Guest blog by Paul Cowan, Manager at TfL’s Lost Property Office
Nearly ten years ago, I took up position as Manager at Transport for London’s Lost Property Office (LPO). The first time I ventured into the cavernous basements at 200 Baker Street, I thought I’d stumbled upon some long-lost treasure hoard, plundered by pirates of the Northern Line or a number 97 bus maybe. Although slightly less dramatic, the truth turned out to be no less fascinating.
The LPO was set up in November 1933, subsequent to the commencement of the London Passenger Transport Board. It is estimated that over the following 86 years, more than 15 million items of property have been processed here and stored on the famous green shelves. Anything that passengers have been able to carry on our services, they have been able to lose on our services – and this has included a staggering array of clothing, bags, work and personal items and, more lately, electronic gadgets which we now take for granted. All of these have been dutifully catalogued and stored for a period of three months, pending their hopeful restoration to grateful owners.
200 Baker Street has been our only home and has become synonymous not just with the Lost Property department, but of the people and culture that support it. There is something quintessentially British about the way items are neatly stored, accompanied by the ever-present lost property label on a piece of string. Around every corner of the three-storey subterranean labyrinth is another nook or cranny filled with an assortment of the mundane or the bizarre, the quirkiness of the building layout adding to the overall romance of the site. Artefacts and mementos of time past are dotted throughout – a reflection of the care and love poured into the operation by staff.
As much as we like the place, though, the reality is that it is no longer fit for purpose for the running of a modern, high-volume warehousing operation. We need to adapt to the changing environment in which TfL operates, so are taking up short-to-medium term residence in TfL premises at Pelham Street, South Kensington, whist we consider the longer-term options for the LPO.
It may take a while for the new location to feel like home, although I suspect the distilled essence of things London passengers have lost and reclaimed over so many years will almost certainly follow us wherever we go; it’s in our DNA and always will be.
Should you ever need our services, simply visit the website at tfl.gov.uk/lostproperty to find out how we can help. Of course, we’d prefer if you didn’t lose things in the first instance, so do keep an eye on your possessions when travelling on the network!