Underground trains


  • Intro

    While the railways were transporting people and goods around the country at unprecedented speeds, traffic in inner cities was becoming chaotic. The answer the Victorians came up with was simple: move the whole problem underground. In 1863, the world’s first underground railway was built, connecting Paddington station – the London rail terminus for many prosperous commuters to the City – to Farringdon Street, just minutes from the Bank of England.


    The sound clip in the audio tab is a reading of an article from The Times, the day the Metropolitan Line was opened. It describes the atmosphere in vivid detail: the stations ‘crowded with anxious travellers’, the gas light in the carriages preventing passengers (‘especially ladies’) from being frightened by the tunnels and a whole carriage of passengers being ‘enveloped in steam’.


    The photograph shows workers on London’s Central Line during the construction of the British Museum station in 1898.


    Shelfmark: Photo  1132/1

  • Audio

    Can't play the file above? Listen to the audio clip here

  • Transcript

    Underground trains

    Times, January 11th, 1863

    Yesterday the Metropolitan (underground) Railway was opened to the public, and many thousands were enabled to indulge their curiosity in reference to this mode of travelling under the streets of the metropolis.

    The trains commenced running as early as six o'clock in the morning from the Paddington (Bishop's-road) station, and the Farringdon-street terminus, in order to accommodate workmen, and there was a goodly muster of that class of the public, who availed themselves of the advantages of the line in reaching their respective places of employment. At eight o'clock the desire to travel underground in the direction of the City began to manifest itself at the various stations along the line; and by nine it became equally evident to the authorities that neither the locomotive power nor the rolling stock at their disposal was at all in proportion to the requirements of the opening day. From this time, and throughout the morning, every station became crowded with anxious travellers who were admitted in sections; but poor were the chances of a place to those who ventured to take their tickets at any point below Baker-street, the occupants being, with but very rare exceptions, "long distance," or terminus, passengers. This circumstance tended to increase the numbers at every station every minute, until there became sufficient to fill any train of empties which might be sent to overflow; and we believe we are correct in stating that ultimately a number of the Great Western narrow gauge carriages as well as engines, were brought into requisition, and by this means the temporary wants of the public were accommodated. Possibly the greatest point of attraction, if the collection of numbers may be taken as any criterion, was King's cross, which is certainly the finest station on the line throwing even the termini into the shade.


    Of the general comfort in travelling on the line there can be no doubt, and the novel introduction of gas into the carriages is calculated to dispel any unpleasant feelings which passengers, especially ladies, might entertain against riding for so long a distance through a tunnel. Yesterday, throughout every journey, the gas burnt brightly, and in some instances was turned on so strong in the first-class carriages, in each of which there were two burners, that when the carriages were stationary, newspapers might be read with facility; but, in motion, the draft through the apertures of the lamps, created so much flickering as to render such a feat exceedingly difficult. The second-class carriages are very nicely fitted with leathered seats, and are very commodious, and the compartments and arms in the first-class render overcrowding impossible.


    There is one point to which attention was attracted as being adverse to the general expectation, and that was that it was understood that there was to be no steam or smoke from the engines used in working this tunnel railway. All we can say is, that on one of the journeys between Portland-road and Baker-street, not only were the passengers enveloped in steam, but it is extremely doubtful if they were not subjected to the unpleasantness of smoke also. This may have arisen from the circumstance before alluded to, that in consequence of the extreme pressure upon their resources, the workers of the metropolitan line were compelled to avail themselves of locomotive as well as rolling stock of the Great Western, and that it is only a temporary inconvenience.


    Up to six o'clock the computation was that somewhere about 25,000 persons had been carried over the line, and it is gratifying to remark that, notwithstanding the eagerness of the public to get into the carriages, even when the trains were in motion, no single accident, of any kind, was reported.

Find out more about the Underground trains Here

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