diamond geezer

 Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Metro-landRoughly once a month the London Transport Museum opens up after hours for a talk in the basement. Downstairs in the Cubic Theatre, where a full house is 200 or so, a series of fascinating speakers are wheeled in to chat to a paying audience on some transport-related topic. Last night's talk was entitled Betjeman and Metro-land, linking in with the Museum's current Suburbia exhibition, and the place was packed out. Even at £12 a ticket (plus free glass of wine).
Smoothly from Harrow, passing Preston Road,
They saw the last green fields and misty sky,
At Neasden watched a workmen's train unload,
As a child of Metroland (about which I've already written at some length), I felt I really had to attend. But I was definitely one of the younger members of the audience, which was comprised mostly of members of the Betjeman Society rather than sprightlier tubegeeks. Our speakers were the museum's curator and the Society's Vice Chair - the latter a distinguished and witty gentleman who read out a few choice poems during the course of the hour-long lecture.
And, with the morning villas sliding by,
They felt so sure on their electric trip
That Youth and Progress were in partnership.
Pity the BSL interpreter who'd been hired in case anybody needed sign language delivery, only to discover after a minute's arm waving that nobody did. And hurrah for the backroom techie who managed to rescue the Powerpoint presentation after, somewhat predictably, it hourglassed out. Once properly underway the talk was more about Metro-land than about Betjeman, but with a nod to the great man's fascination with railways, architecture and suburban minutiae.
Early Electric! Maybe even here
They met that evening at six-fifteen
Beneath the hearts of this electrolier
Curator David Bownes outlined the Metropolitan Railway's voracious landgrab plans - in particular their realisation that adjacent fields might be acquired, developed and sold off in semi-detached packages. The 'Met' preached a rural dream to London's middle classes, even disguising their stations as gabled homesteads, and boasted of rapid commuting time to the City. But those who paid £800 a time to relocate soon found neighbouring pasture ploughed to create yet more desirable estates, and northwest London's relentless spread was halted only by post-war Green Belt.
And caught the first non-stop to Willesden Green,
Then out and on, through rural Rayner's Lane
To autumn-scented Middlesex again.
It was a fine lecture, and well-illustrated by photos and promotional material from the Museum's extensive archive. A splash of Betjemanic verse complemented proceedings well, providing a tightly-observed human angle, and the evening rounded off with an informative Q&A session. The couple next to me couldn't get out quickly enough, but I'd have listened to a lot more. And then I rode home, via the District line. Sir John would have been so terribly disappointed.


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