150 Years of the London Underground


With the London Underground celebrating its 150 th anniversary, we look at what makes it so special and a source of our design inspiration.

At rush hour it's rammed, with crowds of commuters jostling for position on platforms and squeezing into carriages, only just minding the doors in time. Some complain that the tube is expensive, dirty, crowded or uncomfortable, but we love it and it's come a long way from when it was just a noisy steam train in a single tunnel! When the Metropolitan Line opened in 1863 the owners claimed the ‘invigorating' atmosphere ‘provided a sort of health resort for people who suffered from asthma'. Tube drivers took to growing long beards in a hopeless attempt to filter out the dreadful fumes. The claustrophobic carriages of some early trains were also known as padded cells since manufacturers figured there was nothing to look at so no need for windows! Yet still, the Metropolitan Line saw 11.8 million passengers face the smoke-filled conditions in it's first year, when London's population was only about 3.2million.


The tube is a subterranean labyrinth below the capital, carrying millions of people every day to important destinations across London. With 253 miles of passageway the Underground is a city in itself, cleverly tucked away below stairs. First it was the world's only steam-driven underground railway, and then the first electrified underground railway. It saved the poor a six mile walk to work and allowed them to live further out in bigger homes. It freed up congestion on the streets of London, opened up new areas for  Londoners to move to and joined up the dots between major rail stations. The London Underground is a modern wonder of the world.


We love the underground for it's trademark logo and unique red, white and blue design. The world famous red circle logo known as the ‘roundel' first appeared in 1908 and the classic diagrammatic tube map was designed by Harry Beck in 1931. The design was inspired by electrical circuit diagrams and he was only paid 10 guineas (£10.50) for his design. It was initially rejected as too radical for the public, but has stood the test of time and in 2006 came second in a BBC competition to find the public's favourite British design of the 20 th century.


Our Airfix London Collection and London Bus Tea Towels and Bags are proudly stocked at the London Transport Museum, which is celebrating the 150 years of the London Underground with lots of special events including the exhibition Poster Art 150 – London Underground's Greatest Designs, showcasing 150 of the greatest Underground posters ever produced. For these items plus our London Tube Stops Aprons, Tea Towels and Bags, take a look in our shop.


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