Tag Archives: num:ScienceMuseum=1967-177

Station clock meets its Waterloo

No sooner do I write a blog about the symbolism of Waterloo’s station clock than it gets taken out of service for a refurbishment!

Waterloo station clock under repair, London, 25 March 2010 (David Rooney)

The concourse underneath the Waterloo clock has become an iconic meeting-place, a focal point amidst the hurry of the station, as shown in Terence Cuneo’s dramatic painting:

Waterloo station, 1967 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

Now, for a few weeks, time stands still for the station’s passengers.

Waiting under the Waterloo station clock, 25 March 2010 (David Rooney)

Railways run on time. In the early days, time was a life-saver – literally – as trains used the tracks on a time-share arrangement. The wrong time on the guard’s watch could kill.

Railway guard's watch and railway timetable, 19th century (NRM / Science & Society)

Nowadays, the railways get their time from a constellation of US military satellites (the same ones that tell you where to go while driving), or through a radio signal broadcast from Anthorn, a remote spit of land on the Cumbria coast.

The Cumbrian signal is Britain’s official national time signal. It’s called MSF and it’s run for the UK’s National Physical Laboratory by VT Communications, part of a firm that used to be called Vosper Thornycroft. I’ve mentioned them before. They’ve a long history of shipbuilding.

And they’ve just merged with Babcock, a company that started life making marine steam boilers. The MSF time signal and its predecessors began as an Admiralty service for British naval officers to check their chronometers at sea.

Transport and time – two stories intertwined. But I recommend you take your own watch to Waterloo for the next few weeks…

Waterloo – couldn’t escape if I wanted to

While I was at the National Railway Museum last week, looking at the wonderful George Earl paintings, I also reminded myself of the splendour of Terence Cuneo’s giant view of London Waterloo station, painted in 1967.

Waterloo Station, Terence Cuneo, 1967 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

'Waterloo Station', Terence Cuneo, 1967 (Science Museum / Science & Society)

It’s quite a feat. Measuring 20 feet by 10 feet, it is Cuneo’s largest painting and was commissioned by the Science Museum for its then-new Land Transport gallery. Cuneo painted it in the gallery itself, surrounded by locomotives, cars and bikes all shrouded in protective sheeting prior to the opening.

The view is the same as that taken by artist Helen McKie for her pair of paintings of the station at war and at peace, made for publicity posters in 1948, also in the museum collections.

Waterloo Station - war, watercolour by Helen McKie, 1948 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)

'Waterloo Station - war', watercolour by Helen McKie, 1948 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)

Waterloo Station - peace, watercolour by Helen McKie, 1948 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)

'Waterloo Station - peace', watercolour by Helen McKie, 1948 (NRM / Pictorial Collection / Science & Society)

Across all these railway station views, by Earl, Cuneo, McKie and others, the detail is remarkable and makes them really valuable not just to art-lovers and railway enthusiasts but to historians keen to learn more about everyday life.

Waterloo station has changed quite a bit since then. Now electric trains ply the platforms. The Eurostar terminal has come and gone (it’s moved to St Pancras – now there’s a station to explore), and passengers can now speed directly to the thriving Docklands and east London on the Jubilee Line extension underground.

But some things stay the same. The station clock still keeps time, suspended over the concourse, favoured meeting point in the days before mobile phones replaced ‘when and where’ with ‘text me when you’re near’…

Waterloo station clock, 1993 (NRM / Science & Society)

Waterloo station clock, 1993 (NRM / Science & Society)