Every Two Minutes

WellsThings found in books has been a bit of a theme this week (see The Secret Contents of Secondhand Books on the Guardian website for example), so a minor contribution here – and, if any of you have a mind to, we can by all means add other examples to the ABA website.  Found this, not inappropriately, in a 1913 edition of an H. G. Wells lecture, The Discovery of the Future.  The opening  premise of the lecture is the difference between a majority “which seems scarcely to think of the future at all, which regards it as a sort of blank non-existence upon which the advancing present will presently write events” and a more modern mindset which “thinks constantly and by preference of things to come, and of present things mainly in relation to the results that must arise from them”.  No doubting which side Wells was on.

Underground Bookmark 1I suppose in the book-trade we tend to turn this around completely and examine the past to illumine both present and future, but what is this tucked inside the book?  A message from the past – or one from the future?  Nothing surprising about finding a bookmark in a book – just about the least surprising thing you might ever find (although probably not the most common – bus-tickets perhaps shade it).  A century-old bookmark (slightly defective) from the Underground – the London Underground that is, although at that point more of a loose affiliation of several independent lines.  A pastoral scene, a Hampstead Heathian suburban vista, and on the verso a list of season ticket prices.  A three-month third-class season, Hampstead or Highgate to Tottenham Court Road, just £1.2s.6d – under 3d a day (that’s £1.12½ and just over 1p in today’s ridiculously indivisible currency) – or, to put in another way, the equivalent a hundred years on of £86.90 (using the Retail Price Index) for a three-month ticket.  Other measures of conversion (average earnings, etc.) give higher figures of course – but this was highly affordable travel.  Third-class? – Well, it can’t conceivably have been any worse than the Northern Line in the rush-hour being pummelled by idiots with rucksacks taking up far more space than they need.    

Underground Bookmark 2I suppose it was because you would be using two different lines rather than one that explains the seemingly stiff extra five shillings (25p) to travel on to Leicester Square (or the even stiffer ten shillings (50p) to Holborn) – and equally suppose that many people would have taken those shortish, brisk and healthy walks rather than pay the extra.  But no doubt that led to considerably less crowding on the trains and the interchanges in the busy central area at the busiest times.  This has been thought out.

Affordable – extraordinarily so when you consider that the system was still being built and paid for.  The Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway, running from Hammersmith to Finsbury Park (nowadays simply the Piccadilly Line), was only opened in 1906.  Dover StreetOpened in that year were the Down Street and Dover Street stations shown on the map – the first now a forgotten ghost station and the second now known as Green Park.  Hampstead or Highgate to the brand-new Dover Street, just £1.12s.6d. (£1.62½) – so cheap – and  how’s this for service?  “Train Service.  Every Two Minutes at all Stations”.  Train ServiceEvery two minutes at all stations?  What?  Is this a utopian Wellsian discovery of the future?  Which direction are we heading here?  Message from 1912?  Message from 2122?  If we could do it then, why not now?   Why the hell not now?  Are you listening, Boris?

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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