Thursday, January 10, 2013
Happy 150th Birthday....For Yesterday
The 9th January 1863 saw the opening of the first, of what would later become the London Underground, line between Paddington and Farringdon Street.
If you like maps, as I have done since early childhood, it's fascinating to look at the map of railways into London pre-Underground and see that all the main termini, with the exception of Fenchurch Street, were situated outside of the City of London, meaning that if you wanted to get to work you would probably have to walk or take one of the various horsedrawn methods of transport. The ever growing population (the population of London is still not back up to its highest Pre-1939 level by the way) and people travelling into London to shop and work meant overcrowded streets which in turn led to calls for improved transportation links, either that or the city would sink beneath piles of horse shit and so the idea of an underground railway was begun.
Five years after that first initial, eight minute, journey the first section of what would later become the District and Circle Lines opened between South Kensington and Westminster. The rest they say is history.
Over the Christmas period I read Mark Mason's book Walking The Lines which is the story of one mans mission to conquer the City he lived in by walking the length of each of the Undergrounds 11 tube lines and visiting each of its 269 stations*. It's a great read for the winter evenings, Wilson is not a psychogeographer in the style of Iain Sinclair but he does offer up, over the course of 364 pages, plenty of facts about the railway system that plays such a huge part in the nations Psyche and its day to day functionality and is an amusing host for the most part.
There are so many facts and figures connected to the history of the Underground that they would make a decent pocket notebook on their own, my favourite though concerns one of those figures about London that everybody of a certain age would have grown up with, London's 'square mile' which was actually increased in 1994, due to changes made by the boundary commission, to 1.12 square miles - somehow it doesn't have quite the same ring as the 'square mile' does it?
The District and Central Lines were part of my childhood, many an hour spent on them having purchased a 50p Red Rover ticket. Summer holidays would often involve a challenge between my brother and I to see how far away from home we could get on a Sunday morning before having to turn for home in order to make Sunday lunchtime. There was a period, a far too long period to be honest, when allowing children to ride the tube on their own would have been abhorrent to a whole generation of parents but reading various books and magazines attitudes seem to have gone full circle again, much like the attitude to children playing outside unsupervised, this can only be a good thing for society in general.
The Underground has expanded beyond recognition since that first two and a half hour journey, it should have taken eight minutes but demand for tickets was so great that it took a bit longer, and the famous roundel is recognised the world over.
* Many websites state that the Underground has 270 stations that is because Bank and Monument are often counted separately when in fact they are now one connected station much in the same way that Les Halles and Chatelet are in Paris.
Posted by Paul at 11:46 AM