Happy Birthday To London Underground


Tate Modern

As it’s the London Underground’s 150th birthday, let’s have a few bits of underground trivia.

In the early days of London’s Metropolitan Line, they had waiter service dishing up full English breakfasts for their city-bound clients. This, clearly, was not the Metropolitan Line as we know it. They even loaded horses for hunting and pigs for market into carriages.

After the horrific bombing of Bank station in 1941 a Hungarian doctor was called to the scene and said; ‘You English cannot appreciate the discipline of your own people. I have not found one hysterical patient. If Hitler had been here for five minutes he would have finished the war. He would realise he has got to take every Englishman and twist him by the neck – otherwise he cannot win the war.’

The tube has forty eight ghost stations. Some were regularly announced by the guards who walked through the carriages, and the call of ‘Passing Brompton Road’ was often heard.

Strand station (later Aldwych) became the home of the British Museum’s Egyptian mummies during the war. Now it’s used in period films because it still has its original tiling. It can be visited during the Open London weekend.

North End station was constructed but never made it the surface because people in Hampstead didn’t want the disruption. It now has a house on top of it, No.1 Hampstead Way, but you can apparently access the station via a lift in the house.

There are two tube stations in Kentish Town, not one. The other housed a dodgy sauna and still has a pawnbrokers on top of it.

Anthony Asquith, the underrated director who made ‘The Way To The Stars’ and ‘Pygmalion’, made a silent film called ‘Underground’ that just got rereleased in a new print this week. There’s a trailer for it here: Underground

11 comments on “Happy Birthday To London Underground”

  1. keith page says:

    If you’ve seen one of the early windowless carriages you’ll never complain about a modern tube train again!

  2. Alan Morgan says:

    Things I remember, and things that are gone.

    Tickets from blocky pillars in the entrances, always dirty, marked 50p and so forth with the station names.

    Wooden slats on escalators, cannot recall where.

    Smoking on the platforms and in specific carriages.

    The chocolate machines, and the square bars that could only be had from them.

    Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is first found there.

    The rotunda entrances for those that were deep-level shelters (the Claphams, the one decorated up in Stockwell, Belsize Park especially). Clapham South being where the arrivals on the Windrish were housed, Brixton thus profitting as they remained in the area.

  3. Lee Ann says:

    Thanks for the reminder of the all the things that are gone now.
    You reminded me of a scary moment when the heal of my shoe got stuck in the wooden slat and I was wondering if I’d get it out in time, luckily, I did.
    Miss the sound the old escalators made too.

  4. Alan G says:

    Alan. Most escalators had wooden slats – but after the ’87 fire at Kings Cross these were replaced with the toothier metal sort, and a general no-smoking policy was put in place. Also – did you actually get anything from those machines???

    As to ghost stations – this guard, at least, used to call them out as we went through. The Bull and Bush was a favourite as there was a speed restriction on that stretch so my passengers could have a good look – not that there was much to see except the old signage. Spooky though.

  5. Dan Terrell says:

    Okay, trying to keep up. Wasn’t the brigadier a character in the Dr. Who series? Never saw too many of the shows, but I think I remember that character.

  6. Paul D says:

    London Transport Museum have organised special trains on Sunday 13th and 20th January,with 100 year old
    Metropolitan steam engine and carriages,between Kensington Olympia and Moorgate. first time since 1905.
    Tickets already sold out,I think,at £150 for return trip of 7 miles.Must be most expensive train journey
    ever.But still a great chance to soak up atmosphere from the stations en route-literally.LTM website for details.

  7. snowy says:

    Some old pictures of Clapham South.


    “Between 1910 and 1939 the Metropolitan Railway ran two Pullman cars on its services between Verney Junction or Aylesbury and Baker Street or the City. The carriages were luxurious. One was oak panelled, the other mahogany. The tables were glass-topped and the armchairs upholstered in Moroccan leather. Each carriage was divided into three saloons, with seating for eight, seven or four people. Lunch and snacks were served on the daytime services and a light supper was on the late train. The toilet in the carriage was kept locked once the train passed south of Finchley Road so that it couldn’t be used while the train was in the tunnels. The supplement for travelling in these carriages was 6d between London and Rickmansworth, and 1s for any journey to, or between, stations north of that point.”

    There is a nice picture of an interior, but if you spend your days in the modern hell of a rammed modern carriage, best not to look, in case you explode from envy.


  8. Alan G says:

    Snowy – it’s something I miss. The new trains (well, new being ’96 stock) are efficient. But I miss the old stock I used to run. Old, cranky, wooden floors, sticky doors which could be sorted out with a kick and a bit of baby-oil (not official practice – but we did what worked). When one of those broke down the Guard and Driver could usually sort things out.

    Now, if a train so much as hiccups, all stop and wait for help. Irritating when services are delayed due to problems which are easily sorted – but the flashing lights say no. Grr.

    Rant over.

  9. Terenzio says:

    Oh how lovely those pullman cars look. I would look simply fabulous sitting in one of those. Alas those days of civilized travel are over. Today we are jammed in like sardines, especially bad during evening rush hour. I must confess to wearing a manly cologne so I tend to smell pretty good even after a long day, so I do try to make the experience of those around me more bearable.

    I shall retire to the boudoir with a cup of tea and some ginger cookies from Fortnum and Mason to ponder the days when travelling was pleasant.

  10. Helen Martin says:

    The Telegraph has a nice gallery of pictures giving a quick history of the Underground, including Banks St., and Kings Cross so I could see how bad that fire really was.The link is:


    and is well worth a visit. (It was archived in our computer.)

  11. snowy says:

    Alan I do remember some of the old stock that used to run around. Ribbed wooden floors, and for some reason every third advert in the carriage offering Pitman courses.

    If I were to rummage about through boxes of tat and knick-knacks, I might still find my old green tri-fold Underground “passport”. I can’t remember where I went to take the training, it might have been Neasdon? But if you rocked up early, you could pile into the canteen and get a Full English, before lessons started. 😀

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