…and BROAD STREET STATIONs
0-6-2 N7 class no. 69614 was the West Side pilot from 1956 until 1960, when she was withdrawn and cut up. One of this 0-6-2 class, as shown in my picture, survives. I am not quite sure what the function of the pilot engine was, but they were always kept in first class condition. As well as Liverpool Street there was a famous pilot at York, in this case painted in LNER apple green, although these were BR days. I am lucky enough to remember the Liverpool Street pilots. There was an equally well kept tank for the East Side, an 0-6-0 J69 no. 68619, and there is a member of this class preserved at the National Rail Museum in York. I am afraid this is not a very good photograph but I was under 12 when I took it.
What a change has taken place at Liverpool Street since the rebuilding over the five years from 1985. It had been a dark and grimy place, particularly in the days when steam engines still worked the mainline trains, but one full of romance and memories. The suburban lines were already electrified; they used the shorter platforms to your right as you arrived at Liverpool Street by rail. The suburban stock was painted green and consisted of non-corridor coaches with compartments. Despite the similarity of colour you could easily tell Eastern Region trains from Southern Region ones because the latter were third rail electric, while our trains had overhead pantographs to pick up the electric power. Now over fifty years later the former Western Region is belatedly going over to electric traction out of Paddington. I understand that the London commuters who used Liverpool Street made it the busiest in the capital, if not in the world, although this is no longer the case.
It was the first place where I ever tasted yogurt, or yoghout as it used to be spelled. This was about 1962 and the exotic new dessert had spread to the cafeteria on Liverpool Street station. It had not then reached the provinces, and even the Mecca, Norwich’s premier delicatessen, didn’t stock it. It was entirely plain with no sugar or fruit flavour added, as all yogurt then was. I spooned a lot of brown sugar into my first yoghourt, but I still hated the taste. The cockney waiter came to clear the tub from my table and said conspiratorially; “Nobody likes it really”. I don’t know whether yogurt has changed or we have – I think a bit of both probably – but now everybody loves it.
Among other things I could get at Liverpool Street in the 1960s were Saga records. These LPs were cheap – 10 shillings each, while top end recordings cost over £1 – but they included what were then unusual classical compositions. Extracts from the Messiah were commonplace, but Saga had the complete work on five or six discs. Baroque music was then becoming the fashion, so the complete cycle of Bach’s 48 – the Well Tempered Clavier – and the complete Goldberg Variations were also available from Saga. These could be bought from the station’s W. H. Smith’s. You could start your shopping before even leaving the station for the streets of London, but of course you left such purchases for your return, instead of having to carry them all round the capital. There was a left luggage office in the 1960s , before terrorism led to its closure. The IRA had the notion of leaving bombs instead of luggage – terror in those days came from Irish Catholics whereas now it is perpetrated by Muslims from Pakistan and Syria. What is it about religious enthusiasts which makes them want to kill people? The absence of the left luggage offices made life very difficult.
The entrance was down a slope to the side of the station; this was where taxis queue up to await their fares. Straight ahead, where you might expect to enter the main concourse (and where you do now), was all taken up by the Great Eastern Hotel. Right alongside Liverpool Street station, but at an elevated level and reached by a long flight of steps, was Broad Street station. This was busy at rush hour, but at all other times of day was as quiet as a tomb. Unlike Liverpool Street it had no mainline arrivals or departures. There was a 5 inch gauge model steam engine on the concourse which, upon the insertion of a penny (1d), started into motion with its pistons and connection rods reciprocating in a leisurely manner. In 1960 more passengers were using it everyday than there were per week in 1985, though quite why there had been such a drop in customers I am not sure. The following year the station was closed, although the North London line remains more or less intact. Even 25 years before this was only busy in rush hour; by they time I arrived on the train from Norwich the whole station was deserted. Broad Street station has been demolished and you would never know that it had been there, but the North London Line was been reinvigorated as part of London Overground.
The North London line was largely built on viaducts; this accounted for the fact that Broad Street Station was much higher than earth-bound Liverpool Street. When my sister Margaret was studying to be a teacher she was based at Maria Grey College in Richmond at the other end of the North London line. I made several journeys of virtually the whole length of the line, high above London. In mid-morning the carriage were almost deserted. I believe the builders of the railway envisaged letting off the arches along the way to provide a major income. In fact many arches were rented out, but by no means all, and they did not prove to be the money spinner hoped for.
Just beyond Broad Street station was a short row of shops. I have forgotten all of them except one, which sold musical instruments. I don’t think I ever went in, but I spent some fascinated minutes with my nose pressed against its narrow window pane, wondering what all these instruments sounded like. I was particularly taken with a mandolin which I had never heard played at at the time. Eventually I bought one for myself, but in Oxford and not from London.
We are getting further away from Liverpool Street Station, the gateway to East Anglia. Therefore I must cease my wandering through the London of fifty years ago, although there is much I could say of the capital.