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Guest Post by London Historians Member Dave Whittaker. Review of The History of The Bakerloo Line by Clive D.W Feather.

Bakerloo Line Front cover.Like many Londoners, I tend to feel that each tube line has its own personality. You know you’re on a particular line from the perhaps the car type, the moquette, the terminus station, even the type of passengers. But what of the Bakerloo Line? Nondescript, a bit dull, lacking in the distinct character of the other lines, the boring brown one…?

In this, his first book, the author has the Bakerloo as “The dull brown line on London’s iconic tube map. It doesn’t have the loops of the Piccadilly or the Central or the puzzling shape of the non-circular Circle. But its nondescript appearance belies a history encompassing fraud in the boardroom and drama in the courtroom for a line first conceived by sports enthusiasts and finished by gangsters.”

It would seem there is more to the “nondescript” line that meets the eye.

The author takes us through over 140 years of development in great detail. He covers the transportation world before the first metropolitan railways, political issues and the various technological advancements that then enabled their building.

Starting with the world before the Bakerloo, there are new tunneling techniques, a range of means of propulsion and from this developed various proposed tunneled routes. One of these was the Baker street and Waterloo railway. This particular proposal was said to be dreamt up by businessmen who worked in the Westminster area who were also cricket fans. They needed a fast route to travel to Lord’s Cricket Ground to catch the last of the day’s play. Funding met difficulties, corruption even involved the US Supreme Court.

Why the name? No other lines are named in this format. The full name was considered cumbersome. So why does the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway coin this odd contraction? “The Railway Magazine” of the day called it a “gutter title”. Bakerloo first appeared as Baker-Loo in the Evening News before the line even opened. Some say in the column of “Quex”, but this writer had yet to join the paper. The origin, therefore remaining unknown.

Having opened in 1906, The Bakerloo Line became an established part of London’s growing underground system. Moving on to the First World War we have early electrically operated flood gates, tunnel reinforcements and public sheltering more reminiscent of the Second World War. At this time, the great fear was that the silent Zeppelin bombers could damage and flood the tunnels beneath the river and beyond.

In the 1920s there was a birth on a Bakerloo line train at Elephant and Castle Station. The baby’s name sometimes quoted as Thelma Ursula Beatrice Eleanor… There were also proposals of extending beyond Elephant and Castle to Camberwell, only to be put on hold.
The Second World War gives us an underground wedding reception at Edgware Road station, including an unusual use of one of the lifts.

In later years there has been much delayed expansion of the underground system, again the much earlier idea of taking the line to and beyond Camberwell. As we know instead, the original section of the Jubilee Line was built, in the process lopping off the Stanmore branch.

More recently there have been serious plans finally to extend southeast from Elephant and Castle via Old Kent Road aiming for Lewisham. But not…via Camberwell. Further plans would, in the style of interwar extensions take over the Hayes Line.

The tabulated appendix of various facts and figures includes an intriguing list of original proposed station names. These include Elgin Avenue, Warrington Crescent, Lisson Grove and Acacia. They all opened. Always good pub quiz material.

So, in conclusion, who is if for? It is, perhaps a little too detailed in practical data for the general reader. In many ways it is similar to technical monographs on the subject. These tend to be aimed more at the specialist interest reader. However, saying that, many of us on our dull regular commute become aware and then interested in those “odd bits of kit”, mysterious doors, and old signage to want to know a little more about the dull brown line.

Clive Feather is also the author of popular web site Clive’s UndergrounD Line Guides
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The History of The Bakerloo Line   (192 pp) by Clive D.W Feather is published in paperback by Crowood Publishing with a cover price of £20 although available for less. Includes 118 colour images.

 

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