miniatures.
This is a scale model of the vast Aldenham depot which was based near Elstree. Opened in 1956, Aldenham became the main service and maintenance centre for London’s bus fleet. It closed in 1986 and was demolished ten years later.
A tiny tube train…
And an architect’s model of a Bank station platform.
This rather sombre model lies shrouded in a quiet corner of the depot. It’s a representation of Kings Cross underground station, made for the 1988 Fennell inquiry which examined the causes behind the tragic fire that had claimed 31 lives the previous year.
Prototype model for the new generation of tube carriages.
This charming architect’s model from the late 1950s was used to represent Bank stations’s proposed airport-style ‘travelator’ which opened in 1960.
This architect’s model for Canary Wharf station was created by Sir Norman Foster’s company in 1990. The station opened in 1999 and was recently voted London’s best loved tube station.
Waterloo seeks another deep link
After failing to achieve their goal of establishing a link to Trafalgar Square (please see Waterloo Part One) , the board of the London & South Western Railway consoled themselves in the belief that their station at Waterloo was merely temporary and hoped in time to bridge their line towards another vital London hub- the financial Square Mile.
When this ambition also failed the company once again sought to reach their desired destination with an underground link- this time with far greater success…. giving us the ‘Waterloo & City Line’ which, with just two stations- one beneath Waterloo and the other beneath Bank Junction, is the London Underground’s shortest line…. “1 mile, 4 furlongs and 680 chains in length” as proposed in 1891.
Work on what was originally dubbed the ‘Waterloo & City Railway‘ commenced on the 18th June 1894 with the sinking of piles near Blackfriars Bridge; the line’s approximate mid-point.
Construction was carried out by John Mowlem & Co Ltd, whose other London works include Admiralty Arch, Battersea Power Station and Tower 42 (formerly the NatWest Tower).
The Waterloo & City Railway was London’s second deep level tube line- the first being the City & South London Railway (now part of the Northern Line) which had opened shortly before in 1890.
Both of these pioneering lines could not have been tunnelled without the aid of the ‘Greathead Shield’; a tunnelling system named after its South-African born inventor, James Henry Greathead.
Essentially an updated version of an earlier system devised by Marc Isambard Brunel, the Greathead Shield consisted of a sturdy metal tube which allowed workers to burrow at a far deeper level, pushing through London’s clay at an average of 10ft a day and installing the tunnel lining behind them as they went.
Sadly, James Henry Greathead died in 1896 aged just 52 and never lived to see the completion of the Waterloo & City Railway.
A statue of the great engineer was placed outside the Royal Exchange in 1994 directly above Bank Station. The plinth upon which Greathead’s figure stands acts as a ventilation shaft for the tunnels below.
During the construction of the Docklands Light Railway in 1987, part of Greathead’s shield was discovered buried deep in the earth beneath Bank. This surviving piece can be seen today at Bank station, having been incorporated into a pedestrian subway linking the DLR to the Waterloo & City Line- just look for the distinctive red arch…
London’s New Tube
At 1pm on July 11th 1898 the Waterloo & City Railway was officially opened by the Duke of Cambridge whom the board of directors treated to a grand luncheon in the new railway’s Waterloo booking hall- which was described as being “capacious enough to afford ample accommodation to the whole of the assembled company.”
The earliest trains to serve the Waterloo & City Railway were built by the Jackson and Sharp Company of Rochester USA, requiring them to be shipped across the Atlantic.
Although derided by The Times as being “decidedly ugly”, the wooden carriages were praised for affording the “maximum accommodation consistent with the diameter of the tunnel- namely 12ft 2inches.”
The American cars remained in use for over 40 years by which point they were beginning to look decidedly shabby. In 1937, one disgruntled commuter described the rolling stock as “antique and uncomfortable”, “musty and dingy” with “lighting arrangements 25 years behind the times.”
