One of the great institutions of London is its public transportation system. The gleaming jewel in the crown of the services is the London Underground. Widely referred to simply as “The Tube,” the London Underground covers over 400 kilometres of track through some 270 stations as far out as Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex.

original london underground
How times have changed – the original London Underground

The original parts of the Tube system were first installed in the mid-1800s, with the first train service running between Paddington and Farringdon starting in 1863, some 150 years ago. The Underground has come a long way since those early days when steam locomotives hauled wooden carriages along a short length of track, and today the on-going work to improve and upgrade the system has seen a number of dramatic developments in a relatively short period of time.

From split to united

In the beginning, the London Underground was a series of separate and unconnected companies running a fragmented underground train service across different districts of London. The names of many of the lines on the Tube are taken from the original company that operated services on that line, which eventually all became amalgamated into one whole integrated service.

The almost futuristic Jubilee Line station at Canary Wharf

In 1933, a little under half-way through its life to date, the London Underground was formally constituted as an organisation and brought about the merger of the previously independent lines operating throughout the city. They were also merged with the bus and tram operators to create London Transport, which aimed to provide a complete transport service to cover the whole of inner and greater London. Under this guise, there was a great deal of development in the services on offer under the streets of London, not least of which involved the creation of an entirely new Tube route in 1979, the Jubilee Line, named in honour the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977.

Trouble and strife

The London Underground has seen more than its fair share of trouble throughout its 150 year life. Throughout the German bombings in the Blitz during the Second World War, London’s deep Underground stations offered shelter from the falling bombs that laid waste to significant parts of the London landscape.

The bombs moved underground when eight years ago a group of terrorists carried out an attack on the population of London, with a bomb going off in packed carriages during rush-hour on three separate trains as well as a double-decker bus.

In spite of the carnage wreaked by the bombings, the public quickly returned to the Underground to demonstrate their faith in the trains and their defiance of the terrorists who tried to destroy their trust in the system that served them.

Art on the Underground

One of the most notable features of the Underground is its patronage of the arts. Across the city, travellers will find public artwork commissioned by Transport for London that highlights the unique character of that particular part of the city.

Around the Underground, people will also find a wide variety of licenced buskers who entertain travellers with anything from highbrow classical music to the latest rap and R&B as they travel beneath the feet of the people in the city. Many of the Tube stations also have boards that allow Tube staff and regular passengers to write poems and words of wisdom for other passers-by to read and enjoy.


Rather than simply a transportation system, the London Underground is part of the fabric of London life. A major part of the way Londoners go about their day to day business, the Underground has been an important community and cultural touchstone in good times and bad.

Image Credits: Wikipedia 1 & 2

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