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In 1840, one man transformed travel in Britain.
His name was George Bradshaw,
and his railway guides inspired the Victorians to take to the tracks.
Stop by stop, he told them where to travel,
what to see, and where to stay.
Now, 170 years later, I'm making four long journeys
across the length and breadth of the country
to see what remains of Bradshaw's Britain.
I'm now on the last stage of my rail journey from Buxton to London.
I've found my Victorian Bradshaw's guide has given me useful pointers
to people and places of interest in locations that I hardly knew.
Now I'm intrigued to see whether it can also light up for me
the capital where I've lived all my life.
On my journey today,
I'll be visiting one of the country's grandest railway hotels.
When I was a child, I believed that the witches lived in here.
It was so a dark and dingy, and very scary, actually, as a child.
I'll head to one of the oldest markets in central London.
Do they behave nicely with you?
Watch their P's and Q's?
Sometimes, not always, no.
If you were single, you would have a good time.
And I'll be discovering how the capital has rung in the changes since Bradshaw's day.
All this week I've been travelling from Buxton
along one of the earliest railway routes in England,
first built to transport freight from north to south.
I've stopped off at towns and cities recommended by Bradshaw's guide,
and now I'm reaching London.
Today I'll be arriving at St Pancras,
taking the country's first underground line to Smithfield,
ending up in the part of London I know best - Westminster.
Bradshaw's guide says of London,
"The British metropolis contains the largest mass of human life,
"arts, science, wealth, power and architectural splendour
"that exists or ever has existed in the known annals of mankind'"
There in a nutshell you have Victorian self-confidence -
St Pancras, in Bradshaw's time,
was the gateway to the most powerful city in the world.
Britain ruled over a massive and growing empire,
and London was at its heart.
St Pancras is a classic Victorian station
but where I'm arriving has only recently been built.
This is the vast new Thames link station,
deep beneath St Pancras International.
And with its neon lights and its electronic signs,
it offers no hint of the Victorian splendour above us.
One edition of Bradshaw's guide describes that as,
"the vast and magnificent terminus of the Midland Company,
"eclipsing every other, having a roof 240 feet across and 150 feet high,
and faced by a splendid hotel."
And climbing up into the station today, it's every bit as inspiring.
As a Londoner, I felt really excited at the restoration of St Pancras,
a station that once was threatened with demolition,
which has now been restored in all its glory.
I think of the excitement they felt at the time of Bradshaw's guide,
as one after another of these massive cathedrals to steam
was built around the ring of the city,
revolutionising the cityscape, and transforming people's lives.
A London terminus was often designed to accommodate what its railway transported.
The line to St Pancras carried beer,
so the station was built on 800 columns,
carefully spaced so that barrels could be stored underneath.
To the old St Pancras has been added a starkly modern glass extension,
to provide cover all along the quarter-mile length of a Eurostar train.
Everybody talks about the Victorian bit, but what do you think about the new bit down there?
It's simple, nice and simple.
It's only four platforms.
It just does the job?
And what do you think of the way they've done it?
It's a nice plate to work.
It's nice and bright, nice and clean, hopefully.
It looks very, very clean indeed.
In 1868, this was the largest enclosed space in the world.
St Pancras was designed to outshine the neighbouring stations.
The modern redevelopment is no less ambitious,
at a cost of £800 million.
The roof has been faithfully restored,
with the ironwork in the original sky blue colour.
'And it's still a crowd pleaser.'
Look at what's going on behind me - tour groups, one after another,
being shown around St Pancras station.
Being shown around a station!
Do you know when tourists last bothered to look around a British station?
Back in the time of Bradshaw's guide, that's when.
Don't you think it's marvellous that railway stations
are now a focus for tourists?
I do, and I am so pleased it wasn't pulled down as they wanted it to be.
-And do you know who saved it?
Learnt that this morning from our guide!
In the 1960s the station and hotel
wore the soot of a century of steam travel.
They were scheduled for demolition.
The poet John Betjeman mounted an emotional campaign to save them.
He was successful - just ten days before demolition day,
the station and the hotel were made listed buildings.
The hotel is now undergoing a £170 million transformation.
Whilst it sat empty,
it was protected by security guard Royden Stock,
during which time he became an affectionate expert.
Royden, I remember this building when it was virtually black.
How long have you known it?
