The Tube Gets An Upgrade



‘Take Every Englishman And Twist Him By The Neck’

I spend far too much of my time in London’s tube system. From the age of two I’d been taken on tube trains at regular intervals (although my mother had preferred the old trams) and by my eighth year I was on them by myself. At sixty I got my official Old Person’s pass to go wherever I liked on the system at no cost, but there are still stations that remain a mystery, like Theydon Bois, which I might just go and visit out of curiosity.

In the early days of London’s Metropolitan Line there was waiter service. Staff dished up full English breakfasts for their city-bound clients. This, clearly, was not the Metropolitan Line as we know it today. They even loaded horses for hunting and pigs for market into the 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 something like 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. Much better than the driver shouting ‘We’re being held at a red signal’ every time the train stops for a moment.

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.

The dinky underground system that’s just for London’s letters and parcels was opened on 5 December 1927, with parcel traffic running between Mount Pleasant and Paddington. Other branches and diversions expanded the route. The Post Office railway played a pivotal role in the transportation of mail in London and continued until 2003. Now called the Mail Rail, it can be ridden for fun (it doesn’t look fun) when you visit the Postal Museum, something I have never got around to doing despite the fact that I can walk to it from my flat.

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’s a section on the tube in the upcoming ‘Peculiar London’, although I leave the real detail work to the many enthusiasts who are out there. With the new purple Elizabeth Line about to open this month, making the lateral crossing of London a whole lot easier, the map of the London Underground is about to get more complicated. It’s better late than never. The budget for the line grew from £14.8bn to £18.8bn and the opening date slipped so many times that it became hard to keep track. Some doubted it would ever open. Now it finally arrives on May 24.



64 comments on “The Tube Gets An Upgrade”

  1. snowy says:

    Blimey, Leslie had an idea and a half

    90 stations each different:

    1] Station name picked out in the wall tiles, OK so far not so strange.
    2] Each station with a different colour scheme, handy if you can’t read?
    3] Each station with a different tile pattern, so if you can’t read and are colour blind you can still navigate by the patterns? That’s quite a niche audience.

    A mixture of Art Nouveau and Arts and Crafts twiddley bits, cartouches, acanthus leaf, pomegranate, wrought iron flower grillles.

    No wonder he was dead 5 years later.

  2. Jo W says:

    # Barbara Boucke
    An answer to your memory about the DLR. When it opened, it terminated at Island Gardens opposite Greenwich and the Cutty Sark. You may be remembering having to walk through the Greenwich Foot tunnel to reach the station.
    Nowadays the DLR reaches all the way south to Lewisham! Gosh.

  3. David+Ronaldson says:

    I only use the Tube for long journeys, otherwise I’ll get a bus or walk (I’m childish enough to want something to look at), although I did use Aldwych station just to say I had. Re. Theydon Bois, the theory is that if you have no street lights, you have no shadows to hide in (if you’re a n’er-do-well). It certainly cuts car theft, as rogues can’t see the vehicles properly, but it angers elderly middle-Englanders who are in bed with an Olvaltine before night falls.

  4. Jan says:

    You’ve well gone and got me there Stu! You know donkeys years ago I did know about this roundel thing in fact I knew it well. However it’s all gone+ faded from the brain now -and not just because it’s early on Sunday morning after a Saturday night out…Hands up I haven’t got a clue!

    Aye Snowy the tube always has been big on catering for a clientele who for whatever reason can’t read station names.

    I don’t know if it’s still in the area even but Kings X used an institute catering for the needs of blind people and there were special elements in the station design from the Kings X tube platforms to guide towards this venue or at least to make navigating the station easier. Whether they worked or not I don’t know.

    Thing is there’s been for a long old time part of street furniture design that’s catered for assisting non literate people in being able to navigate round the city. This stuff is probably still used in some way today.

    When you weigh up the amount of non word based design involved in most city systems, particularly transport, it makes you think for – whatever the reason- the needs non English language readers are, quite rightly, catered for. Of course the non verbal sign is also understood very quickly. (Whatever the message is!)
    It’s quite an interesting topic really.

