What is it about queens and roads?

Millicent Bell, in her notes to the Penguin edition of Henry James’s The Wings of the Dove, tells us that Bayswater station, on the Circle Line of the London Underground, and Queensway station on the Central Line, were both formerly called Queen’s Road. (Both stations stand in what is today Queensway.) According to Douglas Rose’s The London Underground: a Diagrammatic History Bayswater was opened by the Metropolitan Railway as Bayswater in 1868, renamed Bayswater (Queen’s Road) and Westbourne Grove in 1922 – after Henry James’s time – and reverted to plain Bayswater in 1933. Queensway station was indeed opened as Queen’s Road in 1900 and renamed in 1946. It is a name which seems to have caused trouble for railway authorities.

When British Rail were eradicating the last of the totem station signs (a subject I have discussed before) one of the stations to get this attention was Queen’s Road Battersea. According to Dave Brennand’s exhaustive documentation of British Railways Totem Station Signs (1991) the three words of the station name were arranged in two lines in the central section of the totem, and as was customary in capitals. About 1980 the totems were replaced by black on white Gill Sans upper and lower case saying simply Queen’s Road – no Battersea. Within months these signs were themselves replaced by new ones saying Queenstown Road, with Battersea in much smaller letters underneath.

Now Queenstown Road had long been the name of the road: it was shown as such in my parents’ Atlas of Greater London, which was published before 1960 since it did not show our road which was built in that year. So was the road ever just Queen’s Road? It had in any case been Queenstown Road long enough that British Rail should either have changed the name of the station when the totems were replaced or should boldly have kept the discrepancy: there can be no excuse for the waste of two changes of sign within a few months.

The current signs, put up by South West Trains, say only Queenstown Road – once again Battersea is omitted. This does mean that the station cannot be confused with the nearby Battersea Park station, but it would be helpful to know which district it serves. (It would anyway be difficult to confuse one station with Battersea last and one with Battersea first.) And today the booking hall at Queenstown Road is got up in a reproduction of the green and cream of the former Southern Railway, from which those who remember can catch a faint ironic mockery of the relentless replacement of totems over three decades ago.


Picture yourself on a Northern coach tour in 1962



I bought this brochure in a junk shop for 10p some years ago. Northern General ran bus services in Tyneside and north Durham, but it also had a private hire and tours department. Since the brochure was issued its title has acquired a double meaning. There is the original one: consider that you might take a Northern coach tour in 1962 – perhaps you actually will? And there is the new one for today: what would it have been like to take a Northern coach tour over half a century ago?

The sense of time was very different. In those pre-motorway days a coach travelling from Newcastle to Torquay for a week’s tour of Devon was obliged to make an overnight stop in Leicester. A 15-day tour to Vienna and the Danube began with a journey down the Great North Road, including a lunch stop at Doncaster, to Deal, and a night spent there before the sea crossing. This then had to be done in reverse on the return journey: overnight in Deal, lunch in Welwyn Garden City and high tea in Doncaster. Tours to the Scottish highlands required overnight halts in Edinburgh or Glasgow. Still, these journeys themselves seem almost to have been billed as sightseeing tours. A tour to Bournemouth and the Isle of Wight, for example, used different routes for the outward and return journeys. Going out: Darlington, Boroughbridge, Wetherby, Doncaster (lunch), Ollerton Nottingham (overnight) Leicester, Market Harborough, Northampton, Towcester, Oxford (lunch), Abingdon, Newbury, Whitchurch, Winchester, Southampton, Lyndhurst, Bournemouth. Coming home: Salisbury, Amesbury, Marlborough, Lechlade, Burford, Stow on the Wold (lunch), Warwick, Coventry, Leicester, Nottingham (overnight), Ollerton, Bawtry, Thorne, Selby, York (lunch), Easingwold, Northallerton, Darlington (high tea), Newcastle. No doubt, with many by-passes yet to be built, they passed through the centre of many of these towns. And sometimes at least they stopped. On another tour of the Highlands the route between Dunbar and Perth included “South Queensferry (Forth Bridge)” and “Linlithgow (Palace)”.