I've been connected with the building for about 13 years,
but I've known it all my life.
When I was a child I believed that the witches lived in here,
cos it was so dark and dingy and very scary, actually, as a child.
The great thing from here is to be able to see these romantic details
that I have never been able to see from the ground before.
Yes, this as the signature of Sir George Gilbert Scott,
designed during three weeks in 1865, towards the end in September.
He designed the whole thing in three weeks?
In three weeks he did the competition drawings which won him the contract,
which was awarded in January, 1866.
You've got different detail on each window as well,
which is something that most people miss.
The capitals of the columns are different,
the roses either side of the windows are different,
the design around the arches is different.
It's not symmetrical, like most Gothic revival buildings are.
The Midland Railway wanted to build
the most impressive station and railway hotel in the country.
The extravagant Gothic style fitted the bill,
though much of it has been hidden away for decades.
What historical discoveries have you made?
Many. This is one of them, of course.
This ceiling has been uncovered.
This was covered for probably the best part of 100 years.
Were you surprised to find this in such beautiful condition?
Yes. It is amazing, because there were quite a few layers of paint over this.
Once the ceiling is fully repaired,
it will actually be covered over, so you won't see it again.
Not like this, anyway. It's covered firstly in a protective coat,
so that it's always there,
then in an intumescent coat to make it fireproof,
and then we have artists coming back in to repaint it all,
so it will eventually come back to life.
So, it's a bit like Lost and Found.
The hotel catered for the wealthiest travellers.
At 14 shillings a night,
its rooms were amongst the most expensive in London.
But, over time, the lack of en suite bathrooms
drove the guests elsewhere, and it failed to make much money.
We have got something behind this screen that should surprise you a little. If you would like to go in...
Yeah, it's wonderful, isn't it? The lovely, sweeping staircases.
I thought it was going to remind me of Parliament, but actually,
there is nothing quite as magnificent in the parliamentary building as this floating stair.
It's just floats, doesn't it?
It does. It's cantilevered out from the wall with interlocking treads.
The thing is, what we have got with this building is quality, rather than quantity.
I'm seeing all the way up to a ceiling...
The hotel will reopen for business in 2011.
And, before I catch my next train, there's one last bit I must see.
On my journey I've often paused to admire railway clocks, which I love.
But, this one tells a story.
King's Cross was there first, St Pancras comes later.
It's built unnecessarily high.
The clock looms down over King's Cross
saying, "We're bigger, we're better."
This is commercial rivalry in architecture.
It may seem strange that the stations were built right next to each other,
but in 1846, Parliament had decreed
that all new Lines in the capital had to stop short of the centre.
It protected the historic buildings in the heart of London
and resulted in a revolutionary new transport system -
the world's first underground.
So, I am about to get on an Underground train,
but not any underground train.
One that's running on the original line,
the first underground railway in the world -
the Metropolitan Railway that ran between Paddington and Farringdon.
It was was built in 1863
to bring passengers from the railway termini into the city.
It was also a commuter line,
with two special trains a day for the poorest workers,
charging a third of the normal fare.
Today, the Metropolitan line is one of 11 routes
ferrying three million of us across the city every day.
What is interesting about this section of line
is that every now and again,
we pass from being underground to being above surface.
That's because these original railway lines
were not dug in tunnels.
A huge trench was dug and, in most places, it was covered over.
But, gaps were left here and there because they were steam trains,
and there had to be somewhere for the smoke to escape.
'The next station is Farringdon. Change for national rail services.'
Bradshaw guides were published monthly from 1839 onwards.
They're not dated, so you need a bit of detective work
to discover the age of any particular edition.
This is Bradshaw's map of London.
What's interesting is the line I'm travelling at the moment,
between Paddington and Farringdon, isn't shown.
This map must be before 1863.
And, of course, much of London, the suburbs, isn't shown here at all.
But the central bit, the West End, the City,
these are absolutely recognisable from a map that is 150 years old.
The next day, I'm heading somewhere that requires a very early start.
It's not yet five in the morning
an I've walked through deserted streets of London,
and I've come across a place
that is absolutely humming with activity and noise.
This is Smithfield Market,
a meat market built around the time that Bradshaw's guide was published,
and looking, to all intents and purposes,
like an Italianate Victorian railway station.
Bradshaw says of the new market,
"It's 631 ft long and 246 wide and covers 3.6 square acres."