The ageing coaches were finally replaced in 1940 by sleek, Art-Deco style metal carriages which were ultra-modern for their time and remained in service well into the 1990s. Archive footage of the new carriages arriving (and the old ones departing) can be viewed below:
Up until the 1990s, the Waterloo & City Line- which has been nicknamed ‘The Drain’ since its earliest days- was run separately from the rest of the tube, first by the South Western Railway and then by British Rail. This set-up made it something of an anomaly, best illustrated by the livery of the carriages which were painted to match their larger, above-ground counterparts.
The Waterloo & City shuttle service was finally absorbed by London Underground in 1993 with the 1940s rolling stock replaced by trains similar to the ones now used on the Central Line.
Because the Waterloo & City Line exists entirely underground, carriages requiring maintenance above ground are winched in and out by a specially designated crane which can be seen beside Waterloo station’s Baylis Road entrance.
During the delivery of the 1940s stock, the winch (which was originally situated where the now defunct Eurostar terminal stands) snapped sending one of the carriages smashing down to the depths…
A peek over the crane pit allows train-buffs a glimpse into the Waterloo depot…
As well as the Victorian carriages the entire infrastructure of ‘the drain’ was also beginning to look very dilapidated by the 1940s and was described in one meeting at the Guildhall a being a “public disgrace.”
Of particular concern was the main pedestrian link at Bank Station.
Unlike other underground stations served by lifts and escalators, Bank’s main link to the deep platform was a long, steep, dusty tunnel of incremental steps, notorious for being a dangerous, crushing bottleneck in which “hundreds of people meet head on and often collide….in the rush hour complete chaos reigns in the tunnel.”
So strenuous was the passage to negotiate that those of a more mature age were advised to avoid the link altogether, the steep tunnel at Bank being “quite an effort for elderly men and not without danger to anyone suffering from a weak heart.”
Although an escalator was proposed as early as 1931 the plan never went through and further attempts at modernization were halted by the onset of WWII.
The Waterloo & City Line finally received a drastic update in autumn 1960 with the introduction of a ‘Travelator’; Britain’s very first major moving walkway.
Taking three years to construct, the pioneering design was built to whisk 10,000 commuters per hour to and from the trains… and no doubt led many Londoners in the early 1960s to dream of an exciting new future in which moving pavements across the capital would become the norm!
The Waterloo & City Line on Film
Due to being primarily aimed at weekday commuter traffic, the Waterloo & City Line has always been closed at weekends (although a Saturday service has recently been introduced).
Because of this regular closure, the line has often proved popular with filmmakers, most notably in the 1998 romantic drama, Sliding Doors starring Gwyneth Paltrow in two parallel storylines which split as she attempts to board a Waterloo & City Line train.
Eagle-eyed viewers will notice that Gwyneth enters the system at Bank but boards her train at Waterloo on the opposite side of the line! (Please click below to watch a clip):
The line has also been used for sci-fi T.V classics such as Adam Adamant, The Tripods and Survivors.
In 1962, wannabe cop, Norman Wisdom found himself in a particularly sticky situation on the Waterloo & City Line after attempting a misdirected citizen’s arrest in his film, On the Beat (please click below to view)…
Situated in the very heart of the capital, Nelson’s Column, dedicated to Britain’s most beloved naval hero, is by far one of London’s most famous landmarks.
When it was first unveiled in 1843, the column wasn’t London’s only lofty monument to Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson. If you’d been around at the time and had ventured north towards Kentish Town, you would have discovered Nelson’s Tree…
The tall sycamore was said to have a direct link with Nelson who, as a 12 year old boy in early 1771, travelled from his native Norfolk to spend time with his uncle, William Suckling who lived at Grove Cottage, Kentish Town.
Whilst staying in what was then a very rural north London, Nelson is believed to have tended his uncle’s garden- which included planting the seed that would eventually blossom into the grand tree upon which his name would be bestowed.
