150 years Underground

Posted by admin | December 18, 2012 1



On 10th January 1863 London’s first underground train pulled out of Paddington station to make the first passenger journey – 3½-miles under the streets of London from Paddington to Farringdon and into the record books. Whilst billed in the publicity as the “world’s first underground train” this descriptor is not strictly true. This historic title really belongs to the “Ficelle” of Lyon, an underground funicular railway which operated from 1862 to 1968. The first of five lines in the hilly city of Lyon it opened in 1862 and linked Rue Terme and Boulevard de la Croix Rousse. The funicular was closed and converted to a road tunnel in 1968 in tandem with the expansion of the Lyon Metro. The  “Ficelle” (literally the string, after the traction cable the carriages hooked onto) was also the first underground railway in the world opening in June 1862 thereby predating the London Underground which opened in January 1863. While a funicular is not a metro this underground railway was unarguably an underground passenger train service. To see what it was like you have to travel to Istanbul to see the Tünel dating from 1875 which is the oldest extant underground in Continental Europe and the second oldest extant underground in the world.


Lyon – La Ficelle de la Rue Terme – The first underground
railway and the first of Lyons five funiculars.





However what is also unarguable is that the London Underground was the first Metro with multiple stations and every underground railway and Rapid Transit System since is modeled on it in some way – indeed the very word “Metro” is a contraction of the name of the company which set up this railway. The original Underground line was built and financed by the Metropolitan Railway, a private company which had been formed in 1854 to undertake the project to link the mainline stations at Paddington, Euston and King’s Cross with the City centre business district to the east.  This subterranean railway  was a novelty that thousands of Londoners were eager to experience for themselves and to admire what one newspaper called ‘the most stupendous engineering undertaking yet achieved in the railway world’.

The original Baker Street Station in a Chromolitograph
by the Kell Brothers
The surprisingly similar scene today

London’s Underground was the brainchild of slum clearance campaigner and solicitor to the City of London, Charles Pearson. 

In 1845 he proposed alleviating congestion for London’s 250,000 commuters by inventing an “arcade railway” underground in the shallow tunnels of what was once the bed of the Fleet River, from Farringdon to King’s Cross. Pearson also proposed rehousing 50,000 City slum dwellers in seven new suburbs, and redeveloping the land they vacated to offset the cost of the new railway. Sadly, Pearson died a month before his vision became a reality in 1863.

Where it all began on 10th January 1863 is now the rather too unassuming
Platform 16 at the rear of Paddington Station, known as Paddington Royal Oak
Directors and guests travelling on The Metropolitan 

Railway. This picture is said by John Betjeman to be 

the first trip on the Metropolitan railway on the 24th May 1862.


William Gladstone, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, 

is on the right of the man wearing a white hat.




On the first day of public service thousands of Londoners were eager to experience this new-fangled railway and long queues formed at every station. The line was an immediate success with 26,000 passengers using the railway each day in the first six months. The anniversary will see steam returning to this section of the Underground for almost the first time in living memory which will help enthusiasts to experience the almost permanent “Fug” which enveloped London’s original Underground.


Proving tests have already taken place for this event with Beattie 30587 being the steam locomotive used. It is owned by the National Railway Museum and was built in 1874. It was coupled to 1923 Metropolitan Electric loco ‘Sarah Siddons’ which provided a viewing platform, and between two battery locomotives and wagons carrying water and coal. It is 40 years since there was any steam propulsion on the Underground and the last passenger train hauled by steam on the original track from Paddington Royal Oak to Farringdon was in 1905.



The Beattie 30587 coupled to the 1923 electric locomotive “Sarah Siddons”
at Baker Street for the steam test run




The loco which will be doing the hauling for the anniversary is Met Loco No. 1. Built in 1898 it is the only survivor of a class of seven engines designed by the Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Met, Mr T. F. Clark, for use on the Baker Street to Verney Junction service. It was the last locomotive constructed at the Met’s Neasden Works. Loco Met 1, whose normal home is The Buckinghamshire Railway centre on part of the original Metropolitan Line to Verney Junction at Quainton Road, has been lovingly restored over the past two years.

Locomotive Met 1 went overground in 1904 – a year before the last steam Tube ran – as the Underground moved over to electricity. It was finally withdrawn from service in 1963 having run on the outer tip of the Metropolitan line from Rickmansworth, where electrification then ended,  to Amersham the furthest point on the Underground, 29 miles from central London.