Names, turns of phrase and everyday mundanities which could hardly then have been noticed as characteristic now re-create the flavour of the age. There is the very name Northern General Transport Company, and those of the other companies which provided booking and enquiry offices for the tours: Tynemouth and District Transport Co., Wakefield’s Motors, Tyneside Tramways and Tramroads Co., The Sunderland District Omnibus Co. These are straightforwardly descriptive rather than the short but over-manicured brand names of today. Local newsagents were used as booking agencies. Northern General’s telephone number was advertised as having “6 Lines”. Telephone numbers for hotels show that some consolidation of exchanges was taking place – that of the Grosvenor Court in Margate was Thanet 22442 – but there were still many small local exchanges (“Windsor – White Hart Hotel, Tel. 521”), some tiny ones (Monmouth – King’s Head Hotel, Tel. 17”) and one, on Valentia Island, Ireland, positively minute: “Royal Hotel, Tel. 7”. Of travel insurance we are told that it is “really worth-while [nowadays it would be a harder sell] to arrange these insurances [who now uses insurance as a countable noun, and in the plural?]”. The booking conditions say sternly, “a flat suitcase is essential”. With the popularity of rucksacks and holdalls this would surely now be impossible to enforce, and I suspect then reflected the general use of suitcases rather than any real necessity.

A tour to Norway sailed from Tyne Commission Quay, North Shields, which is the location of today’s Port of Tyne International Passenger Terminal and which reflects the modern tendency, as at London, Rotterdam and Bremen, for ports to move down river, some way from their cities. On the other hand a tour to Denmark sailed from Newcastle Quayside, No. 11 Wharf: the traditional city port still existed.

All photographs are in black and white, including one of the Valley Gardens in Harrogate, whose floral displays surely clamour for colour. Another shows a prosperous-looking Morecambe Promenade, with well-kept buildings and gardens, and crowds of people such as Morecambe no longer attracts. The British holidaymaking tradition here seems undisturbed. But it soon would be. Air travel appears in this brochure at the margins, and to a reader of today presents itself as something by then established but still out of the ordinary. There is a tour to the Isle of Man by air, while the tour to Norway has an air-travel alternative, with the same itinerary in Norway itself as for those going by sea. On both these tours the flight is from Newcastle airport, referred to in the old-fashioned way by its actual location of Woolsington. But an air tour to Ostend involved an overnight journey via the Great North Road to Southend for the short flight. The company simply seems to have wanted people to enjoy the novelty of a flight; once the journey to the south had been made it would have been as easy to cross by sea to Ostend, as indeed several of the tours which went further into continental Europe did.

In 1962, it seems, many older practices were right in the middle of ceding to new. This is easy to see now; how easy was it to see then? Old and new are both in evidence here. If many people remarked the new arrivals, it would perhaps have taken more perception to see that some familiar things were on their way out.

Weaver Conjunction

Weaver Navigation and Hartford BridgeMy picture shows the River Weaver Navigation at Hartford, Cheshire, where the Navigation is perhaps at its most bucolic. I have caught it, moreover, in its autumnal colours. But in the background is Hartford Bridge, built by Cheshire County Council in 1939, whose utilitarian design and bright blue paint might seem incongruous. It might seem to spoil the view. But I suggest that that view would not be special without it. What makes the scene is the balance of the natural and the artificial. Up close the bridge has the brute beauty of pure engineering:Hartford Bridge from below Hartford Bridge frm aboveit is the girders and the concrete that impress themselves on us. In the distant view the severity of the bridge is softened by the water and foliage; but at the same time the water and foliage are counterpointed by the bridge.

Human activity inevitably imposes artifice on a landscape. We tend to exalt the countryside – there, we say, is ‘nature’ – but houses and street furniture are not fundamentally different in villages from in towns and cities. And though, as I said above, this is probably the Weaver at its most bucolic, this section, the Vale Royal Cut, is in fact one of several artificial sections, variously straightened, provided with locks or bypassing the river proper altogether. The Navigation was created to meet the requirements of industry; and the work on it began relatively early in the eighteenth century, some time before the canal age and the apotheosis of industry.

Hartford Bridge symbolises what a river navigation is – an essentially industrial thing – and it asserts that character even in such a sylvan setting as this. It is the tension between these two opposites which makes the scene uniquely delightful.

Outer London West Middlesex; Outer London South Herts and North Middlesex; Outer London South West Essex; Outer London North West Kent; Outer London North East Surrey

I recently completed the London Loop, the circular path which runs around the edge of Greater London.  (My title is taken from the telephone directories which between them once covered that area.)  A surprise of the Loop is how much it contrasts with the Capital Ring, which I have written about previously.  The London Loop is much less urban than the Capital Ring – inevitably and by design, for its purpose is to exploit the countryside which has been preserved on London’s fringes, while the Ring is an inner suburban walk.  But unlike the Ring the Loop seems detached from the districts it passes through.

