Looking at the various resources we have about London Underground is a good way of demonstrating the different ways Special Collections can be approached.
Maybe you’re interested in secondary sources on the history of transport in London, or the Underground, or one particular part of it? For that The East London Line and the Thames Tunnel: a brief history could be the pamphlet for you. Don’t forget that we have related primary sources, such as a diorama of the Thames Tunnel (currently on display in the Eastern Gateway Building) and some personal letters from Gilbert Blount, who worked on the building of the Tunnel. Many of the maps of the London area in Special Collections feature the lines of the Underground too.
Or perhaps you’re looking for more information about construction and engineering techniques? Cassell’s Railways of the World (1924) includes details on the invention of the Greathead Shield, which made construction of the deep level tunnels possible. It is still known as the Tube because of the circular nature of those tunnels. Our home railways has a feature on the history and use of electricity on the Metropolitan line (the oldest tube line and the first underground railway in the world). How the Underground works is a small book containing a lot of information about the basics of operation, including construction, track, signalling, power supply, staff and stations. As part of the Channel Tunnel Association Archive, we also have advertising from tunnelling and construction companies.
If politics is more your thing, then the pamphlet Funding London Underground: financial myths and economic realities (2000) published by a campaign on behalf of the London Underground Unions, is worth looking at. Or primary sources, such as a Bill for purchase of land in Camden and Islington around King’s Cross station.
These aren’t the only approaches you could explore. We haven’t discussed creative writing here, as we already have several blog posts about creative writing using Special Collections.
More information about using Special Collections for your dissertation research is also available.
A post by Ginny Dawe-Woodings, Special Collections placement student.
My job as placement student in Special Collections at Brunel University has focused around a map listing project. Most of the maps are railway maps, part of the Transport History Collection, many in black and white, and there have been many photocopies and multiple editions. So when I came across a brightly coloured, cartoon style map I was delighted and a little surprised. In amongst a selection of original maps of tramlines and railways in Wales I found a map entitled ‘The Up and Down Lines’ which depicts railway and pastoral scenes, with references to passages of the Bible. The poster is a brightly coloured pastoral setting, featuring scenes of farming, horse racing, railways, and industrial buildings. Each scene is accompanied by a map reference, for example there is a boxing match scene (by the horse racing) which is labelled with Rom.3.14-17 – “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.” The poster isn’t in the best condition, with considerable wear around the edges, but it is a beautiful example of 19th century railway imagery. Initially I wasn’t certain where the map was supposed to be depicting, but with further research using our Transport History Collection I found out that this kind of map is a fictional setting, using railways as an allegory for a life journey. They were produced by the London based ‘Railway Mission’ which provided Christian counselling to railway workers and their families, and were particularly popular during the late 19th century (there is another example of a similar map from 1895). The Railway Mission produced their own monthly publication called the Railway Signal, where poster prints like ours would have been found. The title ‘The Up and Down Lines’ plays on the railway directional terms, where an up line goes towards a major location (eg. London) and and down line goes away from the major location. The Transport History Collection consists largely of material relating to British railway history and the Channel Tunnel. It includes many items, including books, maps, timetables and journals, which are all housed in the Special Collections in Brunel University Library. A description of the collection was recently added to Archives Hub.
All images used with the permission of the Railway Mission, which published Railway Signal and still exists today.