Little Book of the London Underground

Little Book of the London Underground

by David Long

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With 980 million passengers a year, more than 250 miles of track, literally hundreds of different stations and a history stretching back nearly 150 years, the world's oldest underground railway might seem familiar, but actually, how well do you know it? This title offers a tube-based trivia for travellers and lovers of London.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780752462363
Publisher: The History Press
Publication date: 12/26/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 192
File size: 5 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The Little Book of the London Underground

By David Long, Les Evans

The History Press

Copyright © 2010 David Long
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7524-6236-3



* * *

c. 2000 BC Oldest known railway – a so-called 'rutway' – is constructed on island of Malta.

590 BC A more sophisticated version called the Diolkos uses multi-wheeled trucks or bogies to transport ships across the Isthmus of Corinth in southern Greece.

206 BC Emperor Shir Huang Di introduces concept of standard axle gauges across the whole of China's territories to make transportation more efficient.

1550 The earliest record of an actual railway, serving a mine at Leberthal in Alsace, although a window in Switzerland's Freibourg Cathedral suggests something similar could have been in existence 200 years earlier.

1798 Ralph Dodd attempts to tunnel under the Thames, but fails. Marc Isambard Brunel finally manages it forty-five years later – by which time the project's been nicknamed 'the Great Bore' – but at a cost of ten lives and £614,000.

1801 The Surrey Iron Railway inaugurates the world's first public goods railway.

1807 The Oystermouth or Swansea and Mumbles Railway begins carrying fare-paying passengers, using horse-and even sail-power in the early days.

1829 George and Robert Stephenson's Rocket demonstrates the viability of steam power by winning the £500 Rainhill Trials prize.

1838 The London & Birmingham Railway into Euston finally brings train services into the capital.

1843 Charles Pearson, Solicitor to the City of London, proposes alleviating traffic congestion by running 'a majestic eight-track covered way, thoroughly lighted and ventilated' beneath the streets.

1846 A Royal Commission recommends that no railway should penetrate the area between the Thames and the Euston and Pentonville Roads, thus explaining why most main line terminii lie on what is now the Circle Line.

1855 Such is the level of traffic congestion in the capital that a committee of MPs is told that, starting out from London Bridge, it takes longer to get to Paddington than to reach Brighton.

1863 The Metropolitan Railway, London's first ever underground service, begins running between Paddington and Farringdon. Prime Minister Palmerston elects not to try it himself, declaring that with his eightieth birthday fast approaching he wishes to spend as much time as possible above ground.

1869 Brunel's Thames Tunnel, converted from carriages to pedestrian to rail, is at last used for running trains under the river. Due to reopen in 2010, more than 185 years after work on it began, as the old East London Line it is being transferred to the London Overground network.

1884 The Circle Line opens and is described in The Times as 'a form of mild torture which no person would undergo if he could conveniently help it.' The editor of the Daily Express likens his own trip on it to 'an experience of Hades' but despite this his son goes on to become chairman of London Transport.

1890 Running 1.25 miles from Stockwell to the Square Mile, the City & South London Line opens as the world's first electric underground railway. Punch calls it the 'Sardine Box Railway' but another nickname is quickly adopted: the Tube.

1900 The Central Line, popularly known as the 'tuppenny tube' and eventually to become the longest line on the Underground network, introduces the first so- called flat-fare.

1906 In a stunt unlikely to be replicated here, Charles Glidden drives his Napier motorcar along 4,900 miles of railway track from Boston, Massachusetts, before becoming derailed 50 miles outside Mexico City.

1908 The Tube, while not yet a unified service, is officially rebranded as the UndergrounD. A year later a 14-year-old schoolboy called Edwin Parrington is paid £10 for his slogan, 'Underground to Anywhere: Quickest Way, Cheapest Fare'.

1910 The Metropolitan Line introduces two plush Pullman cars, 'Galatea' and 'Mayflower', from Baker Street. Passengers are charged a sixpenny supplement to ride in greater comfort and the pair remain in service until 1939.

1914 The engineer, research physicist and inventor Prof. Archibald Montgomery Low predicts that by 1999 every station will boast comfortable waiting rooms with 'artistically illuminated screens' showing the latest news.

1915 The Underground gets its first female staff members, the men having gone off to fight in the First World War. Before long Londoners begin to shelter in stations for the first time as bombs drop on London from German airships and giant Gotha C-4 bombers.

1926 So-called suicide pits are introduced beneath the tracks to counteract the rising numbers of depressed passengers succumbing to what one coroner describes as the irresistible 'roar and rush of a Tube train.'

1933 The newly formed London Passenger Transport Board begins to integrate London's train, bus, tram and trolleybus services.

1936 W.J. Kelley MP questions the morality of the railway rush-hour in which 'young girls and men are crowded in such a way that the question of decency even comes up.'

1941 As part of Britain's continuing war effort, a secret aircraft components factory is installed in a new section of Central Line tunnel. A year later a Spitfire named London Underground goes into service with the Royal Air Force.

1948 The first wave of Commonwealth immigrants arrives on the SS Empire Windrush and several hundred of them are offered temporary digs in a deep tunnel situated beneath Clapham Common station.

