The London Underground Railway

An Attempt to Solve the Nineteenth Century's Urban Traffic Problems and the Present Time Consequences

Facharbeit (Schule), 2006

38 Seiten, Note: 2,0



1 Introduction

2 London’s Urban Development in History
2.1 Important Settlement
2.2 MediaevalTown
2.3 The Great Fire
2.4 Modern Times

3 Increasing Traffic and an Unsuitable Network of Streets
3.1 17th Century Traffic Situation
3.1.1 Contemporary Accounts
3.1.2 Public Transport
3.2 Attempts to Improve Streets to a Dignified Appearance
3.2.1 Failed Attempts
3.2.2 Improvements under King George IV

4 A Century in Which Transportation Approached Undreamt Dimensions
4.1 Extensions ofUrban Public Transportation
4.1.1 Non-Standardised Departments
4.1.2 From Hackney Carriages to the Omnibus
4.1.3 The First Railways

5 The Origins of London’s Underground Railway
5.1 How to Bring Passengers Closer to the City Centre
5.1.1 Preparing the Underground
5.1.2 The Metropolitan Railway
5.2 Launching the Underground
5.2.1 Last Steps before Construction Work
5.2.2 “Cut and Cover” and How to Operate Trains
5.2.3 Building Site Accidents and Delays
5.3 Opening and Operation of the Underground
5.3.1 The World’s First Underground Railway
5.3.2 The Inner Circuit
5.3.3 TheTube

6 Fares and Affordability of Public Transport to Middle and Lower Social Classes
6.1 The First Commuters and Their Settlements in the Outskirts
6.1.1 The Idea of Commuting
6.1.2 Fares and Working Class Trains
6.1.3 The Loss of Residents in Central Areas

7 Mind the Gap - London Underground Today
7.1 The Development of the Tube during the 20th Century
7.1.1 New Tube Lines after the City & South London and further Electrifications
7.1.2 London’s First Transport Board and the Second World War
7.1.3 The Post-War Period
7.2 Entry into a new Millennium and Changing Challenges for Public Transport
7.2.1 Status and Importance of Public Transport
7.2.2 Incidents of 7 July 2005 and Security Issues
7.2.3 Future Prospects

8 Conclusion

9 Illustrations

10 Bibliography
10.1 Printed Sources
10.2 Internet Sources
10.3 Secondary Literature
10.4 Index of Illustrations

1 Introduction

London was the first city in the world to start building underground railway lines. In 1863, the first line from Paddington Station to Farringdon Street was opened.[1] It took more than three decades until the first town in continental Europe (Budapest, opened in 1896) also decided to build a railway underground.[2] The construction of London’s Underground was therefore remarkably early, which leads to the following question: What circumstances led to choose this form of public traffic at this point of time? Two chapters are dedicated to Lon­don’s history; once in a general sense, and then more specifically applied to the development of traffic and transportation before the 19th century. The following chapters show the progress of public traffic from 1800 to the opening of railway lines and the steps needed in order to realise an underground railway system. Finally, the present situation at the beginning of the 21st century is of interest and the question, whether the Underground had been the right choice - even for these days. This paper considers political, social, and technical ... in order to answer the following issue: What circumstance(s) and reason(s) played a role in taking the decision to construct a railway line below and why this early? Furthermore, a second issue is to be answered: What are the consequences for London by the early 21st century, having a railway system that is aged more than 140 years and what influence did the Underground have on London’s developmentfrom then to now?

2 London’s Urban Development in History

The site where the modern City of London was established must have been important to the people many centuries before. This chapter investigates briefly on how London grew from a countryside settlement to a metropolitan city. Detailed traffic issues in this context will be dealt with further below.

2.1 Important Settlement

Before the Romans came to Britain and founded Londinium in the year of 43 AD, the place is supposed to have been a rural area. Although some pre-Roman finds have been made, it is most likely that they only show the importance of the site but not the existence of a larger settlement.[3] Londinium was thought to be a permanent military camp for Roman legions but their principle centre was in modem Colchester. Seventeen years later, after a failed uprising of the local tribe of the Iceni, Londinium burned to the ground. The Romans rebuilt their damaged camp and it became the capital of Britannia[4]

By 410 AD, the Romans had abandoned Londinium and their occupation and their oc­cupation came to an end.[5] After a quiet era of nearly two hundred years settlement was re­vived by Saxon invaders. The new city was named Lundenwic and meant London Port. Dur­ing the late Saxon leadership Lundenwic became known as Lundenburgh when the focus of settlement turned from the old port back to the old city.[6]