Following his stint in Kentish Town, young Horatio headed further south to Sheerness in Kent, where he joined his other uncle, Captain Maurice Suckling, aboard HMS Triumph.
Being sent to sea was something the budding young Nelson had specifically requested he be allowed to do.
His uncle agreed to take him on as a servant, although he was slightly bemused- Horatio was a sickly child, and the captain expressed concern about his nephew being “sent to rough it out at sea.”
In June 1846, (over forty years after the 1805 Battle of Trafalgar in which Nelson was famously killed), The London Illustrated News reported that the houses surrounding Nelson’s Tree are “to be shortly removed in the formation of a new street; but the Sycamore, we are assured, will be spared.”
Sadly, despite these assurances, no trace of the tree can be seen today (nor can I find details on when it was felled).
The article also stated that, “as a guide to visitors whom curiosity may lead to the locality, we may mention that the Tree stands close to the southern wall of the Castle Tavern.”
Kentish Town’s Castle Tavern was originally built in 1651- the image above represents how it would have appeared during Nelson’s time.
In 1848, the pub was rebuilt on the same spot.
In recent years, the former Castle has had a rather chequered history.
A few years ago, it was turned into a live music joint called the Bullet Club. When this attracted noise complaints, the venue was rebranded The Flowerpot Club… which closed in 2010.
Sadly, this historic building now appears to be in the process of demolition; no doubt a process which will result in the site being replaced with a block of outrageously priced apartments.
As mentioned earlier, the 1843 edition of the London Illustrated News mentioned that the now long-lost Nelson Tree could be found towards the southern wall of the Castle Tavern.
Today, this site is covered by another forgotten local relic… ‘Kentish Town South’; one of London Underground’s many abandoned ‘ghost stations.’
Originally planned under the name ‘Castle Road’, Kentish Town South opened in June 1907.
Sandwiched between Kentish Town and Camden Town stations, Kentish Town South suffered low passenger numbers from the off and closed in 1924 after just 17 years.
After being used as an air raid shelter in WWII, Kentish Town South’s street level building was converted into shop units- which are today home to a branch of Cash Converters.
Part of the station is retained as an emergency access and evacuation point and sharp eyed commuters can still spot the hollow, cavernous remains as they whoosh through below.
In 1951, and apparently inspired by a real life (although quickly resolved) incident, Sir John Betjeman penned a short story about the unfortunate ‘Mr Basil Green’, who made the grave mistake of alighting at the ghost station following a mistake by the tube guard…
The full text of this darkly humorous story, which was originally broadcast on the BBC Home Service and takes a gleeful dig at meddling civil servants, can be read below…
* * *
‘South Kentish Town’, by Sir John Betjeman (1951).
This is a story about a very unimportant station on the Underground railway in London.
It was devastatingly unimportant.
I remember it quite well. It was called ‘South Kentish Town‘ and its entrance was on the Kentish Town Road, a busy street full of shops.
Omnibuses and tramcars passed the entrance every minute, but they never stopped. True, there was a notice saying ‘STOP HERE IF REQUIRED‘ outside the station. But no one required, so nothing stopped.
Hardly anyone used the station at all. I should think about three people a day. Every other train on the Underground railway went through without stopping: “Passing South Kentish Town!”
Passengers used Camden Town Station to the south of it, and Kentish Town to the north of it, but South Kentish Town they regarded as an unnecessary interolation, like a comma in the wrong place in a sentence, or an uncalled-for remark in the middle of an interesting story.
When trains stopped at South Kentish Town the passengers were annoyed.
Poor South Kentish Town.
But we need not be very sorry for it.
It had its uses.
It was a rest-home for tired ticket-collectors who were also liftmen: in those days there were no moving stairways as they had not been invented.
“George,” the Station Master at Leicester Square would say, “You’ve been collecting a thousand tickets an hour here for the last six months. You can go and have a rest at South Kentish Town.” And gratefully George went.
Then progress came along, as, alas it so often does: and progress, as you know, means doing away with anything restful and useless.
