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London Tube 150th Anniversary

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by Sandra Lawson (subscribe)
To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at and my theatre reviews at
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London Underground, Steam Trains and Posters
We Londoners take the Tube for granted. It's always been there, is hugely overcrowded and overpriced, doesn't even serve the capital for 24 hours a day, and is often partly closed for engineering work. But where would we be without it? How would we get around below the city and avoid traffic jams above ground?

London Underground
London Underground (Image courtesy of

It's hard to believe that the Underground is coming up for its 150th birthday, remains the blueprint for underground railways around the globe, and (with the exceptions of Beijing and Shanghai) is the longest network of subterranean train lines in the world. For this we have to give thanks to Charles Pearson, solicitor to the City of London Corporation, who secured the initial investment.

The first 3 miles of line, stretching from Paddington to Farringdon, opened on 9 January 1863. The initial 650 carefully selected passengers travelled between the five stations run by the Metropolitan Railway Company, and two days later the line was opened to the public. However it would be about another thirty years before the initial construction of the Underground was complete. Additions continue to be made including the designation of parts of the London Overground as Underground.

Steam Trains on the Tube
Steam Trains on the Tube (Image courtesy of

It must be difficult to imagine what travel was like for those 19th century passengers. The first lines were created using a 'cut and cover' system: ditches were dug; the railway lines inserted and then the trenches were covered over. The steam trains belched sulphur and smoke, were lit by gas and the tunnels were unventilated. It was remarked that the fog and smog above ground was often preferable to the conditions on the Underground.

To celebrate the Tube's 150th birthday the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden is holding a series of discussions, conferences and talks, as well as running heritage steam days. Sadly the ballot to travel in vintage carriages pulled by the recently restored Met Locomotive No 1 along the original route on 13 and 20 January has now closed, but there will be further heritage vehicle runs during 2013 and all information is on the London Transport Museum website.

Steam and Heritage Train Outings
Steam and Heritage Train Outings (Image courtesy of

As well as its diversely interesting stations, rolling stock, upholstery and the iconic tube map designed by Harry Beck, there is an entire back catalogue of London Underground posters. Poster Art 150 London Underground's Greatest Designs, showcasing 150 of the best designs, will be on display at the Museum between February and October. Here are a few:

The Lure of the Underground
Alfred Leete's 1927 The Lure of the Underground (Image courtesy of

Brightest London is best reached by underground
Horace Taylor's 1924: Brightest London is best reached by underground (Image courtesy of

Keeps London Going
The surrealist photographer, Man Ray's 1938 Keeps London Going (Image courtesy of

If you thought the Tube was just an inconvenient means of travel, why not learn a little more about the origins of this innovative means of commuting and try to consider where London would be without it?
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Why? To stop taking the Tube for granted and learn a little more about it and its history
When: Check the website for further information
Where: Various locations, including the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden
Cost: Full details are on the website
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