150 Years of the London Underground

Construction of the Metropolitan District Railway, Bayswater, London, c 1867 ( Science Museum / SSPL )

This blog post was written by Pippa Murray

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the opening of the London Underground – arguably one of London’s most iconic landmarks. Of course back in 1863, when the first tube line opened, the map looked remarkably different from the one we know today with only the metropolitan line running between Paddington and then onto Farringdon Street (a stretch measuring only six kilometers). Yet as the network of tunnels evolved throughout the late 19th century and into the 20th the construction of the underground system was considered one of the great engineering feats of modern times with the world’s only steam-driven underground railway and the first electrified underground railway. As well as having profound effects on the ability of the Londoners to move around the city quickly, cheaply and alleviating the level of congestion on London roads.

 

 

 

As you can see in some of these images the construction work utilised the ‘cut and cover’ technique where the pavement of the street is removed, a hole for the subway and stations is dug, and then the street is restored. 

Model of Drum digger tunnelling machine, c 1970 used to excavate the Victoria line ( © National Railway Museum / Science & Society Picture Library )

 

Naturally since the Metropolitan line was built technology has evolved and one of the newer lines to be built using more sophisticated tools was the Victoria line. This line took 20 years from the initial planning stages to opening in stages between 1968-1971, and was considered one of the most complex tunnel engineering of its time and. instead of the cut and cover approach, diggers like the Drum digger tunnelling machine (pictured above) were used to excavate deep down underneath some of the capitals major landmarks such as Buckingham Palace and government departments. It took approximately 2500 miners to excavate an estimated one million tons of earth and along the way a whole deluge of debris was uncovered from fossilised marine molluscs to human bones from an old plague pit.


So whilst commuters continue to moan and groan about the tube on their way to work this morning I think today of all days we all should celebrate
the London Underground and recognize it as a world class feat of engineering.

© Richard Bosomworth / SSPL

 

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