A post by Subject Liaison Librarian Joanne McPhie.
The London Underground might be one of the most egalitarian modes of transport available, where everyone can tour London as long as they can crowd into the carriage. However, some items housed in Brunel Special Collections shed a light on an occasion when the tube was by appointment only.
On the day of the Queen’s coronation on the 2nd June, 1953, tens of thousands of people wanted to get to Westminster to witness the event. Well-wishers lined the route her carriage would take with an estimated 3 million eventually attending. In order to ensure distinguished guests, peers and civic dignitaries would be present, specially scheduled trains ran to transport them to the ceremony without interference from the masses. In the Transport History Collection some of the original tickets from these trains are preserved.
Hierarchies were upheld even on the Underground with blue tickets granting entrance to the Peers only train, while orange tickets were good enough for the civic dignitaries. Obviously, even on this special day London Transport did not want to miss out on revenue as fares of 10d and 6d are still listed on the ticket, begging the question of what special treatment the Peers enjoyed for the extra 4d. Passengers would have had to get up early in the morning: tickets detail that trains left High Street Kensington at 7.15am, while those boarding at Mansion House had the even earlier time of 6.52am. These special one off routes were not available to everyone and in fact Westminster Station itself was closed to the public until after the ceremony.
These small pieces of history are only a tiny part of the organisation of a much larger day, but reveal much about the mind-set and mores of mid-20th century British culture.