The occasion on which HM The Queen officially opened the Victoria Line was no doubt the most momentous in terms of Royals on London’s Underground. Prince Charles and Princess Alexandra indeed officiated also with openings of extensions to Brixton and Heathrow plus the Jubilee Line from Baker Street to Charing Cross. This particular one stands out the most however, possibly because its the first such occasion. It was a scoop for London Transport and the one which had received the most media coverage. Not only that delegates came from metro systems all over the world to be present at this particular occasion and to view the planet’s first public automated railway. The occasion also marked the completion of London’s first new tube line for over sixty years.
Its fully appreciated that the 7th March 1969 is one that has been written at length in the published media but sadly it seems not featured in full anywhere on the internet. This is therefore the most comprehensive write-up of that occasion which happened fifty two years ago to this day – although this post isn’t intended as a special anniversary okay? Its just the fact it was intended to be published two years ago as a smaller component of another post on the Victoria Line’s 50th anniversary, but which turned out to be considerably similar to one that had pipped the post to publication, thus that unpublished one of mine has been expanded considerably into a full feature.
Victoria station in the week before the Royal opening with a train in the southbound platform. This picture was taken during a preview day for the media. As the appointed Royal day approached trains terminating at Warren Street instead continued to Victoria as part of familiarisation with the route.
The current station motifs are from 2015. These were changed as it was thought the old pink ones would not look right with the planned new station decor.
Cover of the special book printed to commemorate the Royal opening itself.
A few weeks before the Royal Opening leaflets were being given out about the new tube line’s extension and informing everyone the new line would be open from 15.00 hours on 7th March 1969. There were a number of press review days of the new line in the week prior to the Royal opening and two of those days took place on the 3rd and the 5th March 1969 (for which photographs can be dated) although its quite likely every single day for a week or so prior to the occasion turned out to be a preview day anyway. A photograph from the 3rd March can be seen here.
On the 7th March 1969 the following leaflet which had been given out the last few weeks prior to the actual event, were too distributed in the central area and at the new stations once they had been opened by girls wearing uniforms with blue banners that had ‘Victoria Line’ printed on these.
The text on the second page of the leaflet reads:
‘On Friday 7th March, her Majesty The Queen will open the Victoria Line through the West End to Victoria. The line is already in service between Walthamstow (its northern terminus) and Warren Street and at 15.00 on March 7 the third section to Oxford Circus, Green Park and Victoria will be opened to the public.
The Victoria Line is the world’s most advanced and highly automated underground railway. Its silver trains will cut journey times for thousands and greatly improve travel in London. They will whisk you from Walthamstow to Victoria in 25 minutes. from King’s Cross to Oxford Circus in 5½, from Oxford Circus to Victoria in 4, from Victoria to Euston in 7½, or from Victoria to Green Park in two minutes or less…’
The Royal Opening
Invite to the Royal Opening of the Victoria Line. Source: Google Arts & Culture
The Queen arrives at Green Park station for her cab ride to Oxford Circus on 7th March 1969. Source: Twitter
Like all special occasions on the railways and the underground, a special operating notice, shown below, was too issued for the 7th March 1969. Although I have not seen the inside of this document, the front cover can be seen here and its clear the train that would carry the Queen shall be the ‘Royal train,’ which indeed it was. There were special trains in operation too, presumably these were to convey dignitaries and the media to and from the stations to be opened.
The special notice for the ‘Royal Trains’ operation on 7th March 1969. The image was sourced from a defunct Twitter account and originally used in my earlier Victoria Line posts.
It must have been a somewhat complex operation because a good amount of juggling of trains at Warren Street would have been needed to ensure those heading south from there out of service were clean and totally empty of passengers, whilst those heading north would have to be cleaned of stuff like any possible bunting or other decoration. And that presents the question of the two Royal Trains that were used that day – this being the northbound one from Green Park to Oxford Circus and the following one from Oxford Circus to Victoria.
It appears it was in fact the same train for both operations. With a duty number of 411 (as opposed to the usual duty numbers between 200-299) it was no doubt kept at Victoria throughout the morning of the 7th March to prepare it for the work of conveying the Queen from Green Park to Oxford Circus, and no doubt after that it continued to King’s Cross where it then reversed. It would then retrace the line southward to Oxford Circus and wait on the platform there for the Royal party who would then travel as passengers through to Victoria.
