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  1. Thanks for a fascinating hour or two – I found your site while trawling idly for Melbury House, as I worked there from 1972 to 1975, so I have been having a little nostalgia-fest. It wasn’t such a bad old place.

    A few comments and memories: firstly, the passage from the concourse wasn’t the only entrance, the ‘proper’ but little used one was I think from a courtyard off Harewood Avenue, with a wide front of glass doors and window into the reception. This was for the building generally, not BWB as such, they just directed anyone for us up to our floors.

    Secondly, the lifts: these were perfectly ordinary, if a little small for the size of the building, but they had a staged stop, slowing sharply to a crawl as they approached the destination floor and taking a few seconds to move very steadily into position before the doors would open. To the claustrophobic, this could be devastating, and I had to comfort/apologise to several distraught visitors who had convinced themselves they were stuck in a lift.

    Our offices (BWB press and publicity) were on the railway side and just above the DMU set which normally spent all day burbling away to itself in the western platform, apparently because they feared if they shut it down it wouldn’t start again. I recall my colleague Anna kicking up a stink about the effect of the diesel fumes. I thought it unfair at the time since the railway was there first, but with what we know now about particulates and cancer she was of course quite right.

    My first job was in the general BWB reception (second floor, I think?) with a mix of business visitors and would-be boaters coming in for licences, cruising holiday brochures and so on. We had a little display cabinet of canal-ware such as lock keys, painted ware and canal guides. To keep me busy, I was supposed to read all the dailies and cut out all waterway stories, only much later did someone think to point out they wanted this doing pronto, not by teatime, so my “further education” (ranging from the FT to the Morning Star) was cut a bit short!

    BTF were on the top floor and an occasional treat was to go up to collect or return some of the waterways film copies they maintained for us, and enjoy the much better view. (One of my ‘second-hand-claims-to-fame” is thus that I once shared a lift with Edgar Anstey, not sure if that tops sharing a urinal with Lord Crickhowell or a park bench with Donald Sutherland) We also had in the office a large B/W photo archive which I seem to recall lovingly cataloguing only to see them mostly chucked out soon after as a waste of space.

    As a former BTC constituent, we retained the right to go over the road and use the staff dining rooms in BRB HQ, known to all as 222, and to a train buff this was occasionally fascinating as you found yourself party to a discussion over lunch about say, container loadings or resignalling, but they weren’t keen on you joining in (!) and it all smacked a bit of school dinners – lumpy mash and cold custard – and I was introduced to the delightful LT staff dining club over at Baker Street, a funny little hut-like structure over the side of the Met cutting with a cottage-like feel and motherly waitresses – and a licence! Much nicer.

    As an occasional boater, I was an obvious choice when they introduced Canalphone, a recorded phone service giving details of engineering stoppages. The swine of this thing was that it worked on continuous loop cassette tapes of fixed duration, so you had to write your bulletin, time it, pick a suitable length cassette and then record it IN ONE CONTINUOUS TAKE which was a bugger to do accurately. I used to stay late to do this when it was quiet to cut the chance of interruption or phone calls, but it was a small window of opportunity – once the switchboard went home, any incoming call would ring on a loud bell right outside in the corridor! About the only feedback I got were complaints that the delivery was gabbled too quickly, or drawn out too slowly, or padded with stuff about a new guide being published – couldn’t be helped, you had to run to the nearest half minute.

    The telephone system was interconnected with the railway “auto” internal phones, and if you accidentally hit 8 instead of 9 for an outside line, you could get a bizarre wrong number – I once disturbed a quite cross signalman at Georgemas Junction who had rushed in from his allotment to answer the phone and muddied his floor. The 262 exchange was, I’m told, still a Strowger, and would sometimes drop sixes and sevens to ones, so in the evening if you picked up a call off the corridor bell you could get a caller who was CERTAIN he had dialled the right number for Paddington train enquiries and wouldn’t take no for an answer.

    Melbury was a pleasant, warm, quiet building to work in, and seemed quite good quality with marble-like floors and stainless fittings, it seems strange it was torn down for the hideous purplish wedding cake that was there last time I looked. Only occasionally was I allowed to draft anything important, but IIRC every press release was supposed to begin “Sir Frank Price, chairman of the British Waterways Board, speaking in London today, said…” I packed many hundreds such into envelopes and stuck on the Roneoed labels. Happy days…

    Rod Mackay

    • Thanks, this is a great write up re Melbury House 🙂

      That poor guy at Georgemas Junction, getting a call from BWB in canal-less Caithness (the nearest inland ‘navigation’ of any sort would probably have been Loch Watten!)

      I used Melbury House a few times however it always seemed to me that the Marylebone station entrance was the main one despite being quite insignificant, clearly this is because it was easily accessed from both station and tube platforms. Think I last visited Melbury House around 1986. By that time BWB’s reception had moved to the ground floor and was in the small room adjacent to the entrance from the station. Redevelopment work began soon after.

      Shame those photographs were thrown away. Quite common as I once worked for the council and they were throwing away amazing photographs, a number of which I grabbed, one huge framed photo now adorns my flat.

      Thanks again

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