First thing in the morning was my speech to the Loyola Law Class. I have been giving a 40-60 minute lecture on local history for Loyola’s comparative Law class for the past five years. This year’s top was the London Underground. Usually, we have the lectures in the famous Middle Temple Hall, part of the Middle Temple Inn, a true treasure in London. (The Great Hall was where one of the first performances of Twelfth Night took place. Also, planks from Sir Francis Drake’s Golden Hind were made into tables there). THis year, the Hall was under construction so we had the proceedings elsewhere.
A few things about the London Underground. Most of the lines (save the newest ones after the 1930s) were independent companies with some big rivalries. Apparently, none of them made much money. Other profit lines like suburban homes or Underground Maps apparently made more money than the lines themselves.
There’s an interesting Chicago connection. Charles Yerkes, Philadelphian born “quintessential Victorian conman,” was in Chicago before his flight to London. He played a role in the development of the El. However, he tried to get a monopoly on busing contracts through extortion and blackmail, which earned him the ire of lots of people. There’s a story that famously corrupt aldermen Bathhouse John and HInky Dink Kenna were approached the mayor to stop this deal. Bathhouse John’s response was “I was talkin’ awhile back with Senator Billy Mason and he told me, ‘Keep clear of the big stuff, John. It’s dangerous. You and Mike stick to the small stuff; there’s little risk and in the long run pays a damn sight more.” Mr. Mayor, we’re with you.” (Thanks to my husband for this one). So yeah, too corrupt a deal for them! He was run out of town (I believe an effigy was burned in front of city hall) and he eventually made his way to London. While corrupt and conning as always, he had a hand in financing many Underground lines, introducing US money into the British system.
The story goes that the first escalator was installed in 1911 at Earl Court’s station. People were super anxious but then a one legged man named Bumper Harris started going up and down the escalator. He and his descendents claimed that he was not paid to do it!
In the financing of the Bakerloo line, James Whitaker Wright was convicted of fraud in 1904 for 7 years of penal servitude. He allegedly handed his solicitor his watch and said “I won’t need this where I am going.” Then he died after biting into a hidden cyanide capsule.
The famous map of the underground was designed by Harry Beck, like an electrical circuit, in 1931. Initially it was rejected for being too revolutionary but was adopted in 1933 after the immense popularity of it.
Frank Pick was the Managing Director of London Underground and then the first Chief Executive of London Transport in the 1930s. He’s the man responsible for commissioning the look and feel the Tube. The logos, the branding as a whole, the posters advertising the city, was under his watch.
Below are some photos of various art seen in the stations of the Underground.
And while I could spend a lot more time on it, I’ll leave you with one last thing. During WWII, famously tube stations were used as bomb shelters. Apparently, individual stations had clubs for theater productions, dressmaking, darts and one even had a newspaper called “De profundis,” which is Latin for “from the depths.”
After my speech and the others for the morning, my husband and I decided to check out the exhibition on 20th century maps at the British Library nearby. What an amazing exhibition. The maps were segmented by use: survey use, war use, peacetime use, commerce and more. One of the most memorable ones was a map for children to fill in the borders at the conclusion of WWI, back when they thought the war would last weeks. So cavalier with politics! They even had Harry Beck’s map of the underground, which was a nice closing the loop for the day!
And as an added bonus, there was a pop-up shop dedicated their line of murder mysteries. It had a nice 1920s vibe going with a gramophone and decorations.
That evening, we went to see a lovely musical called Half A Sixpence that takes place at the turn of the last century. The musical is basically about a young boy who goes to the city to learn a trade and inherits a lot of money and has to learn how to handle this new world. It’s funny and sweet (kinda sorta passes the Bechdel test). Also, it had 30 people on stage playing banjo at one point, which made me immensely happy. The dancing was rather superb too.
That’s all for now!