1955 London Transport boss Sir John Eliot insists that his passengers are not crammed into the carriages. 'They cram themselves in,' he explains helpfully.

1961 Steam locomotives are finally withdrawn from London Underground passenger services, with the last steam - powered shunting and freight-hauling locomotives being stood down a decade later.

1970 The Greater London Council assumes control of London Transport heralding years of staff shortages and lack of investment until the Rt. Hon. Margaret Thatcher assumes control.

1977 The new Fleet Line is renamed the Jubilee Line to mark the Queen's Silver Jubilee ... but it fails to open on time.

1978 Working on the District Line Hannah Dadds becomes the first woman train driver on the Underground turning her into an overnight (if only temporary) celebrity.

1987 Fire sweeps through King's Cross St Pancras, the busiest station on the Underground, killing thirty-one people. The seat of the fire turns out to be a pre-war escalator prompting wooden escalators and smoking to be banned from the network.

1994 The Waterloo and City Line is incorporated into the Underground network for the first time, and the charmingly rural Epping to Ongar branch of the Central Line finally closes owing to lack of interest.

2004 Nothing whatever is done in response to a House of Commons report that commuters face a 'daily trauma' and are forced to travel in 'intolerable conditions'. Passengers express little if any surprise at this inertia.

2006 A Europe-wide heat wave causes temperatures below ground to soar as high as 47°C (117°F). Posters go up in stations advising passengers to carry bottled water when they are travelling.

2007 For the first time ever the Tube network clocks up one billion passengers in a single year, but shortly afterwards worrying rumours surface about the plan to amalgamate the dreaded Hammersmith & City Line with the Circle Line to produce some weird kind of spiral.



* * *

With nearly 2.4 million people calling London home, some 250,000 horses – with billions of flies feasting on the one million tons of dung they produce annually – and tens of thousands of barely regulated carts, cabs and carriages crowding onto the narrow streets of the mid-Victorian city, by the second half of the nineteenth century the heart of the world's most powerful Empire was literally grinding to a halt.

In 1855 Sir Joseph Paxton summed up the problem perfectly when he told a group of MPs that for the average traveller it actually took longer 'to go from the London & Brighton station at London Bridge to the Great Western station at Paddington than from London Bridge to Brighton.' Clearly something had to be done – and to the technologically obsessed Victorians, trains of some sort seemed to suggest the best answer – but as the following list of complete or semi-non-starters shows, it was to take literally decades to determine precisely what was most likely to succeed.


Choosing to rise above the traffic rather than tunnel beneath it, London's first ever railway, the London & Greenwich, ran almost its entire length along an elevated, Roman-style viaduct with a southern terminus modelled on a monument of the Acropolis. This enabled the trains to avoid the usual congestion down at ground level, and must have improved the view out for passengers. Doing it this way was extremely costly, however – the expensive and time-consuming construction of no fewer than 878 separate brick arches making it the world's longest viaduct.

Besides the cost there were other considerations too, and not long after the railway's grand royal opening, letters started to appear in the press complaining about the infernal noise of 'these thundering steam engines and omnibusters'.

Others objected on the grounds that it was a sin to travel on the Sabbath; nor did they enjoy the prospect of ladies of loose morals plying for trade beneath the arches. Men of science similarly lobbied the authorities to stop it, the Astronomer Royal eventually being given permission to stop the trains each evening in order that he could read his instruments at the Greenwich Observatory. Little wonder that plans to extend the line all the way to Gravesend were soon abandoned....


Samuel Clegg and marine engineers Jack and Joseph d'Aguilar Samuda obtained a patent for a so-called atmospheric railway. First tested in June 1840 at Wormwood Scrubs, this used air pressure in a pneumatic tube laid between conventional rails together with a piston suspended from the train and connected through a sealable slot in the top of the tube.

Using stationary pumping engines along the route, air was expelled from the tube leaving a vacuum ahead of the piston so that (with air admitted to the tube immediately behind it) mere atmospheric pressure would be sufficient to propel it forward together with the attached train. The theory was elegant to say the least, and explained in Joseph Samuda's A Treatise on the Adaptation of Atmospheric Pressure to the Purposes of Locomotion on Railways – but unfortunately putting it into practice proved far from straightforward.

The first to have a go in the capital was the London & Croydon Railway which went into regular service in January 1846 only to close under 16 months later when the brothers were unable to fix several problems with the pumping equipment and leaking seals in the delivery pipes. Undeterred, the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel, a self-confessed workaholic who acknowledged that he had been bitten by the bug, tried a similar system on the South Devon Railway – only to have the local rats eat through the leather seals designed to keep the pipes airtight.

Eventually the Samuda brothers gave up too and went back to shipbuilding on the Isle of Dogs. After constructing a number of ships for the Royal Navy and the Prussian, Japanese, Egyptian, Argentine and Brazilian navies, they are today commemorated in the name of the Samuda housing estate at Cubitt Town.


The Commercial Railway, later renamed the London and Blackwall, was conceived by Sir John Rennie – the knighthood was granted in recognition of his work on a new London Bridge – but the project itself was handed on to Robert Stephenson.

