I have a small (and slowly growing) collection of old issues of the wondrous Illustrated London News. I originally started collecting them as sources for research, but I actually find they are quite wonderful to read (although sometimes I think Victorians used magnifying glasses as the font is tiny), and cheap to buy on eBay.

Anyhow, inspired by the recent news article on the London Underground blog about the rude staff at Farringdon station on the London Underground, I dug out an article and transcribed the following:

In a slight twist – the newspaper article was dated 13th Feb 1869 – and the recent study was published on the 22nd Feb 2008 – almost 140 years later and not a lot seems to have changed.

I added in the line feeds to make it easier to read – a trait of Victorian writings is very long paragraphs, which do not translate well to a computer screen.

Incidentally, the same issue of the newspaper is very enthusiastic about the “New Overland Route and the Railway Tunnel of the Alps”. I’ll transcribe that on a later date as it is quite amusing to our modern eyes.


Illustrated London News

There will be a scene, of a sensational character, on the Underground Railway one of these days; and, though the interest will not be quite so thrilling as that of Mr. Boucieault’s incident which is so delightfully horrific, there will be something which the party, concerned and the spectators will remember.

How many Kensington stations there may be up to the present writing I do not know; but I know of three, and also that the officials always send you to the wrong one.

You descend – the train is off like lightning – and you are left in a region probably unknown to you, and certainly one which you had not the least desire to visit. The folk at the booking-offices are not, for the most part, uncivil; but it is, they think, no part of their business to do more than issue the ticket you demand, and they know nothing of the general system of lines. If they do attempt to advise you, take some other ticket than the one recommended, and the chances against you are reduced.

There is the High-street station, the Gloucester-road station, the South Kensington station, and on second thoughts there must be another, for neither of these is right for the Kensington station whence you get to the South-Western line.

All very well to say that we should look at the map at home and ascertain our route firstly, there is no map; I reserve other objections. Of course, it you travel every day, the points are beaten into your head; but the world occupies you with several other things besides the meaningless names of stations, and an interval of three weeks puts them out of your head.

Next, the porters on these lines are, with a few exceptions, more elaborately stupid than can be imagined. I think they do not much like the public. I dare say that the work is very hard, and that the public is often rude. Still, we pay to be told how to go, as well as to be taken.

If a rational and distinctive nomenclature were adopted, both in regard to the general names of the lines and the specific names of the stations, much affliction would be saved Victoria, Waterloo, Pancras, are excellent and well comprehended titles, but we must learn to box the compass before we can find a meaning in West Brompton, South Kensington, and North-East Tyburnia. It is a great sea crime to maroon even an offender, but it is worse to maroon an unoffending passenger, and leave him, on a wet day, in the midst of a wild, his train lost, and his expectant friends thinking as friends always think of the absent.

I concede, as readily as Leigh Hunt did, the best intentions to everybody; but if the Undergroundlings would only carry out the admirable intentions which I am sure they have, they would increase their own takings and the public comfort.

From the Illustrated London News, Feb 13th 1869.


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One comment
  1. C Law says:

    I’ve yet to meet a polite or helpful member of London Transport staff. They are all the same – downright rude I would encourage people to complain each time they are treated badly, the complaint will be logged on their personnel files and I have no doubt many personnel files are bogged down with complaints but at least it is something.

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