On this day in history : 27th July 1949 – The first jet-propelled airliner, the de Havilland Comet makes its maiden flight out of Hatfield Aerodrome, Hertfordshire….
The first de Havilland DH.106 Comet prototype at Hatfield in 1949 – British official photographer – Public domain
British official photographer – Public domain
The flight lasted for 31 minutes and was piloted by Chief Test Pilot John Cunningham – who was also known as ‘Cats Eyes Cunningham’ – having been a famous night-fighter pilot during World War 2…. He also flew the de Havilland Comet at the Farnborough Air Show in 1949 before the start of its flight trials….
The de Havilland DH106 Comet was the world’s first commercial jet airliner…. With its four de Havilland Ghost turbo jet engines, the quiet, smooth, vibration-free flight that it gave – compared to that of other propellor airliners – was quite a novelty for passengers at the time…. The pressurised cabin, with its large, square, picture windows gave its passengers a feeling of comfort and luxury virtually unknown in travel at that time…. There was a galley that could serve hot and cold drinks and meals, separate men’s and women’s loos and individual life jackets underneath the seats as well as several life rafts stowed onboard….
However, in the first 12 months of service three aircraft were lost in highly publicised accidents – two of which were found to be caused by structural failure due to metal fatigue in the air-frame – causing the planes to break up….
The de Havilland Comets were taken out of service and largely redesigned…. The large square windows were replaced with smaller oval ones, as this was one area identified as a structural weakness….
Sales for the aircraft never truly recovered…. However, an improved Comet 2 and then Comet 3 resulted in the redesigned Comet 4, which made its debut in 1958…. This proved to be a highly successful aircraft, with over 30 years of service…. As well as being used as an airliner it was also adapted for military purposes – such as for VIP travel and medical transport….
Comet 3 G-ANLO in BOAC markings at Farnborough Airshow, September 1954 – RuthAS CC BY-3.0
Dan-Air Comet 4C, exhibited at the Flugausstellung Hermeskeil in Germany – Klaus Nahr CC BY-SA 2.0
On this day in history : 23rd July 1957 – As a strike by busmen enters its fourth day there are violent scenes in towns and villages across the country….
Around 100,000 employees of provincial bus companies had walked out on strike a few days before…. They were demanding a pay rise of £1 per week – but to date their employers had only offered 3 shillings per week, claiming this more than compensated for the rise in the cost of living since the last pay rise of 5 shillings the previous November….
Things had become heated – with anger directed particularly at those who had chosen to continue working…. Buses were vandalised, including those with passengers onboard….windows were smashed, tyres slashed and strike-breaking drivers were attacked…. One driver in Derbyshire needed hospital treatment after being hit in the stomach with an iron bar…. Another was pulled from his bus in Yorkshire, hit in the mouth and kicked in the stomach; the windows and headlights of his bus were smashed…. The Transport and General Workers Union refused to admit their members were responsible….
All things considered the strike action actually had very little effect on industry….factories, offices, shops and mines all across the land remained fully staffed…. While many work colleagues organised car shares, train companies reported that business was up by 25%…. Some employers laid on coaches to ferry their workers to and from the stations….
On the 26th of July the Industrial Disputes Tribunal awarded the busmen an increase of 11 shillings, which was just over 50% of what they had asked for…. The following week bus drivers in cities such as London and Manchester, who had not officially been part of the strike action, accepted their employers’ offer for a pay rise equalling to the same amount…. As an aftermath a motion for a full inquiry into the violence that had occurred was tabled by a group of 11 Conservative MPs….
On this day in history : 20th July 1837 – Euston Station, London’s first intercity railway station is opened – having been built on what was mostly farmland at the edge of an ever expanding city….
The site had been chosen in 1831 and the station was named after Euston Hall in Suffolk, the ancestral home of the Duke of Grafton – who was the main landowner in the area….
The original station was designed by classically trained architect Philip Hardwick….and built by William Cubitt, who also constructed Covent Garden and Fishmongers’ Hall…. The station housed a 200ft (61m) long train shed and two 420ft (130m) long platforms – one for arrivals and one for departures…. The main entrance portico – ‘Euston Arch’ – was also designed by Hardwick….it was to symbolise the arrival of a major new transport system – a ‘gateway to the north’…. At 72ft (22m) high, with four 44ft 2in (13.46m) by 8ft 6in (2.59m) columns made from Bradley Fall stone it was the largest of its kind and at a cost of £35K (over £4m today)…. It was described as being “Mightier than the Pyramids of Egypt”….
In 1839 two hotels were added, again designed by Hardwick…. One stood at either side of the Arch – The Victoria with basic facilities and The Euston to cater for first class passengers….
The station expanded rapidly…. In 1838 it was handling some 2,700 parcels a month but by 1841 this had increased to over 52,000…. More and more staff had to be employed and more lines and platforms were added….
By the 1950s the station was considered ‘tired’ – it was old-fashioned and dirty from soot…. In 1953 a full redecoration and restoration program took place and modernised ticket machines were installed…. Then in 1959 British Rail announced a complete rebuild….to accommodate a fully electrified West Coast main line….
