Wednesday 22 May 2013

World's Oldest Underground

The London Underground, also known as the Tube, is a metro system which carries more than one billion passengers a year, as many as the entire National Rail network. The network serves a large part of Greater London and parts of Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Essex. The system serves 270 stations and has an impressive 402 kilometres of track, 45% of which are below ground.

The London Underground was the first underground railway in the world. Construction began in 1860 with the excavation of a trench beneath Euston Road. This was covered over. The first tunnels were built just below the surface and thousands of poor residents were displaced in the process.

Constructing the first section of London's Underground, 1860

Digging was disruptive as buildings and utilities were flattened

London's 1st Trial Underground Railway, 1862

The London Underground officially opened in January 1863 between Paddington and Farringdon using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives. It was a great success!

The Barlow Shed construction at St Pancras Station, 1866

Metropolitan District Railway workers at Praed Street, 1867

Metropolitan District Railway locomotive at West Brompton, 1868

The first Tube railway, the City & South London opened in 1890 with electric locomotives hauling carriages. In 1898 the Waterloo & City Railway opened to the public using electric multiple units.

A Tube station platform in the early 1900s

Underground for Business or Pleasure by FE Witney, 1913

Push-pull train at Greenwich Park Station, 1913

Bo-Bo electric locomotive for the Metropolitan line, 1924

District Railway steam locomotive at Lille Bridge, 1928

London Underground Piccadilly line train, 1938

At the start of the German bombing raids over London, many Londoners decided to seek shelter underground. It was initially discouraged by the authorities, however, as the war continued platforms filled up. Conditions were unpleasant and unhygienic as space was limited and there were few ablution facilities. Civil disobedience was widespread as people fought over territories. 

Underground protection during German bombing raids, 1941

London Underground Tube carriage, 1955

Since the early 1960s all passenger trains have been electrical multiple units with sliding doors.

A commercial postcard of Piccadilly Underground Station, 1960s

Punk girls travelling by Tube, 1970s

Awaiting departure for Epping, 1980

Heathrow Terminal 5 Station, 2008

Underground train at Watford Station, 2010

Travelling by Tube during Peak times can be quite scary for first-time visitors to London. Conditions underground can get uncomfortably cramped as hundreds of thousands of commuters make their journeys to and from work. If you can, it's best to avoid using the Tube during Peak travel times!

Overcrowding during Peak travel

The roundel was first used on the Underground in 1908 when the UERL placed a solid red circle behind station nameboards on platforms. The word "UNDERGROUND" was placed in a roundel on posters in 1912. Frank Pick thought the solid red disc cumbersome and took a version where the disc became a ring. The new symbol was registered as a trademark in 1917.

London Underground roundel

If you are interested in London's transport history, the London Transport Museum is a fascinating place to visit. The Museum has an incredible collection of vehicles, posters and photographs.

Some images were released into the Public Domain and are not subject to any copyright or patent restrictions. Other images have been licensed and used with permission.

Saturday 18 May 2013

Mapping the Underground

The Tube map is a schematic transit map of the lines and stations of London's public transit railway systems, namely the London Underground, Docklands Light Railway and London Overground. The latest map includes the relatively new Emirates Air Line, London's cable car.

Back in 1908, it was easy enough to fit the whole Underground network onto a geographically accurate map with streets superimposed on it, but by 1933 it had become increasingly difficult due to railway expansions into the suburbs. The following map is one of London Underground's oldest.

London's transit map in 1908

The first diagrammatic map of London's transit network was designed by Harry Beck in 1931. Harry Beck was a London Underground employee who devised a simplified map, consisting of stations, straight line segments connecting them, and the River Thames. The map was tentatively introduced to the public in a small pamphlet in 1933 and it immediately became popular. London Underground has used topological maps to illustrate the network ever since.

London's transit map in 1937

London's transit map in 1945

London's transit map in 1951

London's transit map in 1960

London's transit map in 1977

London's transit map in 1987

London's transit map in 1999

London's transit map in 2012

Did you know?
London Underground was the world's first. It opened in January 1863 between Paddington and Farringdon using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives.

London's 1st Trial Underground Railway, 1862

Friday 17 May 2013

What Makes London Great?

I've lived in London with my partner for the past 10 years, having moved to this great city from Johannesburg in South Africa. We chose London because of its history, diversity, culture and entertainment venues. Over the past few years we've witnessed London transform with the regeneration of poorer areas, the construction and development of new buildings and the growth of the population from 7.3 million to the current estimate of around 8.1 million.

