Archive for December, 2010

Only the most unobservant users of the Piccadilly Line will not know the name Metro Cammell. “England  Metro Cammell 1973” is emblazoned on a steel floorplate under every set of doors on every carriage, thus:

metro cammell floor plate

A familiar sight to all Piccadilly Line users

It has taken me thirty years of casual acquaintance with this industrial brand before finding out more about it.

The story of Metro Cammell is the story of the British railway industry itself, from thrusting Victorian trajectory  to pathetic late-20th Century demise: the story, in fact, of British manufacturing. The company to all intents and purposes finally closed its doors as recently as 2005, having been taken over by French energy and transport giant GEC Alsthom some years previously.

But first, the name. It was the result of the merger, in 1929 of  a division of Cammell Laird and Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Company Ltd. hence Metro Cammell.

northfields underground station

Trusty Metro-Cammell coaches on the Piccadilly Line

Metro Cammell had its origins deep in the pioneering times of the early railways, when a kaleidoscope of operators, engine manufacturers and carriage makers grew out of nothing to take advantage of the revolutionary new mass transport technology. Many of these companies were fierce rivals who nonetheless could not operate successfully one without the other and over the next century and a half there were myriad mergers and takeovers (read, for example, Christian Wolmar’s absorbing and amusing account in The Subterranean Railway of the Metropolitan Railway and the District Railway in the early days of the London Underground).

And so with Metro Cammell. From the late 1830s, Joseph Wright and Sons of London created carriages for the London and Southampton and the London and Birmingham Railways. They moved their operation to Birmingham in 1845. Various mergers in the early 20th Century saw them emerge in 1926 as the Metropolitan Carriage, Wagon and Finance Company Ltd. During this period they also manufatured hundreds of tanks for the war effort in World War I. Then in 1929 the company merged with the carriage division of Cammell Laird, becoming commonly known as Metro Cammell thereafter despite subsequent corporate ownership adjustments.

From this time, in addition to bus coachmaking and more tank building during World War II, the company manufactured carriages for the railways of the world: USA, Canada, South Africa, Hong Kong, Singapore, Brazil, Jamaica, Egypt among them.

The company was still successful during the 1980s and 1990s both before and after the GEC Alsthom takeover in 1989. The name Metro Cammell disappeared forever in 1998 when the owners floated the company under the name Alstom. The early 2000s saw orders decline to the point that the last carriages were manufactured at the Washwood Heath site in 2004 at which time the organisation continued as a maintenance-only business. Washwood Heath was shut at the end of 2005 and the remaining Alstom operations continue elsewhere, a pale shadow of the once-mighty Metro Cammell.

You can read more about Metro Cammell here and especially here.

Well here we are, the last post of 2010. Thank you for reading and a very Happy New Year from London Historians.

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russ willey and mike paterson

Russ and Mike

After several false starts, co-authors of this blog Russ Willey and your correspondent finally managed to hook up in South Ealing to spend several pleasant hours yakking about London history (and pinball!) and for Russ to sign copies for his excellent book Chambers London Gazetteer for some of our members. The Gazetteer is becoming quite hard to obtain of late (persist!), but Russ’s newer title, Brewer’s Dictionary of London Phrase and Fable came out in its paperback edition at the end of October. Russ is too much of a gentleman to plug his own books here, so I shall do it for him: they are throroughly researched, absorbing to read and have an excellent lightness of touch usually lacking in reference works. In short, your London history bookshelf is incomplete without them!

Russ is hard at work on his latest book, the contents of which are under wraps for the moment.

P.S. This is a very grim picture of me, belying my innate cheerfulness: blame the cafe owner.

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question 18

Question 18

The Winner: We had eight 100% correct entries, so the winner was drawn from a hat (literally). Congratulations to Robert Knight.

Quiz is now closed for further entries – many thanks to all those who participated.

If you’re bored and would like to win a superb history book, try our Christmas quiz. All answers are to be found on this blog somewhere, or Wikipedia, or wherever you fancy. Send your answers to admin@londonhistorians.org with Xmas Quiz in the subject line.

The winner will receive a copy of Behind Closed Doors: At Home with the Georgians by new TV star Professor Amanda Vickery, who has kindly agreed to sign it for us.

Competition closes midnight 31 December. The winner will be the one with most correct answers, or drawn from a hat if tied.

And by the way, you may be interested to know that we have a signed book competition every month in our members’ newsletter. You can join here.

Here goes:

Question 1
Which Whig politician was murdered by his valet on 5 May 1840?

Question 2
Who was the first cartoonist to become editor of Punch?

Question 3
What is the official name of the Duke of Wellington’s former home near Hyde Park Corner?

Question 4
Which senior cabinet politicians fought an infamous duel in 1809?

Question 5
How many people were killed in an industrial accident near Tottenham Court Road in 1814?

Question 6
How many children passed through the Foundling Hospital from the 18th to 20th Centuries?

Question 7
Which royal palace became a prison in the 16th Century? nb: not the Tower of London.

Question 8
Karl Marx wrote a biography of which prime minister in 1853?

Question 9
Which criminal was remembered in paint by Hogarth’s father-in-law?

Question 10
Which is the regimental church of the Royal Fusiliers (aka City of London Regiment)?

Question 11
Who was Samuel Johnson’s servant who became the main beneficiary in the writer’s will? nb: not Boswell.

Question 12
Name the “lost palace” that Henry VIII built near Ewell in Surrey.

Question 13
Who invented tonic water which gave us the G&T?

Question 14
When was the last frost fair held on the Thames?

