Back in the late eighties and early nineties, for a number of years London Underground ran a number of successful Steam on the Met weekends. It all started with a celebration weekend in 1989 to commemorate the centenary of the opening of the Metropolitan Railway into Chesham, using Met 1, the last remaining operating Metropolitan Railway steam locomotive. That first weekend was so successful that the railway organised a number of follow up events, mainly running between Watford and Amersham, but including special parallel running of trains on the main lines up from Harrow. The event was all staffed by volunteers – believe me you’ve never seen so many of London Underground’s management as you did on those weekends, and it seemed popular with passengers and staff alike – so popular that they quickly got to the point of having to bring in mainline steam locomotives rather than Met 1. On the summer weekends when it ran you could sit outside in Mum and Dad’s back garden and once again hear steam trains working their way along the steep climb up Chorleywood bank.
The steam trains weren’t the only stars. All the trains needed a non-steam backup loco, and whilst for some trains it was a second hand diesel loco bought from British Rail, others used another Metropolitan Railway original, Sarah Siddons, one of the Metropolitan electric locomotives, which having been built in the nineteen twenties was older than some of the steam locomotives it was acting as backup for, was used for support.
Then in the mid-nineties the event was cancelled. There were a number of rumours as to why. Some cited health and safety concerns, but others talked about the management changes at London Underground in the lead up to the part privatisation, saying that the heritage weekends weren’t compatible with a commuter railway.
Since then, Sarah Siddons has been retained, and has run occasional special trains, however on September 14th, it’s not quite Steam on the Met, but London Underground are running a special heritage day using Sarah Siddons, and also a preserved train of 1938 Underground stock, following the Amersham, Watford and Harrow route that was used for the previous events. Based on some of the pictures coming through on Flickr they seem to be putting some effort into the event as well. Sarah Siddons has had a new paint job, and the set of retained heritage coaches (also picked up from British Rail) have all been refurbished too. Is it a prelude to resuming the steam events? I’m not sure, I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens with this event.
Don’t forget to watch Eastenders tonight, as it’s the Bradley and Stacey wedding episode. In common with several other significant episodes in the past it includes St Andrew’s Watford, the church my parents attend, otherwise known as St Peter’s Walford.
To give you some idea of how long the project has been trying to get the go ahead, it was originally announced when I was still at school and Margret Thatcher was Prime Minister but ever since then nobody has stumped up the cash to actually complete the project.
The basic idea behind the project is simple – getting across London by public transport is very slow. If for example you want to take the train to get from Essex to Heathrow Airport it involves taking a train into central London, then taking the Underground – probably the Circle Line – around to Paddington to catch the Heathrow Express. The line proposed is a new high speed route running under central London on an East/West route – something that would make that journey a lot quicker and simpler.
Back when the route was originally proposed it was a bit more extensive, with a branch running out to Amersham and Watford, and extending as far as Reading. What has now been given the green light is not quite as extensive with the line only reaching as far as Maidenhead in the west, with a branch to Heathrow. Needless to say from a personal point of view that does slightly lessen it’s convenience for us out here as we’d still require a train change at Maidenhead – having said that it certainly will make getting into central London a lot more convenient. Sadly though it won’t be ready in time for the London Olympics – probably the biggest upcoming event that would benefit as the railway won’t be finished until 2017, five years too late.
So tonight, Doctor Who comes face-to-face with his greatest enemy – FA Cup Football. The semi-final clash between Manchester United and Watford has been scheduled for late afternoon, so even if it is all settled within ninety minutes, it is a late start for Doctor Who. However if it goes to extra time or penalties, the BBC has announced that they will cancel the showing of Doctor Who as otherwise it will be shown too late for younger fans. With regards to the older fans, you only need to listen to this weeks Now Show, where Mitch Ben, an avid Liverpool supporter, and therefore genetically predisposed to loathing Manchester United has penned a song to encourage Manchester United to produce a decisive normal time win.
Having said that, my brother who has been a long-time Watford supporter seems to think we’ve got nothing to worry about. Although he’s headed off to see the game, he thinks that based on the two teams form mid-week, Manchester United will walk it – although of course if Manchester United themselves think that they will walk it, that might lead to a long battle of attrition ending on the penalty spot… There is also the added pressure that this years final will be the first played at the new Wembley Stadium – looking at the teams left in the competition, which combination do you think the FA would prefer, Blackburn/Watford or Chelsea/Manchester United?
Anyway, assuming the game finishes on time, what have we got to look forward to in Doctor Who? There have been a number of hints dropped that alongside the returning Face of Boe, there is the reappearance of a classic series monster. There hasn’t been any official announcement of who it might be, other than that it isn’t the Ice Warriors. There is some speculation that it might be the Macra, but we’ll have to wait and see if that is true…
If you are an Eastenders fan I’m sure you will have been glued to the show on Friday night, to see the second attempt by Billy and Honey to get married. It was also a good example of one of the other ways that churches are raising money for repairs, as rather than being a Church in Walford – like many of the locations on the show that aren’t permanent sets on the back-lot at the studio – it is actually a Church in Watford. In this case it is the Church my parents attend, St Andrews, one of a number that have been used by the show over the years.
The last appearance of the building in the programme was a while back, when it was the location for Dot and Jim’s wedding, and also used for the christening of Louise, daughter of Lisa and Phil. The more recent church events have been held at another local Church, however the BBC came back to St Andrews for the recent programmes. This time you also got to see a bit more of the Church, including a nice shot looking down the length of the aisle, and also use was made of part of their vestry that has a nice rose window. There were also a couple of external shots too.
Having the BBC has it’s benefits too. The local crematorium apparently now has a nice set of artificial flowers thanks to regular visits from Eastenders. However it also has it’s hassles. St Andrews church hall is actually in the former north aisle of the Church – the door of which was hidden behind a curtain on the programme on Friday night. However during term time there is a nursery school that uses the hall, and of course they are not allowed to be around when Eastenders take over the building. Luckily for this batch of filming, the school could make alternative arrangements. There is also the disruption to places used for filming. For example it wasn’t until Friday that Mum discovered why she hadn’t been able to find anything in the vestry recently!!!
Having said that, for Churches struggling with limited finances, it is a great way to earn a little extra income, and also makes use of a building that will be largely unused during much of the week. Although current policy in St Albans Diocese require that all scripts are approved by the Archdeacon. This is partly because the scripts for programmes like Eastenders have previously had to be corrected to accurately reflect Church practice (for the Christening episode the crew turned up with the writers having written their own baptism service – on that occasion the Archdeacon was on site and asked that they used the proper service instead), however the full approval policy came in following an incident at another Church in the Diocese where the building was booked by a film company, and it later transpired that they were using the building to make a porn film…
Incidentally, if you saw the programme on Friday, you’ll have seen that the wedding itself didn’t actually take place, so there should be a return visit to St Andrews in the not to distant future.
Thoughts from, and the lives of a Canadian and a Brit living in Southern England.