It was good to see her Majesty visiting Baker Street station on 20 March 2013 as part of the Underground 150 events.
Baker Street has, frankly, seen better days. Sporadic attempts at preservation clash vividly with ill-considered 1970s improvements and general decay, all resulting from the lack of long term application of any single controlling mind (but explained as ‘a lack of money’). Perhaps it is this unplanned authenticity that makes the station so interesting, full of nooks and crannies and steeped in history, though the changes of 1914 did clear much of this away. It was therefore a fitting place for a monarch to visit, even though in 1863 it was a mere wayside station of no great significance. The visit allowed her to inspect an 1880s railway carriage, thoughtfully stabled in Platform 1 with an 8-car S stock train, a manoeuvre looking as though it had required some interesting shunting the previous night. She didn’t go near the nooks and crannies I would love to explore, and was kept well away from the ‘grot’. I don’t suppose monarchs ever see things as they really are.
Naturally the visit was widely reported, but a slight omission was any reference to an earlier monarch actually travelling on the first Underground railway. We should not forget that before the First World War, if one wanted to go anywhere inland more than a few miles, the train was really the only way to do this. This applied equally to a royal ‘One’.
So far as I have been able to tell, the King had been invited to visit Penn House as a guest of the Earl and Countess Howe. The journey was made on 16 January 1902, and he was apparently accompanied by Maj. Gen Sir Stanley Clarke (equerry) and Hon. Sydney Greville (groom in waiting). The Metropolitan provided a special train and, having no royal carriage, presumably furnished one or both of the special vehicles usually reserved for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild to travel in. A number of senior Metropolitan staff also accompanied the train to ensure all was well. The saloon carriages were well appointed with comfortable chairs and settees, and were probably well stocked with refreshments. This lot departed from Baker Street at 6:16pm, some six minutes later than planned owing to the royal party being late (the King had had a busy day that included opening parliament). The 24 mile journey to Amersham was done in 36 minutes, a feat that would not be possible today. The King Left Penn on 21 January, setting off with his retinue for Windsor in his own motor car, a journey that took an hour.
There is an intriguing post script to this. The staff magazine, Pennyfare, for March 1941 refers to a Metropolitan man retiring after 47 years as having been a fireman on an occasion when ‘King Edward VII drove from Baker Street to Amersham’. It would be straining matters to say that the King frequently used the Metropolitan, so it likely that we are looking at one and the same journey. I struggle with the idea that the King, after a busy day and accompanied by others and in formal clothing, would be driving a railway locomotive, though quite possibly he spoke to the crew at one or both ends of his journey. I mention it for what it is worth, and because I’d like to know more.
It seems the King would have had good cause to have the Metropolitan in his mind whenever he wanted to travel, for he was once dropped upon its property, literally. According to historian Alan Jackson, in July 1898, Whilst Prince of Wales, he succeeded in breaking a royal leg at Waddesden Manor, where he had been staying (we do not know how he got there). He was due to travel from Aylesbury to Windsor and was confined to an invalid chair with his leg strapped up. It seems use of the Great Western train required him to cross the tracks at Aylesbury, and use of the footbridge was selected rather than a barrow crossing, which in the event might not have been the best choice as the chair collapsed after being manhandled onto the bridge causing alarm and delay, and not a little kippering from passing engines whilst new arrangements were made for conveying the royal personage. My own researches, indicating a knee injury rather than a broken leg, suggest he was expected to return to Marlborough House from Waddesden on 17 July, with every indication that he did so; Windsor isn’t mentioned. Neither is any reference made to anything unfortunate happening at Aylesbury station, but that might just be The Times being diplomatic. As an aside the original injury was found suitable for investigation by Rontgen Rays (X-rays), an early and high profile use.
Whether the King actually used the Metropolitan on any other occasion must be doubted. F.G. Cockman, ‘The Railways of Buckinghamshire from the 1830s’, 2006, is said to refer to an up journey from Wendover one evening in 1901, but I do not have a copy and I understand no date is given. Something else to delve into when I have time. It is in the nature of the Underground that there are very few royal journeys, so those that did take place might be worthy of record.
Although I like Baker Street’s idiosyncrasies, it could be a much better place if the incongruous tiled erections cluttering up the 1914 station sightlines were cleared up and the explosion of wiring contained in an appropriate run. Maybe the new signalling and communication systems will allow this, but it really needs some longer term plan to sort out what is really a bit of a mess of a place with some facilities (like stairs down from platforms 3 & 4) barely able to cope. As things are, it isn’t fit for a queen.
The above photo shows the red 1970s tiling contrasting with the biscuit-coloured faience of the Metropolitan’s 1914 column finishes. The chaotic wiring run under the roof has been in this condition for at least 25 years – hundred of cables just hung in full public view.