Visiting the TfL headquarters at 55, Broadway was a highlight of my Open House weekend (a doff of the tricorn to IanVisits for flagging it up in time for me to get tickets) – a fabulous Fountainhead-style modernist building with sculptures by the great artists of the day, no fewer than three roof gardens and a splendid view from the flagpole.
But as I was wandering through a small exhibition on the Nth floor, created for employees, my spectral eye was drawn to a tiny flyer inviting me to “explore the Historical Archives.”
Now – I like to explore historical archives as much as the next Phantom. This one, apparently, ‘acts as custodian for the corporate memory of TfL and its predecessors,’ and is responsible for ‘collecting, conserving maintaining and providing access to the historical records of the organisation.’
And where is this marvel? Greenwich, of course. In the spanking new building in Pier Walk just by North Greenwich tube. I was, naturally, most interested, and chatted to the girls in charge. Of course, most of the actual documents (which, judging from the display, range from original designs, timetables, staff records and maps through to letters from Rita Hayworth blagging tube posters - hell we all do it from time to time) don’t actually live at Pier Walk – they’re kept in giant caves in Cheshire (abandoned mines, actually - how very Enid Blyton…)
So what you usually have to do is give ‘em a call, and arrange to see what you need. They tell me they get a whole bunch of enquiries from family history-types (I feel their pain…), people whose Great Uncle Bert worked on the tube in the 1930s or Cousin George with the wooden leg used to be a trolley conductor in in Piccadilly, but they also get general, local and transport history enquiries. I checked to make sure this isn’t just a service for employees; it’s not.
The records go back as far as 1830 (presumably that would include London’s first ever railway, then, which, as any fule no, was between London Bridge and Greenwich. Details of how you can contact them are here; I don’t think you can just bowl up and expect immediate service. At the bottom of the page are downloadable information sheets which give basics about where to find information about various aspects of rail heritage.