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.