UK Trip: Day Eight

This is the bus we take everyday to Guildford Station.

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The portion of the shop seen on the left is where I buy my papers. Today I decided to try out the Daily Mirror. I found it far more readable than any paper I’d bought till now. Editorial is presented simply and forcefully on the third page itself. There were several interesting articles like how Tom Hiddleston is not a patch on Daniel Craig and can’t come miles near landing the Bond role with his “Where’s my phone?” look.

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An interesting aspect of British newspapers, as seen from the front page, is how they’re not afraid of upholding a specific view-point. In this age of information overload, logical opinion pieces are very important.

The London Underground is full of posters for new books, films, theatre plays, tourism hotspots, horse-racing events. It is evidence of a culturally vibrant city.

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Today we went to the London Transportation Museum which records the growth of transportation systems in London from 1800 to today. It is a fascinating narrative which also documents the rise of London as an economic powerhouse and the centre of the British Empire.

I will just point out some interesting things I learnt today.

First, we went to the horse-transport section. The horse was undoubtedly a pivotal cog of civilization right up to the end of the First World War. Horse-drawn stage-coachs were prevalent in the early 1800s. These vehicles made regular trips between stages or stations which dotted the whole country.

 

In London in the early 1800s, most people lived in walking distance from their work-place. A ground-breaking and transformational innovation was the omnibus (below) which carried up to 22 passengers on fixed routes. One could simply hop into an omnibus with no prior bookings and pay the fare to a conductor. This may seem normal today but was unprecedented in the pre-Victorian era.P1040321.JPG

Any talk of horses can’t be completed without mention of hansom carriages. These were a lot like modern cabs. Only the middle and upper-classes could afford it.  Rides could also be hitched by surreptitiously hoisting oneself onto the rear of the carriage. hansom

The truly modern creation of the Victorian era is the railways. After the invention of the steam engine by James Watt, a network of railway lines sprung up connecting the City of London to the countryside by the 1850s.P1040334.JPG

This prompted increasing numbers to shift out of the City into suburbs. Poor labourers whose homes were demolished were given a cheap early morning ride as part of their compensation. These were called Parliamentary trains because they were decreed by Parliament and had to be provided by the railway companies. Yet conditions on these ‘workmen trains’ were grimy, stuffy and generally woefully inadequate.

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Another major issue was inner-City transportation. Important buildings could not be destroyed to make railroads here. So it was decided to build tunnels under the ground to run the trains. The Metropolitan Railway first opened the first Underground station in 1862. These trains ran on steam so release-valves were installed periodically. Sudden spurts of steam gushing out of the road often startled gentlemen and ladies out on their constitutionals.

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Commuters waiting for the train on Boat Race Day:

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Ticket fares reflect the inherent class system in Victorian times where First-Class had plush upholstered seating with other luxuries while passengers travelling Third-Class had to sit on hard wooden benches.

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A typical first-class compartment:

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In 1905 the Underground was completely electrified and the network was vastly expanded and modernized to form a primitive version of the present Tube. This is a poster reassuring passengers about the ease and safety of the Tube:

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This is a representation of the Tube in the 1920s:

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This is a poster from the early Underground days:

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This is an interesting poster in more modern times:

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Coming out of the museum we had lunch at a cafe off Covent Garden and walked about the stalls for a while. This is an interesting street performer:

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Stalls at Covent Garden marketplace:

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Next we went to the Central Criminal Court popularly known as the Old Bailey.

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Here British and foreign citizens are permitted to sit in the public galleries. No bags, mobile phones or any other electronic devices are permitted so we deposited our goods at a nearby travel agency. Entry was through a small unassuming door set in the wall at ground level.

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One had to press a bell-switch and the door would be opened by a court- bailiff. Photography is banned inside so I couldn’t take further pictures. After the usual security checks we had to choose which courtroom to visit. Court officials informed us about current cases. We went to Courtroom 5 which was a case on misconduct in a public office.

The courtroom was surprisingly modern and not very large. The judge, prosecutor, defending lawyer and their principal aids all wore wigs, white-tie and tails covered by billowing black gowns. The wooden furniture was functional and the upholstery was in green leather of the same shade as in the House of Commons. The jury , consisting of  six men and six women, were listening with their brows furrowed in concentration. I was surprised at how young they looked. Only four or five of them were above forty. One blonde girl looked barely sixteen. A woman was in the dock and the prosecutor was questioning her on her meeting with a Mr Griffiths on a Saturday. This meeting apparently lasted for one and a half hours. The prosecutor slowly led his way through telephone records and text messages before and after this momentous meeting.

From what I could gather the lady was either a sympathetic friend or a private detective.It seemed that Mr Griffiths had got her to do some open-sourced research on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Then a couple of day later she had sent a text reading ” omg found something at last xxx.” The prosecuting counsel needled her over this for a long time.

It started getting rather humdrum until the prosecutor used the word ‘deceased’. As this was not a murder trial I thought that maybe somebody had died of natural causes. Then the woman in the dock used the word ‘killers’ and I knew murder was involved.

After that electrifying moment the proceedings descended into monotonous humdrum. According to court  rules we had to stay in the courtroom for at least half an hour after which we left.

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