This week is the birthday of one of London’s most beloved citizens – the tube. The first journey on the ‘Metropolitan Railway’ took place on 9th January 1863, and ferried passengers from Paddington to Farringdon. Almost 12 million passengers travelled underground in that first year; today around 5 million passengers use the tube every day. Every week, the escalators in the Underground network move the equivalent distance to travelling around the world – twice.
People all over the world instantly recognise our iconic tube, but it is us Londoners who truly couldn’t live without it. Why not take the opportunity to delve deeper into the fascinating history of this London landmark?
Visit the London Transport Museum
This interactive museum is fun for the whole family. This collection features artefacts dating all the way back to 1800. Wander through the museum and take a journey through time – admire the original steam-powered tube engine, and climb aboard a wooden Metropolitan Railway coach. If you’re travelling with little ones, they will be delighted by the mini vehicles in the family play zone featuring the ‘Thames Nipper’ and the ‘Baby DLR’. Grown-ups can have a go in the driver’s cab of a red bus, or test their skills at driving the Northern Line in a simulator.
The London Transport Museum also celebrates the iconography of the London Underground, featuring vintage tube posters and delving into the story of the ‘roundel’ – the emblematic bar and circle logo. The exhibition now running shines a light on often overlooked 20th and 21st century female graphic designers, making for compelling viewing.
Ride the Mail Rail
The new postal museum opened in King’s Cross last year and proved very popular with Londoners – tickets sold out months in advance. Some might be surprised to learn that underground rail networks were also used to move parcels and letters around the city by the Royal Mail. Mail Rail is the one-hundred-year-old Post Office railway, visitors can board this miniature train and zoom through stalactite-filled tunnels. During your visit you can even design your own stamp, and admire a nineteenth-century mail coach.
Go underground to find high spirits at Cahoots
Underneath Carnaby Street lies a vintage speakeasy bar. Speak to the train guard at the entrance and then descend down into a 1940s style tube-themed party – where every day is VE day. Classic cocktails are served in quirky cups and saucers and a swing band keeps the party alive. Sometimes they even host singalongs round the piano. Visit Cahoots for a jolly good knees-up!
Discover Hidden London
For those who are most intrigued by the secret catacombs beneath the city, and want to discover them themselves, London transport run tours to disused tube tunnels and other forgotten locations. Events range from underground screenings of wartime era films in a deep level shelter in Clapham, to tours of Winston Churchill’s warren of bomb proof tunnels – soon to be chronicled on the big screen in the BAFTA nominated film ‘Darkest Hour’. Book well in advance, limited numbers mean these tickets sell out quickly, but being one of the lucky few who get to see these buried locations is well worth it.