2.2 Mediaeval Town

After a short period of Danish reign, the Normans invaded Britain in 1066 and the Saxon era came to an end.[7] Consequently, the town of Westminster which was only a short bit upstream London became the royal capital of England. William Rufus, the son of William the Conqueror, who had led the Norman invasion, started constructing Westminster Hall, which became the main royal residence throughout the entire Middle Ages.[8] By the year of 1300, London’s population had reached the considerable number of one hundred thousand citizens.[9] In 1348, the continent-wide bubonic plague reached England and every second Londoner was killed in effect.[10]

The area between Westminster and London was completely urbanised by the year of 1600, when population reached a size of more than 200,000 people. During the mediaeval epoch, several royal families ruled England and the City of London prospered due to increas­ing mercantilism. In spite of this, the city’s sanitation was horrible and the bubonic plague broke out sixteen times between 1348 and 1666. The buildings were mostly made of wood and the threat of fire was omnipresent.[11] The streets were narrow and twisty[12] as it is still rec­ognisable in other mediaeval European towns.

2.3 The Great Fire

On the morning of 2 September 1666, not even a year after the last plague had killed a sixth of London’s population, a fire broke out in the royal bakery in Pudding Lane. The fire spread rapidly and destroyed one wooden house after another, benefiting from the heat of the previous summer which had dried the roofs well. Five days later The Great Fire was under control but eighty percent of the city had been destroyed and about 80,000 people were home­less. After this incident, the mediaeval part of the City of London was wiped out.[13]

Soon after the city was struck by the huge fire, planners designed a new town with wide and representative roads. Unfortunately, the house proprietors rejected such plans and were not willing to give up their properties. Eventually, the verdict was to rebuild London almost as it had looked before. Although buildings were now made of stone instead of wood, the re­mained tiny and narrow.[14]

2.4 Modern Times

Up to the beginning of the 19th century, London grew rapidly to a population of one mil­lion inhabitants, which was due to migration, mainly as a result of the flourishing trade. Most of the early immigrants came from all over the country seeking their luck in London only to be followed by continental European tradesmen.[15]

Shortly after 1500, London had become the largest town on the planet and held this status until 1925, when New York surpassed it.[16] Between the beginning and the end of the 19th century, the population had increased six-fold and this was not without effect on the city’s street life. London increased dramatically in size and it became more and more urgent to find a solution to improve the traffic flow. A similar importance was given to usable sewers in order to avoid epidemics and improve air quality in this sometimes horribly stinky town.[17]

3 Increasing Traffic and an Unsuitable Network of Streets

The Fire of 1666 is often thought to be a sudden cut in the city’s history and London to have received a completely different face. Obviously, this was not the case and it is therefore important not only to study the situation after London had been rebuilt but also to consider the circumstances the city had to deal with before. This view is supported by Dr. John Schofield who said that “we have perhaps been overimpressed by the Great Fire, and [...] the Fire [...] devastated only about a third of conurbation of London then standing.”[18] Many houses re­mained wooden and it took generations to change their appearance to a more modern one. But he also admits that the Fire created a certain opportunity to shape the city differently.[19]

Although the source used in chapter 2.3 suspects eighty percent of the buildings had burnt down, Schofield mentions only a number of about thirty percent. This leads to the con­clusion that facts in this context have to be used carefully, but there is no doubt that the oppor­tunity to improve the city significantly had been missed to a large extent.

3.1 17 th Century Traffic Situation

3.1.1 Contemporary Accounts

By New Year’s Day of 1660, Samuel Pepys, a higher public official, opened a diary - a remarkably unusual course of action in those days. The reason is rather unclear but it is a unique and valuable document which provides answers about social and public live in London during the decade that followed 1660. Pepys held the same (cold) distance in describing events no matter whether it was about garden flowers or a public hanging.[20]

According to Sir John Oldham, a contemporary of Pepys, the scene on London’s roads was everything but orderly and comfortable. He was not able to sleep quietly due to bells, the poems of night watches, the noise of drunken people and, in the morning, the sound of all sorts of animals setting in.[21] Whatsoever, it was no better during daytime when Samuel Pepys was forced, in 1661, to remain in a hackney carriage for one and a half hours because the traf­fic congestion was so bad. Five days later, the traffic jams made him go shopping instead of continuing hisjourney (sic!).[22]

3.1.2 PublicTransport

During the 17th century, London’s population increased by about three hundred percent form around 200,000 to 600,000 inhabitants.[23] Such a growth of population (not the percent- age but the number) had not been seen until then and according to chapter 2.2 the streets did not have the right capacity and were to become overcrowded within a short time. “Travel within the capital was also becoming more as we would recognise it today”[24], says Bruce Robinson and is pointing into the same direction.

