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  #1  
Old 01 September 2008, 12:28 PM
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Default Historical London Underground legend

Reading The Subterranean Railway (Christian Wolmar) recently, I came across a UL from the early days of the London Underground (latter half of the 19th century).

Early passengers were not au fait with the rapid boarding required in a mass transit system so porters were employed to give people a helping push onto trains when they were too leisurely about boarding (made worse in the early days by people needing to get into the correct carriage: first, second, third or the gentlemen only smoking carriage).

An elderly lady can only exit the carriage backwards due to infirmity combined with her bulky skirts. This unsteady old lady is still trying to exit backwards from the train when it is ready to depart and at each station the porter, believing she is having difficulty boarding the train, gives her a helpful shove into the carriage. According to this early UL, the poor old lady ends up travelling all day on the line.

The book, by the way, is an excellent, entertaining read for anyone interested in the more social history of the London Underground system (rather than just the engineering history).

(We really need a forum for "transport" that covers ships, trains, bikes and not just cars)
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  #2  
Old 01 September 2008, 02:59 PM
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(We really need a forum for "transport" that covers ships, trains, bikes and not just cars)
I blame the auto-centric nature of the world in which we live.
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Old 01 September 2008, 03:19 PM
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It's a cute story but not very likely. For a start, it requires the elderly lady to remain silent, incident after incident. Then it requires the Porters to notice her each and every time, but only at the last possible moment. (Otherwise, they would see that the lady hadn't been on the platform previously and hence more likely to be trying to leave) It also requires all other passengers to not bother trying to assist the lady or remonstrating with the porters for pushing someone so obviously frail looking.

It's an interesting story as it seems to play on the notion of the elderly being helpless, utterly passive and rather slow.
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Old 01 September 2008, 03:20 PM
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Is it on the Circle Line? If so, eventually she'd end up at the same station with the same porter.
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Old 01 September 2008, 03:43 PM
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Is it on the Circle Line? If so, eventually she'd end up at the same station with the same porter.
No, the circle line hadn't been built then. As the tale goes, having missed her station she tries to alight at the next station ... and the next. Since old women in big skirts probably all looked pretty much alike (generally dark overskirts and dark jacket and hat ,this being Victorian times) I doubt the porter would be able to distinguish her from any other woman of similar age and mode of dress on the platform.
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Old 01 September 2008, 04:08 PM
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No, the circle line hadn't been built then. As the tale goes, having missed her station she tries to alight at the next station ... and the next. Since old women in big skirts probably all looked pretty much alike (generally dark overskirts and dark jacket and hat ,this being Victorian times) I doubt the porter would be able to distinguish her from any other woman of similar age and mode of dress on the platform.
Maybe, but I'm suspicious about this being true.
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Old 01 September 2008, 07:52 PM
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Maybe, but I'm suspicious about this being true.
Which is why it's a UL. I know I left you with a nearly full bottle of Stoly and a 3/4 full bottle of Kahlua, but I did state it was a UL!

Harrassed porters, similarly clad old ladies in voluminous skirts ... all of those lent it plausibility at the time.

There was another UL in the book about a young couple on a crowded platform. Having become somewhat separated by the throng, the young lady fainted and was helped by a chivalrous passenger while the young man gave aid to another young lady who suffered an attack of the vapours. Only when the young couple reached their destination did they discover they had been victims of clever pickpockets. In a version of the UL that was turned into a music hall song, the couple's entire saving towards their wedding had been stolen and they were unable to wed for several years.

It's interesting to read ULs from almost 150 years ago and compare them to modern ones - similar themes and fears.
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Old 01 September 2008, 08:03 PM
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Originally Posted by llewtrah View Post
Harrassed porters, similarly clad old ladies in voluminous skirts ... all of those lent it plausibility at the time.
So the bit about the shovers-on is factual, then? They still have those in Japan, although it's so that they can fit more people on the metro, rather than to help slow passengers. A bit less subtle than "Please move down inside the carriage", but more effective - they can fit another ten people or so inside what you'd think was a full London tube carriage by this method.

I didn't realise they'd ever had those in London, though.
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  #9  
Old 01 September 2008, 08:30 PM
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So the bit about the shovers-on is factual, then? They still have those in Japan, although it's so that they can fit more people on the metro, rather than to help slow passengers. A bit less subtle than "Please move down inside the carriage", but more effective - they can fit another ten people or so inside what you'd think was a full London tube carriage by this method.

I didn't realise they'd ever had those in London, though.
Yes, they really did have porters that shoved (or rather "helped") passengers onto trains in the early decades of the LU! It wasn't because of volume of passengers, but because Victorian Londoners were used to the more leisurely pace of boarding mainline trains and had to learn to hurry aboard the underground trains (a whole minute was allocated to stopping at stations and that was a culture shock to the dawdling Victorians who were accustomed to trains waiting at platforms for several minutes).

The Subterranean Railway is a fascinating read (though being a bit trainspotterish I am naturally biased). I've read the history of the LU from the technological/engineering perspective and this gives the human/social perspective.
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Old 01 September 2008, 08:33 PM
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So the bit about the shovers-on is factual, then? They still have those in Japan, although it's so that they can fit more people on the metro, rather than to help slow passengers. A bit less subtle than "Please move down inside the carriage", but more effective - they can fit another ten people or so inside what you'd think was a full London tube carriage by this method.
Here's a video of it in Japan.
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Old 01 September 2008, 09:10 PM
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Brilliant, isn't it? I don't think it was that extreme in the carriage I was in when shoved in Osaka, but still, getting firmly pushed from behind makes you realise how much space there actually is that you've just not moved into because of "cultural norms"...
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Old 01 September 2008, 09:24 PM
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They didn't have pushers in Korean subways, but I'm guessing it's because Koreans have a LOT less shame about taking care of the pushing themselves than the Japanese do. Nonetheless, I do remember a couple times when I was physically lifted off the floor as a result of the extreme crowding. It took me about a month to understand that using my size to my advantage was not only acceptable but also downright expected. Who knew elbows could be so utilitarian?

