Transported back to childhood on the Isle of Wight

IN THE EARLY 1970s, I used to travel on the London Underground’s line from Golders Green to Euston or Warren Street, both stations being near University College London, where I was a student. Back in those days, smoking was permitted on the Underground. Each Northern line tube train had two carriages for smokers. I have never smoked, but I used to travel in the smokers’ carriages because they were usually emptier than the other ones in which smoking was forbidden. Thinking back on this, I suppose that I must have been passively smoking on the Underground. On the other hand, because there were fewer people in the smoking carriages, my chances of catching other people’s airborne germs must have been reduced.

From an early age, before I became a daily commuter, I liked travelling in the rear carriages of the Northern Line tubes. These carriages contained control panels, which the train’s guards operated to open and close the doors and to inform the driver when the train was ready to leave. As a child, I was fascinated by watching the guard at work. Actually, there was little else to watch after the tube entered the tunnel after leaving Golders Green. Incidentally, what was the rear carriage, was also the front carriage when the train changed direction on reaching the end of a line.

The Northern Line trains I have been describing were built by Metro-Cammell in 1938. By the end of the 1980s, the trains were taken out of service and newer units began operating on the Northern Line. The 1938 trains were shipped out to the Isle of Wight, where they carried passengers on the Island Line. After many years of service on the island, the sea air caused these venerable trains to corrode and deteriorate. In the early years of the 21st century, they were taken out of service.

In late October 2022, we visited the train museum at Havenstreet on the Isle of Wight. One of the exhibits is a collection of old train carriages and engines in a large shed. Amongst these exhibits is one of the former Northern Line carriages built in 1938. Visitors are permitted to enter it. I was delighted to find that the example on display was one of the rear carriages containing the guard’s control panels. Seeing these again after so many years was a curiously moving experience. I felt for a moment that I had been transported back to my childhood days, when travelling in these trains used to fill me with wonder.

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