Down Street Station

Down Street station, located in a side road off Piccadilly, opened in 1907 on what was then the Great Northern, Piccadilly, and Brompton Railway, now part of London Transport’s Piccadilly Line.  The station’s quiet location in an area where residents already had their own transport resulted in disappointing passenger numbers, and so it closed in 1932.

In the build up to the Second World War the Railway Executive Committee, formed to coordinate railway transport in the event of war, required a safe headquarters location and in early 1939 Down Street Station was chosen, and converted to provide bomb-proof and gas-proof offices and accommodation for forty staff.  The headquarters was in use from the start of the war until the end of 1947.

During a period in 1940, Winston Churchill slept in one of the offices here while the Cabinet War Rooms were being strengthened against large bombs.

After the REC left, Down Street returned to civilian use providing ventilation for the Piccadilly Line.  Recently the London Transport Museum have started organising tours of the station, and I was lucky enough to join one.

The instantly-recognisable ox-blood tiling marks out the surface buildings.

…and the exciting prospect of going in through the normally-locked door.

Once inside, it was a short walk down the spiral stairs to access the tunnels and platforms of the station.

The partitions forming offices in the pedestrian tunnels were all gone, although we could see where they had been by marks on the floor and ceiling, and the informative guides had pictures showing what it would have been like.  On the former platforms the walls were still present, including a wall separating us from the trains which whizzed noisily past every few minutes.  (At some points in tour we had to stand in pitch darkness with all lights off while the trains passed, to ensure we didn’t distract the train drivers.)  Most rooms were empty, with just a few remains to show what they were used for.

We could see plenty of signs on the walls, both original and from the wartime use.

… and also a more modern sign which seems a little out of place.  (The Piccadilly didn’t get to Heathrow until 1977.)

An excellent visit which I highly recommend.  The museum organise tours of other interesting locations under the Hidden London banner and I hope to do some more before too long.

Queen Street Mill

A train ride to Burnley and then a short bus trip to the outskirts took me to visit another steam mill engine.  This one’s a bit special, though, because it is still in use.

On arriving at Queen Street Mill Textile Museum we were a little concerned as there was no hint of any smoke from the tall chimney:x823-d-dscn0031x823-d-dscn0010rBut once inside we found the beautiful engine which dates from the 1890s was operating today:x823-d-dscn0011 x823-d-dscn0015rx823-d-dscn0013 x823-d-dscn0019In the weaving shed, the noise was deafening, although only a couple of the 320 looms were actually operating:x823-d-dscn0021 x823-d-dscn0020 x823-d-dscn0022The boiler house contains two boilers, only one of which is now used, and it was down to the skill of the stoker here that we hadn’t seen any smoke when we arrived:x823-d-dscn0026 x823-d-dscn0027r x823-d-dscn0028This is an excellent museum, with knowledgeable staff happy to explain the intricacies of the equipment on display.  I was a little concerned that one of the reasons for visiting was that Lancashire Council has announced the museum will close in September.  Pleasingly, while we were visiting, the local paper published a story that negotiations are under way to save it.  It would be a great shame to lose the last surviving 19th century steam powered weaving mill.  Highly recommended.

Big Engineering

Some pictures from recent visits:

Leigh Spinners Mill

This mill, located in the town of Leigh, dates back to 1913 and is still working manufacturing flooring products:x305-d-dscn9806x305-d-dscn9805The mill engine dating from 1925 was abandoned for many years but is now in the process of being restored.  The two cylinders are named Mayor and Mayoress, for some reason:x305-d-dscn9799rx305-d-dscn9791-Leigh-Spinners-Millx305-d-dscn9796 x305-d-dscn9792

Astley Green Colliery

A short stroll along the Bridgewater Canal from Leigh Spinners and in the village of Astley Green there’s the now-unusual sight of colliery headgear:x305-d-dscn9808The colliery opened in 1912 and the last coal was wound in 1970.  Some of the buildings remain, including the winding house:x305-d-dscn9810And inside, another great steam engine is being restored.  This one was installed in 1912:x305-d-dscn9812x305-d-dscn9814 x305-d-dscn9813

Jodrell Bank

I was intending to start this section of the page with the phrase “Moving on to modern technology…” but, thinking about it, the big dish at Jodrell Bank was commissioned in 1957, so only 32 years after the engine at Leigh; and both of the steam engines above were still working hard when the Lovell Telescope was built.

Anyway, I haven’t been to Jodrell Bank since 1983 so it was time to go back and see the imposing telescope again.x312-d-dscn9820x312-d-dscn9822 x312-d-dscn9827Also on site is the “Mark II”:x312-d-dscn9834And a smaller unit, the “42ft”:x312-d-dscn9823 I ended my visit with a stroll in the extensive gardens.



Poppies Two

I was lucky enough to be in London last year to see the amazing display of 888,246 ceramic poppies filling the moat of the Tower of London.  Most of them were sold for charity, but the display raised such public interest that a small quantity were retained and sent on a national tour.  One year on it’s Liverpool’s turn, and the poppies were installed at the front of St George’s Hall, just in time for Remembrance Sunday.

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I must add a note of congratulation to the organisers of this display:  It would have been so easy to keep the crowds a safe distance from the poppies using the usual ugly steel fencing panels.  It was a stroke of genius to use sandbags instead.

