On 9 January 2013, London Underground celebrates 150 years since the first underground journey took place between Paddington and Farringdon on the Metropolitan Railway.
Mind The Gap! Probably one of the most iconic and oft quoted sayings of the London Underground, this sage advice bellows out from the tannoy at most stations and on most trains as you travel around London Underground, the world’s oldest underground metro system.
Yes, indeed….believe it or not but the London Underground celebrates it’s 150th anniversary today. Wow. Amazing! If the London Underground was a person they would have witnessed some incredible events during these 150 years as well as having the distinction of being the OLDEST person on the planet!!
Coming from a country where if the train arrives/leaves 4 hours behind schedule you count yourself lucky and finding yourself stranded in the middle of the desert for 8 hours with not a habitation or store in sight on the 31.12.1999 due to a broken down goods train on the only line running….the London Underground to me is a ruddy marvel. In fact my admiration for the system knew no bounds for about…oh 6 years! And then I morphed into a Londoner and learned how to complain if I arrived on the Northern Line platform for instance to find the next train was 4 or even 13 minutes away!!!
Or if they close lines for engineering works, or faulty signalling….or for that matter any delays or any kind would do! Amazing how quickly I adapted! ( I will let you into a little secret though…I am still even after 12 years impressed by the system, despite the shortcomings & the fares )
So what is the London Underground? Well, quite frankly it is a miracle of Victorian ingenuity and engineering when in 1855 an Act of Parliament was passed approving the construction of an underground railway between Paddington Station and Farringdon Street via King’s Cross which was to be called the Metropolitan Railway.
With thanks also to James Henry Greathead 1844-1896 – Inventor of the travelling shield that made possible the cutting of the tunnels of London’s deep level tube system which was used to build the first deep-level tube; the Northern Line, created in 1924, also the first line to use lifts to reach the platforms.
The Metropolitan Railway opened on 9 January 1863 and the general public were admitted next day, and within a few months of opening the line was carrying over 26,000 passengers a day. The world’s first underground railway, it ran from Bishop’s Road, Paddington to Farringdon Street and today serves 34 stations over 42 miles of track from Uxbridge or Amersham in the north-west to Aldgate in the heart of the city.
The Baker Street & Waterloo Railway opened on 10 March 1906, soon branding itself the Bakerloo line and carries around 96 million passengers per year serving 25 stations over 15 miles of track. Of course Baker Street station is also famous for it’s links to Sherlock Holmes and a statue of the great man stands on Marylebone Street between the station exit and Madame Tussaud’s.
From mid-1940, the Blitz led to Londoners using many of the Underground stations as shelters during air raids and also overnight as a place of safety.
The Underground helped over 200,000 children escape to the countryside and sheltered another 177,500 people.
The Underground system is also colloquially called “the Tube” the nickname comes from the circular tube-like tunnels through which the trains travel from station to station.
In fact 55% of the Underground is overground and although it takes on average one hour to travel the whole of the Circle Line which services most of London’s main line railway terminals, the London Underground is a surprisingly quick way of getting around the city. In planning my trips on the underground I quickly learned to calculate 3 minutes between stations plus an extra 5 minutes just in case, with 5-8 minutes extra if I have to change lines and I always add an extra 10 minutes for delays. On the whole I find this works extremely well and I usually have plenty of time to get from a-z unless of course there is a major delay caused by a broken train or a person on the tracks. Sadly this is a frequent occurrence as people either fall off the platform due to being ill or drunk, accidentally pushed or fooling around, or even commit suicide by jumping in front of the trains….and that is very, very sad.
London Underground is the third largest ‘metro’ system in the world in terms of route miles, after the Beijing Subway and the Shanghai Metro and in the year 2011/12 passenger numbers were just under 1.2 billion making it the third busiest metro system in Europe, after Moscow and Paris. The London Underground’s 11 lines are divided into two classes: the subsurface routes and the deep-tube routes. The Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines make up the subsurface class. The Bakerloo, Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly, Victoria and Waterloo & City lines are the deep-tube routes. There was a twelfth line, a fifth subsurface route, the East London line, until 2007, when it closed for rebuilding work. It reopened as part of London Overground in April 2010. (ref wikipedia). And of course we have the DLR Docklands Light Railway which is all overground and a controversial driverless system.
Over 1 billion journeys are made on the Underground each year and despite the naysayers of #London2012 the system coped perfectly well during the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the London Olympics.
The tube map has become an iconic and instantly recognisable symbol of London throughout the world, and on any one day as you travel around the city you will see numerous Londoner’s and tourists alike studying them intently.
I never leave home without one in my bag and in fact I started collecting them some years ago as the front page design changes frequently…which is super cool. It’s designer, Harry Beck only received five guineas for his work, which in my opinion is a total rip-off!!! A large replica of the tube maps can be seen at every station in Central and Greater London and one of things I love as well are the maps showing you landmarks and streets in the immediate vicinity….I have had to make use of these on a number of occasions.
And now for some fun did you know facts:
Did you know that trains were initially lit by gas held in tarpaulin bags on the carriage roof?
Did you know that the Underground has it’s own unique species of mosquito?
Did you know that Mark Twain attended the opening of the Central Line on June 27th, 1900!
Did you know that the Northern Line’s Hampstead Station is has the deepest lift shaft at 181 feet?
Did you know that the first escalator was installed at Earl’s Court station in 1911?
Did you know that Angel Station has the longest escalators in Western Europe?
Did you know that the Jubilee line which is the youngest of all the lines, opened in 1972 and is the only line which connects with all the other lines on the Underground network at some point.
Now you would think that stations are pretty boring places and on the whole you are right….however….we have free entertainment on the London Underground in the form of Buskers. There is something quite marvellous about stepping onto the escalators and as you descend into the bowels of the earth you are met with the sound of someone singing, or a guitar belting out familiar tunes, or the haunting sounds of a digeridoo, or peraps even the lilting strings of a violin! Next time you hear one of our buskers, stop for a few minutes to listen and enjoy, then drop a coin in their hat or box…they do provide a much needed cultural element as we rush about.
Besides that many of our station tell a story or have marvellous murals and mosaics on the walls.
And of course let us not forget the wonderful and immediately recognisable London Underground signs:
Many of our stations also commemorate influential people or significant events in the history of the city:
There are many more facts and fascinating snippets of information I could share with you, but then I would have to write a book! Suffice it to say that we in London are a very lucky lot, despite the delays, the closures, the fares, the overcrowding and the engineering works that tend to happen on weekends that you most need to use the system, we have a most marvellous transport system that can quite literally get you anywhere in London and on the whole with surprising ease. Once you learn how to use the system,
and which stations are almost right next door to each other (saving a lot of time changing trains) and if you stop to think about it for just a minute or two, and considering just how many millions of people use the tube every day, we have a transport system that is just brilliant.
Scenes from yesteryear:
So, in closing……Happy 150th Anniversary London Underground, long may you continue to run!!!
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