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Going (London) Underground: happy 150th birthday to The Tube

January 9, 2013


Time travellers: from Victorian times, through WWII, the Swinging Sixties and punk, right up to the present, the great and the good, the bold and the bad (read: everyone) has enjoyed/ endured The Tube

In a previous life I used to write for a magazine for the employees of one of the (now disbanded) London Underground contractors. While penning pieces on said publication, one always had to bear in mind its style-guide was quite adamant on the fact that in referring to London’s underground railway by its colloquial, affectionate moniker the ‘Tube’, one always had to write the proper noun as ‘The Tube’; the upper-casing of the first letter of its preceding article all important. But, thought I whenever I mused on it, that was quite a fitting stipulation, because The Tube is such an awesome form of public transport (when it’s working properly) it deserves not to be referred to as the Tube, but definitely as The Tube.

I mention this, of course, because today the world’s first metropolitan underground railway (are there any underground railways outside of metropolitan areas? Whatever) celebrates its 150th birthday. Yes, The Tube opened on 9 January 1863. No, there were no electronic trains back then (presumably it was a very stuffy, smoke-filled environment), no buskers and no tourists with incredibly bulky luggage whom inexplicably stand right in front of platform entrances and exits. For better or worse. But that’s when the world’s first, oldest and surely most famous underground railway network began.

Since then it’s seen everything from serving as a haven for sheltering Londoners during WWII’s Blitz to a central location for the most recent Bond film Skyfall (2012). It is one of my favourite cornerstones of my favourite city – when there aren’t any delays, which admittedly there often are (what can you do?). And for that reason, today George’s Journal is saluting the terrific and very tubular Tube by presenting to you this blogger’s five favourite stations. So commute away, peeps – and remember to mind the gap…


5. St. John’s Wood


Opened: 1939

Tube Line: Jubilee

Location and distinction: To be fair, there’s nothing remarkable about this station – although it’s a fine example of the rounded-themed, tiled, Modernist 1930s style of many – it’s all about its location (er, location, location). Yes, the brilliant thing about this stop on The Smoke’s superior subterranean transport network is its delightful proximity to one of the city’s all-time classic landmarks, namely that pedestrian crossing outside Abbey Road Studios across which The Beatles strolled in order to capture that utterly iconic image for their penultimate and near-perfect album Abbey Road (1969). Seriously, although it’s located on the corner of Acacia Road and Finchley Road, you need only take a seconds-long very pleasant, very suburban stroll down Grove End Road, turn right and, yes, you’re right there. Fab-tastic, to say the least.

You’ll know it from: That’d be that time you visited the Abbey Road crossing then

Coolest bit: Stepping out of the station and realising exactly where you are…


4. Piccadilly Circus


Opened: 1906

Tube Lines: Piccadilly and Bakerloo

Location: Literally underneath Piccadilly Circus

Distinction: This one features an entirely (and fittingly for The Tube) circular ticket hall. And its a stonker of a ticket hall. With confusing exits leading you up to different sides of different streets peeling off the world famous road junction above and public telephone booths, public toilets, Tube ticket machines, cash machines and (at first oddly) a below-ground entrance to the entertainment venue The Trocadero, it’s a tourist-teeming,  dizzying, Central London hub that’s practically as busy as the more notorious street-level site above. But given its location in the heart of the West End, it’s filled with and fuelled by an excited buzz of chatter and air of expectation – especially in the evening.

You’ll know it from: That New Year’s Eve when you headed home with the inebriated – but invariably happy – throng after seeing out the old annus on the town

Coolest bit: The ‘world clock’ artwork near the escalators in the centre of the ticket hall that old-school-style attempts to display the world’s time zones (a band runs across its map of the world at the same speed as the sun crosses the globe)…


3. Angel


Opened: 1901

Tube Line: Northern (Bank branch)

Location: Underneath ‘The Angel’ district of London on the southern tip of the borough of Islington

Distinction: Angel station has a very modern, nay, hip (for The Tube at least) feel to it. It owes this not least to where in The Smoke it resides – the bottom of the fashionable Upper Street with all its boutiques, bars and restaurants; the King’s Road of North London, if you will. It also comes from its two distinguishing features. The first is the uniquely wide, highly polished and frankly rather cool southbound platform, which owes its unusual width to the fact it was once an ‘island platform’ serving tracks on either side, one of which has obviously been removed. The other is the higher of its two escalators (which transports travellers to street-level), whose length of 60 metres and vertical rise of 27 metres makes it the third longest in Europe behind one on the Stockholm Metro and another on the Helsinki Metro.

You’ll know it from: The video for the trendy (and very Islington) singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s single The A-Team (2011)

Coolest bit: The level between the two escalators at which you’ll often find a busker or two. Once this very blogger witnessed there an  amateur songster performing Oasis’s Don’t Look Back In Anger (1995) while spontaneously and joyously joined by a chorus of 20+ thigh-slapping, quite impressively in-tune students. A sight – and sound – to behold, let me tell you…


2. Westminster


Opened: 1868

Tube Lines: Circle, District and Jubilee

Location: The corner of Bridge Street and Embankment – literally underneath the MPs’ offices building opposite the Houses of Parliament

Distinction: Westminster Tube station is all about the internal architecture – basically, to walk around in it is for us mere mortals the closest we’ll get to being inside a Bond villain’s lair. Seriously, it’s just like one. Sleek, shiny, tubular, with deep, open, appealingly lit industrial-like chasms, this is a Blofeld-esque space to say the least. Thanks to its deep-level construction work to connect it to the Jubilee line (completed in 1999), it’s modern, smart and easily the coolest Tube station there is. And even has a central control room near the barriers where chaps in hi-viz jackets sit looking at monitors like minions working for some deluded megalomaniac’s world domination-seeking operation.

You’ll know it from: Er, visiting the Houses of Parliament, Downing Street or Westminster Abbey. Like, obviously.

Coolest bit: Going down the escalators and pretending you’re 007…


1. Bank


Opened: 1900

Tube Lines: Central, Circle, District, Northern, Waterloo and City and Docklands Light Railway

Location: Bank junction – the intersection of Threadneedle Street, Cornhill, Lombard Street, Mansion House Street, Poultry and Princes Street in the heart of the City of London

Distinction: The daddy of all Tube stations, Bank-Monument (to give it its full name) is a monster. You could walk around in it for an hour. Easily. Especially in, er, rush-hour. Multi-levelled, labyrinthine and seemingly endless, this effort is so impressive it’s technically two stations in one, as it lumps Monument (Circle and District Lines) in with the tri-Tube Line serving and ice-cool named Bank (after the above-ground Bank of England, of course). The ninth busiest station within the Tube network, it can be an absolute bugger to get around in when populated by peeps, not least because it’s usually filled by besuited banker and City-working bods, yet its epicness is unquestioned. It even boasts a direct Tube Line straight to Waterloo Tube/ railway station, which is not least handy but also proves just how essential a stop Bank is.

You’ll know it from: Those times you’ve got lost within its never-ending tunnels when you feel like you’re miles away from where you want to get to – and, indeed, above-ground civilisation (mind you, directly above Bank is the City, so it’s hardly civilisation, fnarrr!)

Coolest bit: Getting on a train at the Waterloo and City platform for the first time and realising you really are about to whizz right beneath the capital, not stopping once until you reach the legendary Waterloo station. It sort of feels like getting on your own private, dinky underground train. Sort of…


Further reading: – the official Tube website



2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 8, 2014 1:30 am

    This gothic horror tale from 1972 has an interesting take on history of “the Tube.”


  1. London’s sesquicentennial underground: the Tube celebrates 150 years in service « abdelxyz

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