The Time Prince Charles Went Trainspotting On The Tube

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The Time Prince Charles Went Trainspotting On The Tube
A younger Prince Charles appears to be standing on a tube platform looking at carriages
"Carriage 4235. Back again? Dear, oh dear." Image tangentially based on actual events. Train pic by the author; Charles pic public domain.

King Charles III is not a regular tube user. But as a boy, the "Trainspotter Prince" enjoyed loitering on the Bakerloo platforms.

Do you remember the first time you caught the tube? For most of us, it's an unrecorded event, accomplished so young that we don't remember the specifics. But for King Charles III, the anniversary is enshrined in the historical record.

The date was 2 March 1955. The six-year-old prince was taken out onto the streets of London for an incognito tour of the sights. High on the heir apparent's list was the London Underground.

See also: The Queen's first tube journey... by third-class smoking carriage.

A regal trainspotter

The prince, with minimal entourage, took a midday stroll along the Mall before arriving at Trafalgar Square. Here, the party went down into the underground station (now Charing Cross, but then called Trafalgar Square).

Accompanied by "his nurse, Miss Peebles and a detective", the prince secured three tickets (at 2d each), and made his way to the Bakerloo line platforms.

Here he remained for half an hour. Mysteriously, Charles did not catch a train, but simply observed the comings and goings before making his way back up to the exit. The Mirror, reporting the next day, dubbed him the "Train-spotter prince".

Hardly anybody recognised the future monarch. One exception was appropriately named newspaper salesman John King, who was down in the station. "I saw the Prince standing on the platform," he told The Mirror. "The little chap was holding on to his nurse's hand and was taking a good look at the trains as they came in."

A portrait of Henry VIII. Someone has enhanced his eyebrows with a pen
The Bakerloo platforms at Charing Cross today carry portraits of Charles's ancestors, including Henry VIII in mascara.

The boy was apparently dressed in his "light blue suit, blue gaiters and cap to match". According to the Mirror, before entering the station he spent several minutes gazing into a shop window at a miniature figure of his mother on horseback and her accompanying toy soldiers — an experience none of us can relate to.

It's not known whether the visit was planned in advance, or taken on the whim of a curious young boy. Certainly, it was no official visit. A spokesperson for London Transport said the act of trainspotting was unheralded, and they had no notification from the Palace.

It's not clear when the Prince took his first ride on a tube train (perhaps His Majesty could get back to us?). A newspaper account marking his seventh birthday in November mentions that the boy had already made several trips on the underground, but without giving specifics.

Either way, this first hypogean adventure echos the experience of his mother. Princess Elizabeth also paid a covert visit to the tube as a youngster — though she actually got to ride the trains with her sister Margaret.

Prince Charles riding the first Jubilee train
The prince returns to Charing Cross two decades later. Image TfL

Charles would, of course, go on to make several well-publicised journeys, including the opening of the Jubilee line in 1979. Appropriately, his ceremonial train terminated at Charing Cross — the station where he'd first glimpsed the tube 24 years before.

Sources

Daily Mirror, 3 March 1955
Western Mail, 3 March 1955
Dundee Courier, 14 November 1955

Last Updated 25 October 2022

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