The “Underground.” The “Tube." Regardless of its name, London’s underground transit system is ranked as the best in the world (Tarver). It boasts over 250 miles of track and nearly 270 stations (Graham). Its map sparks recognition throughout the developed world, and it’s trademark roundel is arguably the most recognized icon of London (Green, 249; Graham). Although the Underground had a rocky start, it succeeded in mixing the Victorian classes, provided shelter from air raids, and now serves as a historical and cultural icon for the city.
On the surface of London in 1863, one would find an extremely crowded city. The streets were packed with horse-drawn carriages, cars, and pedestrians. It ...view middle of the document...
However, not all Londoners were convinced of the safety of the Met. Concerns of “sulfurous exhalations” and the fear that London itself would collapse into the tunnels worried many commuters (Majumdar).
Despite these rumors, however, the “Met’s” opening day saw an estimated 40,000 travelers (Majumdar). The Metropolitan Railway Company’s venture became a huge success. Soon this subway system became a part of everyday life and made its way into the culture. In Angus Evan Abbott's The Spawn of Fortune (1896), he describes an approaching Underground train as “wheezing, rocking, screeching” into the Charing Cross station (Majumdar). Many murder mysteries were set in the Tube including a novel by John Oxenham featuring a serial killer deep in the dark tunnels of the Underground (Majumdar). Oxenham received a complaint from the District Railway for this work because it seemed “too realistic” (Majumdar). The introduction of the Underground also allowed poorer families to move out of the slums of London. Now that an affordable means of transportation was available, workers were able to live in the suburbs and commute into the city (Green, 249).
However, it didn’t take long for some of the negative effects of the underground portions to be felt. On the opening day an employee was taken to the hospital after suffering “vitiated atmosphere” caused by poor ventilation (Majumdar). The combination of fumes from the trains’ engines and the popularity of smoking in the stations made the air so foul that many travelers were taken ill (Majumdar). The air was so polluted that local chemists began prescribing “Metropolitan Mixtures” to the sickened passengers (Majumdar). Strong public opinion continued the allowance of smoking and the fumes from the engines remained a problem until the introduction of electric trains in 1905 (Majumdar).
The “Met” also became a very crowded place and the maintenance of Victorian class separation could no longer be guaranteed. One passenger complained to the Pall Gazzette that a “lady without a bonnet and with an infant in arms in my carriage was not a first-class passenger” (Majumdar). A majority of the passengers were traveling with a third-class or “workman’s fare” ticket which led to the eventual opening of single class carriages in 1890 (Majumdar). This meant that the upper class gentlemen and ladies were forced to share cars with working class citizens. At this point, class separation didn’t exist on the Underground. Passengers boarded random carriages, promoting a rare mixed environment (Green, 249).
As more lines were built (Hammersmith & City line in 1864 and the District line in 1868) the name “Underground” was introduced, but it wasn’t until 1908 that this title began to appear on the iconic red and blue roundels (“London Underground;” Attwooll).
As World War II approached, the Tube experienced many changes in response to the war effort. Images of citizens huddled in Underground stations have become an iconic picture...