Yet from 1625, hackney carriages were licensed and regulated by Parliament (Hackney Coach Commission) to run passenger services and at the same time wherries (a kind of river- buses) were transporting people on the river Thames.[25] The reason to licence the coaches was to prevent further congestions while the number of vehicles increased quickly in order to carry the growing number of citizens which occurred simultaneously. Nevertheless, a growing number of road-users were demanding for more means of public traffic and the number of permissions had to be raised by the authorities.[26] Eventually, a final solution to avoid the worst congestions was not only given by licensing the carriages because pedestrians were largely responsible for jamming the streets and they were not able to afford the high charges for public traffic until the later 19th century whatsoever.[27] In 1813, King George IV, being aware of this problem, gave order to his most favoured architect to enlarge streets and squares to a size cities like Paris already had.[28]

3.2 Attempts to Improve Streets to a Dignified Appearance

3.2.1 FailedAttempts

As we approach the early 19th century, however, there has to be mentioned that some work on the infrastructure had been done before the reign of King George IV. As explained in chapter 2.3, city planners of the post-Fire period were not successful in convincing London’s house owners with their plans.

Christopher Wren, the architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral after the Great Fire, proposed to build main access roads from all four directions into Central London and to enlarge the most public places into representative “piazzas”.[29] He also thought of standardising the width of the streets into three categories which would have simplified further city planning enormously. With regard to these proposals, none of them had been taken over neither by the people of

London nor by the authorities.[30] From today’s point of view, however, it is hardly understand­able why such reasonable plans did not fit in people’s minds those days.

Nonetheless, many places which are still known in the 21st century were built in the pe­riod of around fifty years after the Great Fire, such as Grosvenor Square, Hanover Square, Berkeley Square. Other famous sites like Leicester Square, St. James’s Square, and King Square had already been built in the late 1670’s up to the early 1680’s.[31] A prominent excep­tion might be Trafalgar Square, which was under construction only during the 1830’s.[32]

3.2.2 Improvements under King George IV

The victory over the French fleet at Trafalgar and the decline ofNapoleon ten years later made the British Empire remain unchallenged at sea, and so was its position as predominant power, doubtlessly at least in Europe.[33] King George IV had the feeling of being great and unbeatable and the constant competition with France made him measure his architect’s results with the shining example ofParis.[34]

The task of building a new boulevard (Regent Street) through the labyrinth of tiny lanes was given to John Nash, the King’s favoured architect. At the end of the new street he was supposed to design a park for the King (Regent’s Park), which the latter could reach from his residence via Regent Street. But compared to other glamorous avenues, Nash’s Regent Street did not describe a straight line when it was completed. Though it looked gorgeous and is now seen as the most important project in London’s early metropolitan planning, many compro­mises had to be accepted. Parliament approved the planning and the size of funds in general but the building of houses was carried out by private people. Every client was allowed to en­gage his own architect but, fortunately, the supervision of those individual projects was granted to Nash, which allowed him to co-ordinate the appearance of Regent Street to some extent.[35]

At the same time, John Nash was building numerous houses and residences (Bucking­ham Palace is the most famous example), and after he had given London a link road from the east to the west with Regent Street, he was able to do it likewise from the north to the south.[36] When King George IV died in 1830, Nash was quickly replaced because he was losing his reputation due to several discrepancies in managing the budget.[37]

4 A Century in Which Transportation Approached Undreamt Dimensions

After having seen the development of London’s town and the problematic nature of city planning and decent traffic flow yet before the end of the 18th century, the circumstances of the first half of the 19th century will be focused on in this chapter. Concerning the traffic, not many improvements could be made during 18th century. The construction of larger streets had been a step into the right direction and was urgently needed, but the congestions could not have been eased only because of these measures.

What differentiated the 19th century from all epochs before was the flood of new techni­cal inventions which set off. From the railway at the beginning to the electricity at the end, everything appeared within this period. The stage for far reaching changes was set and the realisation of an underground railway was no longer in the distant future. Not at least, the massive increase of population which had never been seen before in such dimensions chal­lenged and urged London’s officials.

