Waterloo to Canary Wharf Great British Railway Journeys


Waterloo to Canary Wharf

Michael Portillo finds out about a funeral service running coffins from Waterloo to Brookwood Cemetery and explores the changing fortunes of London's docks.


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Transcript


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In 1840, one man transformed travel in Britain.

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His name was George Bradshaw. And his railway guides inspired the Victorians to take to the tracks.

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Stop by stop, he told them where to travel, what to see and where to stay.

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Now, 170 years later, I am making a series of journeys

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across the length and breadth of the country

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to see what of Bradshaw's Britain remains.

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Today, my ancient Bradshaw's guide is going to steer me across London

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as I continue my journey from Brighton to north Norfolk.

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I am astonished that by the 1860s, trains were already fast enough

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to enable people to do even long-distance commuting.

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So, city workers could live in rural or suburban greenery and then, each morning,

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they would arrive in the capital, the only city I have ever lived in.

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On this journey, I'm travelling along lines which were built to allow Britain's middle-classes

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to shuttle from the suburbs to the city and to travel beyond.

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Each day, I will cover another stretch,

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searching for the people and places written about in my guide.

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On today's leg of the route,

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I'll be finding out how even the dead benefited from the railways.

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It was also the terminus of what was rather

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irreverently known as the Stiffs Express.

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Understanding how London became a great shopping destination...

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Part of what's changing is coming about through the railways.

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Suddenly, you are getting suburbanites

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coming into the centre of London to walk the streets, to shop.

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..and I'll be trying my hand at one of the oldest trades on the river.

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Would you like to have a little drive, Michael?

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I would love to.

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-Left hand down a bit?

-Left goes left. Right goes right.

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It's not like tyres on the road,

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it is more like tyres on treacle.

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Having covered the first 56 miles from Brighton to Crystal Palace,

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I am now heading into London

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before following a major commuter line north into Cambridgeshire.

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From there, I will explore the Fens as I aim for King's Lynn.

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Then travel on through Norwich, on the way to my final stop, Cromer.

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Today, I'm starting in Waterloo before weaving my way

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to Liverpool Street and onto the docks at Canary Wharf.

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I'm travelling into London from the south, on a line used by thousands

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of Victorians on their way to work,

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to shop or just enjoy the glories of the capital.

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Bradshaw says of this approach to London,

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"The line passes over viaduct or arches through a part of the densely populated parish of Lambeth,

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"over the tops of houses, past the grounds of Lambeth Palace

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"and across the river may be seen the splendid towers of the new houses of parliament."

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When I was a kid, we used to take our annual holiday in the Isle of Wight

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and I remember coming back to Waterloo, generally late at night,

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and we would look across the river and would see the beaming face of the clock tower.

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Maybe that is when my infatuation with that building,

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with that palace, began.

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Waterloo station opened in 1848 and was designed to bring travellers

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close to the heart of London's West End.

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What I remember from coming here as a child is the vastness of Waterloo.

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This was the biggest building in which I had ever set foot and,

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even as a child, I learned that it is the biggest station

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in the United Kingdom with its 19 platforms.

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So that is not counting Waterloo East, or the four underground lines beneath us,

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it is not counting the now disused Eurostar terminal,

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Waterloo is simply the big daddy of British railway stations.

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My guide says, "Omnibuses convey passengers to and from all parts of town.

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"The terminus is a spacious building."

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Today, Waterloo sees almost 90 million passengers pass through each year.

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That is more than any other station in Britain.

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Good morning.

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I am using my 19th century guidebook to go round on the railways and I think, in days gone by,

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there would be many more people dressed as beautifully as you

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and not many dressed as scruffily as I am.

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Well, I remember my uncle saying, the trouble is the trains encourage the common people to travel.

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Which probably is very politically incorrect but...

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-Have a wonderful trip. Are you travelling first class?

-No!

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No, no, no! I do it cheaply.

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Have a wonderful journey.

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Thank you.

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I haven't come to Waterloo primarily to spot elegant ladies.

