Tag Archives: London underground

Prime Ministers on the Underground

This day 160 years ago on the 10th January 1863, the world’s first underground railway opened. Lord Palmerston the 80-year-old prime minister was invited to travel on its inaugural journey, but he famously declined to state that: “He wanted to spend the time he had left above the ground”.

A decade later former prime minister William Gladstone travelled by tube on his journey to Westminster Hall, after dying from heart failure. Dr Barnardo, the founder of the eponymous charity, is the only other person known to have travelled by Underground in their coffin.

Since that opening, as the network expanded from the original Metropolitan Railway between Paddington and Farrington, prime ministers and future premiers have been keen to appear to travel with the people.

In the film Darkest Hour, we had Winston Churchill taking 5 minutes to travel one stop on the District Line to Westminster Station, the TfL timetable puts the journey at 120 seconds, but no matter, there’s a war on, artistic license and all that. The film’s screenwriter Anthony McCarten’s research found Churchill going AWOL, disappearing and popping up somewhere in London after asking fellow travellers their opinion of the war.

Other prime ministers have been less shy of publicity, Tony Blair once he had ensured the cameras were rolling, just had to travel on the newly built Jubilee Line to the new Millennium Dome.

David Cameron apparently often travelled on the tube claiming it was faster than the ministerial car and encouraged other members of his cabinet to do likewise.

So, you never know, on your commute you might strike lucky and have Rishi sitting alongside you with no way of escaping your criticisms.

Featured image: Mind The Gap by DriveThruCafe


Sad though it is, I’ve been on Wordle almost every day this year and usually, I can identify the day’s word within 4 minutes, in fact, if it takes me much longer I’m not likely to work it out.

Wordle is very American-centric, I’m still waiting for color, humor and center to come up.

Recently I’ve come across Metrodle, which is not only for the British but it’s for Londoners.

Metrodle gives you a close crop of the Tube Map, with most of the information like names and line colours removed.

You have six attempts to identify the correct station, an incorrect guess shows the names of any nearby stations and will colour in any lines that appear on the zoomed-in section of the map. The guess output will also show how many stops you are from your destination and in which direction the correct station is from your guess.

Having hardly used the Underground for decades I’m hopeless, maybe you will be more successful.

The Tube Map

The London Tube Map fundamentally lacks key mapping elements such as topography and urban detail, but what it does is encourage a mental map of London, one that exists inside the passenger’s head allowing them to traverse the city, much like London’s cabbies achieve when studying The Knowledge.

The beauty of its design, as Caroline Roope points out in her excellent book, The History of the London Underground Map, is that it’s as much at home hanging on the wall of a modern art gallery as it is stuffed in the pocket of a London commuter.

The flexibility of the Tube Map, and its capacity to grow and adapt along with the city it represents, have inspired numerous interpretations of what it means to traverse the metropolis.

There are plenty of differences between Harry Beck’s first effort and the map we know today. An extra 200 stations have been added, along with additional lines, the latest being the Elizabeth Line with the addition of charging Zones and an index.

Beck’s original had station names in capitals, as was customary at the time, every station is marked with a ‘blob’, and interchanges are shown with multiple circles, even so, the spirit of the modern map is detectable.

Today in a belated acknowledgement of Beck’s genius the modern map has this description: “This diagram is an evolution of the original design conceived in 1931 by Harry Beck”.

Growing Underground

Around London, there are eight deep-level bomb shelters built during World War II. The Clapham North shelter, constructed between November 1940 and 1942 at one point housed 8,000 troops in the labyrinth of stairwells, parallel tunnels each measuring 16 feet six inches in diameter and 1,200 feet long, buried over 100 feet underground.

The Clapham South shelter in 1948 was used to house 200 of the first immigrants from the West Indies who had arrived on the MV Empire Windrush for four weeks until they found their own accommodation. Even more surprising in 1951, it became the Festival Hotel providing cheap stay for visitors to the Festival of Britain.

On 21 May 1956 serendipitously a fire at the Goodge Street shelter coincided with Parliamentary consideration of a Government Bill seeking power to take over the shelters, subsequently the Minister of Works assured the Commons they would not again be used for human occupation in peacetime.

So what to do now with these miles of tunnels? Some are now used to store documents, but at the Clapham South shelter, the world’s first underground farm can be found.

Growing Underground uses LED lights that bathe the bunker in an eerie pink glow. The lights shine the brightest at night when electricity is the cheapest. The produce is grown with hydroponics, meaning the seeds rely on a cocktail of mineral nutrients and a water solvent rather than soil. Varieties of coriander, broccoli, fennel, and other micro herbs are produced to promote zero-carbon food. The 550-square-metre area fitted with hydroponics produces about 20 tonnes of greens every year.

The company now offers tours to the public, allowing visitors to tour the eerie pink farm of the future deep below the buzzing city streets and take home micro herb salad harvested straight from the farm.

The Greenground

After Tuesday’s post, today with a new more gentle tenor CabbieBlog explores a Tube map of parks and how to get between them.

Living on the north-east margins of London with Havering Country Park’s 165 acres a mere 5-minute stroll away the countryside isn’t far away.

The park has an avenue of Wellingtonia trees, dating to when the Havering manor was still present, and are the second largest plantation in the country. It also is on the route of the London Outer Orbital Path, or London LOOP, with sections 20-24 linking the many green spaces on my doorstep.

Given that I was delighted to find a ‘tube map’ showing the parks of London, joined together in ways you might want to walk.

Graphic designer Helen Ilus has designed a verdant version of Harry Beck’s classic Tube map.

The ‘Greenground’ contains eight themed lines: the Thames, Crane, Wandle, Regent (as in the canal), Royal, South, City and North. Places, where you might like to swim, kayak or just walk, are marked.

The map has around 300 parks and open spaces that are remarkably only 10 per cent of the 3,000 parks and green spaces to be found in London.

The map was originally inspired by the London National Park City movement which officially declared London as the first National Park City.

Helen has decided that it is not practical to include all green spaces to one legible map, and intends to produce more detailed local versions.

The map isn’t intended as a detailed navigational aid, but more as an inspiring prompt to encourage exploration.

I look forward to seeing Helen’s take Havering-Atte-Bower as a detailed mini-map.

Helen Ilus can be found here.