Forty Years of Station Design

Merseyrail Chocolate Stations

The Merseyrail system was created in the 1970s, and the new underground stations all featured the same design style, with what was then new and high-tech plastic panelling, in a chocolate brown colour. These have survived forty years of wear and tear remarkably well, but over the last year or so refurbishment of the stations has been under way, and soon the 70s panelling will be no more. It occurred to me the other day that Moorfields was the only example left so I went to take a few photos before it too is refurbished early next year:wa09-d-dscn9717 wa09-d-dscn9718 Note the former litter bins, which were plated over due to security concerns and are now used as perch seats:wa09-d-dscn9722

Manchester Victoria

Moving forward to the present day, the long neglected Manchester Victoria has just reached the end of a major refurbishment, and has gained a spectacular new roof replacing the previous very leaky one:wa15-d-dscn9726 wa15-d-dscn9733The refreshment rooms and other internal buildings have been preserved, although they look a little out of place under the new roof:wa15-d-dscn9728 wa15-d-dscn9729Inside the bar you can look up into the dome. Probably not a good idea after a few pints:wa15-d-dscn9734Also under the roof is a this complex junction for the trams:wa15-d-dscn9731

Postcards from Pittsburgh – Groundhog Day

For those of you who haven’t seen the film, I’ll explain. Groundhog Day is the 2nd of February. On a hill called Gobbler’s Knob near Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, a groundhog by the name of Punxsutawney Phil emerges from his burrow at dawn on Groundhog Day. If he sees his shadow, then we are in for six more weeks of winter, if not then spring is just round the corner. Phil has been making these predictions for over a century now and he is always correct.
This year the unique date of 02/02/02 was officially designated as the Phillenium!
For those who have seen the film, it wasn’t actually made in Punxsutawney but in Woodstock, Illinois.

By 5am the party has already been going for two hours, and the crowd is building up in sub-zero temperatures:At precisely 07.26 Phil emerges from his home and is shown to the crowd of about 40,000 before he tells his prognostication to the leader of the Groundhog Inner Circle (the gentlemen in top hats) who is the only person who speaks groundhogese. [This picture would have benefitted from a telephoto lens! Sorry.] This year he saw his shadow so winter continues:After the ceremony I made my way up to the stage to get a closer look at this famous animal, who seemed totally un-fazed by the attention he was receiving: As you can see, this is an important news event broadcast live by satellite: Every schoolbus for miles around was brought in to carry the people back to their cars or to the other events in Punxsutawney itself, although it was quicker to walk:

New Jersey Transport

I took a trip to Newark, New Jersey to explore the wide variety of rail transport available there.

1. Port Authority Trans Hudson (PATH)

This commuter system runs from Penn Station in Newark on the surface, and then dives underground to serve three other terminals – Hoboken in Jersey City and 33rd Street and World Trade Center in New York. Tracks are third rail electrified and the 70s vintage (I guess) trains provide 24 hour a day service.

A train approaches the arrival platform at Newark Penn Station off the lifting bridge there:A service from World Trade Center arrives at Hoboken:An interior view of one of the cars:So, was it all trains and no tourism? Well, I had planned to go up the World Trade Center while I was there, but I decided the view from the top probably wouldn’t be up to much!

2. Hudson Bergen Light Rail (HBLR)

This brand new light rail system in Jersey City is still under construction, with the northern and southern extremities not yet completed. Modern low-floor trams provide the service, and at the moment you can ride all day for $1.50 at the weekends:

This impressive brass in the pavement at Exchange Place stop is a detailed map of Jersey City showing the tram’s route:

3. New York City Transit Authority

I couldn’t visit the area without a quick ride on the New York Subway. Here a ‘C’ train arrives at 42nd Street station on its way to the Rockaway Line:

4. Newark City Subway
At last, the real reason for my trip! The Newark City Subway consists of one line running from underneath Penn Station to Franklin Avenue, the remains of a much more extensive tram system. It is half in tunnel and has no street running except for one crossing and is currently coming to the end of an extensive rebuilding project to allow modern light rail cars to operate on it, but at present the service is provided by a small fleet of well cared for PCC cars dating from the 1940s. These beautiful vehicles are to be withdrawn in May of this year and I had to make sure I had a ride or three before they went.

The PCC (President’s Conference Committee) was set up in 1929 in the USA in an attempt to design a standard tram which could be mass produced economically for use in all the cities across the country, to counter the threat of the car. The PCC trams were successful in revitalising tram systems all over the US, and trams and the design were exported around the world. There are not many left running in ‘normal’ service although I believe some are still working in California.

5. New Jersey Transit (NJT)

From Newark Penn Station, NJT provides a number of suburban services. Here we see a diesel loco on a Raritan Valley service, an electric loco on a fast Trenton train and an emu about to depart for Long Branch:

Penn Station itself has the usual impressive Pennsylvania Railroad booking hall:The lifting bridge (Does it still lift?) to the east of the station is a massive construction that looks worryingly rusty!


My train home to Pittsburgh stopped for a “smoke break” at Harrisburg, giving me the chance to look at the antique station hall and more interestingly this GG1 electric locomotive which seems to be permanently parked on one of the tracks.