Things 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.
I 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.
I 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. Opened 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”. Every 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?