  5. BarbaraBoucke says:

    First, thanks Jo W. I remember going to the Docklands Museum. I went on one of the last three trips to London, so I’ll have to look thru my muddle to see.
    Since the question of the roundel (also once referred to as the bull’s-eye) didn’t get answered I will add this bit. Dr. David Lawrence wrote a book titled “A Logo for London” – published in 2013. It goes into the whole history of the tube symbol. Apparently no single individual is completely responsible for the sign we are so familiar with today. This makes another book I will look for from Abe booksellers. Thank you Google.

  6. Jo+e says:

    Is there anything worth travelling to Reading or Abbey Wood for?

  7. snowy says:

    The problems of communicating without language is interesting, [well at least to me], if you read around ideas touching on it you will inevitably bump into ‘Nuclear Semiotics’ at some point.

    It is a bit hard to explain, but handily the Beeb commissioned somebody else to do it, [after a fashion, it is fronted by a poet]:

    “In countries across the world, including the UK, USA, France and Finland, the hunt is on for underground sites which will survive shifting tectonic plates or passing ice ages and remain secure for tens of millennia – maybe a hundred thousand years – until the radioactive waste they contain is no longer a danger. And once it’s buried, how do we leave a clear, unambiguous warning message – that this site is dangerous and should not be disturbed – for a society which may be utterly different from our own?

    Can we still use written language? Would pictures and symbols be more easily understood? Or could we construct a landscape of vast monuments to instil fear in anybody who saw them?”

    Full Prog. at

    [From memory, a notable omission is the idea of the ‘Ray Cats’, bio-engineered felines that would turn green as a warning.

    You’d have thought the whole: fur dropping out, falling over and going stiff might have been a bit of a giveaway by itself?]

  8. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Jan and snowy As I recall (and mentioned previously),one of Sadiq Khan’s campaign promises in the last go ’round was a major redesign of the iconic Underground map, should he be re-elected London mayor.. These politicians really go for broke don’t they ? He was returned to office, of course, but I have yet to hear anything about the redesign. Perhaps he’s still collecting suggestions. As our resident experts on all things Underground — any suggestions to offer His Worship on improving the map ? (Anyone ?) Or why bother, since all you need is a smartphone app these days ?

  9. Peter T says:

    Stu, Have you never worked in a large organisation? To revise the map, you hire some very expensive consultants, in this case design consultants. After much time has passed, you change nothing, or make small modifications that have no consequence, or produce a total disaster that no one wants. Any outcome, including the last, is described as a great success. In fact, TfL and it’s predecessors have a track record of minor, but expensive revisions to the roundel symbol. Fortunately, their consultants never managed to replace it.

  10. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Peter T I agree Peter. If a revised or redesigned Underground map does see the light of day, the modifications will likely be meaningless to all but the map anoraks, of which there are more than a few — and who, undoubtedly, will find fault with them or the lack of others. Of course, for a politician, it is usually not the ‘thing’ itself, but to be able to say you’ve done it — actually done something. Having lived in a number of major cities with subways or undergrounds, what I discovered is that it is almost exclusively Londoners and New Yorkers who obsess over their underground rail system maps.

  11. Helen+Martin says:

    The husband suggests that only London and New York have systems complex enough to require a map as detailed as that of those two cities. Ours, for example, is basically a long line with one line crossing through it. The cars have a map which shows a light for the nearest station. I suppose we will acquire complexity as the line spreads out.

  12. Stu-I-Am says:

    @Helen+Martin Helen, I think Tokyo takes the biscuit when it comes complexity, This is not only because of size but also because you’re dealing with three separate operating companies, none of which accepts the others’ tickets. You can get a prepaid cash card that pretty much does away with that annoyance — if you know about it in advance before starting out as a newcomer to the marvels of the Tokyo subway system — which I didn’t. Here’s a link to it.

  13. Helen+Martin says:

    Stu, my husband’s comment on the Tokyo map was “malaria germs” and I have to agree, although the map is very kindly done in the Roman alphabet.

  14. Helen+Martin says:

    Oh, and I’m guessing Tokyo had had a very good look at London’s map before doing that one of theirs.

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