However, this was not without controversy…. In July 1961 it was announced that the Euston Arch and Great Hall were to be demolished…. On the 16th of October a demonstration including students and 75 architects took place in protest…. But to no avail – in the summer of 1962 work on the new station began….
On this day in history : 27th March 1963 – The Beeching Report is published….signalling the end for approximately one-third of Britain’s rail network and the loss of thousands of jobs….
Dr. Richard Beeching, physician and engineer, was recruited by the government to make Britain’s railways profitable again…. He left his very successful career at ICI to do so….
Beeching’s report, entitled ‘The Reshaping of British Railways’ declared large parts of the network were uneconomic and underused…. Only half of the railway system carried enough traffic to cover the cost of operating it…. Beeching recommended axing 6,000 miles of track – including hundreds of branch lines – and the closure of 2,363 stations, with the loss of tens of thousands of jobs…. He argued improved bus services would replace trains and placed an emphasis on faster rail links between cities…. At the time the railway network was running at a loss of £140m per year; Beeching claimed his axing of services would make a net saving of £18m per year…. He stated the first closures would likely be made in the coming autumn, he predicted the loss of 70,000 jobs and fare increases of at least 10% in London….
This did not make Dr. Beeching a popular man…. Pressure groups throughout the Country formed, launching campaigns to try and save their railway lines…. Although he had said cuts were to be made as soon as possible it was actually a very slow process…. In 1965 Beeching published a second report – reiterating the conclusions from the first report….
The closures began to pick up at a much faster pace during the mid 1960s…. By the time the reshape had finally finished Beeching’s axe had chopped 2,128 stations and 67,700 jobs….
The images below show a train in the station at Cranleigh, which would have been the nearest station to us here in Dunsfold – and some scenes from the now defunct Guildford to Horsham line…. As you can see, in some places such as Bramley, original features of some of the stations can still be seen….. It is in fact now a very a pleasant trail used by walkers and cyclists….
On this day in history : 23rd March 1861 – Horse-drawn tramcars begin operating on London’s streets for the first time…. They were introduced by an American, Mr. George Train….
America had been introduced to tramcars (streetcars) by George Francis Train some thirty years before he brought them to Britain…. The very first line he opened here was at Birkenhead in 1860…. Three demonstration lines were then installed in London; one along the Bayswater Road between Marble Arch and Porchester Terrace, another at Victoria and a further one between Westminster Bridge and Kennington….
The trams proved popular with many; thousands attracted by their novelty came to see them and ride upon them…. However, not everybody was happy….
Train had chosen fashionable, elite parts of London to trial his trams…. The wealthy residents had no need for public transport, as most owned their own carriages…. They complained of the crowds who got in their way, the noise and having to share the roads with this new form of transport…. Then there was the problem with the actual rails, which stood proud to the road surface causing difficulties for other road vehicles….
The ‘sticking-up’ rail – or ‘step-rail’ – was actually designed in a way (with a wide bottom plate some 5 inches wide) to take any width of carriage wheel….which at the time came in several different gauges…. The idea was that they could accommodate all vehicles, not just Train’s trams…. Unfortunately many carriages had accidents trying to use them…..numerous complaints were made to the transport commissioners, so that eventually on the 4th of October 1861, after six months in operation, Train was told to remove his tramway….
The advantages of the tramway had not gone unnoticed by the planners…. Nine years later, in 1870, the first tram service began between Brixton and Kennington…. This time the steel rails lay flush to the road surface….
Being on rails meant the tramcars were easier than the omnibuses for the horses to pull…. This in turn meant more passengers could be carried at one time using the same amount of horses…. As a result the fare, which worked out at 1d per mile, was cheaper than that of the buses…. With the addition of the railways’ cheaper early morning workers’ tickets public transport became accessible to everyone…. Another advantage was that the tram travelled slightly faster at 6mph, compared to the bus at 4mph…. Workers began to travel further to work, many moved out of the crowded city to the suburbs…. The tramway network had grown considerably, connecting new housing developments on the outskirts to the city centre….
Initially tram services were operated by private companies, such as the Pimlico, Peckham and Greenwich Street Tramways or the North Metropolitan Tramways…. London County Council could see the social benefits of the system, the cheap fares, accessibility and reliability…. The council saw it as an important part of their policy and during the 1890s made compulsory purchases on many of the horse tram routes….
The tramways still had their problems; the installation and maintenance of the lines caused disruption, derailments were a hazard….and then there was the horse poo….
A single bus or tram needed a team of twelve horses to keep it on the road for twelve hours a day…. Horses were rotated every 3-4 hours….they needed stabling, feeding, watering, veterinary and blacksmith services…. 55% of the operators’ fees went on the cost of caring for the horses – an average of £20,000 was collectively spent per year on horseshoes alone…. 50,000 horses were used to keep the public transport system going on London’s streets….horses that ate the equivalent of a quarter of a million acres worth of foodstuff and produced 1,000 tonnes of droppings per year…. Much of this was collected up and dumped in poorer areas of the city….
Eventually the electrification of trams and the arrival of the motor bus just before World War I meant the demand for the working horse became less and less…. The last horse-drawn trams were withdrawn in 1915….