My chief memory of Enfield, for example, is the distant views of Trent Park and Forty Hall from among the fields.  Teddington is represented by the residential streets at its western end, Hounslow by the Heath rather than the town, Hayes (Middlesex) by the Grand Union Canal towpath.  Chingford impinged only as the very edge of the built-up area as it touches Epping Forest which otherwise predominates.  At Stanmore I had a strange sense of passing through and not passing through, as the signs and the map told me that was where I was, but I was certainly not at the centre.  I saw the centres of Uxbridge and Elstree only because those places are at the ends of sections of the Loop, so I deviated from the route proper to or from their railway stations at the beginning or end of a day’s walk; and the centre of Barnet only because I made a detour to find somewhere for lunch.  Chigwell is perhaps an intermediate case in that you only encounter the modern centre – the railway station and shops – when getting to and from the route of the Loop, but the latter does take you past the King’s Head, a half-timbered inn which was depicted on a poster painted by Fred Taylor in 1914 for the London Underground to encourage excursions to Chigwell.  Only at Rainham (Essex), Erith, Old Bexley, Ewell and especially the market place and river front of Kingston did I have a sense of passing through a town; it is not the predominant sense of the route even at most towns it encounters.  The Capital Ring gives the opposite sensation even at its greenest.

In short the Loop, considered as a London walk, has a nebulous quality.  Rather than giving a hold on the capital it is more an affair of west Middlesex, south Herts, south west Essex etc.  And perhaps this was what was intended.  Modern London has these places as part of its complex character, and the London Loop brings this aspect into focus.  If we consider it and the Capital Ring together we have a beguiling picture of London, because of the contrast and tension between them.

Another reflection is perhaps more central to the concerns of this blog.  The route of the Loop is well signposted, it is shown on maps and there is a written description, with strip maps, in the guidebook by David Sharp and Colin Saunders.  But all this does not mean you are always certain of the way.  Sometimes, for example, the route I took through a wood did not follow the official path all the way.  Sometimes I took a detour for some other reason.  For example beside the River Crane at Hatton Cross large puddles, the residue of floods, had made the bank impassable, so I had to take instead to nearby streets.

Detours such as this are excusable.  Surely no one can have completed any long distance path without at least one, which implies some elasticity about those paths’ routes.  So a path such as the Loop will in time become a variety of oral tradition: the bounds of acceptable deviation from the official route will be established by custom and, like oral traditions such as songs, verse and stories, will vary over time.  The course of the London Loop exists, will exist and will have existed in both the official marked route and in the deviations from it commonly used.  In so many aspects of existence there is the official record and there is the way things are done in practice.  We have to investigate both if we are to establish historical truth.

You should know Fulwell


A few months ago I recounted how Network Rail, wanting historical information on the construction of a railway line in Kent in order to repair flood damage, had obtained this information from archives and claimed it as a discovery, when it is fairly well documented in secondary sources. Still, this is far better than failing properly to check the historical facts, as has now happened on another part of the network.

The Shepperton branch has long had a propensity to flood after heavy rain, immediately west of its first station at Fulwell. The branch is currently closed for two weeks while the drainage is improved. Network Rail and South West Trains have issued a leaflet informing passengers of these works and giving details of the replacement bus service. It also gives some historical information to show how the line came to be so vulnerable to flooding. “The Shepperton line,” it says, “was first built for freight trains in 1864 but was upgraded to allow pasenger services to use the line in 1901 and then electrified in 1916.”

Now this is rather obviously wrong. No one with the slightest feeling for architecture who looks at the station buildings on the branch such as Fulwell (pictured) could believe they were built as late as 1901, and if there was no passenger service until then why build them before? There was in fact a passenger service from the beginning in 1864, and Nigel Wikeley and John Middleton in Railway Stations: Southern Region (1971) say that these buildings, with their distinctive round-headed windows, are “believed original”.

NR and SWT have got hold of the wrong end of the stick. As Alan A Jackson records in London’s Local Railways (1978) the branch was built with its main line junction facing Strawberry Hill, and trains ran to Waterloo via Richmond. In 1894, largely for the use of race traffic to Kempton Park (and some freight), a chord was constructed from east of Fulwell to the main line facing Teddington. What did happen in 1901 is that occasional ordinary passenger trains began to use this chord to reach Waterloo via Kingston; only with electrification in 1916 did most of the service begin to run by this route, as it still does. All this is easy to discover. How did the garbled version get right through to the press, unchecked in either sense of the word?