Keen to try a new means of propulsion, and drawing on his own experience with the Camden Incline on the London and Birmingham Railway, he decided upon cable-haulage system powered by powerful stationary steam engines mounted at either end of the 3.5-mile line.

With two tracks operating independently of each other, and running from Blackwall to the Minories and Fenchurch Street, the system required some 14 miles of hemp rope. As one engine wound this in from one end, an equivalent length would be paid out at the other with metal swivels inserted at intervals in order to resist entanglements. Individual carriages were despatched in groups of two, three or four, with an electric telegraph system linking the stations and the power supplied from eight marine steam engines manufactured by Maudslay, Sons and Field.

With four steam engines in use at any one time (and four more undergoing repairs or routine maintenance) the available power varied from 75hp to 110hp with the more powerful units being needed at the City end in order to pull the carriages up a slight incline from the east. Unsurprisingly rope wear was considerable and when replacement hawsers of steel proved too prone to kink, the experiment was halted. In 1848 the line was converted to conventional steam locomotives, and today (with admirable economy) the DLR still runs over part of the same route.


By the 1860s, with plans well underway for parts of the railway in London to dive underground, a need existed to find an alternative to conventional steam engines. Clearly Stephenson's cables and stationary engines were not the answer but 'Fowler's Ghost' – the nickname given to a prototype designed by London railway engineer Sir John Fowler Bt. – was soon being heralded as one possible solution to the pressing problem of smoke in the tunnels.

As the world's first experimental fireless locomotive, the Ghost was designed to store energy using heated bricks in a manner not dissimilar to that later employed by domestic night-storage heaters. The locomotive itself looked pretty conventional, a broad gauge 2–4–0 tender with a normal firebox connected to a large combustion chamber containing the aforementioned bricks. It was designed to operate as an ordinary coal-fired engine on open stretches of track before switching to stored heat from the firebricks as it approached a tunnel. It was put to the test only once, however, but straight away deemed a failure and after two years in mothballs it was broken up and sold.


With the Metropolitan Railway's new underground section up and running by 1863, and Fowler's Ghost now firmly exorcised, the directors still needed to find a practical means of propelling the trains. Ejecting the smoke from conventional steam engines into these early, much shallower cut-and-cover tunnels simply wasn't an option if they wished to avoid suffocating the crew and their passengers with a toxic mixture of steam and sulphurous smoke. Instead it was decided to commission special 'condensing engines' which emitted less steam and smoke than conventional locomotives. This could then be routed into large tanks fitted behind each locomotive, tanks which could then be discharged or vented off each time one of the new underground steam trains broke cover.

As a solution it was far from ideal, but as a temporary solution it seemed to work well enough and a century and a half later visitors to West London can still see evidence of it in Leinster Gardens, W2. At first glance Nos 23 and 24 look like real houses, and indeed in the 1930s a successful hoax scammed hundreds of guests out of 10 guineas a head for a ticket to a charity ball advertised at this address.

The reality, however, was that in 1867, when the line was being extended to Paddington, both houses had been dismantled leaving just their 5ft -deep façades. The space behind was left vacant, somewhere for the trains to empty their smoke boxes before disappearing into the next tunnel, and today District Line trains can still be seen rattling along directly beneath the houses before re-entering the tunnel.

The aforementioned condensing engine which made this possible was designed and built by one Daniel Gooch who had sprung from a family of notable railway engineers and trained under both Stephenson and Brunel. His early triumphs had included driving Queen Victoria at a heady 44mph in his locomotive Phlegothon, although he was subsequently ticked off by Prince Albert and informed that the experience had badly frightened Her Majesty who did not wish to travel at such a pace again (nor did she ever.)

Things didn't always go his way, however. After rescuing the Great Western Railway from bankruptcy in 1865, his attention turned to international telegraphy and, after buying Brunel's old ship Great Eastern, he attempted to lay the world's first submarine cable across the Atlantic. On board to observe the proceedings he suffered the agonising experience of seeing the cable break and sink without a trace after more than 1,200 miles of it had been successfully laid across the seabed.


At Crystal Palace Park in 1864 Thomas Webster Rammell tried a radically new spin on the concept of atmospheric railway, dispensing with the small-bore tube laid between the rails and instead building a tube large enough to accommodate entire carriages which could then be forced along using air pressure. He had already tried building a smaller, freight-only version of this concept for the General Post Office, but as a further refinement he now fitted a semi-airtight 'collar' of stiff bristles to the carriage which he intended sucking along the airtight tunnel using a 20ft-diameter steam-powered fan.


Excerpted from The Little Book of the London Underground by David Long, Les Evans. Copyright © 2010 David Long. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
An Alphabet for the Underground,
1. The Timeline of the Tube,
2. Trains in Drains: Dead Ends & Daft Ideas,
3. Heroes & Villains,
4. All Lines to Everywhere,
5. Mapping the Underground,
6. The Tube at War,
7. Technology on the Tube,
8. Station to Station,
9. Architecture, Art & Design,
10. Pity the Poor Passenger,
11. Births, Deaths, but no Marriages (yet),
12. Stories, Songs & Films,
13. What Else is Down There?,

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