4.1 Extensions ofUrban Public Transportation

4.1.1 Non-Standardised Departments

The bounds which were set by politics to beginning of the 19th century were everything but comfortable with regard to urban development. Inside the area of London, around three hundred municipalities and local authorities were taking decisions on their former village sites, which had earlier amalgamated to a cosmopolitan city and no mayor was elected to rep­resent the capital. Additionally, the national Parliament intervened directly into the city’s businesses. It took decisions like building new main streets and, spectacularly, in 1829, the Home Secretary established a uniformed police authority for Greater London, (still today known as) The Metropolitan Police. But in general, the growth of traffic and the way the city was developing had been left to their own fate.[38] The number of inhabitants had reached the edge of one million by then and was increasing day after day.[39]

4.1.2 From Hackney Carriages to the Omnibus

Having already dealt with the 17th century hackney carriages in chapter 3.1.2, the issue of horse drawn coaches had not lost any of its topicality in the early 19th century. The main reason might have been the lack of opportunity to decide between different kinds of means of transportation. Accordingly, carriages were the only alternative to walking or horse riding. River boat services had limited access to individual destinations (although the river Thames is considered a sort of highway of those times)[40] and were probably not remarkably faster, de­pending on the passengers’ route.

Before 1800, the expansion of London’s city centre took mainly place along the river Thames and not many people lived far from it.[41] This changed around 1800 when outlying villages grew rapidly and the roads linking them to the centre in the south quickly became important. Many new homes were built along these streets and empty spaces between London and its neighbouring countryside had been filled up all of a sudden.[42]

Additionally to the existing long-stage coaches which brought travellers from farther destinations to the city, a new possibility of travelling appeared; short-stage coaches picked up residents form their homes and gave them a lift, to their city destination. The tickets were sold in advance in one of the offices next to the route, but a lot of passengers who were not familiar with the regulations turned up without a tickets. Arguments about the fees for indi- vidualjourneys stretched the duration of travelling to an unbearable degree.[43] A French visitor reported that he “never saw anything so ill managed [...] [and they] stopped more than twenty times on the road”[44] until he reached Hyde Park Corner after a journey of two hours starting from Richmond which is not more than a dozen miles away.[45] This all seemed to be rather uncomfortable and inefficient, and most strikingly, this was only about short-distance travel­ling.

These stage coach styled vehicles were in direct competition to the hackney carriages and had, in comparison, the advantage of taking more than double the number of passengers. Although different kinds of hackney carriages had been established, they were never able to carry more than a maximum of three people. Hence, their long lasting monopoly came under pressure, whereas short-stage coaches had detailed advice on where to pick up and drop off passengers, only to prevent the hackneys from bad businesses.[46]

In the late 1820’s, a businessman called George Shillibeer was working for a coach builder and stable keeper in Paris. He was an eyewitness of a successfully introduced vehicle, drawn by more than one horse and having seats for up to twenty people - the omnibus. Gen­erally, it resembled the earlier fashionable long-stage coach; in fact, it was not more than a large box on four wheels. Starting his own business in London around 1830, Shillibeer began to run his first route from Paddington to the outskirts and his self-built omnibuses were pulled by three instead of two horses. Within a short time, he was able to enlarge his services and providing more comfortable, larger, and, not least, cheaper omnibuses.[47]

To their disappointment, the Hackney Coach Commission had been abolished by Par­liament almost the same time as omnibuses appeared in London and only four years later the limitation of hackney carriages were eased. Quickly, other operators were running omnibus services and accelerated the downfall ofhackney coaches.[48]

4.1.3 The First Railways

Some decades had passed by when Scottish engineer James Watt patented his first steam engine in 1769[49] The idea of using steam power for mobility purposes had probably been kept in mind since then, and before the first locomotive was built, some road-carriages were motorised with steam engines. Their success, however, was very small and vehicles often broke down because of bad road conditions and immature technology.[50] Not to forget the lo­comotion on the river Thames, where upgraded boats with steam engines already plied routes from 1815 and functioned well as opposed to the steam driven coaches.[51]


[1] BARKER, T.C./ROBBINS, Michael: A History of London Transport, Vol. 1, London 1963, p. 99.

[2] Loxton, Howard: Railways, London et al. 1968, p. 139.

[3] WIKIPEDIA: History of London.

[4] The Official Website for London: City Guide.

[5] Ibid.

[6] WIKIPEDIA: History of London.

[7] The Official Website for London: City Guide.

[8] WIKIPEDIA: History of London.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Official Website for London: City Guide.

[11] WIKIPEDIA: History of London.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Albig, Jörg-Uwe: „Das geheime Leben der Kapitale“, in: Geo Epoche. Das Magazin für Geschichte 18 (Lon­don. Geschichte einer Weltstadt, 1558-1945), Hamburg 2005, p. 74ff.

[14] Ibid., p. 76ff.