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I am here to find out about one of the station's lesser-known services from writer Andrew Martin.

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Here you are, Andrew, beautifully positioned under the clock.

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-Nice to meet you.

-Very good to see you.

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My Bradshaw's guide tells me that Waterloo had many railway offices and departments,

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and I think you're going to tell me about a rather unusual one?

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Yes. It was also the terminus of what was rather

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irreverently known as the Stiffs Express,

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the line that carried dead bodies to the largest cemetery in the British Empire at Brookwood in Surrey.

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And you could have a whole funeral service based around this railway line.

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The service could be conducted at this end or at the end of the cemetery.

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Either way, you put your relative onto the train

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and they had a one-way ride to Brookwood.

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You, yourself, as the mourner, had a return ticket.

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The all-inclusive service was run by the London Necropolis Company

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which was set up in the 1850s.

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They had discreet offices and even their own funeral platform,

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just next door to the station.

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Waterloo would have been a very railway haunted area,

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the constant rattle and clatter of the trains coming in and going out

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every minute over the viaducts, over the high level.

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And even in death, they were trying to fit you into a railway timetable.

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So this splendid facade is the Necropolis station, is it?

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This is what survives of the whole Necropolis complex.

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Why were the sending all these bodies out of London?

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Well, they thought it was a good business proposition

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but it was also a response to a genuine crisis -

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the shortage of burial space.

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In the first half of the 19th century, the population of London about doubled

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and there were bits of skeletons lying about in churchyards,

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so they needed space to bury bodies.

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It would be discussed since the 1840s that there ought to be a big cemetery

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safely far away from London so that cholera would not be an issue

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and the bodies would be transported there on this new-fangled invention - the train.

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At its busiest, each train carried up to 48 bodies,

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along with the various funeral parties.

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At the cemetery, there were two purpose-built stations,

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one for Anglicans and one for other denominations.

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So you have brought me up quite a long staircase,

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to the level of the railway viaduct.

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We are now behind the office part of the Necropolis complex.

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And the hearses would come sweeping in through this archway

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and then the bodies would be lifted by an electrical lift

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up to the actual Necropolis station on the viaduct there.

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What sort of carriages did they travel in?

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The carriages were funeral carriages and passenger carriages.

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Both were divided into first, second and third class.

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Sorry, I have to stop you. Are you telling me the bodies went first, second or third class?

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You might think why would you send your maiden aunt first class,

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you could easily save a bit of money sending her third,

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she would not know the difference,

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but I think they took more care with your coffin if you went first.

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Whether you bought a first, second or third class ticket for the corpse,

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it would correspond to the type of funeral that you bought.

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So if you bought one of the fancier funeral packages, a first class ticket would go with that.

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Before long, it was not just the dead who were taking advantage of the third class fares.

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A lot of people would kind of sneak onto the funeral service.

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Even if they weren't burying anyone, especially golfers,

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because there was a good golf course near Brookwood Cemetery.

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Now I have an idea in my mind of golfers dressed in black, pretending to be mourners.

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I am assuming the golfers did not wear garish yellow checked jumpers in those days.

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If so, I don't think they could have masqueraded as being in mourning.

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And what they did with the golf clubs, I do not know.

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The business ran successfully for almost a century.

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But today, just hints of the line remain.

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And so, when did the last Stiff Express puff out of here?

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April 1941.

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And then later in that month, there was a big bombing raid

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and not only was most of the Necropolis complex here destroyed,

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but the funeral train was blown up into the bargain.

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And that was, really, curtains.

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It is time for me to make my way from Waterloo across town

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to my next destination, Piccadilly, using London's famous Underground.

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It was in embryonic form when Bradshaw published my guide.

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The first line opened in 1863 and was eventually followed by 10 more.

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The Bakerloo Line was one of the first of the new generation of deep railway lines - tubes -

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because before that it had been cut and cover, close to the surface,

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and you could hardly use steam engines

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with all the smoke deep underground.

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This railway had been first planned in the 1850s, but at last in 1906,

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powered by electricity, the Bakerloo Line opened.

