Monday, 10 January 2011

The London Underground is born

On this day, 10 January, in 1863, the Metropolitan Railway, the first part of the London Underground, and the worlds first underground railway, was opened to passenger traffic. The line (which is now part of the Hammersmith and City Line) ran for three and three quarter miles from Farringdon to Paddington.

‘Many prophets started with the positive assurance that it would be a failure; that it would never be commenced, or if commenced, never finished; that London would be undermined, blown up, or collapse on each side of the tunnelling.’

Nevertheless the work was completed, at a cost of around £1.5m, despite ‘immense difficulties, of shifting grounds, swelling clay, falling houses, bursting drains, and continued incursions of the Fleet Ditch.’

At least 25,000 people travelled on the line on its first day of operation. Such was the demand that at Kings Cross the sale of tickets to eastbound passengers was suspended for an hour or more around midday, as the trains coming from Paddington were full to capacity.

The intention was that the Metropolitan Railway would eventually link the London, Chatham & Dover (then under contsruction), the Great Western and the Great Northern railways.
It will afford a direct and expeditious means of conveyance for the enormous traffic between the east and west ends of London,’ said The Times. ‘If the traffic of our main thoroughfares continued to increase as it has done for the last few years locomotion would, without some relief, become impracticable. The time has come when some means were absolutely required for removing a great part of the traffic entirely from the streets, and that great object will, we hope, be secured by the opening of the Metropolitan Railway.

As well as reducing congestion on the roads, the Underground, and other forms of public transport, played an important part in easing overcrowding in inner London. Large numbers of people could now be moved quickly over long distances. Men and women no longer had to live within walking distance of their workplaces. The Tube, railways and electric trams stimulated suburban development, and the cheap ‘workman’s ticket’ brought suburban life, and healthier, less crowded living conditions within the reach of the less well off white collar workers and the skilled working classes.

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