I would think the first two trains to be dispatched in public from Victoria were in fact sent down from Warren Street while the ‘Royal Train’ went up to turn at King’s Cross. These trains would be berthed in the centre pair of Gillingham Street sidings (as they were so described in those early days) but they would of course not be able to venture north until the line was clear (because the track just outside the sidings had a special walkway built upon them to allow the queen to inspect the sidings and the trains.)
The Royal Train, on its return south to Victoria, would then berth after the occasion in number one road (which would later become the track for Brixton.) This would then leave the three stations clear of any trains and operations in order to tidy them up and make them ready for public service and when the time came to it, trains could be dispatched from both Warren Street and Victoria almost immediately at 3pm that day. I might of course be wrong in how I think the operations went but that’s my idea of how it could have been done.
The Queen has trouble with the ticket machine at Green Park, it wont accept her sixpence! Mr F .E. Wilkins is about to come to her rescue. One LT official is seen looking across to see what the matter is! Screencap from Facebook
After some difficulty trying to purchase a ticket, costing 5d (five pennies in old money) when two sixpences given by her equerry were rejected, Mr F. E. Wilkins stepped in and gave her a sixpence that worked. I don’t know if the Queen or her entourage took the 1 penny change, it probably would have been too trivial for all anyone knows! With her yellow magnetic backed ticket the Queen was thus able to use the new automatic barriers. As a matter of fact she could have just walked in without even giving the ticket machine any consideration! The ticket purchasing was most certainly a sort of ceremonial nod to publicise the fact the London Underground had begun use of new automated ticket barriers – which had been much publicised in the weeks prior to the Royal opening. She didn’t need a ticket of course for she simply walked straight out of Victoria station once the official opening ceremony had ended!
Mr F .E. Wilkins steps in and gives her a sixpence to use. This being the third attempt to use the machine, it worked. LT chairman Maurice Holmes is all smiles whilst the Queen’s Lord Lieutenant of London Sir Gerald Templer breathes a sigh of relief! Screencap from Facebook
The Queen enters the tube at Green Park. At left is LT’s chairman Maurice Holmes and at right is LT’s Chief Public Relations Officer Mr F .E. Wilkins. Behind the Queen is Field Marshall Sir Gerald Templer. Source: Twitter
Coming through the ticket barriers! These early types of automated ticket barrier were quite innovative but proved too easy for people to jump over. The Queen’s use of the ticket and automatic gates was merely a ceremonial touch. Source: Standard
7th March 1969. The Queen on her way to the platforms at Green Park to become the first monarch ever to ride (and drive) the tube. Source: Standard
The Queen ‘became the first reigning monarch to take the Tube.’ Source: Twitter
As the Daily Mirror 8th March 1969 (shown above) says:
‘The Queen, like thousands of Londoners, took a trip on the Underground yesterday. Unlike all the other travellers, though, she finished up by sipping champagne on the platform of Oxford Circus station. The occasion, after all, was highly auspicious. She opened a new section of the Victoria Line – the most highly automated underground railway in the world.’
Like a lot of other things, the Royal opening for the Victoria Line was arranged long before in discussions with the Queen, and the date of the official opening was finally confirmed on 3rd January 1969. This means the various parties involved in this momentous day had a little over two months which to prepare the ceremonies, train schedules, rosters, special posters, leaflets, plus the banquet that was held after the ceremony and the rest of it.
Typical report on the Royal opening. Irish Times 8th March 1969.
The London Transport magazine April 1969 – a special Royal opening edition.
The Royal Opening was conducted as follows:
The ceremony began at 11 .00 when the Queen arrived at Green Park Station. She was welcomed by Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer, Her Majesty’s Lieutenant of Greater London, and then presented to Mr Maurice Holmes (Chairman Westminster City Council) plus officers of the London Transport Board.
The Queen inspected the newly built ticket hall, and then tried to buy a ticket from an automatic machine. Two sixpences given by her equerry were rejected. Mr F .E. Wilkins, LT’s Chief Public Relations Officer stepped in and gave her a sixpence that did work in the machine.
Green Park’s station master and several workers who built the line met the Queen before she use one of the new escalators down to the Victoria Line. The platforms were inspected before the party made their way to the far end of the northbound platform where a stage and a lectern were placed. From here the Queen declared the new line opened.
The Queen then entered ‘The Royal Train’ and proceeded to the cab of car 3052. After receiving instruction from Sir Gerald Templar she pressed the pair of buttons on the driving console buttons to start her Royal Train.
The Queen at the controls of the 1967 tube stock and is listening to instructions from Sir Gerald Templar on how to start the train. Source: ITN
One surprising aspect of this part of the ceremony was Train Operator Francis Fountain apparently not giving the Queen instructions how to start the train. He stood at his normal driver’s position (on the left hand side of the cab) whilst the Queen stood on the right side of the cab, with Sir Gerald Templer at centre. In fact just a few moments earlier the Queen is at centre but in order to start the train (and perhaps give the best photographic opportunities the Queen moved to the right hand side of the cab where there are duplicate controls for starting the train.)
Sir Gerald Templer is clearly giving the Queen train operating instructions while the train operator Francis Fountain looks away.
There is a film in fact which clearly shows Sir Templer giving the Queen instructions on starting the train. Its possible there was some miscommunication with Mr Fountain thus Sir Templer had to clarify what Fountain had explained regarding the train controls. Templer can clearly be seen discussing matters with the Queen, before indicating the two buttons on the dashboard which the Queen then presses. The train in fact lurches forward, taking the Queen somewhat by surprise! That is all clearly evident from this video which caught those moments unlike any other film of the occasion available on the Internet. Here’s another video clearly showing the Queen’s Lord Lieutenant was the instructor and not the train operator.
Sir Gerald Templer gave the Queen instructions on starting the tube train, and not the operator of the train itself, Mr. Francis Fountain.
Having started her special train, the train propels forward through a blue banner draped across the tunnel mouth which says ‘Victoria Line 7th March 1969.’ The Queen travelled in the cab to Oxford Circus where the Royal party and its guests then alighted. Here a tour of the new platforms and the new ticket hall, including the control room, were undertaken. Afterwards the Queen met a number of dignitaries including the Victoria Line’s architects and designers, tunnellers and track construction workers, company contractors and so on. Its said a good number of representatives from the other metro systems around the world had flown in specially for the occasion and the Queen was also able to meet these people. I don’t know which of those other systems were represented that day however. All the dignitaries, including the Queen, were able to partake of a glass of champagne to celebrate the occasion.
Waiting on the platform at Oxford Circus to greet the Queen was Station Master William Grimes, who escorted her up the escalators to the ticket hall. Among the men presented there was Permanent Way Ganger Harold Solman, representing the track teams who had done such a great job with their new methods of laying long-welded rails throughout the line.
Inside the operations room, the Queen saw the TV aids used in the control of passenger traffic. In the darkened room, the monitor screen showed pictures of the train in which she had travelled and of the train in which she was to journey to Victoria.
Station Master Martin Morgan explained the modern techniques for handling large crowds in safety. ‘The Queen was with us for a packed seven minutes,’ he said, ‘and she seemed to want to hear about the job. ‘We got down to brass tacks, including discussion of the prevention of fraudulent travel with the new system of automatic barriers.’ (Source: TfL)
Oxford Circus’ senior Station Master, William Grimes, broke protocol when he reached out and held the Queen’s elbow as she stepped off the escalator. Maybe he had thought she was going to miss the end of the escalator and fall over, but the Queen showed she was just as adept as anyone else even though an escalator was something she very rarely used. The rule is no-one is allowed to touch the Queen, not even as a goodwill gesture beyond anything other than a formal handshake. That very breach of protocol can be seen at the start of this video.
The Queen is seen here travelling south to Victoria as a passenger for the further ceremonies that were to follow as part of the days proceedings. Anthony Bull, vice-chairman of LT, is on her right whilst the other dignitaries, including Sir Gerald Templer were elsewhere in the carriage. Transport Minister Richard Marsh was next to Mr. Bull and just out of sight. Source: Twitter
The Queen seen at the front of the train en route to Victoria station where she would make a speech and unveil a special commemorative plaque. Source: The Royal Collection
The party then caught the train south to Victoria, the Queen travelling as a passenger. Upon arrival at the station she was invited to inspect a machine room and the reversing sidings at the south end of the station. A temporary walkway was built over the tracks to give the Queen easy access to these remote parts of the station’s environs. After this reception was then held in the ticket hall and the Queen unveiled a plaque commemorating the event. At approximately 12.50pm the Queen left Victoria tube station to attend a luncheon held in her honour at Westminster City Hall. The Queen’s speech made at Victoria is as follows:
‘The… reason why I am grateful for your invitation is that so far as my family and I are concerned this is almost a domestic undertaking it is some years since you first started burrowing underneath the house and your progress has been of constant interest. I now have pleasure in declaring the new Victoria Line open.’
Official pictures of the Queen giving a speech at Victoria tube station seem to be none existent thus I have had to use a screengrab from this ITN film.
‘Yesterday it took 20 minutes to get from Victoria Station to Oxford Circus by underground, from today you can do it in four minutes on stage three of the new Victoria Line. By any standards that’s progress but there’s more to it than that it’s taken six years and 70 million pounds to build ten and a half miles of tubes 70 feet underground from Walthamstow to Victoria. It’ll take 25,000 people an hour across London and it’s all done automatically by electronic gates, television cameras, ticket collectors and look no hands drivers…’
The Queen emerges from the northbound tunnel at Victoria, having been to inspect machinery and the pair of reversing sidings. This view is taken looking south in the direction of Brixton. Note the temporary walkway laid on top of the permanent way.
Very smart Victoria Line staff admiring the new plaque unveiled by the Queen. The first two are twins Derek and David Mason, both LT apprentices. The third is Edgar Massiah, one of the Victoria Line’s station staff.
The commemorative plaque was stored for a number of years whilst the new ticket hall and tunnels were built at Victoria. The plaque has been on show once again since the new station facilities were complied in 2018. It can be found by the entrance leading to Wilton Road.
Victoria tube station control room begins work. Inspector Matthews is seen using the new equipment. Source: Standard
The first public trains begin…. and LT are caught charging excessive fares!
The new section of line was opened by London Transport as promised at 15.00 hours on the same day. Regalia, partition screens, podiums, special platforms, microphones, additional lighting, flags and other paraphernalia all had to be swept away in just a couple of hours.
There were queues as people fought to purchase tickets and be on the very first public trains through the three new stations. The first train from Victoria (for Walthamstow) was at 15.00hrs whilst the first southbound from Warren Street was at 15.00½ hrs.
There were numerous complaints about the fares being charged for the new line – and reporters were sent out to investigate these concerns. The focus was on the Oxford Circus – Victoria section. The fare was meant to be 9d however LT was continuing to charge for a longer journey costing one shilling via Charing Cross. This is of course the old route involving the Bakerloo and the District lines. In terms of old money the difference was indeed substantial. When challenged by the newspapers LT staff promptly admitted their error and corrected the mistakes.
The Daily Express wrote up this report in the following day’s edition 8th March 1969 where it details London Transport’s reaction after its caught red handed at what amounted to a fares fiddle:
London Transport’s Divisional Superintendent, Mr. Charles Cope, admitted ‘You’re quite right. This is the one thing in a hectic day that we have overlooked. The fare used to be 1s. Because it meant a longer journey via Charing Cross.’
Within minutes station master Mr Dennis Hicks, wearing his gold-braided hat, started changing all the ticket machines. He put sticky paper over the 1s notices and made arrangements at the same time for the 9d machines to issue tickets for the journey to Victoria.
What about those who paid 3d too much? Said a London Transport spokesman: ‘I dont think we can refund any money but we would like to apologise.’ Said one angry man: ‘It seems a bit of a liberty trying to get that £70 million back by overcharging 3d.’
NOTES RE PUBLICATION OF THIS MULTI PART POST:
This was originally intended for publication on 11th March 2019 following The Victoria Line’s Really Big Birthday However an article published in London Reconnections on 8th March 2019 forced me to defer it as I didn’t want my post overshadowed by LR. Both mine and LR’s had similarities in terms of the content written on the Oxford Circus umbrella. I had begun this work months before the 50th anniversary events had even begun – hence I didn’t want my efforts going to waste. One result of this is that one special 50th anniversary post has now become a multi-part work with a level of detail that London Reconnections’ article hasn’t even achieved!
All of the Victoria Line/Victoria tube station articles I have done are listed below in order of publication:
New Victoria Ticket Hall Opens
A Victoria Line Station’s Belated 50th Anniversary
Victoria Tube Station – Another Step Completed!
Victoria Station Shambles!
Victoria Line Anniversary News & Tweets
The Victoria Line 50th Anniversary Special
Victoria Line 50th Anniversary #2
Victoria Line Oddities
Victoria Line 50th – A Cake Of A Time!
The Victoria Line’s Really Big Birthday!
TfL’s Womens Day At Victoria
Construction Of Oxford Circus Station 1962-69
The Victoria Line at Green Park
Victoria tube station – construction & upgrade
Victoria Line Royal Opening 1969