A Short History Of Dogs On Escalators

By M@
A Short History Of Dogs On Escalators

Stand on the right. Hold on to the handrail. The rules of the tube escalator are firmly lodged in every Londoner's mind.

Among them is the exhortation that 'Dogs must be carried'.

We've all joked about it, haven't we? "But I don't have a dog. Why should I carry one?" This universal gag was even used in the first Paddington movie, in which our confused bear scoops up a passing chihuahua so as not to break the rule.

But joking aside, the dog-hoisting dictum is an old one, going back to at least the 1920s. A browse through the newspaper archive throws up dozens of incidents in which our four-legged friends became three-legged friends after an escalator mishap.

Not carrying your dog was even punishable with a fine. In 1933, for example, George T Gabriel of Camberwell was fined 40s (with £1 1s costs) after his dog fell foul of the Colliers Wood escalator. Asked if he had carried the dog on the escalator Gabriel said, "No, I raced it down". The poor creature badly injured its paw at the bottom of the stairs.

The rule also had unintended consequences. One anecdote from 1929 suggested that white dogs were going out of fashion as a direct result. "Young women in smart clothes do not want to cover themselves in white hairs. Certainly the escalator dog rule is sometimes hard to obey."

The rule was so regularly ignored that, in 1953, London Transport brought in a new 'Escalator Code' with dog carrying front-and-centre.

Here it is in full:

Image via the British Newspaper Archive

Although the Code covers a number of safety issues, it puts dog-carrying first. The message is right there in the title graphic, where we see a roundel-headed passenger carrying a large hound onto the escalator.

The Code is notable for several reasons. First, it seems that the directive to stand on the right was already lodged so deeply into the commuter's psyche that any transgressor would cause "irritation". Just like today.

The other point that leaps out is the concern over smouldering cigarette ends or matches. It was just such a spent match that probably caused the King's Cross fire of 1987. 31 people were killed after the hot match set fire to accumulated grease beneath the Piccadilly line escalators. The Code above shows that the danger was recognised a third of a century before that tragic event — though, sadly, it was not taken seriously enough.

The fourth point, about making sure the escalator is moving in the right direction, is one we can all relate to. Who hasn't seen a child or inebriated adult trying to run up the down escalator (or down the up escalator)?

But, "above all" — above even dropping hot cigarettes — it's important to carry that dog!

Escalators and dogs today

Escalator safety has improved to the point where dogs now rarely get injured, but we are still required to carry them. The one exception is for guide dogs. Since 2011, trained dogs are permitted to ride the moving stairs without being carried.

As time has moved on, so have the rules... or at least the humour surrounding them. In 2021, St Pancras station put up revised escalator safety signs that now forbids "Competitive dog grooming" (above). It's safe to assume that nobody has been caught breaking this rule.

Last Updated 23 December 2021

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