Well, it’s arrived at last – today marks the 150th anniversary of the world’s first underground passenger railway, or maybe that is tomorrow?
Certainly, London Underground’s head office consider the 9th Jan to be the anniversary, for that is the date that the line first carried large numbers of dignitaries to a grand supper to celebrate its opening.
However, the common man didn’t get to travel on the line until the following morning, on the 10th Jan 1863. I note that the staff at Farringdon Station are marking the 10th as the anniversary – the day that ordinary chaps were allowed on board.
Anyway, whether you mark the date by a prince or by pauper usage, someone else who has chosen to mark the anniversary today is Google, with a tube map inspired doodle.
Considering the overlap between tube geeks and computer geeks, I worry that the squeals of delight in some quarters may shatter glass!
Such is the nature of the time, that the trip along the railway by the great and good on the 9th got considerably more newsprint coverage than what happened the following day –when the general public were allowed to try the line for the first time.
For Victorian newspapers, the general public are almost a footnote to the story.
Incidentally, while we think of the early underground lines as being built by private investors, and indeed most of them were, the first line needed financial support from the City of London’s local government authority.
Without “state-aid”, the first underground passenger railway may have been even further delayed – or horrors, not even built in London at all.
Anyway – here is the fateful report from the Illustrated London News of those two inaugural days that changed London forever.
If you’re catching one of the heritage steam trains running along the underground on Sunday, ponder how it was on the first day, when people had never seen such a marvellous thing before.
OPENING OF THE METROPOLITAN RAILWAY
The inaugural ceremony connected with the opening of the much-talked-of and long-projected Metropolitan Railway was celebrated on the 9th inst. by an experimental trip and a subsequent banquet at the Farringdon-street station.
It is now eight years ago since the first practical steps towards the realisation of the idea, the success of which was thus honoured, were taken, and to the last Mr. Charles Pearson, the solicitor for many years to the Corporation of London, belongs the credit of first originating it.
Although the present underground railway is not the precise scheme which Mr. Pearson proposed, it is the offspring of his original project, and therefore to his name must the credit attach of the undertaking, which he did not live to see completed.
The early struggles of the company were enormous, and more than once the scheme was almost abandoned as hopeless. Perhaps it would have been abandoned for ever had it not been for the well-founded and universal outcry at the impediments to circulation in London arising from the mighty tide of traffic passing through it. It was this consideration that induces the Corporation of the City to subscribe £200,000 towards the line, and this support, with the aid of the Great Western and Great Northern Companies enabled the present company to begin the work with a fair prospect of success. Even then the preliminary difficulties were only overcome.
There remained the great and novel task of burrowing under ground for between three and four miles, of undermining streets and houses, of working in the midst of water-pipes, gaspipes, sewers, mains, and ditches. Those who may use the line will never be able to appreciate, from what they see, the vast labour and the stupendous resources which were exerted in this part of the undertaking.
The engineers and contractors alone can have an adequate conception of the difficulties which were encountered in the underground world of London. In Mr. Jay’s part of the contract the Fleet ditch had to be crossed four times, and the bursting of that formidable barrier after heavy rains during the progress of the works was oe of the causes which delayed the opening of the line so long. The great undertaking is, however, accomplished; and, for the first time in the history of the world, men can rise in pleasant carriages, and with considerable comfort, lower down than gaspipes ad water-pipes, and besides sewers and mains.
The preliminary trial was made on the 9th inst., trains bearing about 650 invited passengers, started from Paddington about one o’clock and proceeded along the line to Farringdon-street, inspecting the various stations on the way. The trip was most satisfactory, and sanguine hopes were expressed as to the success of the undertaking.
At the Farringdon-street terminus a banquet had been prepared, and was partaken of by the guests. It was held in a large room specially erected for the occasion adjoining the station. This room was 250ft long and 50 wide, and constructed to accommodate 700 persons, for which number tickets were issued.
It was lined throughout its entire length with red and white cloth, and banners of all nations were suspended from the ceiling and side walls. The bands of the City police were in attendance, and as the trains came into the station they struck up some enlivening airs.
…to be blunt the rest of the lengthy article is tedious back-patting to a degree that makes an Oscars speech look restrained.
I’ll skip ahead to the next item, which was a short note about how the general public were first able to use the service the following day.
The Metropolitan Railway was fairly opened to the public on the 10th inst., and it was calculated that more than 30,000 persons were carried over the line in the course of the day. Indeed, the desire to travel by this line on the opening day was more than the directors had provided for; and from nine o’ clock in the morning till past midday it was impossible to obtain a place in the up or Cityward line at any of the mid stations.
In the evening the tide turned, and the crush at the Farringdon-street station was a great as at the doors of a theatre on the first night of some popular performer. Some lightening of the pressure was obtained by the Great Western lending some of their engines and carriages supplemental to the rolling stock of the company.
Notwithstanding the throng, it is gratifying to add that no accident occurred, and the report of the passengers was unanimous in favour of the smoothness and comfort of the line.