Vote Remain

This blog is not normally overtly political, but I make an exception for the referendum on British membership of the European Union, which is probably the most significant vote any of us will cast in our lifetimes.

I urge readers of this blog who have a vote to vote today to remain in the EU.

Among many reasons I could cite the single market, which allows British firms to trade with other European nations with a minimum of bureaucracy; the threat to peace in Northern Ireland if the border between it and the Republic of Ireland has to become a sealed national border instead of the county boundary-like thing it is now; the workers’ rights European law has laid down which our national government would be reluctant to preserve; or the problems such as climate change which require supranational action to solve.

But it is the implications for the pursuit of scholarship which concern me here. In the sciences international co-operation in research projects is essential, and the availability of EU grants has made so many research projects possible. Professional scholars are free to seek work in any EU country, and EU membership has brought us easier travel, in its turn making easier the exchange of ideas between scholars through meetings and conferences.

The creative and performing arts – surely the first cousins of scholarship – are big earners of invisible exports; when orchestras and theatre and dance companies can travel abroad with the least difficulty it cannot but improve their ability to contribute to the country’s trade. And do remember the opportunities provided for the talented young in such ventures as the EU Youth Orchestra, a popular attraction throughout Europe, not least annually at the Proms.

But above all there is this. The pursuit of scholarship necessarily involves the qualification of rigid ideas, theories and categories. Archives, to take the principal preoccupation of this blog, can always disclose awkward facts for any pre-existing thesis; we must always be prepared to modify our view of matters we investigate. It follows that as scholars we should not treat nations as monoliths, nor should we wish to see rigid and impenetrable boundaries around them. We should rather look for all opportunities for cross-fertilisation of ideas between nations and engage wholeheartedly in the great construction for the international meeting of minds which is the EU.

Local history in the UK is a pursuit which engages all kinds of people: amateur and professional, and throughout society. It helps to preserve the character of localities against the encroachment of uniformity, including that imposed from the centre by governments. This problem of imposition from the centre would get worse if we left the EU, membership of which spreads power, and so counteracts the overweening power of Westminster. I believe it is not a coincidence that the first person I saw wearing an “I’m in” sticker was at the West London Local History Conference in March. The proprietors of the popular press favour our leaving the EU because they fear European law will curb their monopoly power. They are emphatically against the general improvement of minds which interests such as local history bring about; they want to be free to exploit us with their mind-rot.

I sketched out the above ideas some time ago. I write them up now in the wake of the indescribably terrible news of the murder of Jo Cox MP. A few weeks back I heard someone argue that we should leave the EU because “we want our country back” (I was not aware that we had lost it). But people are now saying in as many words, “I want my country back” in a very different sense: they want its gentleness, tolerance and open-mindedness restored. That includes an openness to other cultures which leaving the EU would negate. They are qualities which the disinterested pursuit of ideas encourages. Those of us who are engaged in the disinterested pursuit of ideas should not shun an organisation which provides so many ways to make that pursuit so much easier and broader.

Update.  See this post by Simon Wren-Lewis for an exceptionally fine defence of remaining in the EU and of reasoned argument.



If you travel on a Thameslink train between Tooting and Streatham, you can have, from the left-hand windows as you face forward, a rare view of old London.  It can be glimpsed only very briefly, and I would probably never have noticed it if a signal had not one day brought my train to a dead stand with my seat in just the right position, so that I was presented with the scene for as much as two minutes rather than perhaps two seconds.

Between the two stations the train travels at rooftop level for some distance, and there is a stretch where the only buildings to stick up above the houses are churches, some old London board schools – and one modern block.  The houses are initially a mixture of late nineteenth century terraces, inter-war and modern, but then we leave the inter-war and modern houses behind.  Some more modern houses will appear less than a minute later, but for that brief time we see only the late Victorian terraced houses.  A few seconds into that short time parallax causes one of the board schools momentarily to blot out the modern block (on the horizon, left) so that, TV aerials and suchlike apart, we glimpse a roofscape of gables, tiles and chimneys which has barely changed for at least a hundred years – or we would if someone in the foreground had not had a loft conversion done since I first noticed the phenomenon.