There was an amalgamation of the Underground railways and progressive officials decided that South Kentish Town should be shut.
So the lifts were wheeled out of their gates and taken away by road in lorries. The great black shafts were boarded over at the top; as was the winding spiral staircase up from the Underground station. This staircase had been built in case the lifts went wrong – all old Underground stations have them.
The whole entrance part of the station was turned into shops. All you noticed as you rolled by in a tramcar down the Kentish Town Road was something that looked like an Underground station, but when you looked again it was two shops; a tobacconist’s and a coal-merchant’s.
Down below they switched off the lights on the platforms and in the passages leading to the lifts, and then they left the station to itself.
The only way you could know, if you were in an Underground train, that there had ever been a South Kentish Town Station, was that the train made a different noise as it rushed through the dark and empty platform. It went quieter with a sort of swoosh instead of a roar and if you looked out of the window you could see the lights of the carriages reflected in the white tiles of the station wall.
Well now comes the terrible story I have to tell.
You must imagine for a moment Mr Basil Green.
He was an income tax official who lived in N.6 which was what he called that part of London where he and Mrs Green had a house.
He worked in Whitehall from where he sent out letters asking for money (with threat of imprisonment if it was not paid).
Some of this money he kept himself, but most of it he gave to politicians to spend on progress.
Of course it was quite all right, Mr Green writing these threatening letters as people felt they ought to have them.
That is democracy.
Every weekday morning of his life Mr Green travelled from Kentish Town to the Strand reading the News Chronicle.
Every weekday evening of his life he travelled back from the Strand to Kentish Town reading the Evening Standard.
He always caught exactly the same train. He always wore exactly the same sort of black clothes and carried an umbrella. He did not smoke and only drank lime-juice or cocoa. He always sent out exactly the same letters to strangers, demanding money with threats.
He had been very pleased when they shut South Kentish Town Station because it shortened his journey home by one stop.
And the nice thing about Mr Basil Green was that he loved Mrs Green his wife and was always pleased to come back to her in their little house, where she had a nice hot meal ready for him.
Mr Basil Green was such a methodical man, always doing the same thing every day that he did not have to look up from his newspaper on the Underground journey. A sort of clock inside his head told him when he had reached the Strand in the morning. The same clock told him he had reached Kentish Town in the evening.
Then one Friday night two extraordinary things happened.
First there was a hitch on the line so that the train stopped in the tunnel exactly beside the deserted and empty platform of South Kentish Town Station.
Second, the man who worked the automatic doors of the Underground carriages pushed a button and opened them. I suppose he wanted to see what was wrong.
Anyhow, Mr Green, his eyes intent on the Evening Standard, got up from his seat.
The clock in his head said ‘First stop after Camden Town, Kentish Town.’
Still reading the Evening Standard he got up and stepped out of the open door on to what he thought was going to be Kentish Town platform, without looking about him.
And before anyone could call Mr Green back, the man at the other end of the train who worked the automatic doors, shut them and the train moved on. Mr Green found himself standing on a totally dark platform, ALONE.
“My hat!” said Mr Green, “wrong station. No lights? Where am I? This must be South Kentish Town. Lordy! I must stop the next train. I’ll be at least three minutes late!”
So there in the darkness he waited.
Presently he heard the rumble of an oncoming train, so he put his newspaper into his pocket, straightened himself up and waved his umbrella up and down in front of the train.
The train whooshed past without taking any notice and disappeared into the tunnel towards Kentish Town with a diminishing roar.
“I know,” thought Mr Green, “my umbrella’s black so the driver could not see it. Next time I’ll wave my Evening Standard. It’s white and he’ll see that.”
The next train came along. He waved the newspaper, but nothing happened.
What was he to do? Six minutes late now. Mrs Green would be getting worried.
So he decided to cross through the dark tunnel to the other platform. “They may be less in a hurry over there”, he thought.
