353 goes far East? Well certainly about as far East as it could and still claim London Underground legitimacy. The restoration of Metropolitan carriage no.353 to its former glory was a significant investment, and the Museum was helped out by a generous grant from the Lottery Heritage Fund. In recognition of this help, the carriage has been used at a number of events in 2013 at which the public can both see it and take a ride in its stunning first class interior.
Hence on an early Saturday morning in July I found myself stood next to 353 on the platform of North Weald station of the heritage Epping and Ongar Railway, which was until 1994 part of London Transport’s Central Line. The Epping and Ongar Railway had organised an Underground 150 event as its contribution to this year’s celebrations.
Truth be told, in my concern not to be late, I actually arrived a bit too early, just as the station was opening. Consequently I was treated to a happy hour or so watching while the trains for the day were formed up; it was a highly nostalgic image of what I would imagine a sleepy early morning in the summer on a steam secondary line must have been like.
The nostalgia quotient was piled on as a brace of Country Area RTs and a couple of RFs arrived on the apron outside the station, ready to run the shuttles bringing passengers from Epping station.
However, I wasn’t in deepest Essex to wallow in the past. For a change I was actually making myself useful and I spent the day acting as the steward on 353. This meant looking after the carriage, to make sure that nothing untoward happened to it. Just as importantly, I was also on hand to ensure that the public safely enjoyed their day and were able to understand a little bit about the history and restoration of 353. At this point I also have to mention the Epping and Ongar’s volunteers, who I found to be immensely friendly and helpful.
So I spent a very happy day trundling to and fro through the summer countryside, in a train consisting of Metropolitan loco no. 1, carriage 353 and a “Dreadnought” carriage. I think it would be a fair reflection to say that a good time was had by all! (But especially me……)
Dave Olney, Volunteer
Open Weekends at the Acton Depot of the LTM – held twice a year, they are a fabulous opportunity for the public to see “behind the scenes” of the Museum. It would be true to say that the vast majority of the museum’s collection is actually held at Acton. To some extent this is down to space available in the main Covent Garden building; there are also considerations of restoration, preparation and overhaul of exhibits, all of which are done at the Depot. So it’s a treasure trove!
As the sharper-eyed amongst you may have spotted, this year is the 150th anniversary of the opening of the world’s first underground railway, from Edgware Road to Farringdon. Inevitably this meant that the open weekend had an “Underground 150” theme. In the yard at the rear of the Depot could be found Metropolitan Railway No. 1, stationary but in steam, together with recently restored Metropolitan Carriage No. 353 and a milk van. Joining No. 1 on a short stretch of 1 foot 11½ inches gauge track laid especially for the event was Ffestiniog Railway steam loco number 2 “Prince” providing engine rides.
Depot Open Days could not function without a tremendous amount of support from the museum’s volunteers. Many of them were to be found in the yard helping with stewarding the huge numbers of visitors wanting to get “up close and personal” with the special displays. My photos were taken on the Sunday of the event, which was busy enough, but I’m told that the Saturday was the busiest open day ever.
You can also see that Metropolitan Electric Loco No. 12 ”Sarah Siddons” was on display, and while not as popular as the steam locos the opportunity to visit the driver’s cab was still quite a draw. Again, volunteers were to the fore in helping the public get the best from their visit.
Finally, as part of the 150 theme, a number of London-themed model railway layouts were on display. Who would have thought it would be possible to model Metropolitan No. 1 or “standard” tube stock so accurately from the ubiquitous bricks?
Dave Olney, Volunteer
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.