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In the 19th century,

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the tubes and railways made it much easier to travel around the city.

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The middle classes flocked into town and London's famous cultural and commercial centre began to grow.

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I'm only going three stops, getting out at Piccadilly Circus, the gateway to London's West End.

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Bradshaw's has pages about the West End.

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So I am following it on my tour, aware that many of the Victorians' favourite haunts are mine too.

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We're now at my place where, on the left, I buy my swimming trunks,

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and on the right, I buy my macaroons and this is Burlington Arcade.

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Bradshaw's says, "The prettiest gallery in London.

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"It is a facsimile of a portion of the Palais Royale

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"but the tradesmen who occupy these shops are of a less wealthy class

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"and the place is considered as the fashionable gentlemen's lounge."

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I had never thought of it that way,

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but in that spirit, I'm going to revisit it today.

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Built by Lord Cavendish in 1819, this was Britain's first modern

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shopping arcade, complete with its own security force.

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They still patrol the 200 yard strip of shops today.

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-Excuse me.

-Hello, sir.

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You are what is known as the head Beadle?

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I am, I am the head Beadle of the Burlington Arcade.

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-And you are on your patrol?

-I am on patrol, making sure that everything's

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OK with the arcade, everybody who walks through is happy and safe.

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And here to enjoy the environment, really.

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This is pretty unusual, isn't it, to have a kind of police force in a way?

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Well, the Beadles in the arcade predate the Metropolitan Police by 10 years.

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Because before you had police forces,

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you would have had Beadles patrolling certain parishes.

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A Beadle would probably have been in charge of about 10 constables,

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they would have been night watchman,

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they would have collected little fines that were imposed by people.

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-Any special rules?

-You mustn't sell smelly produce within the arcade.

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You must also not whistle within the arcade because in 1809,

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you could no longer be hung for pickpocketing.

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So therefore they had a big, big increase in pickpocketing in London at that time.

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And pickpockets would have whistled signals to one another.

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Lord Cavendish originally designed the arcade as an exclusive retreat where his wife could shop.

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By the 1860s, it had become a popular destination for a new generation

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of bourgeois shoppers arriving by train to enjoy a taste of the good life.

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When the arcade was built, Lord Cavendish made sure that

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where we are now, there is a slight incline, it is about 10 feet higher

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at Burlington Gardens than Piccadilly.

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He wanted his wife to be able to walk with her friends up and down

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and to shop in peace, without an interruption of having to walk up any steps.

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I have walked up here and I've noticed the slope but I've never thought about that,

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that you don't actually climb steps.

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It is one of the reasons why, when people come in from Piccadilly or Burlington Gardens,

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they just escape the hurly burly of London. It would have been the same in Regency or Victorian London.

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Next, I am heading for Regent Street - an elegant sweep of terraced architecture

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which Bradshaw's describes as "one of the greatest thoroughfares in London.

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"On each side are a collection of brilliant shops filled with the most costly articles,

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"attesting at once to the wealth, luxury and refinement of the land."

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The description resonates, even today.

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I am meeting urban historian Professor David Gilbert to find out how Regent Street became

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one of the greater shopping enclaves in the world.

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-David, Michael.

-Hi, Michael.

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Very good to see you. Who were there early shoppers and how did they change over time?

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Well, when it started in the 1820s, 1830s,

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this was very much for the elite.

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They would come up in their carriages, they would get out,

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be shown into the shops and shown the wares.

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It is very much in that kind of way but by the time of your guide book,

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this street is changing and part of what is changing

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is coming about through the railways.

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Suddenly, you're getting suburbanites coming into the centre of London to walk the streets, to shop.

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Completed in the 1820s, architect John Nash, laid out Regent Street

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as a series of colonnades.

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Like the Burlington Arcade, these covered walkways were

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designed to provide a safe haven to linger and shop out of the rain.

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-Was Regent Street safe?

-It was safe during the day, that's part of it.

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You had public space that was safe during the shopping hours.

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After dark, Regent Street became a very different kind of place.

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One of the reasons for that is if we think about where it is in the geography of London.

