Thursday 10 January 2013

London Underground - from the end of the line.

Metropolitan Railway
Today is the 150th birthday of the London Underground, which began with what is now a short stretch of the Metropolitan Line.  It ran between Baker Street and Farringdon, and although it ran underground this was achieved by the 'cut and cover' method and the tracks were only just below ground level. This meant that illumination was provided not just artificial light, but by daylight, as you can see in the picture above. It should look remarkably familiar to anyone who has travelled through Baker Street on the Metropolitan or Hammersmith & City lines.

Chesham signal box
Chesham only needs one platform
Apart from the rolling stock, perhaps the most interesting contrast between then and now is that there were different classes of travel, as you can see from the sign 'Wait here for Third Class'. The passengers in the foreground look very much like this class of passenger to me. It's a reminder of the way that the coming of the London Underground and other railways transformed the lives of our ancestors. Cheap fares meant that people could now travel greater distances to work; it was the start of the age of the commuter. As the network of railways in and around London grew, so did the suburbs, whose attraction was that they combined the green and pleasant surroundings of the countryside with the convenience of the city. I'm sure that all of the thousands of London commuters who travel on the Underground every day appreciate these benefits (Note to self - 'Irony never works in print'). I used to be one of those commuters, my journey incorporating the historic Baker Street to Farringdon section. Chesham is at the very end of the Metropolitan line, so at least I always got a seat.

Chesham water tower
Although it is part of the London Underground network, Chesham is over 30 miles from central London and surrounded by open countryside. You have to walk uphill to get to our 'underground' station with its single platform, and the train doesn't actually go underground for about 25 miles. Although the trains are all electric now - we have some of the newest trains on the whole network now  - Chesham and some of the other stations on this stretch of the line still have many of the features of a bygone age. We have a signal box and a water tower, left over from the age of steam. You can tell that there is still water in the tower, because in the summer you can see the tops of the bulrushes that grow in it. If I had a better camera you'd be able to see the bulrushes properly. I did get a decent shot of the decorative cast iron pillars, though.

I can't finish a piece about the Underground without including a map. This one is from 1896, and shows both London Underground and a number of overground lines. If you are familiar with London you can have fun comparing it with today's network.


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