Tales from the City- and we all tumbled down


I was at King’s Cross the other day, going down the escalator with a small suitcase.  I have done this journey far too many times to even count. I’ve carried my bike on the train and tube. I’ve even carried a four-foot cactus from Golders Green back to King’s Cross and not lost a spine!  The times I’ve travelled with hot latte in hand as I went down the escalator or up and not a drop spilt. I’ve seen the strangest sights going up and down, but this is the first time I ended up in a tumble at the bottom. It’s a tall escalator at King’s Cross but nowhere near the height of the tallest at Angel Station. Angel’s escalator rises some 90 feet in the air. I’m glad I didn’t tumble down that one!

London Angel tube station has the longest esca...

London Angel tube station has the longest escalators in Western Europe, with a vertical rise of 27.4 m (90 ft) and a length of 60 m (197 ft). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My small suitcase went flying somewhere. Someone landed on me, and someone else in front of me. It was all a blur. Suddenly I was sitting at the bottom of the escalator with other people. An unseen person asked, are you all right?

I couldn’t tell where the person was. All I could think was, we had to get up and move away quickly from the front of the escalator before more people fell on us! Arms all tied up with each other, legs askew, we were slightly too stunned to move, but move we must! People still coming down the escalator were jumping over us and trying to avoid ending up in our clumsy pile at the bottom.

Someone said, “push the emergency stop.” Some chap now kneeling in front of me asked, “Are you all right?”

“Just pull me up, please, “ I said, looking up at the top of the escalator with its line of people heading down. I could just see all of us ending up in a massive pile of bodies.

The chap standing over me just grabbed me and pulled me up and out of harm’s way. It was all so quick, I think I said thank you. If not, thank you so much!

We managed to dust ourselves off, Look around slightly stunned, and after loads of are you all right to everyone, we just shook our heads wondering how this happened. We don’t know. It just did.

The most infamous escalator accident was the dreadful fire at King’s Cross. I was luckily not there for that horrific day.  The intense fire broke out around 19.30 on 18 November 1987 and killed thirty-one people. The fire started in the escalator shaft serving the Piccadilly line. (My destination)

The escalator was partially made of wood.  It had been built just before Word War Two and I had stepped on those wooden slats many times. They were not sure what started the fire, but believed like the Oxford Circus Fire and it’s most likely cause– a smoker tossing a discarded match onto the wooden track. The wooden tracks were old and well used, and when you road them, you could see the debris, grease, and other nasties laid down over the years. Wooden tracks were found on the older lines of the London Underground, but after the King’s Cross Fire, they were rapidly replaced. At the time of that fire, they suspected arson or the IRA, but that was quickly rejected.

Going up the last wooden escalator on the Lond...

Going up the last wooden escalator on the London Underground, at Greenford station. All others were replaced in the years following the King’s Cross fire in 1987. Some of the risers (The vertical part of each ‘step’) shown in this photo as being manufactured from wood, have since been replaced with metal ones. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The fire started beneath the escalator and then flashed over it. Apparently draughts from an eastbound train arriving the same time when a westbound train was also leaving, caused a 12 mph wind through the tube, helped fuel the blaze. Twelve miles per hour… I find that fact amazing. Once in a while you do feel the air moving in the tube. In the summertime, it’s with a massive sigh of relief! But mostly it is stifling and miserable in summer. But whatever the cause was, it was a tragic day for those families who suffered the loss of loved ones.

I was really lucky that day, as I was wearing a sheer pashmina, which was the first thing I grabbed around me. I didn’t want the fabric to go into the slates of the moving steps and pull me down. Apparently in India where it is commonplace for women to wear Saris, they have on their escalators sari guards.

It was a lucky day, no broken bones, no serious bruises, other than egos, and I think the bloke that jumped over me with his hot coffee didn’t even spill a drop. My suitcase handle had been stepped on and now it’s going to be used as a posh storage box.

What still amazes me is that no one was hurt. No one knows why we all went tumbling down on our way to the Piccadilly line, but we do know one thing for sure, we were all there to help each other. Arms reaching to pull people up, everyone was ready to do what was needed, and as for words of “oh how bloody embarrassing”…the reply was a friendly, “don’t worry, we’ll never meet again, well not like this at least.”

About susan sheldon nolen

It’s rare to catch me without coffee, a form of camera, or my beloved wire fox terriers. I love the history, the art, and it’s a massive part of my life, as I either paint, write, or get interrupted by my dogs, reminding me of the real world. I hope you enjoy your time here. It’s such a privilege to have readers.
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2 Responses to Tales from the City- and we all tumbled down

  1. crubin says:

    Oh, my, thank goodness you weren’t hurt. I have never seen such a long escalator. Is there a stair option there? That would be quite the workout!

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