At the end of a platform at Mansion House Underground Station stands a strange-looking urn.
The track has been lifted from Platform 2 because all trains through the station use Platforms 1 and 3.
The buffer stop that protected the terminal track for trains reversing westward remains, however, and the “urn” indicates that it’s a fine example of a hydraulic design by the Ipswich manufacturer Ransomes & Rapier.
The vessel attached to the buffer contains water or hydraulic fluid under pressure, and is designed to resist the sudden force of a vehicle which has failed to stop.
It doesn’t need to be an ornate shape, but elegance is a hallmark of Victorian engineering.
This item of paraphernalia, ignored by the vast proportion of Underground travellers, is a piece of deep arcana that has attracted the attention of rail enthusiasts who specialise in infrastructure and it’s clear that there are or were numerous examples throughout the London Underground system and further afield.
There’s a particularly fine example at Putney Bridge Underground Station – https://www.flickr.com/photos/mars1940/9789182564 – and halfway across the world two others at Kalka Station in India, the interchange point between the main line from Delhi and the celebrated Kalka-Shimla railway: https://www.flickr.com/photos/14892851@N06/6845505378.
The Wikimedia-Commons page ‘Ransome & Rapier hydraulic buffers’ illustrates examples from many parts of the world, most of all South America – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Ransomes_%26_Rapier_hydraulic_buffers – but none are as pretty as the one I found on the London Underground at Mansion House.
Two preserved railways in the UK have examples of Ransome & Rapier buffers – the Great Central Railway (Loughborough) at Leicester North and the Somerset & Dorset Railway Heritage Trust at Midsomer Norton.