Although the first tube station opened in 1863, the story goes back further than that, to the 1820s. From humble beginnings, to a network stretching a total of 249 miles, the London Underground is an icon of the city and has inspired similar innovations across the world.
The London Underground story starts with Marc Brunel - father to Isambard Kingdom Brunel - and the Thames Tunnel. Construction on the tunnel began in 1825, it was set to be a pedestrian tunnel which stretched under the Thames between Wapping and Rotherhithe.
It was not an easy project to execute and took 18 years to complete. Then in 1845, Charles Pearson a solicitor to the City of London began suggesting an underground railway line.
In the 1850s the Metropolitan Railway became incorporated and was given permission by local authorities to start construction. The London Underground was the world’s first rapid underground transit system.
"The London Underground was the world's first rapid underground transit system."
Opening in January 1863, the first Underground Railway line ran from Paddington to Farringdon. The trains were made up of wooden carriages, lit by gas lamps and pulled by a steam locomotive.
Working with the District Railway, the Metropolitan Railway were able to complete the Circle Line just over 20 years later. The lines kept expanding and connecting.
In 1890, London opened its first electric powered underground train system and it became the beginnings of the Northern Line. Now the London Underground was able to develop at a rate far greater than it had been until now.
It was time for London’s influence to travel across the sea to Europe. In 1896, Budapest opened the continent’s first underground railway system. Shortly after this the Paris local authority started work on the Metro system, completing it in 1900.
In 1908 the now iconic Underground signs make their first appearance on the streets of London and the first electronic ticket machines are used!
As the tube continued to expand and take on more and more footfall it was crucial that people had a proper way of navigating the space. In the 1930s the first ever tube map was produced. It was Harry Beck’s design that would form the basis for all future London Underground maps. The young engineer reasoned that it wasn’t necessary for the stations to be accurate geographically so much as they should be clear to users how to get from one station to another. Although there have been some deviations since his initial suggestion, we have ultimately come back to his way of thinking.
The London Underground also has a history tied in with warfare and the military. During WW2, many stations were used as air raid shelters whilst others were closed and used to protect valuable artefacts from museums and galleries.
In the 60s we welcomed the Victoria Line and in the 70s we said hello to the Jubilee Line. The last time the London underground was expanded was in 2017 completing the Piccadilly Line extension to London Heathrow Airport.
"The last London underground expansion was in 2017 completing the Piccadilly Line to London Heathrow Airport."
So, what does the future hold for this incredible feat of engineering?
Currently there are plans in the works to extend the Bakerloo Line south east towards Hayes in Kent. This would connect areas such as Peckham, New Cross and Crystal Palace to central London with far higher efficiency.
Proposals for work to extend the Bakerloo Line southbound toward Hayes in Kent are not new, though they have been few and far between. The first initial proposal came in the 1970s with no avail. Still in the consultation process this is a development which could have massive benefits for the residents of South London who for now rely on overground services, national rail and buses.