Dewi's Trains,

Trams & Trolleys

UCS on the Met:
a tragedy luckily avoided

 

Comments/corrections to: Dewi Williams 

 

compartment trains at Harrow

Wooden compartment trains at Harrow

After the war, after the “11-plus” exam, I was accepted into University College School (UCS), which was in Hampstead. To get there I had to commute - by train. This was wonderful. Bus to Harrow, then a choice of fast or stopping trains to Finchley Road. There were “modern” red subway-style trains, there were older wooden compartment slam-door trains, and there were locomotive-hauled trains that ran from Baker Street out to Aylesbury, which sometimes deigned to stop at Harrow. And all of them ran past the Neasden works of the former Metropolitan Railway, where there were all kinds of interesting steam and electric locomotives.
 

 

During this period, my grandmother lived in a flat about three doors away from us, and Aunty Bobbie lived with her for a couple of years. Aunty Bobbie was then with the British Council, working in Great Portland Street, and so she too would use the Metropolitan train from Harrow. She would lend me her stopwatch and showed me how to measure the speed of the train, noting the mileposts as we bounced along the track.
 

loco-hauled train

Loco-hauled train
at speed

The compartment trains were actually hazardous, particularly when invaded by a bunch of schoolboys. The door latches weren’t perfect. One day, we were fooling around, playing tag in this small compartment, when one of the group fell against the door - and it swung open! Naturally, this happened at the point where the train was running at its maximum speed of about 60mph: I’d timed it often enough to know the speed. Now we could have pulled the emergency cord to stop the train, but this would have meant admitting what we had been doing. Almost without thinking, one of our group leaned out of the open doorway, with two others holding him. The windows of those trains were of the style that had hardly changed since the days of stage-coaches: the window slid up and down, pulled by a leather strap. The boy leaning out of the door grabbed the strap and pulled. Unfortunately, this pulled up the window, increasing the air resistance. Nevertheless, we managed to pull him and the door, which we slammed with relief. And the train crew noticed nothing! Or if they did, they said nothing about it.
 

 

Schoolgirls rode on the Metropolitan trains as well as schoolboys, of course: but custom demanded that girls and boys should ride in separate compartments. One day, a member of our group dashed down the stairs, jumped into a compartment and slammed the door just as the train pulled out. To his horror he found that he’d climbed aboard a compartment of (gasp!) girls - and he was stuck there until the train reached Wembley Park. The next day he reported to us, still hardly believing what he’d seen, that girls behaved just as we did - climbing around on the luggage racks and on the seats.
 

   Copyright   Dewi Williams 2002
     

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