On this day in history : 10th January 1863 – The World’s first underground railway line – ‘The Metropolitan Railway’ – opens in London….

The line opened between Paddington (then called Bishop’s Road) and Farringdon Street and served 6 intermediate stations…. Nowadays there are 270 stations on 11 lines….employing over 27,000 people….

London Underground Map (1908) Image credit : Roger W via Flickr

Metropolitan was a private company who financed the venture themselves….the Underground was completely funded by private companies until the 1930s….

Five more underground lines were authorised by Parliament between 1891 and 1893 – but Waterloo & City was the only other line to be built before 1900…. It took 21 years (1863 – 1884) to finally complete the inner circle of lines in central London – and by 1884 over 800 trains were travelling around it every day….

Baker Street & Waterloo Railway in its first week of opening – The Graphic 1906

Much of the network was completed in the first 50 years…. The total length of the network is 400.7km….the longest tunnel, between East Finchley and Morden is 27.7km…. The longest distance between stops is 6.3km – between Chesham and Chalfont & Latimer on the Metropolitan line…. The shortest distance is 260m – between Leicester Square and Covent Garden – the journey takes just 20 seconds…. Only 45% of the Underground network is actually in tunnels….

Construction of Tube at Mile End – Circa 1946 Image credit : The National Archives UK via Flickr

Less than 10% of the stations are located south of the River Thames…. The District line has the most stations, with 60 – whilst Waterloo & City line has the fewest…. In central London the deepest station below street level is ‘Bank’, at 41.4m deep….in outer London it is Hampstead, at 58.5m…. Baker Street has the most platforms – with 10 – (4 of which are overground)….


The original trains to operate were steam – the network did not become fully electrified until 1961.. The first deep-level electric line was installed in 1890…. In 1903 the Central line became the first railway in Britain to be entirely worked by multiple-unit trains ~ meaning trains no longer had to be turned around upon reaching the end of the line…. By 1905 all tube lines were operating them….

On the first ever day of service some 40,000 passengers were carried…. In 1918 there were 70% more passengers than there had been in 1914…. Nowadays it is more like 1,107 million per year using the Underground network….

The ‘Tube’ became the affectionate name for the Underground in the early 1900s – when the Central London Railway (Central line) became nicknamed ‘The Twopenny Tube’ – a phrase coined by the Daily Mail….

Postcard for the Central London Railway – via Wikimedia

In Cockney rhyming slang it is known as ‘the Oxo’ (Oxo cube)…. The ‘Underground’ name first appeared in 1908 – and the Tube’s logo is called the ’roundel’…. In the early days the carriages – which were very claustrophobic – became known as ‘padded cells’….


It was in September 1940 that underground stations were first used as air-raid shelters against the bombing attacks of World War 2…. During the War years a section was closed between Holborn – Aldwych and was used to store treasures from the British Museum…. The Central line was converted into a factory to produce fighter aircraft….and was complete with its own railway system…. This remained an official secret right up until the 1980s…. Over 200,000 children were evacuated from the Capital using the Underground….

The first baby to be born on the Underground was in 1924…. Marie Cordery came into the World on board a train at Elephant & Castle on the Bakerloo line…. Another baby to be born was American talk-show host Jerry Springer – his mother gave birth during a WW2 air-raid at East Finchley Station….

And here are a few more random facts for you :-

The original recording of “Mind the gap” was made in 1968 and features the voice of Peter Lodge – who was a sound recordist…. Many stations still use it today….


Manually operated doors were phased out in 1929 – to be replaced by air operated ones….

Aldgate Station, on the Circle & Metropolitan line, is built on a huge plague pit – containing 1,000 bodies….

The tunnels beneath the City curve because they follow the old Medieval street plan….

Queen Elizabeth II was the first Monarch to travel on the Underground – In May 1939 (when she was 13-years-old) she travelled on the Victoria line from Green Park – along with Princess Margaret and governess Marion Crawford….

The Jubilee line was named to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 – but did not actually open until 1979….

The most commonly used film location on the Underground is Aldwych – which is a disused station….

Busking has been licensed since 2003…. It is rumoured that Sting and Paul McCartney have both busked in disguise….

The fictional ‘Walford East’ of the soap Eastenders is supposed to be on the District Line….

Over 47 million litres of water are pumped from the Underground each day….enough to fill an average sized swimming pool every 15 minutes….

Half a million mice live on the Underground….


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