The 1898 0-4-4 steam loco Met 1 during it’s lengthy restoration 



So she will be gleaming both with pride and perspiration when she leads the anniversary train service on Sunday 13th January 2013. The commemorative service which will recreate the first Tube journey made 150 years ago will comprise 0-4-4 steam loco Met 1, coaches from the 19th Century and one of the oldest surviving electric locomotives, Sarah Siddons.

1923 Metropolitan Railway Electric Locomotive
Sarah Siddons after restoration in the
London Transport Museum Depot, Acton






To celebrate the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, London Transport Museum and Transport for London are planning a whole range events and activities. These will include:

  • ·          

    Steam train runs made by the Metropolitan Railway Steam Locomotive No. 1

  • ·         Heritage train outings with the Metropolitan Railway Jubilee Carriage No. 353, Sarah Siddons and the Chesham set which is owned by the Bluebell Railway
  • ·         A series of talks by the authors of the 150th anniversary official book, Underground, how the Tube shaped London
  • ·         Poster Art 150: London Underground’s Greatest Designs, an exhibition of 150 posters that will showcase the very best poster art
  • ·         Behind the Scenes events and Open Weekends at the Museum’s store at Acton


Check out these events on the London Transport Museum site;




Carriage 353 of the Metropolitan Railway has been restored at Boston Lodge works of the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railway. It arrived as a garden shed and left today as a gleaming first class carriage.



Victorian London was the first Mega City of the modern world, the first city with over a million inhabitants since Ancient Rome, and it had big problems with water, sewage, housing, public health, education and air pollution – sounds familiar? London faced these problems and the London you see today is largely the London shaped by the Victorian’s innovative engineering and social responses to these issues. The London where you can still find the remains (often in new uses) of the public markets and baths, the health clinics and police stations and the lofty high ceilinged schools built to cope with universal education. The hospitals, sports grounds, public clinics and great parks designed to make the inhabitants and their environment healthier.



District Line 1883 No. 37 Beyer Peacock 4-4-0 tank

locomotive showing the condenser mechanism used,

fairly unsuccessfully, to keep smoke out of the tunnels





Appalling housing conditions were addressed by charities such as the Peabody, Carnegie and Iveagh Trusts who built swathes of housing for the “working classes” and whose role was taken over with some distinction by the London County Council which strove to build homes “fit for heroes” after World War I.


For an insight into murky underground London see; Flow gently Sweet Fleet





In health the provision of reservoirs, sewerage treatment plants and the London Ring Main by Sir Joseph Balzegette was a work of heroic proportions which led to the building of the embankments along the Thames and the “New Road” (Now Marylebone and Euston Roads) north of the city under which the Circle Line was to run.

The destination of the first London Underground
service on 10th January 1863, Farringdon Station



There are many Great Rail journeys in the world but there is only one which begins and ends at Paddington Station, London, can be done in a day for the price of a TravelCard and brings you through 27 Underground stations and 13 Mainline Railway stations. So join us on this adventure in a Day as we make our way to probably the most historic railway platform in the world, platform 16 at London’s Paddington Station from where the world’s first Underground Train departed on 10th January 1863.

The Great Circle Line Journey;






Today London’s Underground is the third largest in the world, after Shanghai and Seoul, and is used by more than a billion passengers every year. The biggest rapid transit system in the world by length of routes (including non-revenue track) and by number of stations is the New York City Subway; by length of passenger lines, the largest are the Shanghai Metro and London Underground. The busiest metro systems in the world by daily and annual ridership are the Tokyo subway, the Seoul Metropolitan Subway, and the Moscow Metro. London’s groundbreaking Underground has provided the template for every rapid transit system which has come afterwards. The iconic and much imitated Underground map was first printed in 1933.


The first underground stations from Paddington to Farringdon were built on a grand scale to allay the public’s fears of going underground. Later, by the example the Underground set under Frank Pick it was gradually able to change the public’s attitude to railway stations which had been seen as shabby and inhospitable places. Sir Nicholas Pevsner wrote that Pick saw in every detail a “visual propaganda” and he used this not only to improve the Underground but the environment as a whole. Charles Holden brought the Underground station to the forefront of modern architecture: This achievement is unequaled by any other transport company before or since.




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The restored platforms on the original Underground Line at Baker Street showing the lighting highlighting the original pavement vents which let in light and let out smoke


One Response

  • The Tube’s 150th Anniversary is a great cause for celebration; it is the glue which makes London possible and it was the template for every other Metro system – indeed Metro is a contraction of Metropolitan Railway the company which ran the first public passenger service on 10th January 1863.