Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Another map brings back memories, this time 1951

In 1951 I was seven and, in truth, I do not remember much from the year. Even the photographs I have from my childhood are undated, so all I can do is guess, but 1951 was slightly different — it was Festival of Britain year in London and I know that I went, because I saw the Skylon. I am also sure that I went with my school, Barham School in Wembley. I was cross at being dragged quickly pass this object, which just hung there. It was years later before I found out that it was called the 'Skylon'.

I bought a book whilst there about the future and I carried from it, into adulthood, a belief that atomic energy was the future, clean, cheap and safe. The book also had a piece about the DeHaviland Vickers four-engined turbo-prop Airliner and how it was the future of air travel.

I thought it was beautiful and, as an adult, the very first plane I flew in was a Viscount. It was a memorable occasion. I had the plane completely to myself. In 1970, I was going on work business to Livingston in Scotland and the first leg of my journey was by plane from Birmingham to Edinburgh. It was an early morning flight and dark and it had been snowing. I lived close to the airport and got there in plenty of time and after I got on the Viscount, I was told by a stewardess that I was their only passenger. They treated me like royalty and the captain invited me to join him in the cockpit to see the sunrise.

At the time, I did not know that a year of so later I would be a member of Birmingham City Council's Airport Committee and, in 1981, Chair of East Midlands Airport, and got invited to sit in a few cockpits over the years, but the Viscount has always remained my favourite plane. I suspect my affection for the Viscount can be traced back to 1951 and the Festival of Britain. All these memories have been prompted by a chance conversation and finding an old London Transport map from 1951.

However, my first and lasting love has always been trolleybuses and buses. The former disappeared from our streets decades ago, but I can still see where they went, because I have a large collection of London Transport bus maps. Each one acquired from a London Underground station or, in recent years, a tourist information point.

As a child I knew where every red London Transport bus route went and which days it ran (my son had a similar skill, which growing up in the seventies and eighties, he applied to Argos catalogues).

By chance I was searching my collection for a early-1950s London Transport bus and trolleybus map to copy, so that I could place a map of bus routes in and around Wembley on my My Wembley blog. Whilst looking, I found a Festival of Britain information map, part of which I have reproduced below:

I love its boldness and clarity. Transport maps today overwhelm us with information. Perhaps because those responsible think they have to compete with the web. It is a work of art and the cover section is also a pleasure to look at and hold.

As I write this, it is winging its way to a friend in Torquay the same age as me, who grew up in the same street and went to the same schools. She waxes lyrical about her memories of the Festival of Britain and clearly remembers much more than me. On reflection, the chances are that being dragged away from the Skylon put me in a sulk and I noticed nothing else, I suspect I bought the book because I had half-a-crown to spend (2/6d in old money, 12½p in new money) and that's what I did when I was a kid. If you gave me money, I spent it. Simple as that. Well, until I wanted to buy a new bike, but that's another story.

I love bus maps and will be thinking tomorrow of two friends, opening envelopes and pouring over the transport maps from 1938 and 1951 I have sent them. The more I look at the section of the map I have captured and you can see above, the more I see a work of art, which I would love to have, about four foot square, hanging on a wall in my home.

With this wonderful thought I will leave you and go and do tea.

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