Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nikolaus Pevsner at Brompton Road station

Brompton Road station on the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (as it was then called) opened on 15 December 1906. Situated between Knightsbridge and South Kensington, it was convenient for the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Brompton Oratory, as well as the shops of the Brompton Road But traffic levels were disappointing, and within a few years a practice arose of running some trains through the station without stopping to speed up the service.

As the Brompton Road website (to which I am indebted for this whole account) says:
This practice also obtained at several other stations on the Piccadilly line, indeed it still does nowadays between Hammersmith and Acton Town, but for whatever reason, it stuck in the minds of Londoners in the case of Brompton Road, so much so that the words “Passing Brompton Road” (which the guard would call out at Knightsbridge or South Kensington to forewarn passengers that the train would not stop at the next station) became the title of a West End farce by Jevan Brandon-Thomas, starring one of the famous actresses of the time, Marie Tempest, which enjoyed a run of 174 performances at the Criterion, though the play’s success was attributed more to Miss Tempest’s fame that any merit in the script!
Brompton Road closed briefly in 1926 because of the General Strike, but reopened after a few months by local demand (despite its supposed unpopularity). By the early 1930s, its then owner, by then London Electric Railways (which became part of the London Passenger Transport Board on 1 July 1933) was looking at ways to speed up journey times on the Piccadilly tube, which was becoming more popular for long distance commuting.

The trains of those days could not accelerate away from stations so quickly as modern trains, so it was decided to close three of the less busy stations to speed up the service for the benefit of longer distance passengers. Brompton Road closed on Sunday 29 July 1934.

But the building survives - it is now the headquarters of the University of London's Air Training Squadron, having served as the headquarters of London's air defences during Word War II - and last Friday Brompton Road station was the setting for the launch party for Susan Harries' biography Nikolaus Pevsner: The Life.

Until Friday I knew Susan only online - she recently wrote a guest post about Pevsner in Leicestershire and we first "met" because I mentioned Pevsner in a post about a chapel in Rothwell. In person she is charming and her biography has received uniformly complimentary reviews. I bought a copy from Waterstone's, Market Harborough, on Sunday and will no doubt review it here in due course.

At the party I met Nikolaus's son Dieter and also Sarah, the widow of the novelist John Fowles. I was able to tell her that her husband's introduction to the Oxford Classics edition of After London (which appeared in 1977 or thereabouts) led directly to my completing a Masters dissertation on Richard Jefferies nearly 20 years later. She said that John Fowles re-read Bevis every year - as all sensible people do.

Incidentally, the entrance I used for the party is not the one shown in the photograph but was around the corner. The one you see here was being used by people from a Danish trade delegation. I have read enough John Le Carré recently to know what that really means.

No comments: