This BBC archive newsclip shows the North London Line in 1981 – when bad people wanted to turn it into a road

Broad Street in 1983. Image: Ben Brooksbank/Wikipedia.

The BBC Archive is a selection of social media accounts that do exactly what the name suggests: post video and audio clips from decades past, most of which serve mainly to enable us to marvel at the accents of yesteryear.

It did once have a website, but ironically, it’s been archived:

Anyway. Over the weekend, one of its old tweets caught my eye thanks to our occasional rail correspondent John Band. The tweet dates from July 2016, and the news clip it features from 1981. But it paints a vision of a dystopian future so horrifying, that I felt it was worth bringing to your attention, simply to show what a close shave we had. Honestly, it gives me chills just thinking about it.

Back in 1981, reporter Bill Kerr-Elliot (amazing accent) tells us, the North London Line was “so underused that you can often have a carriage to yourself”. Unlike latter incarnations of the largely orbital route, it ran into Central London, terminating at the late lamented Broad Street station.

Broad Street station is no longer with us: it closed in 1986, and was demolished, to be replaced by the Broadgate Office complex. Already by 1981, though, it was, Kerr Elliot tells us, a place of “Victorian splendour, now sadly down at heel”, before adding, in a marvellously portentous voice that you just don’t get in news reports any more, “No one quite remembers when the station master left.”


A blurry screenshot from the BBC film clip. Image: BBC.

At the time, it looked like the line it served (just 95p for a return to Richmond!) might be able to go the same way. The news clip features an interview with Andrew Warren of roads lobbying group “Movement for London” demanding the powers that be tear up the tracks and build a new road, on the grounds that everyone loves cars (no) and people would definitely use it (well, yes).

Another interviewee had a rather different vision for the line. David Thomas, chair of the North London Line Action Committee, we are told:

“has called on British rail to incorporate the line into a complete ring route around London, to operate more closely with London Transport, to advertise service more aggressively and to smarten up the stations”.

This, in the end, is exactly what happened. Okay, the line had to be diverted to Stratford and North Woolwich, and rebranded as “Silverlink” for a few depressing years. But in 2007, it was transferred to the new privately-operated but TfL-owned London Overground network.

The Overground in 2010, shortly before the North London Line Action Committee vision was realised. 

The new owners gave the line a deep clean, raised the profile of the system by advertising it as “London’s new trainset” and, over the next few years, hooked it up to the East, South and West London Lines to create a new loop around London. TfL, in other words, did literally everything that the North London Line Action Committee had asked for, even if it took 30 years.

So: the road lobby lost, for once. Which is nice. God, though, imagine if they hadn’t.

If you fancy watching the full clip, and seeing just how miserable London looked – and just how fruity BBC reporters sounded – in 1981, then you can do so here:


Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.


Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 

“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL