Tag Archives: London Underground

Past becomes Present with Steam Underground

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Met 1 at Hammersmith Station on 30th July 2014

On a humid summer night on the platforms of Northfields station, with the last Piccadilly and District line services faithfully plying the tracks, we waited with excitement.

We were waiting for the reassuring ‘chuffing’ sound of a steam train in the distance. As it came closer the sound grew louder until, at 23.38, we witnessed the arrival of Met 1 accompanied by her familiar whistle and plume of steam for the first time since the 150th anniversary celebrations of the London Underground in 2013.

The train, comprising the now familiar line up of Met 1, the Milkvan, Carriage 353, the Chesham set of coaches and Sarah Siddons, was being tested during engineering hours ahead of the Museum’s summer programme of heritage train outings taking place throughout August.

Following its prompt departure from Northfields the train, hauled by Met 1, made its way along the District and Circle lines up to Moorgate, surprising unsuspecting late night travellers as it slowly progressed along the line and through near empty stations.

Without a glitch the train soon reached Edgware Road, quickly filling the tunnels of the oldest part of the London Underground with steam, while the unmistakable smell of the coals delighted the senses of everyone who had the opportunity to travel on the train on this warm July morning.

After refilling at Moorgate, it was the turn of Sarah Siddons to haul the train, now with a free reign following the shutdown of the system all the way to Hammersmith. The journey was repeated for a second time before the arrival of the dawn chorus and the start of another working day.

We hope you’ll join us on these historic and memorable journeys with Met 1 on Saturday 2 and 9 August. For more information go to: Heritage Vehicle Outings

Poster Art 150 inspires Graphic Design Students

A guest blog by Gabriel Solomons, Senior Lecturer in Graphic Design at the University of the West of England

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Over the past four years the University of the West of England (UWE) has been running a poster project for level 2 BA graphic design students.

Each year UWE aims to tie the project in with a major national or international event (last year the students produced posters for the 2012 Olympics). This year’s commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the world’s first underground railway fitted perfectly, as poster art has always been such an integral part of the London Underground ‘experience’.

Students were therefore asked to produce an A3 screenprinted, two-colour poster promoting the exhibition ‘Poster Art 150: London Underground’s Greatest Designs’ currently on show at London Transport Museum. We were so pleased with the results, that we got in touch with the Museum and they asked us to write this blog entry to explain more about the project.

The design concept for this project is rooted in the traditions of the International Typographic Style, a design style developed in Switzerland in the 1950s. This ‘Swiss Style’ emphasizes clean, dynamic composition, with simple colour schemes and information hierarchy using sans serif typefaces, letterforms and shapes rooted in architectural structure.

Students studied the work of celebrated Swiss Style masters such as Armin Hofman, Joseph Muller-Brockmann and Max Bill. They were also encouraged to research the poster collection on the Museum website, which helped them to contextualize their own work and became an invaluable source of inspiration.

After research, students were supplied with a simple grid format to work with. They also had a given set of type sizes and the Johnston typeface, designed by Edward Johnston in 1916 and well known for its use by Transport for London. Artwork for the poster had to be created in a one-day workshop and prepped for screenprinting the following week. This emphasized the speed with which transport posters often had to be created during the ‘Golden Age’ of poster design in the 1920s and 30s.

‘The work created by our students saw a wide range and variety of approaches. Some students chose to use familiar and recognizable images of trains, escalators and tunnel architecture. Others have taken inspiration from the sound, colour and atmosphere of the Tube’s subterranean environment.

We’ve been really pleased with the students’ work, and it shows they thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of creating work for such an institution as London Transport Museum, and for a hugely significant anniversary. You can see the posters online through the typenowhere site.

London Underground Testing of Met 1 and Coach 353: The Director’s Perspective

Test train at Moorgate, 16th December 2012

Back in December, we tested Met 1 and coach 353 from Earls Court to Moorgate to prepare for the celebration. For me, it was a remarkable experience to see both our restored vehicles arrive under steam at Earls Court early in the morning of 16 December. The unlined maroon Met 1 pulled quietly into the platform, the varnished coach glinting in the lights behind, cameras were deployed and then followed the cry of ‘All aboard’. We climbed into the plush red seats of one of the four compartments, lit by the Pintsch patent gas lights (LEDs actually), and the doors were slammed shut. With  journalists, and our donors and trustees, I sat expectantly on the plush bench seat and noted the gilded mirrors, buttoned leather door panels, string net luggage racks and rich lettering. Richard Jones opined that this was one of the best restorations he had ever seen. The guard blew his whistle, was answered by the engine whistle and we lurched forwards as the coupling slack was snatched up. The loud beat of the engine quickened and echoed off the tunnel roof as we pulled away, the view on both sides being obscured by smoke and steam. We let one window down on its notched leather strap to get the full effect of steam coal into the compartment. The engine worked quite hard as it tackled the gradient up to Kensington Church Street. For the first time, we began to get just a hint of what travelling on the Victorian Underground might have felt like, the noise of the engine, the movement of the carriage and the swirl of the steam outside the window. We passed through modern stations such as King’s Cross/St Pancras, a rather  surreal experience looking out from a varnished teak upholstered interior onto a modern functional platform with its bright roundels. Orange-clad station staff and contractors smiled and took pictures as we rattled through brightly lit but empty platforms. An unexpected red signal at Baker Street led to the engine blowing off and bringing down the accumulated dust, soot and dead pigeons of the past 150 years onto the pristine carriage and loco. We nosed into the bay platform at Moorgate to take on water before making the return journey to Edgware Road.

This is the experience I hope many of you have been able to taste on the January commemorative runs. Tickets have inevitably been limited and expensive but this is a one-off event, expensive to mount and unlikely to be repeated. To run a  steam hauled service of original carriages within the normal Met timetable has been a huge privilege and a great event to lead off the celebration of the Underground’s profound influence on the capital over the past 150 years. There will be further opportunities throughout the year to ride behind Met 1; from Harrow to Amersham in May and September, at Quainton Road in August and at Epping-Ongar in June and even a Santa Special in December. Negotiations are in hand to hire the loco and coach to heritage railways in the coming years and spread the Museum’s message through a volunteer supporters group to explain them and illustrate the restoration process to a wider public.

Our two projects for 2013 have been the most significant we have undertaken since the 38-stock restoration nearly ten years ago. It’s the first time we have ventured into steam overhaul and operation and we have the eight to ten year life of the boiler certificate to carry the story of the Met and the world’s first underground railway to locations and audiences within and beyond London. We hope to pair it as much as possible with Met 353, our first Met carriage and seen on the test night as one of the highest quality  restorations of its type. Great tribute is owed to the Friends for backing this work from the offset two years ago, to our contractors at the Ffestiniog  and for the excellent and thoughtful direction of the project by Tim Shields. If you are one of over two hundred individual donors, many thanks from the board and myself.