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It's a great fault line, a dividing line between, to the west,

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you have the big aristocratic estates,

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to the east, you've got Soho which is going rapidly downmarket,

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has a reputation for vice, a reputation for violence.

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Here's the place where those two worlds meet.

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At night, crime and prostitution sheltered in their shadows of the colonnades.

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In 1848, they were torn down and gradually replaced by a new kind

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of shop, with large glass windows facing directly onto the street.

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Plate glass itself was quite new.

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Plate glass was very new.

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This area we were in, there were tensions between the architects who

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wanted fine, architectural colonnades along there, and the shopkeepers

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who wanted to display their wares.

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Increasingly, as the century goes on, they want people to window shop,

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to shop in what's identifiably a modern kind of way.

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We think of this as one of the great triumphs of town planning in London

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and it's also about profit, about making the most out of the way the street works.

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Since Bradshaw's day,

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the West End has been geared to accommodate thousands of shoppers.

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Regent Street, cutting through its centre, remains globally recognised

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as an outstanding location for retail therapy.

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Now, I'm travelling from the West End to the East End,

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using the Central Line which travels due west-east

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along the lines of Oxford Street and Holborn.

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This line was opened in 1900 and it had a flat fare of two old pence per mile.

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Because of the shape of the tunnels,

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it became known as the Tupenny Tube.

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The flat fare went long ago,

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but the word, tube, that's stuck with us to the present day.

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I'm travelling a couple of miles towards the city, to one of my favourite London stations.

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I do like Liverpool Street.

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When I was Minister of Transport, they completed a modernisation project here which involved bringing

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some of the lines that used to stop short, right up to the terminus.

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The result is very successful because it has the space of an air terminal inside Victorian cathedral

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windows and beneath a roof, suspended on beautiful columns.

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Just outside the station is the former Great Eastern Hotel, where I'll be spending the night.

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This Victorian landmark was built in 1884 by the Great Eastern Railway,

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which ran lines from East Anglia.

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A nightly goods train brought coal for the hotel

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and took away its rubbish.

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Over the years, the hotel gradually declined, but in 1996,

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it was given an extensive makeover during which the builders discovered

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a secret room behind a false wall.

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After checking in, I'm heading deeper inside to find out more.

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My goodness.

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Nigel, thank you for coming, I know you've come to explain this to me.

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-Yes, indeed.

-Nigel Brown is the grand secretary of the Freemasons.

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I know it's a Masonic Temple but what on earth was the origin of such a splendid place?

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The key reason that this was built was because the railways were doing

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so well at that time and the Great Eastern Railways Company,

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chaired by a chap called Lord Claude Hamilton,

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who was also a mason,

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wanted to show to the world how successful they were.

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Therefore, he produced an almost over the top opulent room.

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With 12 different types of Italian marble,

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the room cost the equivalent of £4 million to build.

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It was closed off in the 1990s when it became too expensive to maintain.

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After redevelopment, the magnificent room was open for hire to the public to earn its keep.

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The room was designed as a meeting room.

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It's extremely over the top in the sense that

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you won't find this as a typical Masonic meeting room,

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I can assure you of that.

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But here you'd have regular meetings and a lodge would meet

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three or four times a year.

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Purely the business of the lodge would be conducted

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before they went on to have a jolly good dinner.

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That sounds like a fine idea for me before I turn in for the night.

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Next morning, my Bradshaw's leads me into the throng of London's rush-hour.

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Never having worked in the City and now having to discarded the suit and tie of my previous employment,

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there's quite a satisfaction seeing all these commuters streaming by

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with deadlines to meet, while I have none.

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Whilst they head for their offices, I'm on my way to Tower Gateway Station,

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to meet railway expert, Alex Werner.

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Alex, morning.

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Today, Alex is taking me out of the City on the Docklands Light Railway built in the 1980s.

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It follows the route of the old London and Blackwall railway, which dates from early Victorian times.

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Back then, the easiest place to build the line was up above the city streets.

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This railway is built on viaducts over arches, isn't it?