But what made Smithfield Market exceptional was the direct link
from the building to the brand new underground railway.
-Morning, Alan. How are you?
'Alan Elland is a traditional market trader.'
Have you worked here long?
-On the market, 40 years.
In the very early days, I wasn't actually working here.
Where the car park is was a railway system.
And the main transport was rail.
The underground station transformed the market.
Before that, animals were slaughtered on site
and conditions were filthy.
But with the trains, the meat could be slaughtered elsewhere
and transported quickly to the city.
The market cleaned up its act.
I used to come up as a little child and see it all
and you can't believe what it was like then.
It was just so...
buzzing and lively.
Smithfield was the hub of the meat industry. There's no doubt there.
To a new comer like me it seems pretty buzzy anyway.
-Well, it is, but in a different way.
-How much has it changed?
Obviously it is a Victorian building and that's unchanged.
Dramatically. About ten years ago it was upgraded.
This part is the same but the shops,
the interiors, dramatically changed ten years ago.
Everything was open and now,
well you'll find out, this is all refrigerated.
But the basic process, I guess, is the same.
Meat is coming from all over Britain, is it?
-And people are coming here bright and early to buy it?
Yes, the idea is the same.
We get the meat, cut it, process it.
It comes in, goes out.
'There's another thing I'm guessing hasn't changed since Bradshaw's day.'
'There's barely a woman in sight.
'So I've had to look hard to find these two.'
-You're up bright and early.
You don't look like professional meat-buyers.
-Are you buying for yourselves?
Why have you come down so early to buy meat at Smithfield?
She's having a party.
I can see your bags on the floor.
You're really going for it, aren't you?
What time did you have to get up?
I got up at half three, because we live in Kent.
'Eventually, I find a woman who actually works here.'
-I can see you're the money lady!
What time do you have to get up in the morning?
I get up about twenty past one.
And I get home about ten o'clock in the morning.
It's just so nice to see a lady's face in the market,
because there aren't so many, are there?
No, it's very male orientated.
Why do you think that is?
Now we have a lady train drivers, but drivers, taxi drivers.
Why not work in the meat market?
I think it's always been male and it is always going to be.
I think it's a strength thing as well.
They think that you probably can't lift up the boxes,
because they're quite heavy.
Do they behave nicely with you?
Watch their Ps and Qs?
Sometimes. Not always, no.
If you were single, you could have a good time.
Well, I confess that when I finish work
it's quite nice to go somewhere and have a drink.
And just because you begin work at two or three in the morning,
no reason why it should be different.
And so here, for Smithfield, there are special licensing laws
to allow people to have a tipple when they knock off work at 6am!
When the long night's work is done,
the market traders come to the Cock Tavern,
which has been here for around 150 years.
Thank you. That looks lovely. Thank you.
Are you the famous Carmen?
I am. I don't know about famous, but I'm Carmen.
Have you got time to sit down...
'Carmen Leslie is a chef at the pub and works from before dawn,
'feeding hungry market traders.
-How long have you worked here?
-I would say 43 years.
43 years is a very long time in one pub.
Yeah, but it's a famous pub.
At one time I wouldn't have been allowed to come in here because I wasn't part of the market.
No. Nobody. Well, you are different.
They'd probably let you in because Prince Charles was here...
The Queen Mother was here.
Quite a few famous people actually.
You've brought me a very nice breakfast.
Do you think this all comes from the market, one way or another?
They're all from the market, everything.
-Even the eggs.
-Even the eggs?
The hens didn't lay the eggs here.
But it comes from the market, everything.
I don't normally have a pint at this time of the morning
but I'm kind of thinking, well, it's like I didn't go to bed.
-I've been partying all night.
After my trader's breakfast,
it's time to leave the market for the final part of my journey.
Following in Bradshaw's footsteps,
I'm heading off on his walking tour of the capital,
to take in the best sights.
And I'm starting with one of the most impressive.
You know the great thing about St Paul's?
It's huge but it's elegant.
It's the idea of a single man, Sir Christopher Wren.
And I love standing here because you realise its size.
But now with all the skyscrapers, we're in danger of forgetting
just what a massive achievement this cathedral is in every sense.
Bradshaw's guide recommends that you stand
in the middle of Waterloo Bridge
and pick out St Paul's, Somerset House and the Houses of Parliament.