Question 15
Which Londoner invented the custom of Christmas cards?

Question 16
Who was the first resident astronomer of the Royal Observatory?

Question 17
Which brothers tried to clean up corruption in London’s legal system in the mid-18th Century?

Question 18
Name the friend of Samuel Johnson who was executed for fraud in 1777.

Question 19
What profession did the inventor of the London bus pursue after he went bankcrupt for the second time?

Question 20
Which illegitimate son of Henry VIII died in 1536?

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Merry Christmas, readers.

Thanks for reading our blog this past four months or so. Please look forward to and expect more and better in 2011.
To all our readers, a very merry Christmas.
Mike, Emily and Russ.

Trafalgar Square, Christmas Eve, 2010

Trafalgar Square, Christmas Eve, 2010

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Christmas Special

london historians founder member card

Sorry, the Christmas 2010 £10 Special reduction is now closed. If you’d like to sign up for London Historians as a Founder Member at the normal rate, please click here.

Christmas present?
Have you considered giving a friend or relative a membership to London Historians for Christmas? Fill in the form in the usual way with their details and we’ll send them a Happy Christmas welcome email with your message on Christmas Day, but you’ll have to email us your instruction for this to admin@londonhistorians.org.

Founder Member cards for will be despatched to all new members early January.

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vice-admiral robert fitzroy

Vice-admiral Robert FitzRoy

Fitzroy, as all Radio 4 listeners kno, is a region of the Shipping Forecast. It lies between Trafalgar and Sole and was named after Admiral Robert FitzRoy (1805 – 1865). FitzRoy was a pioneering hydrographer, surveyor and meteorologist who commanded HMS Beagle and was a close friend of both Beaufort (of wind scale fame) and Darwin. So the naming of the region is a fitting tribute to this distinguished sailor, who is probably spinning in his grave over the recent record of the Met Office.

But what I wish to write about is the name Fitzroy and how this morning it gave me that Ahh, lightbulb moment. The name cropped up a few months ago when I was reading about Henry VIII and how, in 1536, his bastard son, the popular Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset, died unexpectedly (some historians believe Henry was lining him up for the succession at the time). I parked the fact in memory.

Then this morning I was re-acquainting myself with the Duke of Monmouth story, he of rebellion fame who was executed in 1685 under James II. I knew he was the bastard son of Charles II, but discovered that he was also known as James Fitzroy. Wait a minute. Two bastard sons of kings called Fitzroy. Of course! Roy = king; fitz = son of. Tantalisingly obvious, really.

We then discover that King John had a bastard son, known as Richard Fitzroy (1190 – 1246) and that Henry I before him had an illegitimate daughter called Matilda Fitzroy who became an abbess, known as Maud. So it’s a long-standing tradition.

Rewinding to the Duke of Monmouth. He was also the 1st Duke of Grafton, whose grandson Augustus the 3rd Duke was a Whig statesman who served as prime minister from 1768 – 1770. He, in turn, was the grandfather of our original hero Admiral Robert FitzRoy, and so we come full circle in a warmly satisfying manner.

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the frozen thames 1677

Behold the liquid Thames now frozen o’er
That lately Ships of mighty Burthen bore
The Watermen for want of Rowing Boats
Make use of Booths to get their Pence & Groat
Here you may see Beef Roasted on the Spit
And for your Money you may taste a bit
There you may print your Name, tho’ cannot write,
Cause num’d with Cold: ‘Tis done with great Delight
And lay it by, that Ages yet to come
May see what Things upon the Ice were done

These lines were written in the early 19th Century by a Southwark sculptor called Richard Kindersley. From the late Middle Ages until this time, the Thames regularly froze over during the winter. There are two reasons for this, one climactic and one topographical. The 14th to 18th Centuries are known as the Little Ice Age, when winters tended to be much more severe than subsequently. Most of the London Thames was unembanked, hence the river was both shallower and slower. Exacerbating this, Old London Bridge had very narrow arches, creating a dam effect: once the first chunks of ice floating downriver wedged themselves between the bridge’s piers, the river soon froze solid. However, we know that the Thames must sometimes have frozen downstream of the bridge too, because it is recorded that Henry VIII travelled to Greenwich over the ice.

Old London Bridge was pulled down in 1831 and replaced by a structure with fewer and much wider spans; by the 1860s, the London Thames was fully embanked.

Frost Fairs.
From the early 17th to the early 19th Century, frost fairs were held on the frozen Thames. These were festivals which involved winter games, markets, dancing and revelling. The first “official” frost fair took place in 1608 and these continued until 1814, the last time the London Thames froze over. However it is known that Elizabeth I enjoyed attending games and revels on the frozen river, so the tradition pre-dates 1608 by some time.

frost fair 1683

The Frost Fair of 1683

Severe Winters.
There have been many. Some are noted below, but for a good comprehensive list, you’ll find an excellent reference here.

The Great Frost of 1709 was believed to be the coldest winter for 500 years with temperatures measured at -10 Centigrade in Upminster. Widespread death of people, livestock, flora and fauna resulted.

Coldest winter for 50 years. On 29 December, the ironclad HMS Warrior – under construction – froze to her slipway on the Thames and had to be released by tugs.

Two cold snaps occurred in December and January, but the major freeze kicked in on 21 January, threatening power and supplies in an already-stretched austerity environment. The government applied severe rationing of goods and services, public morale plummetted. Conditions did not ease until mid-March, when the thaw causes severe flood damage throughout the country.

The Big Freeze started on 22 December 1962 and lasted until 5 March 1963. Snow remained on the ground in most areas for a full two months.


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