History of the Amersham Area

Memories of the Metropolitan Railway

This was written by ‘An Old Resident’ and appeared in the Amersham Society News in January 1982

I have often wondered if any of the commuters who catch the smart silver multi-unit London Transport tube trains at Amersham Station ever think that this service was once operated by the Metropolitan Railway, which after its formation sometime in the 1860’s together with the Metropolitan District Company, gave London its underground railway system.  It is just within my memory of seeing steam trains pulling into Baker Street Station on the inner circle line pulled by the original small 4.4.0. type Bayer-Peacock condenser steam engines. They were an ingenious design especially for operating in the underground tunnels.  The funnel was reasonably tall and had a smart brass steam dome and safety valve on top of the boiler with large cylinders outside and forward below the smoke stack on either side with the drive rods connected to the driving wheels and these two coupled with a drive rod.  The exhaust steam, instead of puffing up was carried away from the cylinders up and then along the boiler horizontally and back into the water tanks to be condensed and re-used, hence the name ‘condensor type’.  They had no covered cab for the crew for obvious reasons to give maximum view forward and back but had a large shield with two big oval glass windows.

Metropolitan colours were a brownish crimson-like with gold lining.  On the tanks appeared the ‘Metropolitan Railway’ with the engine number.  One of the two remaining and preserved of this type of locomotive can be seen at Quainton, the property of the Railway Society.  The coaches on the underground were small ordinary passenger ones with swing doors opened by horizontal brass handles with rather hard upholstered seats and similar straight backs not designed for comfort and which in later years appeared on the Chesham branch line.  London’s underground was electrified in 1905/06.  As far as extensions are concerned, Rickmansworth was reached in 1887, Chesham, which was a branch, in 1889 and Aylesbury 1892.  This later finally reached beyond to Quainton Road, Verney Junction and Brill.

It has been my privilege during my lifetime and perhaps some forty years ago, to meet and talk of the early days of the building of the railway extension to Aylesbury by men still then residing at the villages of Winchmore Hill and Coleshill, who as young men worked on the construction.  I can name three.  One John Rogers of Winchmore Hill, affectionately known to all as ‘Johner’, and the second, also of the same village, Jake Bazel, Jakey to everyone, and finally Benny Wingrove of Coleshill.  I liked very much to talk to the first two men especially over a pint of beer in the Potters Arms or The Plough.  John said to me one day, ‘the best rate for labourers in those days was two pence an hour.  The contractors building the line were offering three pence-halfpenny so we used to get up at five in the morning and walk even as far as Chorleywood to meet the gang coming this way to get taken on’.  He said ‘You know Mister, even if it was pouring with rain, we used to get up and go, in case it cleared up and we could get a start’ and ‘Many a day we have gone, got wet through, sat in a shed all day waiting for the rain to clear, then walked back home at night and aren’t ernt a copper’.

When you travel either way, but especially towards Aylesbury through Weedon Wood, Pipers Wood and Mantles Wood, and see the deep cuttings and the high embankments, and think that this work was carried out by these men with just picks and shovels with horses hauling waggons to move the earth they’d cut out and thrown up into them, and remember it was twelve hours a day, six days a week, it seems barely possible to comprehend by present day standards.  There may have been steam shovels but none of these men every mentioned them.  Truly it can be said that our railway was built, by ‘blood, sweat and tears’.

In 1933 the Company was incorporated into the London Transport System, the Metropolitan and Great Central having been absorbed in the railway grouping by the London and North Eastern Company.  Finally about 1960/63 the electrification of the line to Amersham and the extension of the Underground was completed and the Aylesbury line was operated entirely by the LNER from Marylebone and under powerful diesel engines. Once steam was replaced the magic of our railway vanished.  No longer did we see those beautiful engines thundering by Weedon Wood and through the station with names like Sir Sam Fay, The Marquis of Granby, Leeds United, etc., or in the Metropolitan livery, names such as Lord Aberconway, The Duke of Buckingham, Robert H Selbie, or Charles Jones.  By this time all the coaches were the modern long distance match-boarded type with dining cars and Pullmans, but I can remember the original trim of the Great Central, the bright green engines hauling the cream and chocolate carriages, which even in those days were comfortably upholstered and had corridor carriages on the fast trains.

When travelling from Amersham to London, it was only on the Metropolitan line that you changed engines at Rickmansworth.  The best trains to London were on the Great Central which had running powers over the Metropolitan line to Harrow and then on the line from Harrow to Marylebone.  Also on the alternate route from Marylebone to High Wycombe, and Aylesbury via Seer Green and Gerrards Cross, and then from Aylesbury on their own line to Woodford and Hinton and places beyond linking with their system.  The Great Central trains were really beautifully clean trains, both the engines and the carriages. They ran special fast commuter trains from various stations.  For instance, the 9.12am from Woodford and Hinton via Aylesbury would be ‘first stop Harrow’ after Amersham and would reach Marylebone before 10am.  In the evening the 6.25pm from Marylebone would be ‘first stop Amersham’ after Harrow and would arrive at Amersham at 7.02pm.

In later years the Metropolitan made a big thing of ‘Live in Lovely Metroland’.  They bought land near all the stations down the line and built Metropolitan Railway Houses near their stations with mortgages arranged and special terms, etc.  Witness around Woodside Road and the The Drive at Amersham.  Then they put on two special restaurant cars on morning trains which returned again at convenient times in the evening.  In the morning one would cater for, say, the 8.30am travellers and the 9-9.30am market.  Conversely, the return trains were suitably timed, the idea being for City gents to breakfast on the trains in the mornings and then have dinner on the return trip in the evenings.  The special dining cars were named ‘The Mayflower’ and ‘The Galattea’.  The railway workers nicknamed this last one ‘the Gallon of Tea’.

Now about the Thursday (closing day) cheap fare; you could travel on any train after 10am and return on any train after 5pm for a one day excursion to London for 1/6d.  The ordinary three months ticket at that time was 4/3d return.  We used to catch the Great Central train which came from Woodford and Hinton via Aylesbury and left Amersham at 1.14pm, then first stop Harrow and reached Marylebone at 2pm.  You could travel back via Baker Street if you wished to stay late, by the 12 midnight train, arriving Amersham 12.50am.  The last Amersham train via Great Central from Marylebone was 10.20pm, all stations to Aylesbury.  Another good morning train was the Great Central 8.02am from Amersham arriving Marylebone 8.50am.

The Grand Central became the LNER.  They had some lovely expresses.  The South Yorkshireman came through Amersham about 10.15am and returned north again passing through Amersham about ten minutes to four in the afternoon.  The other one was the Master Cutler which came through from Sheffield each morning between 9 and 10am, but as this made its return trip via High Wycombe and Aylesbury we could not watch for it later in the day.  They were beautiful trains.  They named engines after notable people and later after famous football clubs, mostly on the route, like ‘Sheffield United’.  Other famous names were the Marquis of Granby or the head of the line Sir Sam Fay.  There are a lot of memories to be recalled about our old steam trains before we became the LPTB.

Click here to hear recordings about the railway in Amersham.