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Bradshaw's celebrates the fact that these arches soar above the houses.

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It must have had a huge impact on London.

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The viaducts cut their way through the city.

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It was already a very densely-inhabited place

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and the viaduct was the solution to linking the railways in the inner-city area.

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If you had a causeway that you had to cut, there would be so much property that you'd need to acquire.

0:21:350:21:42

So it was relatively cheap to build the viaduct in conjunction with

0:21:420:21:48

the station building along the line.

0:21:480:21:51

The trains travelling along these viaducts were part of an integrated transport system.

0:21:510:21:56

Ships brought their cargo and passengers

0:21:560:21:58

up the Thames to the docks,

0:21:580:22:00

to be whisked by train all around the country.

0:22:000:22:04

Bradshaw was impressed by the sheer scale of the docks writing,

0:22:040:22:08

"Situated at the east end of London,

0:22:080:22:10

"they're the store houses of the widest commerce of the world".

0:22:100:22:14

We've come to West India Dock, now part of Canary Wharf,

0:22:160:22:19

to understand what so captivated Bradshaw.

0:22:190:22:22

Bradshaw's guide talks about this place in the 1860s, 204 acres of water, 600 ships can berth here,

0:22:220:22:30

with cargoes of 200, 300 tons each.

0:22:300:22:32

-It must have been quite a scene.

-It was an incredibly busy dock.

0:22:320:22:36

Ships coming from all over the world by the 1850s and '60s.

0:22:360:22:41

Traditionally it was the West India trade, so carrying sugar and rum from the Caribbean.

0:22:410:22:46

But by the mid-19th century, goods were coming from all over the world.

0:22:460:22:50

Each of the docks specialised in particular cargoes.

0:22:520:22:55

St Katharine's Dock took in marble, sugar and brandy,

0:22:550:22:58

while the Surrey Dock dealt in timber.

0:22:580:23:01

This was where all the cargoes of the world were being stored.

0:23:010:23:05

This was London as the port of empire. Incredibly active space.

0:23:050:23:08

Where we're standing here, there would have been a transit shed, where

0:23:080:23:12

the ships would moor, they would unload their cargo into transit,

0:23:120:23:16

and they would be taken off into the warehouses.

0:23:160:23:19

As well as describing each dock, Bradshaw writes about the people, too.

0:23:190:23:24

"A busy army of 20,000 workmen are employed here, in loading, unloading and storing.".

0:23:240:23:30

He was talking about watermen,

0:23:320:23:35

who rowed passengers ashore

0:23:350:23:36

and lightermen, who took cargo.

0:23:360:23:39

There are no watermen left but the descendants of some

0:23:390:23:43

of the lightermen remain, men like Cornelius Andrews and his grandson.

0:23:430:23:48

Do you remember the docks that were behind you?

0:23:480:23:51

I've had a boat in every dock. In their heyday...marvellous.

0:23:510:23:55

Full up with ships and barges.

0:23:550:23:59

It was like Piccadilly Circus.

0:23:590:24:01

It was fantastic.

0:24:010:24:03

Was there a lot of comradeship on the river?

0:24:030:24:05

Yes. Lovely.

0:24:050:24:06

Especially in the pub.

0:24:060:24:08

Cornelius, I'm going to go out with your grandson now on the river.

0:24:100:24:13

You'll love him, he's a good kid.

0:24:130:24:15

-Hello, James.

-Hello, Michael.

0:24:180:24:20

-Very good to see you. You're going to take me on the river?

-Yes, certainly am.

0:24:200:24:23

James Andrews has been a lighterman for 17 years and today hauls cargo

0:24:250:24:29

with a tug boat, rather than with oars.

0:24:290:24:32

The lightermen had a reputation of being aristocracy of the river.

0:24:340:24:38

Is that true now?

0:24:380:24:39

Up until maybe the '90s,

0:24:390:24:41

I think the London watermen or lightermen was world renowned.

0:24:410:24:47

A long time ago, Nelson himself insisted that every ship in the line

0:24:470:24:52

had a London waterman on board.

