Every day, hundreds of thousands of commuters, tourists, and Londoners use the tube service to travel around London. The London Underground system is an iconic and important part of the city, as much a part of London as black cabs, Big Ben and over-priced pints. But have you ever stopped to wonder how it got there? Let’s go on a trip back in time and explore the fascinating history of the London Underground Network…
The London tube is the oldest underground system in the world. And that accounts for many of its oddities and (sometimes frustrating) eccentricities. For example, many of the early lines and stations were built by rival companies – meaning they do not always run to and from the places that might seem most logical! The first underground railway was opened in 1863 from Paddington to Farringdon Street. Before it opened, the idea of underground trains was treated with suspicion, with The Times describing the idea as “an insult to common sense.” However, London’s roads were so overcrowded, particularly with commuters travelling to and from work, that any alternative method of transportation seemed worth a shot – something that modern day Londoners can surely sympathise with!
Because the first trains to run underground were steam trains, it was a dirty and dangerous environment. Many of London’s earliest tube stations are partly open to street level above the platforms in a partially successful attempt to get rid of the smoke from the trains. Happily, technology soon moved on with big advances made in digging the deep-level tunnels needed for more tube lines. The first underground electric trains were introduced in 1890. However, not all of the system’s historic lines still exist, and there are now many unused ‘ghost stations’ scattered across London.
The Tube’s famous circular logo was created in 1908 and is now part of a thriving, instantly-recognisable visual brand. Transport for London is rumoured to make more from merchandise and copyright on their logo, tube map and other designs than they do from ticket sales!
The London Tube has come a long way since the idea of an underground train line was dreamt up. There are now 270 stations across the underground system, 11 busy lines, and over 400 escalators. Much of the system still reflects its 150+ year history and yet it still accommodates over a billion passengers every year. And there’s more planned for the tube - the Bakerloo line is going to be extended further into South London while a new line is planned to link Hackney and Chelsea.
Interested in finding out more about the London Underground? Our London Underground and Tube Tour takes you on a trip back in time to discover the history of the Tube, exploring the iconic design of the system and giving you the chance to catch a glimpse on a disused ‘ghost station’ abandoned long ago.