London Underground facts

London underground facts
Interior of a 1938 tube. Photos courtesy of London Transport Museum © Transport for London

January 2013 marks the 150th anniversary of the world’s oldest underground railway system. We dig deep and uncover some of the Tube’s hidden secrets

London Underground - Interior of a 1938 tube
Interior of a 1938 tube. Photos courtesy of London Transport Museum © Transport for London

1. There are 426 escalators throughout the entire network; 23 are at Waterloo station. Together, they do the equivalent of two trips around the world every week.

2. In 1862 The Times famously referred to the looming reality of trains running under the city roads as an “insult to common sense”.

3. The infant system did have its faults. The steam locomotives that pulled the carriages belched out putrid, sulphurous smoke throughout the system, while inside the trains, gas jets added to the poisonous fumes. The owners breezily claimed that the atmosphere “provided a sort of health resort for people who suffered from asthma”, but secretly encouraged their personnel to wear beards to act as a home-grown fume filter.

4. Covent Garden station is said to be haunted. A man seen wandering the station attired in evening dress has been reported several times. When approached, he disappears.

the-queen-london-underground
The Queen at the Victoria line opening in 1969

5. While waiting for a train on Temple station in the early 1900s, Baroness Emmuska Orcz saw a cape-wearing gentleman emerge from the smoky fog of the platform; the idea for The Scarlet Pimpernel came to her there and then.

6. Norwegian Peter Olenick was so taken with Europe’s longest escalator, the 197ft (60m) one at Angel Tube, that he skied down it in 2007, an act very much frowned upon by the authorities.

7. Surprisingly, only one person has ever been born in a Tube carriage: that was Marie Cordery on a Bakerloo line train at Elephant & Castle in 1924.

8. The disused Down Street station (just off Piccadilly) was used by Winston Churchill and his war cabinet as an underground bunker, complete with a state-of-the-art telephone exchange and Churchill’s private bath. Some of the communications equipment is still there, gathering dust.

9. Busking in the Tube was illegal up until 2001, when the cellist Julian Lloyd-Webber was granted the first busker’s licence and, to celebrate, played a selection of his brother Andrew’s compositions at Westminster station.

10. Each of the 4,134 carriages travels around 114,500 miles a year, or the equivalent of 90 trips to the moon and back if you put all the mileage together.

Related articles 

10 ghostly places in Britain

Six fascinating facts about Britain’s heritage cities

10 things about Britain’s most eccentric events

Britain’s greatest castles in pictures

The real Downton Abbey: Highclere Castle

SHARE