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London Underground

Intermediate class

This week, the students from Joanna's Intermediate class in Soho have taken over our blog to share fascinating facts about the legendary London Underground.

A brief history

In the 1880s, the city needed a transport solution as London's roads were overcrowded, and the idea of running steam trains underground was put forward. That’s when Charles Pearson came to the arena and built the Metropolitan Railway - an underground line between what’s now Paddington and Farringdon. Metropolitan opened in 1863, but Pearson had died a year earlier so was unable to attend the opening. Prime Minister Lord Palmerston also didn’t come to the opening; being almost 80 years old, he said he’d like to spend as much time above the ground as he could.

A related railway company soon followed in 1868, but their owners, James Forbes and Edward Watkin, had an argument, and these railways became enemies, making the construction of the railway system take even longer. Their rivalry was so extreme, that Watkins’ trains were running clockwise, while Forbes’ trains in the other direction. Even though the technology needed to safely tunnel deeper under London had been available since 1870, it was impractical for the first successful tube railway to run until electric power and safe lifts were perfected in the late 1880s. The next Tube lines did not open for nearly 10 years. The line was growing, and the city started to expand as well. Waterloo & City, Central, Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines were built, mainly under the lead of Charles Tyson Yerkes, who was the first person trying to unify London’s chaotic underground network. The new linked lines opened in 1906-7, which completed the core of the modern Tube system.

Karaman & Agim

London Underground


Did you know that the shape of the tunnels is where we get the phrase “Tube”, as most Londoners call the underground today? In 1906, Frank Pick began working for Underground Electric Railway Limited, and for the next 30 years he was leading the progress of the Tube, helping it to become the most famous and respected transport system in the world. Pick had a great eye for design. He introduced the roundel - the famous logo of the tube, which today is recognised even by those who have never been to London. Furthermore, he asked calligrapher Edward Johnston to design the tube’s unique font - Underground Sans, which is still in use today. He also commissioned Harry Beck to design a map that would simplify navigating through the most complicated transport system. Funnily enough, Harry Beck was paid just 10 pounds for designing what became one of the most iconic samples of navigation design in history - the Tube Map!

Numerous architects took part in shaping what the stations look like today. Charles Holden designed several iconic stations, including Arnos Grove and Gants Hill, which was inspired by the Moscow Metro. Sir Norman Foster designed Canary Wharf - one of the biggest Tube stations ever built.

‘Please mind the gap’

In 1968 the recording of “Mind the gap” was introduced, to warn the passengers about the gap between the train and the platform. Most of the lines still use the original recording from 1968 featuring the voice of sound recordist Peter Lodge. Some other stations use the recording of a voice artist Emma Clarke. The Piccadilly line, however, uses the voice of Tim Bentinck, better known as David Archer from The Archers music band.

London Underground played a huge role during World War II, when the tunnels and stations were used as bomb shelters for thousands of civilians. The Tube, now 150 years old, is still an essential part of London’s life and culture.


Why the trains stop suddenly when leaving the platform

A lot of people ask why the tube stops suddenly and they don’t know the reason for it. Today, I will talk about this phenomenon. First, it is the TFL’s fault for not putting up any signs on the doors of the tube. When we lean on the doors, the system of the train thinks that something has happened or someone is stuck in the doors, so it stops the train to keep us safe. A lot of people think it is the driver’s fault and that he or she is incompetent, but that’s not what is happening. So, now we know what’s to blame.


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