0:24:520:24:54

I've been following a 19th century guidebook and it talks about

0:24:540:24:58

20,000 people working in the docks.

0:24:580:25:01

Have you any idea how many people are working on the river?

0:25:010:25:04

I think at the last count, it was between 400 and 500 licence holders.

0:25:040:25:10

When you're coming down from 20,000 men, it's a big drop.

0:25:100:25:14

Although there aren't many lightermen on the river,

0:25:160:25:19

they still play a vital role, not least removing London's refuse on barges.

0:25:190:25:25

Today, we're carrying rubbish.

0:25:250:25:28

Where is it going to?

0:25:280:25:30

It's going ultimately to a place in Essex called Mucking.

0:25:300:25:34

-Mucking?

-Mucking, yes, rather appropriately named.

0:25:340:25:38

Would you like to have a little drive, Michael?

0:25:380:25:41

I'd love to.

0:25:410:25:43

-Left hand down a bit?

-Left goes left and right goes right.

0:25:430:25:46

It's not like tyres on the road.

0:25:460:25:48

It's more like tyres on treacle.

0:25:480:25:51

It's definitely the longest vehicle I've ever steered and it's all delayed reaction.

0:25:510:25:57

You push the wheel and nothing seems to happen and after about 30 seconds, a lot happens.

0:25:570:26:03

Holding the wheel is one thing but I think I'll leave parking this 80ft convoy to the expert.

0:26:060:26:13

That was the niftiest bit of steering I've ever seen.

0:26:160:26:20

I think I might have to practise for quite a long time before I'm able to do that.

0:26:200:26:24

This part of the river is no longer the busy thoroughfare it once was.

0:26:270:26:31

In the 1970s, new docks were built further downstream to handle large container ships.

0:26:310:26:38

East London docks lay unused for years until they were transformed

0:26:380:26:43

into a new, financial district, called Canary Wharf,

0:26:430:26:47

housing the tallest building in Britain.

0:26:470:26:50

The key to Canary Wharf's success was, of course, a railway,

0:26:550:26:59

the Jubilee Line extension, for which as a minister, I fought tooth and nail.

0:26:590:27:04

George Bradshaw would enjoy this statistic.

0:27:040:27:06

The station is so vast that the box underground, underwater, in which it sits, will be big enough

0:27:060:27:13

to accommodate the Canary Wharf Tower lying on its side.

0:27:130:27:17

In Bradshaw's day, London was revitalised by the railways and that story continues today.

0:27:210:27:27

The old tracks are constantly reused and extended as the city reinvents itself.

0:27:270:27:33

The age of railway building began before the Victorian era, but it hasn't ceased yet.

0:27:330:27:39

London is all business and bustle.

0:27:390:27:43

From department stores in the west, to investment banks in the east.

0:27:430:27:48

Now, shopping is all the rage and shipping has ceased.

0:27:480:27:52

But before the railways came to town, the river was the permanent way

0:27:520:27:57

and the speed of travel was limited to how fast a man could row.

0:27:570:28:03

On the next leg of the journey,

0:28:100:28:12

I'll be seeing how the trains changed the fortunes of Newmarket.

0:28:120:28:15

It's a sign of a smart town to have one station for people in the north,

0:28:150:28:19

one for people in the south and another one for the horses.

0:28:190:28:22

-Oh, absolutely.

-Looking back on my student days...

0:28:220:28:25

That's where my all-important cocktail bar was.

0:28:250:28:29

I probably had a desk as well but I don't remember.

0:28:290:28:32

..and finding out that Cambridge has a surprising claim to fame.

0:28:320:28:37

One could say it was the birthplace of the modern game of football.

0:28:370:28:40

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:490:28:52

Email [email protected]

0:28:520:28:55

In a journey taking him coast to coast from Brighton to Cromer, Michael finds out about the Stiffs' Express, a funeral service running coffins from Waterloo to Brookwood Cemetery. He discovers how London's West End became a great 19th-century shopping destination and explores the changing fortunes of London's docks.


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