[15] British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC): Social History (Ъ).

[16] MISCHER, Olaf/OTTO, Frank: „London. Stadtgeschichte“ (Chronik), in: Geo Epoche. Das Magazin für Ge­schichte 18 (London. Geschichte einer Weltstadt, 1558-1945), Hamburg 2005, p. 174ff.

[17] FrÖMEL, Susanne: „Moderne Zeiten“, in: Geo Epoche. Das Magazin für Geschichte 18 (London. Geschichte einer Weltstadt, 1558-1945), Hamburg 2005, p. 124ff.

[18] British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC): Social History (a).

[19] Ibid.

[20] Albig, Jörg-Uwe: „Das geheime Leben der Kapitale“, in: Geo Epoche. Das Magazin für Geschichte 18 (Lon­don. Geschichte einer Weltstadt, 1558-1945), Hamburg 2005, p. 62ff.

[21] Ibid., p. 68.

[22] British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC): Social History (b).

[23] WIKIPEDIA: History of London.

[24] British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC): Social History (b).

[25] Ibid.

[26] BARKER, T.C./RoBBINS, Michael: A History of London Transport, Vol. 1, London 1963, p. 7.

[27] Ibid., p. 241 ff.; FrÖMEL, Susanne: „Moderne Zeiten“, in: Geo Epoche. Das Magazin für Geschichte 18 (Lon­don. Geschichte einer Weltstadt, 1558-1945), Hamburg 2005, p. 127; see chapter 6.1.2.

[28] KLÜVER, Reymer: „Der Baumeister der Metropole“, in: Geo Epoche. Das Magazin für Geschichte 18 (Lon­don. Geschichte einer Weltstadt, 1558-1945), Hamburg 2005, p. 110ff.

[29] WIKIPEDIA: History of London.

[30] See chapter 2.3.

[31] Georgian London Street and Business Index: Squares.

[32] Trafalgar Square was built as a tribute to the won battle of Trafalgar in 1805 (Georgian London Street and Business Index: Squares).

[33] Lenze, Franz: „Die Mutter des Imperiums“, in: Geo Epoche. Das Magazin für Geschichte 18 (London. Ge­schichte einer Weltstadt, 1558-1945), Hamburg 2005, p. 144.

[34] KLÜVER, Reymer: „Der Baumeister der Metropole“, in: Geo Epoche. Das Magazin für Geschichte 18 (Lon­don. Geschichte einer Weltstadt, 1558-1945), Hamburg 2005, p. 115.

[35] Ibid., p. 115ff.

[36] KLÜVER, Reymer: „Der Baumeister der Metropole“, in: Geo Epoche. Das Magazin für Geschichte 18 (Lon­don. Geschichte einer Weltstadt, 1558-1945), Hamburg 2005, p. 118f.

[37] Ibid.; Meyer, Joseph (ed.): Meyers grosses Universallexikon, Vol. 5, Mannheim/Vienna/Zurich 1982, p. 504; BRITANNIA: History of London.

[38] FrÖMEL, Susanne: „Moderne Zeiten“, in: Geo Epoche. Das Magazin für Geschichte 18 (London. Geschichte einer Weltstadt, 1558-1945), Hamburg 2005, p. 127ff.

[39] WIKIPEDIA: History of London.

[40] Barker, T.C./ROBBINS, Michael: A History of London Transport, Vol. 1, London 1963, p. 1.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Ibid., p. 2ff.

[43] Ibid., p. 4ff.

[44] Ibid., p. 4.


[46] BARKER, T.C./ROBBINS, Michael: A History of London Transport, Vol. 1, London 1963, p. 6ff.

[47] Ibid., p. 14ff.

[48] Ibid.

[49] Meyer, Joseph (ed.): Meyers grosses Universallexikon, Vol. 3, Mannheim/Vienna/Zurich 1982, p. 414; Ibid., Vol. 15, p. 286.

[50] BARKER, T.C./ROBBINS, Michael: A History of London Transport, Vol. 1, London 1963, p. 43ff.

[51] Ibid., p. 40ff.

Ende der Leseprobe aus 38 Seiten


The London Underground Railway
An Attempt to Solve the Nineteenth Century's Urban Traffic Problems and the Present Time Consequences
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
2589 KB
Note: 2,0 (CH: 5,0) Maturaarbeit
London, London Underground, Tube, Transport History, Railway, Transport for London, TfL, Samuel Pepys, Cut and Cover, 19th Century
Arbeit zitieren
M.A. Manuel Irman (Autor:in), 2006, The London Underground Railway, München, GRIN Verlag,


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