London is the ninth largest city in the world and the largest metropolitan city in the European Union. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its founding by the Romans, who named it Londinium. London is a leading global city, with strengths in the arts, commerce, education, entertainment, fashion, finance, healthcare, media, professional services, research and development, tourism and transport.

Aerial view of Londinium by Pat Nicolle

London has some of the greatest attractions for tourists and visitors to the city, many of which are pricey, even for the locals. If you're visiting on a tight budget, don't despair as a few of the most popular attractions are free. You can visit most museums without spending a penny, and of course you have free and unrestricted access to green spaces like Hyde Park, Green Park, Greenwich Park, St. James's Park, Regent's Park, Burgess Park and Richmond Park.

The EDF Energy London Eye

Squirrels can be found in many of London's green spaces

The British Museum offers free admission

London is a great city for foodies and has some of the world's finest restaurants, cafes and gastropubs for casual and smart dining. The city is home to a number of Michelin Star establishments. Book at toptable, the UK's number one restaurant booking website.

Many pubs serve hot and cold foods at affordable prices 

There are hundreds of popular attractions, too many to list in this blog post. The attractions listed below are some of the well-known and most popular.

Popular Attractions:

Wednesday 15 May 2013

Interview With A Londoner #1

Basu is British and lives in Woolwich, the Royal Borough of Greenwich

Occupation: Concierge

How long have you lived in Greater London?

7 years

What do you enjoy most about living here?

Local transportation is good

What is your favourite area and why?

Central London as there are many places to visit like museums and shopping centres

Name one attraction you can highly recommend to tourists?

Name one restaurant/pub you can recommend for its good food?

What type of food does the restaurant/pub serve?

"All You Can Eat Buffet" with foods from around the world

What is the location of the restaurant/pub?

The 02 in North Greenwich

Name your favourite supermarket?


What advice can you offer to first-time visitors to London?

Get information in advance about touring around London

Monday 13 May 2013

Street Art Revolution

London is one of the most pro-graffiti cities in the world, although officially condemned. Street art or guerrilla art usually refers to unsanctioned art and can include traditional graffiti artwork, stencil graffiti, sticker art, wheatpasting, street poster art, sculpture and street installations.

Street art has a huge following in London and in many ways is embraced by the public, for example Banksy's works, ROA's murals, Jimmy C's works and Stik's stick figures.

One of the best places in London to view street art is Shoreditch, a district in the East End of London and one train stop away from Whitechapel. Shoreditch has, since around 1996, become a popular and fashionable part of London. The southern part of the area tends to be the central hub of arts and entertainment, and includes popular galleries, restaurants, pubs and nightclubs.

The arts scene in Shoreditch has been flourishing for hundreds of years. Geographically it was far enough away from the West End to provide alternative entertainment for the locals.

To discover street art in Shoreditch, you need to walk up the side streets and alleys. Works can be found on the walls of abandoned and derelict buildings, car park walls and shop front shutters.

It's important to note that street art is an impermanent art form and pieces may be changed or altered. Since my last visit a few months ago, some pieces have vanished.

The nearest tube station is Shoreditch High Street, one stop away from Whitechapel. 

Sunday 12 May 2013

Jungle Necropolis

I spent a few hours yesterday afternoon with my friend Esther. We explored one of London's hidden treasures, a Victorian cemetery and one of the Magnificent Seven.

Nunhead Cemetery is located in the Nunhead area of southern London and was originally known as All Saints' Cemetery. The cemetery was consecrated in 1840 and opened by the London Necropolis Company.  The first grave was dug in October 1840 with the burial of a 101 year old Ipswich grocer named Charles Abbott. By the middle of the 20th century the cemetery was nearly full, and so was abandoned. With the ensuing neglect, the cemetery gradually changed from lawn to meadow and eventually to woodland. It is now listed as a Local Nature Reserve.

Nunhead Cemetery circa 1855

Nunhead Cemetery was reopened in May 2001 after an extensive restoration project funded by Southwark Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. Fifty memorials were restored along with the Anglican Chapel, designed by Thomas Little. The Victorian part of the cemetery is currently in a poor state of repair, being best described as an elegant wilderness. Large parts of the cemetery are overgrown with vines, trees and shrubs. Nunhead cemetery occupies about 52 acres.

I found the walk around the cemetery relaxing and peaceful, and at times it got me thinking about my own mortality and the pros and cons between having a traditional burial or cremation. The time spent exploring the cemetery was an enjoyable one and I will definitely be visiting again.


The main gate (the North Gate) is located on Linden Grove and the South Gate is located on Limesford Road. The cemetery is in the London Borough of Southwark, SE15.

Click here to view more Nunhead Cemetery photos.