150 years of London Underground: loved as much as it is reviled
In the midst of fare rises in public transport, station closures, delays and the general rush-hour sardine packing, it is easy to forget how truly brilliant the Tube is. Opened on 9 January 1863, with passengers allowed in the day after, it is today the Underground’s 150th birthday.
It is difficult to imagine London without the underground, and indeed sometimes we wish the tube could extend into the bowels of Cornwall for ease of travel.
The idea for the underground railway was first seeded by Sir Marc Brunel and son Isambard, with the world’s first underwater tunnel, the Thames Tunnel (from Rotherhithe to Wapping), built between 1825 and 1843. This passage was originally designed for horse-drawn carriages but was later used for pedestrians, and is now part of London Overground.
The Metropolitan line, the first of what we now know as the underground network, was later built, travelling a mere 4 miles from Paddington to Farringdon Street. It soon received high demand, carrying up to 26,000 passengers a day after only a few months of operation. After the success of the Underground, the Hammersmith and City line was opened in 1864 by rival company GWR, travelling between Hammersmith and Paddington. In 1890 the first network to use electric trains was built, what is now part of the Northern Line.
Increased development meant that by the 20th Century there were six different companies operating underground lines in London. Fees were exorbitant, and making changes between lines was confusing (thank goodness we now have oyster cards that work for everything). In 1933 the rival companies were merged by the government into the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB), which later became simply known as London Transport.
150 years on, footage of Queen Elizabeth II opening the Victoria Line in 1969 has been published in a British Pathe gallery. The Queen was the ‘first reigning monarch ever to ride on London’s underground’, even of the train running between Green Park and Oxford Circus. The gallery also features a tube train crash in 1953, and London residents sheltering from air raids during World War II.
Latest James Bond film Skyfall also offers an allusion to this anniversary, with Daniel Craig narrowly avoiding being crushed by the Circle Line during a chase scene that took him through several tube stations. It could be argued that Bond films are the quintessential celebration of British culture, and the fact that Skyfall constructs a whole scene which takes place in the underground, shows how much the Tube represents this culture.
Though tube travel etiquette demands of the traveller a zero-eye-contact, stony faced disposition, one will occasionally be helped by a Good Samaritan carrying a heavy suitcase up the stairs, or see a helpful passenger offering directions to clueless country-folks or tourists. The tube should be celebrated, but since we cannot give it a Knighthood, or even a CBE, we’ll just have to do with travelling on it with a new reverence.Tagged in: 150 years, london overground, london underground, Public Transport, tube
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