But he tried to stop two trains and still no one would take any notice of him.
“Quite half an hour late now! Oh dear, this is awful. I know – there must be a staircase out of this empty station. I wish I had a torch. I wish I smoked and had a box of matches. As it is I will have to feel my way.”
So carefully he walked along until the light of a passing train showed him an opening off the platform.
In utter darkness he mounted some stairs and, feeling along the shiny tiled walls of the passage at the top of the short flight, came to the spiral staircase of the old emergency exit of South Kentish Town Station.
Up and up he climbed; up and up and round and round for 294 steps.
Then he hit his head with a terrific whack.
He had bumped it against the floor of one of the shops, and through the boards he could hear the roar of traffic on the Kentish Town Road. Oh how he wished he were out of all this darkness and up in the friendly noisy street.
But there seemed to be nobody in the shop above, which was natural as it was the coal-merchant’s and there wasn’t any coal.
He banged at the floorboards with his umbrella with all his might, but he banged in vain, so there was nothing for it but to climb all the way down those 294 steps again.
And when he reached the bottom Mr Green heard the trains roaring through the dark station and he felt hopeless.
He decided next to explore the lift shafts.
Soon he found them, and there at the top, as though from the bottom of a deep, deep well, was a tiny chink of light. It was shining through the floorboards of the tobacconist’s shop.
But how was he to reach it?
I don’t know whether you know what the lift shafts of London’s Underground railways are like. They are enormous – twice as big as this room where I am sitting and round instead of square.
All the way round them are iron ledges jutting out about six inches from the iron walls and each ledge is about two feet above the next. A brave man could swing himself on to one of these and climb up hand over hand, if he were sensible enough not to look down and make himself giddy.
By now Mr Basil Green was desperate. He must get home to dear Mrs Green.
That ray of light in the floorboards away up at the top of the shaft was his chance of attracting attention and getting home. So deliberately and calmly he laid down his evening paper and his umbrella at the entrance to the shaft and swung himself on to the bottom ledge.
And slowly he began to climb.
As he went higher and higher, the rumble of the trains passing through the station hundreds of feet below grew fainter.
He thought he heard once again the friendly noise of traffic up in the Kentish Town Road. Yes, he did hear it, for the shop door was, presumably, open.
He heard it distinctly and there was the light clear enough. He was nearly there, nearly at the top, but not quite. For just as he was about to knock the floorboard with his knuckles while he held desperately on to the iron ledge with his other hand there was a click and the light went out.
Feet above his head trod away from him and a door banged. The noise of the traffic was deadened, and far, far away below him he caught the rumble, now loud and now disappearing, of the distant, heedless trains.
I will not pain you with a description of how Mr Green climbed very slowly down the lift shaft again. You will know how much harder it is to climb down anything than it is to climb up it. All I will tell you is that when he eventually arrived at the bottom, two hours later, he was wet with sweat and he had been sweating as much with fright as with exertion.
And when he did get to the bottom, Mr Green felt for his umbrella and his Evening Standard and crawled slowly to the station where he lay down on the dark empty platform.
The trains rushed through to Kentish Town as he made a pillow for his head from the newspaper and placed his umbrella by his side.
He cried a little with relief that he was at any rate still alive, but mostly with sorrow for thinking of how terribly worried Mrs Green would be. The meal would be cold. She would be thinking he was killed and ringing up the police.
“Oh Violette!” he sobbed, “Violette!” he pronounced her name ‘Veeohlet’ because it was a French name though Mrs Green was English. “Oh Violette! Shall I ever see you again?”
It was now about half past ten at night and the trains were getting fewer and fewer and the empty station seemed emptier and darker so that he almost welcomed the oncoming rumble of those cruel trains which still rushed past. They were at any rate kinder than the dreadful silence in the station when they had gone away and he could imagine huge hairy spiders or reptiles in the dark passages by which he had so vainly tried to make his escape …