Of course, there was the running joke back then. You have a subway car with one empty seat in the middle. On one end of the car is Carl Lewis. On the other is Ben Johnson. Who gets the seat? The answer is the Korean word that translates into middle aged married woman (ajuma) and the connotations that come along with it of ajumas being stronger and pushier than any other human.
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Old 01 September 2008, 09:32 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by llewtrah View Post
Harrassed porters, similarly clad old ladies in voluminous skirts ... all of those lent it plausibility at the time.
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Originally Posted by Richard W View Post
So the bit about the shovers-on is factual, then?
It is the harassed porters shoving ladies that makes me think the story is false. In Victorian society men would never shove a lady in public - even if it was supposedly to help her. Physical contact. even between couples who knew each other, was frowned upon, unless it was a man putting his arm through the arm of a lady.

For example:

Quote:
A lady should never join in any rude plays that will subject her to be kissed or handled in any way by gentlemen. ie: If a hand reaches out to admire a breast pin, draw back and take it off for inspection.
(Bolding mine.)
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Old 02 September 2008, 12:18 AM
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It is the harassed porters shoving ladies that makes me think the story is false. In Victorian society men would never shove a lady in public - even if it was supposedly to help her. Physical contact. even between couples who knew each other, was frowned upon, unless it was a man putting his arm through the arm of a lady.
Well, the class of "lady" who was supposed to be so careful about being manhandled and who had to be treated with so much respect wouldn't have been the same class as was travelling by tube, I suppose. Even so, the idea that there were people who'd just go up and push you on to the train without so much as a by-your-leave does seem somehow rather un-English... I guess in practice most of these assistants wouldn't actually have behaved like that!
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Old 02 September 2008, 07:03 AM
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Well, the class of "lady" who was supposed to be so careful about being manhandled and who had to be treated with so much respect wouldn't have been the same class as was travelling by tube, I suppose. Even so, the idea that there were people who'd just go up and push you on to the train without so much as a by-your-leave does seem somehow rather un-English... I guess in practice most of these assistants wouldn't actually have behaved like that!
The higher classes of lady often d their own private carriages (i.e. horse drawn). However early underground lines (i.e. District and Metropolitan, to which the UL related) did have 1st, 2nd and 3rd class carriages and attracted posh patrons (the term "tube" was reserved for the deep-tunnelled Central Line at that time)

Although the book doesn't state the method used, I'd guess it was more likely the arm through crook elbow, "up yer go madam" than pushing someone's backside. Maybe we're too focused on the Japanese methods to consider the many different methods of "shoving" someone onto a train, some of which would be socially acceptable behaviour. Of course, the idea of a respectable woman being manhandled by a porter might have been part of the appeal/horror of the UL at the time ... or it might have attracted some adventurous old women onto the underground
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  #16  
Old 02 September 2008, 10:44 AM
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A true story from real life (I know it's true because it happened to a friend ). He was once standing on an underground platform somewhere in London when he was approached by an elderly Japanese gentleman who asked him how to get to Bank station. The gentleman explained that he had been going around for several hours never reaching Bank, because everey time he had asked for help the askee had pointed in some arbitrary direction and told him to go that way. My friend told the elderly Japanese that he had turned to the right person as he, my friend that is, wasn't English and thus able to say if he didn't know (the English are much to polite to admit such a thing), and he did indeed know how to get there. He told the gentleman that he was on the right platform and that he could take any train from there and eventually reach his destination.

When the next train, with the Japanese on board, left the platform he was standing by the door bowing very deeply in a thank you towards my friend who suddenly discovered the station name on the wall - Bank.
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  #17  
Old 02 September 2008, 12:43 PM
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Originally Posted by llewtrah View Post
The higher classes of lady often d their own private carriages (i.e. horse drawn).
Horse drawn carriages on the underground? Did they use retired pit ponies?
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Old 02 September 2008, 01:04 PM
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I thought llewtrah was talking about horse carriages for roads. No horse drawn trains were ever used on the underground (to my knowledge, but I stand to be corrected). Steam was used at first (1863), but this proved extremely smoky (surprise, surprise). The people in the third class (open) carriages were especially inconvenienced. Soon all trains were in covered carriages. Electric trains were introduced in 1890, making life much more comfortable.
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Old 02 September 2008, 01:06 PM
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I thought llewtrah was talking about horse carriages for roads.
I'm sure she was, I was misunderstanding on purpose.
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Old 02 September 2008, 01:21 PM
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I thought llewtrah was talking about horse carriages for roads. No horse drawn trains were ever used on the underground (to my knowledge, but I stand to be corrected). Steam was used at first (1863), but this proved extremely smoky (surprise, surprise).
In spite of steam, smoke and sulphurous fumes, lobby groups wanted underground trains to have a smoking carriage (men only) and the railways provided these!

Tarquin is being awkward because I wouldn't let him have another pint of Stella Saturday night ....
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