London Transport Firsts

I have been a London Transport nut, or to put it more formally, enthusiast, from an early age. Born in Islington, 1936, a year which, in my opinion, was the zenith of London Transport. Red was the color of efficiency, of responsible authority, of vehicles that were the best maintained fleet in the world, and of passion. After all, it worked well for the Post Office.

The passion of course, was in my own soul. I could not think anything better than that organization that ran from Hitchin to Horsham, and from Romford to Richmond and everywhere else in-between and sideways!

I can still remember my first London Transport vehicles. The first motor bus was an ex-General LT, with an open staircase. I always insisted to my parents that we go upstairs and I was thrilled to be able to actually climb and move in the bus -- on the outside. It was as though those outside stairs were more of an attachment to the bus, rather than an integral part of the structure. In my childlike eyes, one could swap staircases if one wanted to, and for a very short while, I actually though that, when they wanted to put on a different advert, they just found the staircase they wanted, and replaced the one on the bus with it.

I am not sure whether I saw a tram or a trolleybus first. As I remember, it could have been the tram. One night, after a bombing raid, we kids ran down to the corner of Essex Road and Balls Pond Road, and found a huge crater outside Knapmans the butcher. There was still water pouring in from water mains, and other pipes and wires everywhere. I had to ask my Dad why, if the bomb fell down, were the tramlines sticking up in the air.

A kid told us that Essex Road was "full of trams." We ran to the road and sure enough there was a long line of trams. Not being able to get down Balls Pond, they were rerouted around the Dove Road single track to move North to Manor House, and South to the Kingsway subway.

My first trolley bus memory was a 677 to Smithfield. After the "Knapman" bombing as my father called it, we kids were shipped off to Wales as part of the evacuation program. My parents took the 677 to the Angel, onto the Northern Line to Kings Cross, then the Met/InnerCircle to Paddington, and by Gods Wonderful Railway to Llantrisant, in South Wales. It was on this trip that I remember my first Underground ride. My mum said that I called them "tram trains" because the hum of the motors as they accelerated out of the station, sounded like trams.

The Angel was the first remembered Underground station of course. The building was still very much how it was built, wood and stone everywhere. With no escalators, we descended to the depths in a rather large lift, operated then by a LPTB staffer, who yelled at the top his voice to mind the gates. I was told that he had to close the gates by hand, but as far as I can recall, the gates were always motorized and the staff closed them by a half circular brass handled unit, always brightly burnished by the station staff. Then it was round the circular tunnels to the stairs to the platform, with signs telling passengers what side to go down and up, which everybody ignored of course.

That single narrow platform didn't seem to crowded back then, perhaps because I most used it to visit my Aunt in Edgware on Sundays. Later, it became a real terrifying knuckle wait on that platform with ten people standing in the space of five, as the 1936 stock roared into the station. We heard it first, then saw the flickering front coach lights, then our hair and clothese started moving with the air, until the train all but yelled for us to stand back from the edge. It was even worse when two trains entered the station at the same time.

I was told many many years, later, that signalmen were told to position the trains on the line not to allow two trains to enter the station at the same time. Today, the Angel is totally transformed -- and appreciated -- for those that use it. Burnt Oak, on the other hand, where I would alight to catch a Leyland STD on Route 52 for my aunts house in Edgware remains delightfully more or less as it was built in 1924. Since those early innocent days, London Transport through it's various forms, have accomplished many firsts. These were mine.