It's striking to me that we've had 150 years of development since
and, to me at least, those three buildings
are still the outstanding features of this riverscape.
The river takes me to a part of London I know extremely well.
So my rail journey from Buxton to London has brought me home,
in a rather literal way.
This is Whitehall and at one time,
I used to live in a flat up there in Admiralty House.
But just a few yards further on is a place I know better than most,
having spent 20 years here.
The new Houses of Parliament were opened
just as my guidebook was going to press.
And it refers to this as the most important building in London since St Paul's
and talks about it as the most perfect thing ever planned.
The most striking thing of all was the clock tower.
And from what I remember from my last visit there
during my last days as an MP,
there's an important link between the clock and the railways.
The clock tower isn't generally open to the public.
One, two, three, four, five, six, seven...
23, 24, 25, 26...
But a great privilege of being a former MP
is that I'm allowed to climb up it.
I know why you're here.
'And with 334 steps,
'I'm glad I had that breakfast back at Smithfield's.'
Ah, that's quite a flight of stairs you've got there.
'Finally, I've reached the top
'where I'm meeting Ian Westworth and Paul Roberson,'
who maintain the Palace of Westminster's clocks.
They're doing a job that hasn't changed since Bradshaw's day.
We've got to keep the clock within two seconds of time.
And we do this by adjusting.
By putting one penny on speeds the clock up by two-fifths of a second over 24 hours.
If you take it off, it slows the clock down by the same amount.
What it does, it actually lifts the centre of gravity,
and that effectively shortens the pendulum itself,
just by putting a penny on or taking it off.
That's how we can keep it in with the so-accurate of timekeepers.
-Those are pre-decimal pennies.
We have about 11 pennies on there at the moment just to keep it in time.
Why was it so important to have an accurate clock?
It is because of the railways, basically.
Britain had time zones all over the place,
up to 16 minutes away, down in Plymouth.
So they wanted to standardise the time.
So if they had one very accurate timekeeper here
and one at Greenwich,
and that was the way they could come about Greenwich Mean Time,
and standardising the whole of the time for Britain.
Standardised time made the whole business of running railways
and catching trains very much easier.
The pendulum is 15ft long.
And it ticks every two seconds.
It's such a relaxing sort of sound, the two-second tick. It's fantastic.
It's often said, "Doesn't the ticking sends you to sleep?"
But we always reply that it does but only for 15 minutes at a time.
Big Ben rang out its first chimes in 1859 and, having come up this far,
it would be crazy not to go all the way up to the bell chamber.
Although there are five bells,
the famous bongs which chime the hour are rung by the biggest one,
all 13 ½ tonnes of it.
And this is properly Big Ben.
So many people call the clock tower Big Ben. But that bell is Big Ben.
When Big Ben sounds, what's it like to be standing here?
Loud. That's why we give you ear defenders.
It's about 117 decibels when it's up here but it's a lovely tone,
slightly flat because of the cracks in it,
but a lovely tone. Really distinctive.
What you're going to see in about 30 seconds
is the hammer on the third quarter bell will move
and that's the signal for the start of the 16 notes for the chime.
Then there's a pause of eight seconds
and the hammer on the great bell will go.
So if you keep your eye on that hammer across there,
it doesn't come as a shock, then. Here we go.
There is certainly plenty of vibration and we've only had the small bells so far.
Now we're waiting for the big daddy of them all. Do your stuff, Big Ben.
BELL CONTINUES TO CHIME
The iron structure all around us
is absolutely shaking and vibrating and humming still
and I don't think there would be an amusement
that you could take in the world,
there's no big dipper that would compare with the excitement -
I can take these out now -
of being next to that great big bell when it goes off.
It's fantastic, isn't it? And it's been doing that for 150 years.
Sometimes, during the course of my rail journey around Britain
using Bradshaw's Guide, I've scoffed at its 19th-century arrogance.
Those people were so confident that they were the greatest.
But as I stand here by the Victorian building
where I spent most of my career,
I realise that without their architecture,
their science and their railways, we would not be who we are today.
And during my travels, I've discovered that the things we do
best today are inspired by passion and a commitment to quality
for which the inspiration could be Bradshaw's generation.
And for the last leg of my journey, I've no need for Bradshaw's Guide.
I'm on my way home.
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