The best of London transport history
Loved and loathed in equal measure, London’s public transportation system often seems to have a life of its own. Whether it’s the Tube carrying thousands of people to work, or the late night taxi carrying them home again, Londoners and tourists alike follow routes that have been established for centuries.
The city’s partly subterranean network of interconnecting trains is essential for its inhabitants’ daily lives. The average Tube train travels 114,500 miles per year, and carries more than a million passengers to and from work.
The first deep-level electric railway line, referred to as the ‘Tube’, was opened in 1890, although the Metropolitan line had been in operation since 1863. The ‘Underground’ name and its iconic logo didn’t appear on stations until 1908.
The original Tube carriages featured buttoned upholstery but lacked windows, giving rise to their being known as ‘padded cells’.
The ingenious map of the Tube, which sacrifices real distance for usability, was designed by Harry Beck in 1933. Beck was only paid five guineas for his work.
Births and deaths
Three people have been born in a Tube carriage – the first was Thelma Ursula Beatrice Eleanor, who arrived in 1924 on the Bakerloo line.
The ghost of Anne Naylor, who was murdered in 1758, is said to haunt Farringdon Station. Covent Garden station is reputedly haunted by a man dressed in evening wear. Aldgatestation is built on a huge plague pit, which contains more than 1000 bodies buried in 1665.
London’s black cabs
The ubiquitous London taxi, with its rounded design and reputation for being driven by those with an encyclopaedic knowledge of London’s streets, always come in handy for visitors who study English in London.
The capital’s first taxi was the hackney coach of the 17th Century. The name was derived from the French term for a general-purpose horse – ‘hacquenée’.
In 1625, there were no more than 20 available for hire from the yards of a few inns. When an enterprising owner of four carriages brought them into the Strand in 1636, the first taxi rank was created. These taxis had set fares and the drivers wore easily recognisable livery.
Conditions of fitness
Modern taxis, still known as ‘Hackney carriages’, must meet certain requirements in order to operate. They must have a 7.6m turning circle and the passenger compartment must be high enough for someone wearing a bowler hat to sit comfortably.
Some of the first hackney carriages travelled in stages along a certain route, picking up passengers at fixed meeting points and or a fixed fair. These ‘stage coaches’ eventually developed into the city’s modern bus transport system.
Motorised omnibuses appear in 1902, but it wasn’t until 1933 that the many different operators were brought together under the control of the London Passenger Transport Board. By 1962, buses had replaced both tram and trolleybus systems. For those studying on an English course London buses are one of the cheapest ways to get around.
Transport in London
Comprehensive Government-run site for information about the London Underground
London Vintage Taxi Association
A site for London’s taxi enthusiasts
London Bus Routes
Site dedicated to London buses and their routes